Posted by: Mike Whitmore | November 2, 2009

The Brands With The Best Stories Win

Our Fresh team met with a potential client a few months ago.  This firm tried several marketing plans in the past that have cost them thousands of dollars, but produced minimal results.

This time we were pitching them on a Social Media marketing plan specific to their online storefront.

Their virtual storefront is their only presence – all online and they serve clients throughout the entire US market from their small physical location here in the Northwest.  Their client list reads like an A-List of firms – you would recognize all of them.

The conversation locked up when they struggled with the idea that a web-based buying experience could really make that much of a difference to their bottom-line.  (This conversation happened before’s most profitable quarter ever!)

An idea hit me to take a risk with this thought – I asked everyone in the room, including the Fresh team, what Seattle restaurant was their favorite place for a fine dinner.  Daniel’s Broiler for their nightlife and view, The Edgewater Hotel for it’s view of the sunset and fireplaces, the Salish Lodge for it’s ambiance, location near a waterfall, character, Third Floor Fish Cafe for its location on the water and so on.

Not ONE PERSON said anything about the food.  !?

When we go out to eat isn’t the food the most important thing??

That’s not the case.  Casa Bonita in Denver is legendary because inside transforms into another world.  You’re inside a structure so heavy that when it was built it began sinking into the ground from the weight of the concrete.  Inside looks like you’re dining outdoors in Acapulco, Mexico complete with a starlit sky, divers plunging off of high cliffs into water below, volcanic rocks, caves, mud pits and a city center of stores.

But the food at Casa Bonita is cafeteria quality at best.  You don’t go for the food.  You go for the experience.  And we see other models of this around the country including the Rain Forest Cafe (a step up from Casa Bonita fare) and at the Jordan Commons in Salt Lake City.

It’s the customer experience, the buying experience, how people feel about your brand that’s most important.

All of the Seattle restaurants mentioned above have fantastic food, but … our favorite place for exquisite dining in Seattle?  It’s called Tropea and it’s in a little strip mall in Redmond.  But the FOOD is simply fantastic.

Let me rattle off a few other brands you may have a gut feeling about – Starbucks, Nordstroms, T-Mobile, Marriott, Zappos.  These brands are not the lowest price, but they have award-winning customer service and experience.

The potential client I spoke of above is a Fresh client today as this illustration was a turning point for them.

Brands who can tell their stories win.  Are you ready for us to help you tell your story?

Contact me at or on Twitter at

All the best,




  1. Recently, I owned a Honda Accord that had an unexplainable electrical problem. The car was 20k miles out of warranty and my research showed the repair cost would be $800 plus labor! So, I called the dealership and asked what was up with the electrical. They said just bring it in, so I did. The Honda dealer replaced the parts and included a free oil change at no cost. Guess what my next new car was…. another Honda Accord. Customer satisfaction is everything.

  2. Oddly enough, for as long as I’ve lived in Redmond, I’ve never been to Tropea (it’s in one of those easy-to-miss little strip malls I never seem to get around to.) I may have to give it a try.

    One thing to keep in mind here is that there’s a fine line between providing added value with the experience and tacking on gimmicks to try to make people ignore the fact that they’re serving up stuff straight off the Sysco truck. This type of thing is most evident in the schlock-encrusted fern bars of the Seventies, and some of the leftovers from that era (Applebee’s, Chili’s, etc) and the kiddy pizza places like Chuck E. Cheese.) A place like a Daniel’s Broiler is going to be serving a high-end product to go along with their ambiance and view. Sure, you probably wouldn’t need to go far to find food snobs nitpicking endlessly about their $200 a plate dinners (see also: the Manhattan board at but for most people, such a dinner is going to be a rare indulgence, and unless the whole thing turns out thoroughly disastrous (which is a very real possibility, although a rare one,) they’re likely to be able to overlook a couple of faults here and there for the experience of a rare high-end treat.

    That said, my favorite place to eat around here would be the Torero’s in Crossroads. Sure, it’s just about the least fancy place you’re going to find anywhere on the Eastside and you’re going to be sitting on a $5 plastic chair while you’re eating, but they’ve got the best chicken enchilada I’ve found anywhere around here.

  3. “Not ONE PERSON said anything about the food.” Great job with that illustration, glad it had the desired effect!!

    For us food has trumped setting… for our anniversary, we sought out the chef who had prepared the meal on our first date (Cafe de Paris), Her new place, Lynn’s Bistro, is a little spot with a ‘view’ of a busy road in Kirkland. It was all about the gustatory with us!

    “Brands who can tell their stories win.”

    And that’s why social media has helped, and will help, so many quality businesses that haven’t been able to afford mass marketing. The story of satisfied customers is what we’re calling word-of-mouth… and social media gives that realm power that used to belong to only those who could afford a TV campaign.

    Great blog!

  4. Thanks for all the great comments and very cool to hear your take on these ideas!

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