What is Your Wawa?

I talk about branding constantly. Just ask the poor guy who sat next to me on a flight to NYC last week.

One of the many things I always hit on is the “essence” of a brand. But in many cases, a brand also has a physical manifestation.

That point hit home for me in a personal way when I was driving to the taco joint ... um, I mean Whole Foods ... a few days ago and eyeballed a Wawa convenience store/gas station under construction in my neighborhood. For those of you who don’t know Wawa, there is nothing more fabulous when it comes to a convenience store.

The brand has roots in the Northeast, but has progressively found a home in the South. The first Orlando location opened with the amount of fanfare we normally reserve for visiting celebrities and high-profile court cases. My wife and I eagerly stood in line the first week awaiting the opportunity to use Wawa’s DIY touchscreen sandwich maker and get a whiff of their multiple coffee flavors.

Now I am getting a Wawa less than a mile from my home. From a brand standpoint, something hit me like a ton of swizzle sticks while I sat at a red light and surveyed the construction site. At least in our region, all the new Wawa stores have a consistent architectural style defined by a sloping roofline that covers the gas pump area. 

And guess when they build that pavilion?

They construct it before the first yard of concrete is poured, and before they erect the walls for the building that will dispense those heavenly sandwiches.

Sitting at that red light, it suddenly occurred to me that Wawa takes advantage of a brand-centric pre-marketing device like no other. For months before the new store opens, that roof structure spreads the gospel like a street-corner preacher promising to deliver us from mediocre gas-station food and bland coffee.

CAN I GET A WITNESS?!

What other brands have this effect? 

Back in the day, Taco Bell used to have a little “bell” niche on the building’s facade that might have given you an indication. For those who remember the freestanding restaurants, Pizza Hut had a distinctive roofline. You can probably think of others.

So what is the Wawa for your business? More specifically, when you deploy a product or service in a new marketplace, what signals your arrival? This question has actually haunted me for a couple of weeks. I’m tuned into it every time I see a building under construction. And that’s easy here in Central Florida, where new shopping centers, restaurants and banks pop up like zits the week before prom.

Pre-marketing takes on a lot of forms:

  • Actors, musicians, and miscellaneous celebrities always spin a good tale about the next big thing they are involved in
  • The traditional “coming soon” sign
  • Certainly doing a press release creates some momentum, but only with specific customers and businesses through the right media channels
  • Capitalizing on social media and asking the audience to share expansion updates with friends in new markets
  • Blogger buzz, immersive marketing, and outdoor advertising may also get the needle to twitch 

However, I’m fascinated that Wawa can announce its arrival without any typical media spend. The physical structure already does the job.

Now I would like to challenge you to see if you can identify any other brands or products that employ this tactic whether or not they know that they’re doing it. The challenge is great but I think you’re up to the task.

Posted on April 13, 2015 and filed under Brand, Process, Strategy.