Some things don’t change. One is the perception (and value) of a brand compared to a generic. I was recently looking for an article in our archives and happened across a Publisher’s Note written in 1997 by then publisher of Automatic Merchandiser, Gloria Cosby. In her articulate way, she brought up the idea of being considered generic, and how it can be so easy for location managers to consider vending service generic, because machines rarely have the company logo or name prominently displayed. That was 20 years ago, and I would say the statement is as true as it ever was. Many micro markets have a bit more branding, albeit of the micro market supplier, instead of the operator servicing the account.
The invisible hand
I think the fact that vending operators don’t brand themselves has its roots in multiple reasons. The first is how drivers service routes. A driver stocking early in the morning, before the normal work rush, is unseen. And that was a trait of which the industry was proud. The vending machine was always clean, filled and working — no hassle service for the customer. But what is out of sight, is out of mind, and ultimately forgotten. This invisible service hasn’t helped the image of vending. Instead, it has left vending service as a commodity. Our competition, on the other hand, has upped the brand angle from McDonald’s to Wa-Wa convenience stores.
Another reason I’ve heard for the lack of branding is to avoid receiving complaints. After all, if there is no one listed to complain to, then no complaints are made. This is just short-sighted, and doesn’t apply to our current society with social media and smartphones that offer built-in cameras. The frustrated user has an even larger outlet to voice complaints along with a greater ability to negatively shape others opinions of vending machines, micro markets and office coffee service. A brand is more important than possible negative reviews. People are loyal to a brand, pay more for a brand and tell others about a brand.
Take a strong stand
It’s time to take your brand to the next level. Instead of being a generic or unknown private label on coffee or fresh food items — make it stand for something. Pair it with flavor, fast service, healthy items or whatever makes your operation stand out in the area. Revamp your website presence, social media and digital marketing — anywhere you put your brand (and tagline). Make sure uniforms, trucks, etc. have the brand. These are billboards. Use micro market kiosks, vending machine promotions and signage near the coffee brewer to tell your story, and ensure the user knows your name. This is what will drive loyalty. You are already a partner with the location to provide refreshment. It’s time to stop being the silent partner and be the showpiece with whom a location is glad to be doing business.