Nostalgic Marketing Strategy: More Than Just a Sepia Filter

Alex Angstrom, Strategy Intern. Alex is an intern on PJA's Strategy and Planning teams. He spends his days embracing his curiosity about people & organizations: their joys, their frustrations, and their beliefs. He uses pictures to capture thoughts and collaboration to bring great creative ideas to life. In his free time, he revels in the mysteries of New England's great outdoors-- running, hiking, biking, canoeing, snowshoeing, DIY'ing, and eating his vegetables.

Believe it or not, reminiscing about your brand’s good times can do more than just boost sales. A new framework, the Storyteller Model, helps strategists identify the different ways that nostalgia marketing can be used to build brand equity. Nostalgia Holds Great Power Over Humans. This we know. Several studies have been done in the […]

Believe it or not, reminiscing about your brand’s good times can do more than just boost sales. A new framework, the Storyteller Model, helps strategists identify the different ways that nostalgia marketing can be used to build brand equity.


Nostalgia Holds Great Power Over Humans.

This we know. Several studies have been done in the last few decades about the emotional power that reliving our memories can have on us: they can make us pine for simpler times (as we age, life only gets more complicated), and simultaneously raise our spirits as fond memories are brought to mind. These memories often involve those around us, too: a childhood sandbox, a first kiss, summer beach trips with our families, and more. Such shared experiences can be some of the most powerful ones we carry with us. In this way, nostalgic marketing is one lens through which we as consumers feel socially connected to a generation of fellow loyalists to brands with strong temporal identities: Pepsi, Chevy, Facebook, and more. On a primal, psychographic level, such common affiliations satisfy our basic need for a sense of belonging.

But brands aren’t people, so these social connection can’t apply directly to them as well… right? If companies are technically people, can they have childhoods? Can they, too, pine for simpler times? Can we share experiences with them, and not just with our fellow consumers? To this, I say: absolutely… in theory. In practice, it requires a different vocabulary. We see brands’ nostalgic roots defined not by an idea like “childhood,” but by a parallel set of terms: “story,” “heritage,” and “equity.” Therefore, when we hear about a nostalgic marketing campaign, it typically means a brand is tapping into the power of consumers’ individual or collective memories, in an attempt to achieve one or more of three goals:

1.         Build brand image and equity

2.         Build brand associations with the consumer

3.         Build communities and connections

We’ll see how these objectives play out in a moment, using what I will dub the Storyteller Model.
The important thing to keep in mind is that no one of these goals is better than another: understanding what your brand wants to achieve is key, as that goal will help determine how to approach the Model choose an effective campaign strategy.

The Storyteller Model

This framework will help your brand ask (and answer) the following questions–

  • WHAT will our brand’s story be?
  • WHO will tell our brand’s story?
  • HOW will they tell our brand’s story?

Answering these questions gives the brand strategist an idea of how his client’s brand heritage can interact with, transform, and grow alongside its consumers’ collective sense of nostalgia and identity. If a brand is speaking from its true purpose for being, the WHAT should be a no-brainer. If Reebok is all about making timeless, classic shoes, then it makes sense for them to create a Reebok Classic Facebook page, dedicated to showing pictures of and telling stories about vintage Reebok shoes.

Once a brand knows WHAT sort of story it will tell, the Storyteller Model helps advertisers decide WHO can best tell this story, and HOW they can tell it. The channels and storytellers vary across a spectrum, so determining objectives for scope, reach, and conversation first is key. Working through the lens of the three goals from the introduction, let’s identify how each one plays out in the model accordingly. (Each of the following scenarios includes a couple of examples for clarification of objectives and strategies.)

Storyteller Model II.jpg

“Brand Champion”

In this scenario, a brand asks the consumer, “Remember where my brand came from?” 

It’s all about Me (the brand).

Serving nostalgic messages can draw new consumers into the brand’s story and community, but has low story amplification and reach. It is difficult to get consumers to share the stories or track engagement, because of the one-way messaging typical in the Brand Champion model. Executions for
this scenario of the model usually take the form of Social Content, Product Packaging, and low-budget, traditional media campaigns.


High content control; connects with broad range of people; old brand concept “reboots” can usher in a younger audience; strengthens brand equity, if done authentically


Most executions are a one-way message; short-tail results; can taint older customer’s memories


“Cultural Connection”

This scenario asks, “Remember all the good times we’ve had together?” It’s all about Me (the brand) and You (the consumer).

