On vacation in Cambria, California, last month I came across a lovely example of branding in action. One that I think so exemplifies certain areas of brand success and risk that it’s worth thinking about in some detail.
First of all some background:
Cambria is a lovely little seaside town in San Luis Osiba County in California, USA. It’s population is c6,000 but that is swelled somewhat during the summer season each year as surfers and ‘west coast road trippers’ use it as a stopping off point. It’s location next to William Randolph Hearst’s castle and Moonstone beach make it a great place to overnight.
Branding means many things to Marketers it has categories such as sub-brands, brand extensions, product as brand and so on. It is however, most Marketers believe, much more than mere communications and messages. It is an end to end experience of a company or in some cases of a product. For an example of the latter, think product as brand like Hoover or Google.
Town ownership or control by a family is somewhat more common than you think. In the UK we have Bournville the West Midlands town created by Cadbury’s for its workers and Port Sunlight on Merseyside, created by Lever Brothers. In the USA it is most common in agricultural or industrial towns. Wilson in Arkansas is one example – owned for 125 years by the Wilson family and run for years by Boss Lee (I’d like to apologise to his family if you now have an image of Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazard in your mind … I know I do). Interestingly it shares a common, strange, architectural preference for mock Tudor buildings with Cambria.
Oregon State University is in Corvallis, Oregon and has an enrolment that dwarves the population of Cambria at c27000+. It has a tradition grounded in agriculture and in developing sports stars – NBA, MLB and NFL especially. Significantly for this post it has extensive and significant levels of research funding.
Ok, so those four pieces of background information, seemingly disconnected are a simple set up to a story of The Linn family and Olallieberries in Cambria and their brand and the brand experience. I found it fascinating and I hope you do … It’s a tale of innovation, branding and marketing with lessons aplenty.
I am indebted to the Linn family for providing the following background to their story and how they have developed Cambria, their brand and their brand experience. I will summarise the story but you can find more information here.
In the early 1970s John and Renee Linn determined that they wanted to be farmers. It took a lot of hard work and planning to create the reality In 1977. The intervening period involved buying a gas station, finding a plot of land in Cambria during a visit for a friend’s wedding and stretching their finances to the limit. Their 5 year plan was coming together.
Farming is a tricky business and despite all of their graft and commitment, by 1979 things were becoming a little ‘sketchy’ as Californians are wont to say.
The turning point was turning the farm into a ‘pick your own’ concern, both vegetables and soft fruits. It was the latter that kick started the dynasty they have now created. At this point you know why I talked about Cambria.
To the University of Oregon now; in 1949 the University, funded by the US Dept of Agriculture developed the Olallieberry They are a cross of a Loganberry and a Youngberry, in essence 2/3rd blackberry and 1/3rd raspberry. The Linn family farm specialised in this crop, it took an innovation and turned it into a commercial success for them. It was, and still is, a rarity, so the competitive advantage and brand experience is fairly unique. It provided them with brand differentiation and a USP. Now you know why I talked about the University of Oregon.
The Linn family has a heavy presence in Cambria – it has a Olallieberry monopoly and four distinct businesses – a cafe, a homewares store, a restaurant, and a gourmet foods business as well as their farm and farm shop. So a little way off town ownership but they are on their way I would contend. Now you know why I drew your attention to family owned towns.
So, to the brand lessons themselves.
BRAND DIFFERENTIATION AND UNIQUENESS
It is clear that the choice of Olallieberry gives the family a clear and almost unique advantage. The soft fruit is still rare and it lends itself to multiple uses as well as supporting the core PYO business. This will allow pricing advantage and the development of a cult following; gold dust in engagement terms.
From the simple fruit comes jams, and other foodstuffs, the fruit pie is truly outstanding by the way, I have first hand experience. The opportunity to build out into the deli and into gifts is natural and the restaurant is a clever way of offering Olallieberry gifts alongside fine dining. This increases the value engineering off a simple soft fruit crop. It also allows a degree of balance that smoothes the cropping season challenges (in income terms) across the year.
Interestingly I think the next category, whilst on the surface contradictory, is actually still supportive…
Simply, the law of branding contraction states that the greater the focus the brand becomes stronger. I would contend that in this instance the brand extensions reinforce the focus rather than take you down a riskier brand expansion route. The tightness of the extension and its roots mean the dominance gives a clear focus …
The brand dominates the town, it feeds off Cambria and Cambria feeds off it. The multiple family outlets, and the brand extension work to ensure the Linn family and the Olallieberry are synonymous with each other, interchangeable almost.
SACRED WORDS ASSOCIATED WITH THE BRAND
Clearly Olallieberry is a sacred word for the Linn family brand and the abbreviations, the pies and jams continually reinforce this. I am a big fan of the Primal Branding approach, and that theory from Patrick Hanlon, fits this brand really well: there is a clear creation or heritage story, obvious sacred words and Icons ie the berry itself. The development of a creed is inherent in the family’s decision to embrace farming and is central to its creation story. Finally there is a clear use of the berry as an icon and that is reinforced with offers to have your photo taken with a life-size ‘cuddly’ Olallieberry at one of the family venues. The pie itself is an icon to and trades on the law of publicity…
BRAND BIRTH THROUGH PUBLICITY
Brands that are borne of publicity and word of mouth last longer and are generally more successful – as well as being very cost-effective in revenue to advertising cost terms. The publicity courted by the family on TV and entering it for accolades was a wise move. It has allowed a supportive tribal following and enabled the brand to extend further by selling branded goods through other stores in wider California. The Food Network TV channel has been a rich seam, well mined.
This has also given rise to third-party brand credentials that are very believable…
The whole operation is driven by authenticity and the family connection and heritage story play well alongside the publicity to make this a very authentic brand. The understated packaging and shop fittings as well as the restaurant decor suit the town of Cambria and are not too modern or over designed, so they fit well with the brand rather than jar. There is a feeling of homespun authenticity that works really well.
I hope you found this post interesting, the brand, the product, the experience itself is an interesting one due to its uniqueness of offer, its clear sacred words and icons and it is a brand that ticks many boxes that a good brand marketer would strive to achieve. I suspect that the Linn family know exactly what they are doing but may not have expressed it quite as I have here. I have mixed and matched brand theories from the 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, Primal Branding, the Philosophy of Branding, and others, and I have tried, like Plato, to look below the surface of this brand.
I’d like to leave you with these final three thoughts:
1. If you are passing then explore Cambria and just check if the family ownership of the town has grown
2. Try the Olallieberry- the pie is delicious, trust me
3. Avoid the pre-starter in the Linn Family restaurant! I’m used to bread and butter before my starter but this was bread and jam !! A brand extension too far in my view !!
24 June 2015
PS try Mozzi’s saloon over the road from the Linn family restaurant for a truly great beer (the 805) served icy cold