What Marketers Can Learn from My Favorite Brand

My first trip to Las Vegas was in 1998 for a trade show. One night, while thousands of show attendees were eating, drinking, or catching up on emails, I begged off dinner with co-workers so I could visit M&M World.

M&M World is a powerful branding experience. I highly recommend it if you’re on or near the Strip and have 30 or more minutes to spare. (Since then I’ve been to Las Vegas 12-14 times, always for business. Only if I’ve been under the gun have I managed to curtail my visit to under an hour.)

While it’s true I’m a candy junkie (read Candy Freak by Steve Almond and you’ll understand my nuttiness), that isn’t the primary appeal of the four-story brand-aganza for me. Here’s why I hold the brand in such high regard.

Instant recognition. Wherever those bright yellow* bags are sold -- in the grocery store, at the drugstore, at a mini-mart -- I spot them. (*I prefer peanut. Never cared for the plain variety in the chocolate-colored package – let alone all the newer flavors -- so my radar doesn’t pick up on them.)

Consistency. I try to succumb to the egg-shaped candies only a few times a year. No matter where I buy them, or how often I eat them, I have never being disappointed at the contents of a package. My expectations are always met.

Powerful persona. You probably have to visit M&M World to buy into this concept, but every time I’ve browsed through displays of their colorful, branded merchandise, from drinkware and bedding to stuffed toys, I feel like I am among friends. All those smiling, playful little characters. I meander through the store, happily fingering the merchandise, with no sense of time. On more than one occasion I’ve wondered if it would be weird to buy M&M-branded birthday or holiday gifts for family and friends. (Don’t comment – I know the answer.)

Cost is irrelevant. The first time I set foot in the place and saw the huge bins of peanut M&Ms, I was downright gleeful. Back then it was the only place the funky-colored treats were sold. Lime green. Turquoise. Hot pink. Royal blue. Lavender. Oh, did I fill those plastic bags quickly. I couldn’t wait to get home and share them (okay, that second part is a lie). While I almost choked at the check-out counter – at $8 a pound, who wouldn’t -- I couldn’t resist purchasing them.

It’s always evolving. Every time I’ve visited M&M World I’ve seen new merchandise. I remember when M&M Monopoly was introduced. One-size-fits-all nightshirts. Flip flops. Boxer shorts. Placemats. The year employees in the store started wearing name badges featuring their home state or country I told them it was a nice touch. The guy from Guam smiled at me. The girl from Wisconsin said, “It’s a conversation piece. Where are you from?”

Even if you are allergic to chocolate (I am so sorry, truly), think candy is juvenile, or you possess the discipline to steer clear of these chocolate gems, I think every small business owner would benefit from a visit to M&M World. Even a brief tour of the place provides an intense short course in branding principles.