The next step a brand can take, both in investment of creative resources and customer engagement, is to amplify its message through the lens of a cultural filter. This can attract even more new consumers to the brand, because new associations are made between nostalgic symbols (celebrities, icons, common experiences, etc.). Traditional media executions live here.


Tap into high equity of other nostalgic “brands,” like Justin Timberlake, that defined the context in which may customers experienced your brand, whether they realized it or not.


Brand can appear “mooching” if it is not an authentic connection


“Community Celebration”

This goal asks, “What impact has our brand made on your life?” It’s all about Us.

This space aligns best with challenger-minded brands that have already built a community with a strong, clear identity. The goal here is to tap into that community, and get people to share your story with the world around them, as well as to share their own stories with one another. The best result is when you give members the chance to share their story with the community through your brand.


Greater amount of content created; consumer advocates; 2-way message; long tail; ecosystem for customers to interact with brand and one another, and can even find their story becoming part the brand’s story


Less content control; bigger investment; greater risk if not authentic


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    Taking Leaps of Faith from Very Tall Cliffs

    Bobby Kelly, Assistant Account Manager. Bobby is a recent Boston transplant by way of Columbus, Ohio. Bobby has started his advertising career here at PJA with wide eyes and a desire to produce meaningful and insightful deliverables for his clients. Aside from assisting with the day-to-day management of accounts at PJA, he is an amateur foodie, a reluctant Eagles fan and a proud Buckeye.

    In my 23 years of life, I have lived in 7 different cities. That may not sound like much, but growing up it was quite the adventure. Recently I took a rather large leap of faith, by moving halfway across the country to an unfamiliar city where I have no family and no friends, to […]

    In my 23 years of life, I have lived in 7 different cities. That may not sound like much, but growing up it was quite the adventure. Recently I took a rather large leap of faith, by moving halfway across the country to an unfamiliar city where I have no family and no friends, to start a career in advertising here at PJA. The past month has been quite the adventure to say the least. If there is any wisdom I can share from moving around and taking chances, it is that you’ll never truly know what is on the other side of fear until you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and take that plunge.


    One of my favorite quotes that I try to live by comes from Christopher McCandless, the late American adventurer and subject of the film and novel “Into The Wild”. The quote reads,  “The core of a man’s spirit comes from new experiences”.  This quote has always powerfully resonated with me, and I couldn’t agree with it more. I have come to believe that one of the things that most defines us as who are, is who we are in the uneasy and difficult times of our lives. These times of uncertainty and breaking new ground help to lay a foundation for how we deal with what life will throw at us, regardless of what that may be.


    I have always felt lucky and blessed to be apart of a family that moved around often growing up. True, leaving friends and schools to start over were tough, but I always ended up loving where we landed. I’ve noticed a pattern throughout my life beginning with these moves as a kid. In high school for example, I had a great four years, and some incredible friends. I was excited for college, but scared and sad to leave all my high school friends and the comfort all of that brought me, behind. Now, with 4 years of college behind me, I had the best four years of my life. I’ve realized fearing the next step in life is futile. That next part of life is always going to come at you, and it’s best to fully embrace it, and rush head on into it, because if life thus far has taught me anything, it’s that the best is yet to come.


    If you are a fan of the television show “The Office”, you may recall the following quote from character Andy Bernard: “I wish there was a way to know you are in the good ol’ days before you’ve left them”. As I’ve left college and moved away, I’ve often found myself thinking of this line, and while there is validity to it, I have a hard time accepting it. Nostalgia is one of the stronger human emotions, one that can make us feel real heartache and a wistful affection for the past. But I truly believe that with the end of one chapter, an even better one begins. We are always working on “the good ol’ days”. True, we get older and leave memories and sometimes friends behind, but there is so much greatness that lies ahead, whether it is with your career, friends, your family, new place to live, etc.  One of the best parts about moving around a lot I have found, is that I am blessed and lucky enough to have friends and memories all over the country. While I travel, I can always reach out and reconnect with an old friend, and that is pretty special.


    I digress, but what I have been really working to get to is that taking chances and indulging in new experiences is an important and essential part of life. I don’t mean to say that you have to uproot your life and move halfway across the country to have a meaningful life, but the next time an opportunity presents itself, however small it may be, take that chance. Ask that guy/girl out, try that new place for dinner, make a new friend, or try a new hobby. I’m only 23 and still a large work in progress so I’m certainly no life coach, but I can tell you that adventure is out there. It’s up to you to take that leap, and I for one, am so glad that I did.

