“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” We all know this little ditty and certainly it is about joy, not terror, when we talk about screaming for yummy ice cream.
Unfortunately for Blue Bell Creameries, the third time probably won’t mean the charm.
Over the years, Blue Bell’s marketing team has done a fantastic job building a brand that people really love – it is more than ice cream, it is a statement of Texas patriotism.
In April 2015, Texans were rocked by the news that Blue Bell would recall all of its ice cream flavors in the wake of a listeria contamination. At that time, we screamed to get our ice cream back on the shelves, and we vehemently defended our iconic state brand.
After the first massive recall ended, Blue Bell half gallons flew out of freezer cases as fast as grocers could stock it. Then, after a second recall came in the wake of a mislabeling of packages with the wrong ice cream flavor, the Blue Bell faithful were again swift to defend their beloved brand.
Now Blue Bell is in the media again, this time recalling two favorite flavors of ice cream after detecting another possible listeria contamination blamed on a third-party vendor’s product. A flaw they identified, they say, thanks to their stricter standards for quality control (but unfortunately not in time to keep it out of the product).
It’s the third strike, and my prediction is that this time, Blue Bell will be out.
What happened? In my opinion, Blue Bell forgot a fundamental fact of branding. Brand is not your logo, your website, or your social media presence. It’s also not just the product. Your brand is built just as much on operational execution (including your supply chain) as it is a stellar ad campaign. It’s a promise earned, and is valuable when it is a promise kept.
Challenge the Norm: Brands stumble when they fail to hold operations accountable for their role in the brand promise. That’s why as brand strategists, we always engage operations teams in our brand development exercises. At first, they wonder why they’ve been asked to traipse into the land of the creative. But they soon learn we value their collaboration because they own the most important part of the brand promise – delivery.
The operations function is always looking for ways to do things better, faster and cheaper. And there’s nothing wrong with that approach – except when it compromises quality. The downside of efficiency and cost-effective management can mean cutting corners that were there for a reason.
I’ll come right out and say it: profitability is important, but the best way to improve profitability is not always by donning your green eye shade and squeezing a few numbers out of cost of goods sold. The best way to increase profitability is to invest in your company and create greater brand equity. That may involve spending money on the little things (like product testing) to ensure your highest level of visibility on the Web is social love, not negative news stories.
So please, operations folks – resist the urge to rob from the future by saving a few bucks today.
And marketing folks, please remember your job isn’t to clean up messes – your value lies in stewarding the brand promise and holding the entire organization accountable for delivering on it.
Trust me – your brand (and your customers) will thank you for it.
Gayle Goodman, MBA, ABC, is executive vice president and partner at Dallas-based ExperiPro LLC. ExperiPro is an insights-driven marketing and brand strategy firm passionate about helping clients become their customers’ first choice.