Building a Brand Around a Personality

Building a Brand Around a Personality

By LAURA LORBER,  7/18/2007
From The Wall Street Journal Online

Uncle Wally’s may not be as famous as Famous Amos, but the same
person is behind both brands: Wally Amos.

Once a show-business promoter, Mr. Amos started selling
chocolate-chip cookies in 1975 in his store in Hollywood, Calif. The business
took off, as Mr. Amos rode a gourmet cookie craze and advocated for adult
literacy. Mr. Amos eventually lost the business and became its paid spokesman.
It changed hands several times, and now is owned by Kellogg Co.’s Keebler brand.

After false starts with two new companies, in 1992 he
co-founded Uncle Wally’s Muffins Corp., a firm in Shirley, N.Y. He’s chairman
and spokesman for the firm, which has 140 employees. Mr. Amos, 71, also owns
Chip and Cookie, a cookie store in Kailua, Hawaii, with his wife Christine, and
is the founder of the Chip and Cookie Read Aloud Foundation. We spoke with Mr.
Amos about building a product brand identity around a personality.

WSJ: What’s key to branding a product around a person?

Wally Amos: Here’s Wally Amos’s philosophy: You’re in
business to make friends. For someone to buy your product, they really have to
like you, which is key to personality branding.

Wally Amos with
Uncle Wally’s Muffins


If I’m your friend, you’re going to do whatever you can to help
me. As a business owner, I have a responsibility in that, though. I have to
honor the friendship with my customer by producing a quality product, with
integrity, by doing what I say I’m going to do, by being a company that gives
back to the community, by being a civic-minded company.

Sure, you’re in business to make money. And you have to make a
profit, but what are you going to do for the customers? Why would the customer
buy your product over another product? What if you have two muffins and both of
them taste good? I would believe that if someone had their choice between two
muffins or two cookies that both tasted great that they would choose the Wally
Amos product.

That’s what branding is — the brand stands for something. The
brand creates the income. People buy the product, because they know that the
brand has integrity, has credibility, and the company stands behind it. If
customers have a problem with the product, they can pick up the phone and get
satisfaction. But all of those things create profits.

Why should someone buy your product? It satisfies a need that
they have. There are so many choices today. What are you going to do to stand

WSJ: What’s the hardest part of building a personality-based

Mr. Amos: I’ve always operated on a very personal level.
Because if I can meet you, one-on-one, I’m going to be your friend. I’m going to
win you over. You’re going to taste my product, and you’re going to like my
product, and you’re going to like me, and that’s genuine.

You’ve got to have a personality. You have to be somewhat of an
extrovert, because you’re before the public all the time. And you have to be
passionate about your product. This doesn’t work for everybody, everybody
doesn’t have the personality to be out front.

When you put your name and your picture on a product, it’s a
double-edged sword. If people don’t like you, or you do something that
discourages them or that is not ethical, you can go out of business. When you
and the brand become one, whatever you do will ultimately affect the brand. If
you’re exposed to something other than credibility and integrity, then
ultimately your brand is affected.

WSJ: How does Uncle Wally’s build its brand?

Mr. Amos: Word of mouth is huge. Word of mouth is the
best way to promote a product or to brand a product, which is what I did with
Famous Amos. We had huge word of mouth. We had a lot of media attention, because
I opened a store selling only chocolate-chip cookies, and we tied Famous Amos in
with literacy. To use all of those avenues to bring attention to your product is

Public relations becomes a huge part of that. That’s why we’ve
always used cause marketing. When I had Famous Amos, I hooked up with Literacy
Volunteers of America. I became as identified with adult literacy as I did with
cookies, and that endeared me to people, because they knew that I meant it.

WSJ: What’s different about how you promote Uncle Wally’s,
compared to how Famous Amos was promoted?

Mr. Amos: I don’t know that there is anything different.
With Uncle Wally’s, we believe in giving muffins away and letting people taste
muffins, because the best way to sell a food product is to let someone taste it.
I always tell people: You can’t fool your mouth. We align ourselves with
nonprofit groups to help their causes, which helps our cause, and it helps their
audience taste our product. We’ll give away muffins in a heartbeat — to
charities, sometimes at events. It’s all basic common sense stuff.

There are a lot of companies that sell muffins. There were no
cookie stores. There are some limitations. I can carry cookies around very
easily. I can’t carry muffins. Muffins are more of a breakfast food, rather than
a snack that you can eat all day. Ideas are not all transferable from one
product to the next, just because you do it with one thing, doesn’t mean that
you do it with another.

Even with cookies, I thought starting Chip and Cookie would be
a breeze. It’s almost two years, and we haven’t had a profit yet. We had a big
opening party, and I said, ‘OK, this is going to catapult me.’ But it didn’t. It
did when I had Famous Amos, but these are different times. It’s a different
location. I’m in Hawaii. With Famous Amos, I was in Hollywood. Everything is
different. It was 30 years later when I started Chip and Cookie. It’s a whole
different audience.

WSJ: What advice do you have for small-business owners
looking to brand a product around their personality?

Mr. Amos: You can’t compete with the big guys. So don’t
even attempt to do that. You don’t have the money, you don’t have the resources.
But many small businesses today, because they don’t have the budgets and they
can’t compete with all these big companies, are personalizing their business.

In this day and age when everything is so big, big is not
better. Big is just bigger. People buy from other people. People do business
with other people. If you have a product that lends itself to you being the
spokesperson for it, you can be the person out front.

Be consistent in who you are. You have to use what you sell,
and you’re going to have to know everything there is to know about what you
sell. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing, because otherwise
you’re not going to be able to convince people to buy it.

You need to do what you like. Too many people get in business
to make money. You have to make money. But if that’s your single motivation,
that’s not enough. It’s important to have fun. If you don’t have fun, I don’t
give a damn what you’re selling, you’re not going to be successful with it. I
know a lot of people who have a lot of money who are miserable. And I don’t want
to be one of them.

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