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      Don’t Bully My Breed: Why I Love my Pitbull

      Jenn Fortier, Staff Accountant. Jennifer is a huge animal lover, hates cold winters and wonders why she has never moved out of New England. She works in the finance department where her biggest struggle IN LIFE is trying to get people to enter their time. She's a huge advocate of changing PJA's time entering environment one smile at a time. Or one threat at a time. Whatever works.

      Growing up, you’re always taught to never judge a book by its cover, so when it comes to dogs why do people tend to forget that? I can’t tell you how many times people have walked up to me telling me how beautiful my dog is and the big smiles that come across their faces […]

      Growing up, you’re always taught to never judge a book by its cover, so when it comes to dogs why do people tend to forget that? I can’t tell you how many times people have walked up to me telling me how beautiful my dog is and the big smiles that come across their faces when he shakes his bum like crazy because he can’t control his excitement. Then they ask me what his breed is and as soon as I reply with “pitbull,” they back up, their facial expressions change and they walk away. Why is it that during the moments when they didn’t know the breed, they loved him for exactly what he was – loveable, excited, good-natured Louie, but then just the name of his breed made them turn around and immediately become scared? I’ll tell you why. The media.

      “Pitbull attacks” grabs your attention a lot quicker than “German Shepherd attacks” because they’ve programmed you to believe that pitbulls are bad and breeds like German Shepherds aren’t, so it makes you want to read more, therefore, increasing their ratings. What they don’t tell you is the background of these “attacks” and how like any other breed, they’re a dog. They’re an animal. Any breed of dog, any animal, can attack at any time and well, they do. You just don’t hear about it because it doesn’t make for a fancy headline. You also don’t hear about the GREAT things these dogs do. Take a look at this website to see some.


      As a matter of fact, the Pitbull Terrier scores higher on the Temperament Test provided by the ATTS (American Temperament Test Society) than a lot of breeds that are considered safe, family friendly dogs. “The ATTS test focuses on and measures different aspects of temperament such as stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness as well as the dog’s instinct for protectiveness towards its handler and/or self-preservation in the face of a threat.” The Pitbull scores a remarkable 86.8% after testing 870 of them. Chihuahua’s scored 69.8%, Cocker spaniel’s 83.3%, German Shepherds 84.8%, Golden Retrievers 85.2%, Maltese 81.3% and the list goes on.

      Here are a few myths you should familiarize yourself with:

      • Pitbulls have locking jaws –FALSE. They have the same mouths as every other dog (besides their ability to flash gigantic, humorous smiles) and they aren’t even the most powerful of all the breeds.
      • Pitbulls aren’t good with kids. – FALSE. This brings me back to – a dog is a dog. It’s not breed specific. Louie, for instance, is GREAT with children, even babies. Kids poke him, pull his tail, pinch him etc, and all he seems to want to do is kiss them back. Would I leave him alone in a room with a child? Probably not, but I wouldn’t do this with any breed of dog because as much as we want to look at our animals as our children, they are animals. Even the most well-behaved, best trained dog could have a bad day just like we do. That being said, they used to be known as “nanny dogs” and were left alone to watch over children in the 1800s. I highly doubt any parent would leave their child alone with an aggressive dog, but that’s just me.
      • They aren’t safe around other dogs. – FALSE. My dog has been pushed down, bitten, etc. and want to know how he reacts? He lies down with his tail between his legs and his ears back until the dog leaves him alone. He’s never fought back or even shown his teeth. Then he’s right back up and trying to be friends with the same dog that just bit him. I don’t think they know how to hold grudges. They just want to play and love.
      • They can’t be rehabilitated. Once a fighter, always a fighter. – This could not be further from the truth. Take Michael Vick’s dogs for instance.

      All in all, I’d just like you all to be informed before you judge. A responsible owner makes for a great dog, regardless of the breed. Louie has brought an immense amount of joy to my life. I don’t think any male would be allowed to cuddle in my bed after ruining hundreds of pairs of shoes, but that’s what you do in the name of love I guess.




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        “The Beginner’s Mind: Can It Work in Your Business?” An Unconventionals Roundtable

        Hugh Kennedy, Partner, EVP Planning, Healthcare Practice Lead. Hugh joined PJA in 1992 and still loves coming to work. He also writes The Secret Life of the Life Scientist, a blog about marketing to those who discover. Hugh has three Swiss Mountain Dogs, two children, and one husband.

