I recently read that Al Ries passed away on October 7, 2022, at the age of 95. Perhaps a few of the folks in marketing recognize his name. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, he and his then-partner Jack Trout introduced and popularized the concept of positioning. This at-the-time radical concept represented a departure from marketing brand and product benefits to marketers owning a fixed place for a brand in the consumer’s mind.
“Success depends on finding an open hole in the mind and becoming the first to fill the hole with a brand,” wrote Trout and Ries in a series of articles published in Ad Age*.
The article and its success led to the publishing of an impactful book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, the first of many books written by Ries and Trout.
I was working for Fresh Express in the early ’90s, and the company was in a race—actually a war—to build our business and brand across the United States as fast as we could. We had a strong lead, and we had a competitor in Dole Food Company, who had an established consumer brand and more money.
*Ad Age, October 17, 2022
“Brand” is the key word here. Was Fresh Express a brand in the ’90s? Not yet, but we were working on it. Steve Taylor was reading this hot book—Positioning. He and the leadership team decided to hire Ries and Trout to evaluate our brand and strategy and give us their findings and recommendations.
Pinstripe suits, cuff links, and shiny shoes. These guys looked like they shopped at the same store as Gordon Gekko from Wall Street (the movie). At the time, I was in my twenties and super impressed with these famous authors and New York City marketing gurus. Steve and Bruce Taylor, who were owners of the company at the time, let me be a part of the meetings and process—it was quite the experience and education.
To make a long story short, they spent a few days with us in Salinas, California, and then headed back to NYC. After a couple of weeks, as I recollect, they came back to us with their conclusions. Fresh Express was not a brand name that garnered significant consumer recognition. I remember them giving us examples of strong brands, such as Kleenex®, Clorox®, and more. Fresh Express, they told us, was two generic words that could be knocked off, such as “Salad Express” or “Fresh This” or “Fresh That.”
"I was working for Fresh Express in the early ’90s, and the company was in a race—actually a war—to build our business and brand across the United States as fast as we could."
Their recommendation was to leverage the name of the family and the romance of the farm and farming lifestyle. Specifically, their naming recommendation was “Taylor Farms.”
We agreed, and we went right to work with graphic designers, who crafted some great logos and package designs.
Concurrent with all this brand strategizing, we were out selling salads and adding packaging equipment as fast as we could move and invest. It was an exciting time for the company and for me—my “Salad MBA” program, as I’ve called it for years now.
At the 11th hour, we decided we could not risk our momentum in the salad war with Dole that we were winning. We imagined scenarios in which we were in the middle of rolling out the new brand with our competitors waiting for a “hiccup” in supply, and, of course, telling the customers that now is a great time to try another brand…if you’re going to make changes anyway. So, Fresh Express is still here, over 30 years later.
Bruce Taylor left Fresh Express/Bruce Church, and less than a year later, he reappeared with a new company—Taylor Farms! That was in 1995.
As Paul Harvey used to say, “…and now you know the rest of the story.”
I want to give a special thanks to Bruce Taylor, who said it was okay to tell this story, and thank you to Al Ries and Jack Trout for those early marketing lessons of positioning and marketing warfare. I still have the autographed books on my shelf. I sure wish that I had one of those Taylor Farms logo mashups that was taped to Bruce’s wall at Bruce Church/FreshCo. I’m sentimental that way.