Author Archives: Evelyn Starr

Vacation by Chocolate

Evelyn's Original Chocolate Wrapper from Hershey's Chocolate World brand experienceMy husband Dan has a particular knack when planning vacations.  I’m not talking about posh accommodations or exotic destinations or exclusive restaurants.

When he was helping to plan our trip to Paris to celebrate my 40th birthday, he discovered that a major chocolate exhibition was going to be there at the same time.  Besides sampling and purchase opportunities, there were multiple exhibits including a replica of a 17th century dress made of chocolate.

When we were planning to return to Paris in 2014 with our children, Dan found that a chocolate museum had opened in 2010.  Our family spent Easter Sunday afternoon at Le Musée Gourmand Du Chocolate – Choco-Story, learning about the history of chocolate, watching a chocolate-making demonstration and, of course, tasting chocolate.

And for our vacation last April as he sought diversions for our college tour of Pennsylvania, Dan found Hershey’s Chocolate World.

The man has a gift.

Hershey’s Chocolate World (not to be confused with Hershey Park theme park) is a sprawling indoor complex.  There we learned the proper method of tasting chocolate, saw a 4D chocolate mystery film, took a tour and created our own customized candy bars.  We ate a meal at the food court and purchased novelties in Hershey’s largest candy store.

Hershey was not a just a brand of candy bar to us that afternoon.  Hershey’s Chocolate World was a fun family experience and it became a fond vacation memory.  I recall the memory often when I see the brand or the Chocolate World magnet on my refrigerator.

While companies often struggle to cram their brand message into a tagline, a tweet, a Facebook post or a 30-second TV ad, brand experiences like Hershey’s Chocolate World offer the opportunity to engage consumers in a more positive and less rushed manner.  When you offer a brand experience:

  • Consumers come to you. As they choose to be there, they are more open to your brand’s messages as opposed to your ads and promoted social media messages which constitute interruption marketing.
  • They spend more time with your brand. Instead of 30 seconds or less, they are there to enjoy an extended experience.
  • They bring friends and family. For an experience, consumers are more likely to invite company than to attend alone.
  • Some become ambassadors for your brand. If they enjoy themselves, they are likely to tell others as well as share photos and comments on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  This word-of-mouth is more credible than ads or promoted posts and it is free.

Done well, brand experiences establish emotional connections to your brand and differentiate it.  Moreover, with a brand experience you can see who your marketing dollars are reaching.

Front entrance to Hershey's Chocolate World brand experience


Now I know what you are thinking.  That is a HUGE investment.

Brands in adolescence are often too early in their growth to support an on-going themed venue.  But you don’t need to operate a year-round theme park to offer consumers a brand experience.

Here are tips that any brand can use to craft a successful brand experience:

  • Start small. Begin with a single notable experience (a tour, a demonstration, a seminar)  or a one-day event (a fashion show or relevant entertainment).
  • Make it fun.
  • Tell your brand’s story. Make your experience relevant to your brand and indicative of its personality.
  • Resist the urge to sell. If it makes sense you can offer mementos and have some of your product available on the side, but pushing your product detracts from the experience and undermines your effort to make an emotional connection.  And no, a retail store does not qualify as a brand experience in this manner.
  • Be patient. Brand experiences and events take time to grow.  It takes time for word to spread and for reviews to appear, and that is good.  It gives you time to try different ideas and to pursue the ones that resonate most with your target audience.

I cannot emphasize enough the point about being patient.  Look at the history of any conference, festival or brand event and you’ll see a humble evolution.  Did you know:

  • The first TED conference in 1984 lost money and it was six years until the founders tried a second time. Now it sells out to 1,400 people annually paying $7,500 each. 
  • The first Life is Good festival in 2003 was a pumpkin festival in Portland, Maine that raised $52,000 for children facing life-threatening challenges. Now the annual event raises more than $1,000,000 as a two-day arts and music festival in Canton, Massachusetts.
  • The first Ben & Jerry’s free cone day in 1979 was established to celebrate the company’s one year anniversary and was served out of the renovated gas station that was their only store. Now they give away over a million scoops and there is no limit to the number of times you can get back in line. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

Differentiate your brand by building emotional connections with a unique brand experience.  You will create an asset that grows your business and that your competitors can’t touch.