        Zen practice is about stripping away one’s biases, prejudices, and blindness. It’s about realizing the essence of things. When Randy Komisar of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers voiced this opinion, he was essentially referring to the power of naiveté – or the beginner’s mind – in business. It’s an idea that has caught on in our age […]

        Zen practice is about stripping away one’s biases, prejudices, and blindness. It’s about realizing the essence of things. When Randy Komisar of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers voiced this opinion, he was essentially referring to the power of naiveté – or the beginner’s mind – in business. It’s an idea that has caught on in our age of minimum viable products.

        The Unconventionals wondered how some CEOs of fast-growth companies felt about the spirit of beginner’s mind and the ways it has worked to drive their success. Here are the highlights of our conversation.



        THE UNCONVENTIONALS: To kick off, where has a spirit of beginner’s mind and the naïveté that allows worked well in your business?

        CAREY SMITH: I think that in order to start a business, you certainly have to have naïveté, because if you knew anything at all about business or about risk, about what you were stepping into, you certainly wouldn’t do it. When you start a business young, you’ve got a lot of energy and you’re willing to put up with an awful lot of mistakes. I would hate to be 50 years old and thinking about starting a business, because it’s just a lot of hard work. I used to work 85- and 90-hour weeks; it was ridiculous. In thinking about being naïve if you already have a business in motion, I think that’s interesting. I think that I like to travel in that fashion and not know where I’m going.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: When you started Big Ass Fans, there were things that you did that were not the norm in your industry. You didn’t know what you were doing, so you went ahead and did it anyway, and I know some good came out of those original instincts.  Can you talk about plowing ahead and doing things the way that felt right to you, and how that actually ended up creating a lot of value in your business?

        CAREY SMITH:  The first business I had was not Big Ass Fans, and that business was a long failure. The fact that we continued to work was indicative of the fact that we didn’t know an awful lot about business, and it was a self-taught process. The naïveté came in when we broke away from a standard middle-class life working for large corporations and didn’t having a discernible path in front of us.  When you’re doing it by yourself, really you don’t have any mentors. But as you do it over a period of time, obviously you learn a number of things.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: The sense of naïveté that I think is more meaningful for disruptive businesses is the Zen notion of beginner’s mind, of cultivating the mind of a beginner. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s minds, there are few.  So if you’re an expert at manufacturing, I’d assume you’re not going to come in and say, “I’m actually going to make my stuff here in America,” versus, “Go after the lowest manufacturing costs in China or Vietnam or wherever they happen to be.”  You did some things very differently not because you were naïve, but more that you were maybe confident enough to know you had some original insights and you were going to stick with them.

        CAREY SMITH:  I think you’re right there, although I wouldn’t classify it as Zen-like, I would classify it as more of a contrarian approach to business. Typically, if everybody is going east, you should probably head west, just in general. From my perspective, we concentrate on the goal, and we have a tendency to ignore everything between where we start and the goal in terms of what might be the typical set of expectations. I don’t think that we’re trying to get into a Zen-like mood to do this.  I just wonder if the guy that was espousing the Zen was actually a businessperson.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: No, he’s a Zen practitioner. But one interesting aside is there’s a Stanford professor who works at Kleiner, Perkins in Silicon Valley, and he says with their startup companies they try to create places where intense innovation happens, in part by combining people who know too little with people who know too much.

        CAREY SMITH:  I’ll have to say that most of the time the preconceived notions are wrong, and that’s just the way it is.  Most of what you think is true simply isn’t true, and any time you look at a business or marketing or opportunities, that’s the way you have to be. For us to think that we could actually design software, firmware, hardware, write the apps ourselves and do all of these things that most people associate with the west coast, it’s shocking. But before we started that, we simply said, “What do we need to do, where do we want to go? We want to build things into a ceiling fan that have never been conceived in a ceiling fan before. What do we actually want that to be?” So you start with a blank page and you imagine what would it be like, what would perfection look like in this space, and then how can you make that happen? I suppose that the mind-emptying phase is great, as long as you don’t forget that you just emptied it, you might need to fill it up at some point in the future. But for me you can never do what other people did. There’s not a lot of cachet and no way to make a mark by doing something that somebody else has done.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: Jon, there’s a lot in what Carey’s talking about that makes me think you discarded or ignored or maybe just didn’t know about a lot of the conventional wisdom in starting up a burger restaurant when you started b.good.  Was there some naïveté or more deliberate sense that “I’m going to approach this as a beginner and not fall into some of the mistakes that all the other companies fall into?”

