AUBURN | Kathy Wild spends hours a day applying colorful custom stickers to the cups in which her family serves frozen yogurt at Wildforyogurt in Genesee Center.
It's not because the Wilds like stickers.
Having the shop's name on its products helps Wildforyogurt at branding: Distinguishing a business's identity, and crafting an almost instinctual reaction to it in customers' minds. It's the same reason Kathy's son, Mathew, insists the "Wildforyogurt" logo on the stickers be one word, with "Wild" blue, "for" yellow and "yogurt" pink/purple.
"We try to put that out so that people will think of everything this place has to offer," Mathew said. "People will say, 'I saw these in the trash can and I had to check you guys out.'"
Wildforyogurt is one of four new downtown eateries working to establish themselves in an age where branding is an all-important buzzword, and Twitter and Facebook accounts can market a business more effectively than billboards and A-frame signs.
Brian Redfield, owner of Auburn-based marketing agency Image Agent, believes packaging is indeed one of the most important fronts in this marketing battle. The image is basically a first impression, he said, so it's in the business' best interest to make it a good one.
"Apple does it well," he said. "You get that new iPhone and you get that feeling of being special."
More important than creating one nice storefront sign or website header, Redfield said, is making sure every aspect of a business' image comes together as part of a cohesive vision.
That was foremost on Jim Daddabbo's mind when he conceived his Mexican restaurant on Genesee Street, Mesa Grande Taqueria. From its bold, gritty "MG" logo to its clean metal tabletops, every surface of the shop was engineered to look like a chain, the owner said. He did so not only to duplicate Mesa Grande elsewhere — as he will in Camillus' Township 5 development later this year — but also because of the familiarity that chains nurture in their customers, he said.
"Whether they're conscious of it or not, they see a coherent design," Daddabbo said. "It gives them that level of assurance. You instantly won them over on the idea that the food must be good here."
Well before it opened, Genesee Street bar A.T. Walley & Co. projected an image of what was to come through the mural logos that hung in its windows. That image — a martini, derby hat and cigar — summarized the ambitions of owners Bernie Simmons, Jeff Campagnola and Nick Musso. It was also probably the least thought-out part of the bar.
"Jeff and his wife were coming back from Rochester, and his wife sketched out the logo in the car," Simmons said. "It was like, 'Really? Are you kidding me?'"
The rest of Walley's image — from the bright vests its bartenders wear to the antique furniture in its lounge area — squares with the upscale drink service the bar provides. But the logo is what signifies it all, Simmons and Campagnola said.
"We can't do anything without the logo in it," Simmons said.
Campagnola added, "We want people to look at it and say that if we're involved, it's gonna be good."
Having opened most recently of downtown Auburn's bars and restaurants, Osteria Salina exemplifies the need to lure people in by projecting its image outside of the restaurant — namely, via social media. In the weeks before it opened, Marketing Director Sean Wrench used Twitter and Facebook to offer special food and drink deals, and built Osteria Salina's audience when users followed or liked the restaurant in the process.
The most common mistake businesses make after that step, Redfield said, is going silent.
"Almost everyone will have their phone with them and if they're waiting somewhere, they're scrolling through Facebook or their Twitter feed," he said. "The more that your company pops up, the more they're going to remember you. It's a matter of being visible."
Thus Wrench has made it a point to stay engaged on social media. One way he does is responding to customers when they comment on Facebook — saying "thanks" when they leave a positive review, and asking how the restaurant can remedy the problem when they leave a negative one.
Daddabbo feels some helpful suggestions can be found in the feedback that pours in through Facebook comments and user review services like Yelp. More often, though, people succumb to hyperbole with their praise, or just want to grind an axe, he said.
"But we definitely pay attention," he said. "In today's world, you'd be sort of foolish not to, because people do read those."
Yelp is one of several newer online services downtown Auburn businesses are learning how to leverage into brand awareness. For instance, Wildforyogurt has found a strong youth following on Instagram. Mathew made a 15-second video of the shop's new swirl fusion machine, used to mix flavors into new ones, and the clip wound up reaching 5,500 people, he said.
Instagram or other micro-vlogging apps like Vine could also be put to good use at A.T. Walley, where customers routinely film or photograph their cocktails being mixed, Campagnola said.
For all the social media embrace, the value of old-fashioned marketing methods are not to be overlooked, Wrench said — especially in a small town like Auburn.
As Osteria Salina neared its opening day, Wrench introduced himself to as many Auburn business owners as he could, he said, either by walking into their stores or meeting them through the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Auburn Business Improvement District. He's also invited the latter and young professional group IGNITE to Osteria Salina to spread the word — which, in Auburn, travels wide and fast, he said.
"Let's say IGNITE or BID came here and had a bad experience. That'd be devastating for us," Wrench said. "I think that's really critical when you are a smaller community like Auburn."