Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a few days of downtime in Vermont (with my family), and one of the must-sees in that state is, by all accounts, the Ben & Jerry ice cream headquarters.
So we went. And it was a great display of powerful branding in action.
Ben & Jerry’s grew from a quirky little local ice cream shop to a global brand with a dedicated following, all because a couple of guys (yes, Ben and Jerry) decided to start a business based on a $5 correspondence course on making ice cream.
The tour was lighthearted and informative, and very much in line with the fun approach Ben & Jerry’s takes to branding. You get the distinct impression that this isn’t put on–it’s just the embedded DNA of the organization. They are who they are, in this case, they like to have fun while also producing a high-quality product. Powerful.
I pulled three key marketing lessons out of the visit:
- Have a story to tell. Coming into the headquarters is all about the story. One wall (see picture) is dedicated to a timeline of milestone events and dates. The tour is an extended story-telling time. And it’s an interesting story, about quality and local commitment and innovative/socially conscious ways to do business.
- Stick to your principles. Ben & Jerry’s started out committed to certain core values and practices, and as they’ve grown (and even been bought by Unilever to aid the global expansion), they’ve stuck with them. You will see social and environmental causes writ large on the tour and in the company overview, and even if you don’t agree with some of those distinctives, it is nonetheless impressive that they’ve kept the compass pointed in the same direction all this time.
- Know when to step back and let your baby walk. Ben and Jerry realized, as they grew, that they weren’t the right people to scale the business. So they put the right people in place and continued to infuse the company with the unique perspectives that set it apart. Now, there are hundreds of employees and millions of customers carrying on the Ben & Jerry tradition. Founders rarely are the right ones to “operationalize” a growing business. But they are the ones that can set the tone for decades to come.
I guess I should also mention that being playful and having fun can lead to success. Clearly, these folks work hard and are good at what they do. But if you visit for the tour, the face of the company is one that smiles and chuckles. It might not work for mainframe computers. But for ice cream–yeah, that’s a winner.
Oh…and the sample at the end was pretty tasty as well. Ultimately, you’ve got to have a great product along with a great attitude!