        JON OLINTO: Completely. I think our story’s very similar. When my business partner Anthony and I started, it was very much built on youthful optimism and naïveté. We thought we were going to change the industry and the world, and I think that’s a great goal, but you have to kind of be stupid and idealistic to have that in mind and to feel inspired in that way. We didn’t have a blueprint for how to start a business, and we definitely didn’t want the blueprint. I think we tried to cultivate that beginner’s mind. If we had known too much, we wouldn’t have tried to do it, because we made a ton of mistakes, we lost a ton of money and it really is a super risky business. If you told me now that I was going to start b.good and that I was going to do it the same way, there’s no chance I would’ve done it.  But I wouldn’t change anything about the way we got here, and I guess that’s the ironic part of it.  Because I feel like all the pain and all the stupid things we did made us better businesspeople because of it.

        CAREY SMITH: I’m betting your memory’s not that good, though.

        JON OLINTO: Yeah, I have trouble. I have selective amnesia.

        From Beginner’s Mind to Performance Pressure

        MIKE O’TOOLE: I know you both have had the experience as well where you’d become pretty sizable companies in your industries and have had experts come along who try to say, “That was fine for when you’re a young company, but now you need to start behaving like the rest of the industry does.” I think of you Carey, with all the advice you used to get about changing your name, or you, Jon, when you took Coca-Cola products out of your restaurant and replaced them with an independent producer.  Can you guys talk a little bit about that pressure to conform and listen to experts as you get a little bit bigger and more established?

        CAREY SMITH:  People are accustomed to seeing certain things in certain places, and people are really not that imaginative as a rule. But what I found personally was that when you get to a certain level, people recognize, “Oh, well maybe these guys know what the hell they’re doing.”  And that’s a big deal, that’s like the first time you were able to pay yourself. But it’s one of those phases of business that you go through, because there’s very, very little to be gained by listening to people that have not done it or that have done it in a conventional fashion.  I mean, I appreciate the efforts, but normally have very little to say.

        JON OLINTO: Yeah, I totally agree.  We intentionally disrupted our model and took a risk, but every time we’ve done that, we get paid for it. Whenever we make a change that gets us closer to our vision of what our brand is supposed to be, it always works.  And I think that now we have built a little more credibility, so now there’s less resistance among our investors or our board or whoever else our stakeholders are. We’re actually going to start making our own soda, which is a thing, right?  But we’re going to make a fresh syrup that we’re going to keep in a refrigerated cabinet underneath the counter, and then we’re going to be really the only restaurant that I know of and that our equipment manufacturer knows that’s going to try to do this. It’s part of our push to change what the status quo is and what the market has adopted.

        CAREY SMITH: I think what you learned from that is that you listened to your own advice more. It’s a point of pride. I mean—yeah, goddammit, this is the way we’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it that way because I know in my bones that this is the way to do it. And for both of us I’m sure it’s a little bit difficult to listen to someone who hasn’t gone through this. There is a learning process when you do your own thing and you pay attention to other people that have done it. That’s where you learn. Not from Kleiner, Perkins.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: It strikes me that there’s a point in an evolution where when you’re no longer new and unproven and a cautionary tale.  Everybody once said, “Boy, did he make a mistake.  That’s a really stupid name, it offends customers,” or, “What does he mean, he wants to do a burger that’s healthy,” or whatever it is. But once you hit a certain point of success, you go from being a cautionary tale to a case study.

        Keeping it Unconventional by Staying True to Vision

        THE UNCONVENTIONALS: Carey, are there specific examples of things where you’ve just said, “I’ve got to strip away all my conventions and do this instead of this?”

        CAREY SMITH: I think people are starting understand that the name of the company says a lot more about the way we do business than anything else, and that is that we have a tendency to go with things in a contrary fashion. One of the most important things we do is going direct, not having any distributors or dealers or reps. That is very contrary to the way everybody else does business, at least in our market. That allows us more margin, which we’re able to put into R&D, and it allows us to put more money in marketing, because we’re not paying somebody that’s putting our product on the shelf and waiting for another person to come in and buy it. It also allows us to collect a huge amount of customer data. So it’s very easy for us to turn around and say we need to do LED lighting. We built an LED lighting department and we built up the engineering side and designed and started producing LED industrial lights.  And that’s something that you can only get if you know your customers exceptionally well, and the only way you’re ever going to do that is you’re going to have to talk to them every day.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: Also, you’ve got a way of designing product, building product, and servicing your customers that’s unique in the industry, so you wouldn’t necessarily want to trust any of that to a distributor who might just use the same tactics they would use with any other fan.

