The Twinkie Template For Building An Eternal Brand

Twinkies have been the butt of jokes in shows like Family Guy and movies like Wall-E. Any brand faces challenges, but if it's carefully built, it can be strong enough to sustain almost any bad press. Here's how to make sure your personal brand is up to the Twinkie standard.

In the last couple of weeks, have you ever heard so much about Twinkies? I mean, since you were six years old?

In case you missed our recent national panic attack, America collectively gasped when it was announced that the Hostess snack food company was going out of business due to a labor dispute and, as a result, its flagship product, Twinkies, would soon disappear from store shelves.

The Twinkie feeding frenzy quickly began. Shoppers stormed stores to hoard the packaged treats, and escalating bids for Twinkies and Twinkie-related products were soon helping eBay sellers realize some pretty delicious profits. Twinkies even became a political football (were they the victim of Obamacare or vulture capitalism?) and, closer to home, grandpa got pretty angry about the potential loss of his beloved munchie.

What’s funny about all this sudden Twinkie worship is that Twinkies have weathered their share of branding storms over the years. There was the urban legend that Twinkies are made of so many ingredients that aren’t real food that they remain edible forever (not true--they have a shelf life of about 25 days). There was the infamous “Twinkie defense,” employed unsuccessfully in 1979 by the man who shot the San Francisco mayor (as well as city supervisor Harvey Milk), who claimed that too much junk food caused him to turn homicidal. And, of course, Twinkies have been the butt of jokes in shows like Family Guy and movies such as Wall-E. Any brand faces challenges--particularly one that’s been around for more than 80 years. If a brand is carefully built, however, it can be strong enough to sustain almost any bad press.

So--how can you make sure your personal brand is up to the Twinkie standard? Here are a few tips, courtesy of The Disney Institute, that lead to long-lasting success.

1. The Emotional Connection

The strongest way you can bond your audience to your brand is through emotion, and the best way to create that emotional component is through storytelling. We’ve written about the power of storytelling before, because it’s an integral part of our approach on behalf of our clients. When you frame your brand’s story in the right way, you reach people on a very deep level.

Twinkies, by the way, are fortunate in the fact that most of us have already crafted our own Twinkie brand story in our heads. Because they’ve been around so long, we all grew up with them; they were an integral part of many a childhood lunch. That’s why the thought of them not being around anymore elicited so much panic.

2. Employees as an Emotional Engine

Disney calls its theme park employees their “cast members,” and they all receive careful instructions on how they should present themselves to Disney guests. To quote the Disney institute, “Brand loyalty…is seen as a reciprocal relationship, beginning with us. Each cast member, regardless of rank, understands that we must be loyal to our customers to receive loyalty in return.”

Similarly, the people who work for you, or even vendors who interact with the general public on your behalf, should act as ambassadors of your “brand story” with points of difference in their presentations that set you apart from the competition. Beyond that, your products should be packaged and labeled in a manner that also extends your brand story.

3. Build Repeat Business

If your brand doesn’t prompt people to come back to you for more, how in the world will it have any longevity? That means you must make sure your brand truly connects with your target audience and that you continue to expand its appeal beyond its original buyers. Also, as Disney makes clear, you need to be your toughest critic. If you’re not honest enough to confront your brand’s weaknesses and find ways to continually improve your delivery, you’re not giving folks the motivation to keep buying from you.

Twinkies may not, in reality, last forever…but their brand just might, and so can yours. We should all aim to build a brand with the lasting value of America’s favorite snack--but maybe with a little more nutritional value.

JW Dicks (@jwdicks) & Nick Nanton (@nicknanton) are best-selling authors who consult for small- and medium-sized businesses on how to build their business through personality driven marketing, personal brand positioning, guaranteed media, and mining hidden business assets. They offer free articles, white papers, and case studies at celebritybrandingagency.com.

[Image: Flickr user Photog Bill]

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4 Comments

  • Emily Howard Griebel

    Good stuff (not Twinkies, the article).

    --Emily Griebel
    Integration Architect, McKee Wallwork Cleveland

  • M_Becker

    Right down the line.

    It's important to note that in the case of Twinkies (all of the Hostess brands, actually) the death knell for the corporation - but NOT the brand - was their employees.

    Hostess was a union shop.  Roughly 15,000 of their 18,000 employees were union and it was the unions that kill Hostess.  The company was tied in knots with about 300 national and local contracts and those dictated work rules that were the final straw for Hostess.

    Pointing out Disney as an example of an organization whose employees promote the brand is a good choice.  Note that they are not unionized.  That's a trait of organizations whose employees do brand promotion.

    An important addition to your article should be "Keep unions out of your business.":

  • Jonathan Crowe

    Great post JW and Nick. I think the reaction to this has been fascinating. America's love for the Twinkie is just such a funny thing.

    Like you point out, on one hand it's the butt of so many jokes and represents the embarrassing, underachieving, empty-calorie-loving side of us. On the other hand, it holds such an iconic, nostalgic place in our hearts (and our arteries) that we're oddly fond & protective of it.

    That's why I don't think it's going anywhere. As you point out, the Twinkie brand story is too well established. I'm sure some company will bring the brand back, and it just so happens I wrote a modest plan for a "Save the Twinkie" relaunch: http://blog.openviewpartners.c...