And if there is chocolate involved, please let me know.

Have you had a memorable brand experience?  Delightful or disastrous?  Please share it in the comments.

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Cases of List-taken Identity

Good list management means seeing the customer's point of view.For the past year I’ve been immersed in my son AJ’s college search.  We’ve visited 11 schools, some of them twice.  It’s been fun and one of the funny outcomes is that I have realized that I would be happy to go to college now. 

I’m not serious of course.  But there are some schools who think otherwise.  Three colleges have begun courting me.

And by courting I mean sending me multiple emails with subject line hooks such as “Your reputation stands out,” “Discover what you want out of college,” and “Time is running out, Evelyn!”  Each email is signed by a prominent admissions committee member.

Who wants me to attend?  The University of Maine, Babson College and St. Lawrence University.

Yet AJ and I did not contact any of these schools.

So why are they courting me?

It’s a case of list-taken identity.

At the bottom of each email I have received is this statement in fine print:

I received your e-mail address from the College Bound Selection Service. If you no longer wish to receive e-mail from [insert school name here], please let me know.

The College Bound Selection Service is run by ASL marketing which claims that their email address list is 100% opt in.  I have no recollection of opting in, but I am sure they got my name from some online educational encounter AJ and I have been involved in.  Then they confused me with the real college prospect in our family.

And the three schools above took them on their word.  Nobody double-checked the list.

None of these schools did their homework.

It’s been amusing to receive these emails.  But it’s not nearly as funny as the offer my husband Dan has received.

Over the past month, the IWLA has been chasing Dan to join, saying that his 2015 membership has been approved. 

The IWLA is the International Women’s Leadership Association.

To what does Dan owe this honor?  I don’t know.  I do know that Dan has self-identified as a man all of his life.

When I received the same IWLA membership offer, I dismissed it as spam.  How discerning could this women’s organization be if they want my husband to join?

That may not have come out quite right.

While email list misfires can be amusing, they do real damage to the brands that send them. 

Look at it from your potential customer’s point of view.  If your email mistakes their identity, your first communication with them shows that you don’t know who they are and wastes their time.  It’s a black mark on their impression of your brand.

Worse yet, you paid for their contact information and for the effort to send the email. It’s negative marketing ROI.

The practice of buying a list isn’t bad in itself.  But to protect your brand you need to verify the list for accuracy and quality of prospects.

Direct marketing is a powerful marketing tool when it’s done right. Here are some list management tips to help you get it right:

  • Build your own list. This is the best way to ensure a high quality list of target audience members.  Start with your existing customers and prospects.
  • Grow your list organically. Collect email addresses from interested visitors to your website and from inquiries to your company.  Offer an enticement of some value in exchange – a how-to guide, a helpful e-book, an insightful e-newsletter or other desirable freebie.
  • Mine trade shows and their attendance lists. Identify prospects in advance and use the show to make an initial contact.  Again, offer something of value in exchange for their opting in to your list.
  • Don’t automatically put trade show attendees or anyone else you encounter on your list. That’s spammy behavior.
  • Treat your list with respect.
    • Keep email frequency reasonable.
    • Send helpful tips or other valuable insights. If offers are all you send, prospects are more likely to unsubscribe.
    • Don’t share or sell your list. Done well, your list is a major competitive advantage.  No short term benefit can come close to the long-term benefits of respecting privacy and building a unique relationship with your audience.
  • If you must buy a list, verify the prospects before emailing. Buy from a reputable source and know what you are getting before you pay.  Take the time to verify that prospects qualify for your target audience. Often this takes just minutes thanks to social media and the internet.

Take care of your list and it will take care of your brand.

I’ve unsubscribed from the three schools’ email lists but who knows what will happen when I start the college process with my daughter next year!

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Getting Carded at 50

Over the course of Thanksgiving week I traveled about 600 miles.  From our house in Natick, Massachusetts to my parents’ house in Northern New Jersey, out to a college visit in Pennsylvania and then back to Natick again.