        CAREY SMITH:  You can’t do it.  And again, it’s not because the distributors are bad people, they’re not bad people, it’s just that their interests and our interests only converge occasionally. Because we’re trying to sell basically one product, whereas a distributor has got to sell 100 products.  They’re not really all that engaged in our product if they’ve got 99 other products. I think that whole model is collapsing, and I think that’s very interesting.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: I didn’t know you guys were starting to do Internet of Things and maybe some software development.  I’m sure most people who hear that would say, “Well, you can’t really do that in Lexington, Kentucky, because you don’t have the base of software engineers, and you don’t have the other compatible companies, and you don’t have the funders,” or whatever, but it occurs to me that there’s probably some advantages of developing software for your industry if you’re in Lexington, Kentucky, than if you were in Palo Alto inside the echo chamber in Silicon Valley, where that sort of pushes everything to be kind of similar. Do you ever see it that way?

        CAREY SMITH:  Maybe if this was 30 years ago, maybe that would make a difference, but the way the world works today, we have access to an awful lot of engineers. It’s funny sometimes because people do say about us, “Well, if you’re so interested in that, why are you in Kentucky?”  And that’s certainly not 21st-century logic.  But again, if you’re looking at it that way, that’s a good thing from my perspective, because we’re going to catch up and beat you on the head, and that’s fine in business.  I’d rather come up on you from behind and you not know what’s going on. There is another piece of this, which is that in Silicon Valley there are so fixated on the software aspects, and we’re a manufacturer.  We’ve always focused on building things and making things that do work for other people, and when you combine those two cultures, you get something that doesn’t exist, certainly not in Silicon Valley, and quite honestly, doesn’t exist in a lot of other places, either. But if you’re thinking in an unconventional way, maybe you say, “Well, hell yeah, why not?”  And that’s what we do.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: What about for you, Jon? Do you include some of those industry people with deep experience as your advisors as you grow, or do you find you continue to listen to your own counsel or to other people who bring a fresh perspective?

        JON OLINTO: I think it depends on what the decision is. I think if we’re making money or if we’re evaluating locations, and it’s true business acumen, then we absolutely go to our board.  I think if it’s something that has to do with our customers, then we do it based on them. For the first six years of our business’s life, I was in the restaurant every single day.  I knew every single customer.  I think that grounding in the actual operation and knowing how these interactions happen, how people experience what we do, gives us good instincts on what we need. One example is our loyalty system.  If we had gone to the board to ask them what we should do, the instruction would have been to go find an off-the-shelf piece of software, plug it in, and roll it out.  That didn’t fit the needs of the brand we wanted to create, to be human and to create emotion, so we went out and wrote our own statement of work and found a vendor to build it to our spec.  Now, doing it that way, there’s so much more pain, and it’s so much harder, but the payoff is so much better when you actually nail it, right?  You learn so much along the way that you’re better positioned to make it better and be innovative and stay focused future enhancements and all that stuff.

        THE UNCONVENTIONALS: Maybe just as a final question, Jon, I know when we talked last, you talked about the fact that you don’t want to be stuck in the box of being just a burger joint, because there are so many burger joints that exist, and so many new ones, and you’re really about really good food, but done quickly. As you said, your quinoa bowl is your number one menu item these days. Are you using beginner’s mind thinking to come to new approaches to reposition the company as you grow?

        JON OLINTO: Yes, We absolutely needed to retrain ourselves and go back to have that beginner’s mind. We had been open about eight years and had gotten comfortable with what our menu looked like. We were a little defensive about changing, but we got over it. We went back to our roots, which are, “Try to change the business by having an open slate.  Don’t bring any prejudices to the table.”  So two years ago we hired a vegan chef from New York City to come in and do an audit of our entire menu.  And that kind of lit the fire to understanding that our definition of real food is not about burgers and fries, it’s about making real food and how you define that. And how we define that is, It’s food from farmers made by people, not factories, and served by families. We thought that was radical and revolutionary, but what we didn’t realize was that the market was changing around us, and the definition of real food was changing.  Our customers’ their tastes had changed and the way they thought about wholesome food had changed. So two years ago, we needed a kick in the ass to say, “Let’s figure out what real food means now.” So over the last few years we totally changed our menu and introduced some really interesting products. But we’ve done it without really altering the brand or what it means, and it’s been really successful.  We’re showing the highest change to our sales growth we’ve ever had.  And we can’t keep doing that unless we just keep reinventing ourselves and revolutionizing that menu.  So we definitely applied beginner’s mind applied to our menu.

