Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. long ago learned something important about itself: It really is "The Pig."
That's what many of the people who shop in its stores call it, that's what the people who work in its stores call it, and that's even how some of its executives who run the stores occasionally refer to it.
Rather than run away from an image that some might find insulting, however, the North Charleston, S.C.-based company has embraced it. Its sells T-shirts — lots of them — bearing clever "pig" slogans, along with beer cozies and drink coolers sporting the company's smiling-faced pig logo.
"We don't always know why, but the Piggly Wiggly brand is kind of considered a little bit cool," Diane Colgan, vice president of marketing, told SN. "It has its own life to it."
She spoke with SN following the grand opening of the company's experimental new prototype in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that is seen as a potential expansion vehicle in some upscale markets.
There's something comforting about a company that's willing to step back, take a lighthearted look at itself and share a laugh with its customers. And there's a hint of real genius in the concept of taking what customers already think of your brand and running with it.
At the 2008 Food Marketing Institute Show in Las Vegas this month, one of the speakers, branding consultant Martin Lindstrom, demonstrated just how smart it can be to leverage the brand attributes that customers have already picked up on. He played two familiar musical melodies: One was the four-note tune that concludes Intel commercials, and the other was the sound of a Nokia phone ringing. Most people in the audience seemed to recognize both sounds immediately.
Then, he showed a slide that listed how much each company spends marketing its sound each year. The score: Intel, $320 million; Nokia, $0.
It's a lesson Piggly Wiggly Carolina has already learned.
A couple of years ago, the company — which is known for operating smallish stores in rural towns, where it often serves as the community center — conducted some market research to find out what customers thought about the brand. What it found was that people who shop the stores think of it as more than just a place to buy groceries, Colgan explained.
The Piggly Wiggly brand is also about "being a company in the South, and doing those things in the community that mattered," she said.
What the company learned from the exercise was that the brand could "stretch," as Colgan described it. It could take those attributes that customers already perceived — kitschy, fun, community-oriented — and make them work in new venues.
The latest store reflects that approach, and on top of that it incorporates some way-outside-the-box thinking in terms of its layout.
It remains to be seen if consumers will embrace the experimental, but they probably won't give up on "The Pig." It's far too much fun.