At the end of this odyssey I arrived home to find an unmarked envelope in my mail.  You know, the kind with no sender identified in the return address.

I thought it might be an updated credit card that the issuer did not want to call attention to in the mail.

But no, it was my AARP card. read more

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Will Zagat Fly or Fade?

Zagats Boston Guide Brand in Adolescence At Risk of Not MaturingBefore I started writing monthly newsletters four years ago, I wrote restaurant reviews.  Just one or two a year for Zagat’s Boston Restaurant Guide.  One contributed review was enough to score me a free copy of the next guide release and seemed well worth the effort.

When Zagat first launched its guide in the early 1980s it was unique. It provided succinct reviews and ratings from patrons instead of critics.  This was revolutionary in the 1980s.

Like many new products, the Zagat guide emerged from the recognition of an unmet market need.  read more

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Cheap Skate Marketing

Evelyn's black boot collection for brand storytellingI love autumn in New England, so I’m a happy camper up here right now.  And yes, autumn presages a long winter, but I have found ways to enjoy that too.

One of the benefits of New England’s long winters is that you can wear boots six months of the year.  I’ve gained an affinity for black boots and wear them almost every day once the cold sets in.

In a decidedly un-Imelda Marcos-move though, I’ve not amassed a huge collection.

Instead I have a few favorite pairs that I keep in good order with a yearly visit or two to my buddy Oleg, the cobbler in Natick Center. read more

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5 Mistakes That Hold Brands Back

Graph showing a plateau over time, no brand growth

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Has your brand hit a plateau?  Or is it growing erratically?  Does fostering growth seem harder than it should be?

Here are 5 common mistakes that could be holding your brand back.

  1. No clear brand definition.

Can you explain your brand clearly and concisely to a prospect?  If you struggle with its description, chances are you haven’t taken the time to define your brand. read more

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We Laughed, We Cried, It Was Better Than Cats

L'Oreal ad with Cybil Shepard Because I'm worth itOne endearing quality about my sister when we were growing up was that she sometimes cried at TV commercials.  There was one in particular where a large litter of puppies greeted children at their grandmother’s house that got her to well up.  I was not surprised when, as an adult, she got a dog.

I teared up at commercials too when I was a child, and felt funny about it until I noticed her doing it.

I still shed tears at TV ads once in a while.  And not just when they are maddeningly bad advertising. read more

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Whole Foods Frays Organically

Whole Foods Responsibly Grown LogoHave you ever wished for a personal chef?

Well for two months I had one.

In autumn 1999, after years of working as a chef on yachts, in restaurants and on catering gigs, my sister-in-law Rachael decided to transition to a new career:  web master.  Her transition involved relocating to the Boston area and earning Microsoft certifications.

Rachael moved to her parents’ house in Needham while she studied for her certifications and waited for her new Watertown condo to be ready.  Her parents decided to move to Cape Cod two months before her move-in date though.  So my husband Dan and I invited her to live with us. read more

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Car Talk

Silver Honda Pilot

Photo credit: Fiona Traub

I grew up in a family that bought large used cars.  My dad was good at finding sturdy, reliable cars that owners no longer wanted once they had logged 40,000 miles.  He bought the ones that a local mechanic blessed and could fix for a couple hundred dollars.  Then we drove them another 80,000 – 120,000 miles.

So it may not come as a surprise to you that I am driving a 2006 Honda Pilot with 113,000 miles right now. read more

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Don’t You Forget About Your Brand

Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club, before and after her makeover.

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This past March marked the 30th anniversary of the movie The Breakfast Club

For those of you who might not know it, the movie portrays the gathering of five stereotypical high schoolers (a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal) for a day-long detention on a Saturday.  Over the course of the day, social barriers recede.  The teenagers share insights that both explain their stereotypes and undermine them at the same time.

The movie struck a chord with adolescents everywhere when it was released, and continues to engage succeeding generations.  My husband and I watched it with our teenagers a couple of years ago. read more

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