        MIKE O’TOOLE: That’s great.  And doing it based on this core commitment to real food gave you a North Star that allowed you to make sure you were confident in that and you were making the right decisions. Which is a nice counterpoint to beginner’s mind. I know you’ve got your own analogues, Carey, on the Big Ass side. Any final thoughts?

        CAREY SMITH:  If we have a North Star, it’s continual innovation, and we have a product roadmap that runs out as far as we can push it. But I do think that’s one of the reasons that we’ve been able to grow at over 35% this year and over 30% since the recession. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we’re always rethinking what our products are, the way we go to market, the way we handle our administrative side.  So it’s a constant drive. I don’t think you could ever let it up, not if you want to stay in the market.  Not if you want to grow.

        JON OLINTO: Thanks, guys.  I can’t wait to open b.good in Kentucky some day.

        CAREY SMITH:  There you go.  Put some fans in your goddamn stores, maybe that’ll help.



        Panelist Profiles

        Carey Smith, Founder and Chief Big Ass, Big Ass Solutions
        Carey formed industrial and home fan company Big Ass in 1999 to become a 200-year company, one that always acts in the best long-term interests of its customers, employees and suppliers. He has delivered in spades to date, and today has a $175 million enterprise that expanded even during the Great Recession. Carey has kept Big Ass private as well, so he could grow the company he envisioned, not what any outside investors demanded.

        Jon Olinto, Founder and CEO, b.good
        Along side his business partner and childhood best friend, Jon opened the first b.good in Boston’s Back Bay in January 2004. Now, b.good has 17 successful locations throughout and beyond New England, and many more units in development across the country. Jon is also founder and chairman of b.good’s Family Foundation, which issues quarterly micro-grants to inspired social entrepreneurs based on the vote of b.good’s community of customers.

        Mike O’Toole, President, PJA Advertising + Marketing; creator of The Unconventionals
        Mike has overseen strategy and operations for PJA’s Cambridge, MA and San Francisco offices for over 18 years. Mike advises senior marketers at clients such as Red Hat, Brother International and Honeywell on marketing strategy and accountability. Under Mike’s leadership, PJA has been named an AdAge BtoB Agency of the Year six of the last eight years. Mike is a blogger for Forbes CMO Network and a board member of College Bound Dorchester.

        Scratching The Surface: 4 Reasons You Should (Still) Listen to Music on Vinyl

        Devon Dawson, Strategist. Devon Dawson has been a copywriter and digital/content strategist for just under a decade, with experience in the marketing and branding agency settings, as well as with influential startups throughout the country. Prior to advertising, Devon worked professionally as an audio engineer and producer, and still runs a small Boston-based recording studio in his free time.

        Vinyl is making its comeback. That’s right. The same records you – depending on age – gave away long ago, or found in your stoner uncle’s basement, are once again the cool way to listen to music. It’s interesting to think that as more and more options become available to stream music, more folks are resorting to […]


        Vinyl is making its comeback. That’s right. The same records you – depending on age – gave away long ago, or found in your stoner uncle’s basement, are once again the cool way to listen to music. It’s interesting to think that as more and more options become available to stream music, more folks are resorting to something that “went extinct” 30 years ago.

        So why the sudden turntable trend? There are a bunch of reasons for the renaissance, but in this particular blog, we’re going to focus on one: Vinyl is an incredibly rewarding way to listen to music. Why’s that? I’m glad you asked.

        Here are 4 reasons you should consider choose spinning more records.

        1. Vinyl Sounds Better than Digital

        It’s a non-subjective, non-polarizing fact that records sound better than other mediums. Oh wait… turns out there are a shit-ton of opinions on this, with each side of the debate claiming empirical evidence as to whether or not records actually sound better. So I can only speak from my gut.

        Let’s just say I believe records sound better than other mediums. But there’s rationale behind my feelings.

        One of the reasons records sound great is that vinyl has this immeasurable quality audiophiles call warmth. (Pretension alert! Feel free to send mocking tweets to @devonjdawson.) The idea of tonal warmth comes from certain mediums actually moving air differently than others, creating a more alive and physical listening experience. Many people will argue that vinyl imparts a certain excitement to its sound while digital tends to be lifeless and sterile. You’ll hear movie snobs say that film “looks” better than digital for similar reasons.

        In normal-people speak: Vinyl makes sound molecules dance in ways digital cannot. Basses sound deeper, mids resonate more, and highs are less harsh. (There are many more reasons this is true, but that’s a way longer, even more pompous blog.) 

        2. Being a Captive Audience Is Good for You

        We live in a Verruca Salt world where we’re able to get everything we desire almost immediately. Why would we wade through other songs to get to the one we want? Yet vinyl requires patience; it’s not easy to skip around. In reality, vinyl makes the listener a more active participant in the album as a whole.

        And funny things happen when you’re forced to experience an album this way. For starters, you hear other songs by the artist. This not only grows your affinity for artists who can deliver lots of good songs (as opposed to one), but also your awareness of the thought and time that goes into crafting a record. Moreover, you’re more likely to welcome the emotional journey the music will take you on. Like a favorite movie, you run through a gamut of emotional peaks and valleys throughout the course of a record. That shit’s rewarding!

        I’ve also found vinyl listeners have a deeper appreciation for more complicated music – when you’re a captive audience, lots of layers to pick apart is a good thing. This doesn’t mean your taste gets better – I don’t believe there’s good or bad taste when it comes to music – it means you grow as a listener. (Yes, there are gradations to Justin Bieber that casual listeners aren’t experiencing.)

        3. Some Music Was Just Meant for Vinyl

        Ugh. What a douche-y third point. I want to punch myself for even typing this, so I can only imagine how you feel reading it. Yet it’s true; older music was recorded with vinyl in mind. This means every decision-maker, from the singer to the mastering engineer, was focused on a specific end product. There’s a reason old Temptations’ songs sound bad on your tiny laptop speaker, and that has nothing to do with them or your laptop: MP3s and Motown were never meant to go together.

        This isn’t just hipster-jargon either. There are pragmatic reasons why older music sounds better on vinyl. In the 1980s, compact discs became en vogue for being sleek and convenient, and music labels were in a rush to digitize old albums in this new format so they could re-sell them to fans at a marked-up price. (They did the same thing with MP3s and will do it again with ‘lossless FLAC files’ soon. Labels are evil and don’t ever forget it.) There was only one problem with upgrading classic albums: the technology wasn’t there yet. Suddenly recorded music that sounded beautiful on its intended medium seemed weak or unnecessarily shrill on CD.

        This tainted some great music. An example? Listen to the seminal jazz album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis on vinyl and the horns melt your face off; listen to a digital version and the group might as well be underwater.

        I wonder how many people born from 1980-on (this technically includes me) think older music sucks because they’ve never truly heard how it was supposed to sound.

        4. You Listen with More Than Your Ears

        While so much of the vinyl experience is focused on perceived sound quality, there’s another component to listening: the physical art of a record. While it’s hearsay to some, I believe the sense of touch and sight are big influencers on how you feel about an album. Art is incredibly visceral, and sometimes, something as silly as liking cover art can be enough to get the blood flowing.

        The ‘vinyl experience’ is part of that physical, too. The ritualistic act of pulling the vinyl from its sleeve. The crackle of the needle hitting the first groove. The retreat of the gears on your turntable saying, “It’s time to flip to the B-side.” These are enjoyable parts of the listening experience that only come from a physical entity. (Right now, readers above the age of 50 are nodding their heads and reminiscing.)

        Think I’m crazy? Ask coffee drinkers about their routine. Nuances matter.

        Does this mean I only listen to music on vinyl? No! That’d be impractical and crazy. I live in the real world. I listen to MP3s in my car and stream Spotify at work like everybody else. I’ll even watch a lo-fi YouTube of a live show off someone’s phone. There’s nothing wrong with listening to music like this.

        However, I do believe there’s also an opportunity to create a real moment with the music you love. After all, sitting on a crowded train with earbuds isn’t the ideal way to listen to any music, whether it’s Lorde and Katy Perry, to The Beatles and Animal Collective.

        The most important thing is that you truly enjoy the music you’re listening to. For me – and maybe/hopefully you after reading this article – that means carving some time out to put on a vinyl, grab a drink, and really, truly listen.