Prepare Your Brand To Take A Stand

By Gino Bona

There used to be a time when an entrepreneur could operate a successful business by selling a product or service that fulfilled a customer’s expectation at a reasonable price.

Today, having a product or service that’s good is no longer good enough.

You need a value proposition — and I’m not talking about your grandmother’s value proposition. Today’s value proposition isn’t a product or service that you sell. It’s not your inflated belief about your outstanding customer service. And it sure as hell isn’t your proprietary process for providing solutions to your customer’s challenges.

Today’s value proposition is standing for something.

Having a purpose.

And meaning it.

If your company has a genuine purpose that goes beyond a product or service and isn’t measured by revenue and profit, it will become your company’s compass.

From an internal perspective, your purpose will act as a guide for how to navigate your business as challenges and opportunities arise. The path between what you should and shouldn’t do will become clearer. From an external standpoint, your purpose will communicate your beliefs that will resonate with prospective customers. Consumers will go out of their way to conduct business with likeminded companies.

There are nationally-heralded companies who are known for having a purpose that extends beyond their products (i.e., TOMS, Chick-fil-A). But what about small businesses? Can a locally-owned restaurant with a single location in a suburb of Buffalo have a purpose that extends beyond their products?


My brother, John, opened Amherst Pizza and Ale House in 2005. Their menu items are similar to dozens of other restaurants throughout Buffalo: pizza and chicken wings. Amherst Pizza and Ale House’s signature pizza (stuffed banana pepper) and wings (char-pit Crown Royal BBQ) have won plenty of awards from local competitions. But with so many restaurants touting “award-winning food,” it’s difficult to leverage those accolades as a viable value proposition.

John realized that Amherst Pizza and Ale House needed to have a purpose that transcended his menu items. We discussed how he could differentiate his restaurant from other local establishments. After several conversations, John decided that Amherst Pizza and Ale House was going to embrace hockey unlike any other restaurant in Buffalo.

We created a promotion called “Hockey Night In Amherst.” Every Buffalo Sabres game would be shown on the restaurant’s fleet of TVs. Audio from the television broadcast would be pumped through the restaurant’s sound system. Red sirens would be mounted on every TV and they’d go off whenever the Sabres scored a goal. And customers would receive half-priced beer and pizza throughout every game.

Oh, and the “Hockey Night in Amherst” promotion would run until the Sabres won the Stanley Cup.

The Sabres have been in the NHL for 45 years and have never won the Stanley Cup. In fact, they’ve had the worst record in the NHL over the past two seasons. So committing to a no-end-in-sight expiration date was a bold move and solidified Amherst Pizza and Ale House’s commitment to hockey.

The response to “Hockey Night In Amherst” has been fantastic. Amherst Pizza and Ale House is routinely at maximum capacity during Sabres games. There are several Sabres players who live near the restaurant and it’s not uncommon for their wives and children to go to Amherst Pizza and Ale House to watch games when the team plays out of town. Amherst Pizza and Ale House is known throughout western New York as one of the best places to watch a professional hockey game.

The “Hockey Night in Amherst” promotion established Amherst Pizza and Ale House’s purpose and served as John’s guide. He looked for hockey opportunities outside of the Sabres to promote his place as a hockey lover’s haven. In February 2014, the ideal opportunity arrived. And John was ready to pounce.

February 19, 2014

The 2014 Winter Olympics entered its second week in Sochi, Russia and the men’s hockey tournament was narrowed down to eight teams. The United States defeated the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal match and advanced to the Medal Round. Later that day, the United States’ semifinal opponent was solidified: Canada.

A few minutes later, I sent the following text message to John.

Now, you need to realize that Molson and Labatt are two of the most popular beers in western New York. Walk into any bar and you’ll find taps and bottles of Molson and Labbat. So the idea of refusing to sell two of your most popular — and profitable — products sounded like a horrible business move.

However, the idea to ban Canadian beer during the USA/Canada hockey game aligned perfectly with Amherst Pizza and Ale House’s purpose and was further enhanced by Buffalo being located a few miles from the Canadian border and the Sabres’ longstanding rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Shifting from an NHL-sized promotion to an Olympics-sized one was essentially doubling-down on what had proved to be a successful bet.

John agreed to run the “Ban Canadian Beer” promotion during the game. He would announce the promotion the following afternoon.

February 20, 2014

It’s the day before the semifinal match between the United States and Canada. At 3:00 PM, John sent the following tweet from Amherst Pizza and Ale House’s Twitter account to approximately 2,000 followers.

John’s tweet was retweeted over 200 times within ten minutes. He received phone calls from two radio stations requesting interviews. He received an interview request from a Canadian TV station. John was floored with the immediate reaction.

“How the hell did this happen?” asked John.

Well, it’s probably because ESPN’s lead financial reporter, Darren Rovell, noticed the “Ban Canadian Beer” promotion and tweeted it to his 700,000 followers.

John’s original tweet was retweeted 1,500 times during the first hour after it was sent. The rest of John’s day was filled with accepting and declining interview requests from media outlets.

The “Ban Canadian Beer” promotion was published and broadcasted in over 100 newspapers, websites, and TV programs by the end of the day, including coverage from Yahoo!, FOX Sports, New England Sports Network, CTV, and The Buffalo News.

February 21, 2014

The puck was scheduled to drop at 12:00 PM ET. One hour before the game started, John was interviewed by Marcia MacMillan on CTV, Canada’s most-watched television network.

By the time the game started, Amherst Pizza and Ale House was filled to maximum capacity. Camera crews from the three major TV networks were set up inside the restaurant to film crowd reactions. And, of course, the tap handles for Molson and Labatt beers were covered with black socks. No Canadian beer would be sold during the game.

NBC held the American broadcasting rights for the game. During the second period of the game, John’s “Ban Canadian Beer” promotion jumped to a whole new level. That’s because NBC displayed John’s original tweet on the screen for ten seconds while Mike Emrick, NBC’s play-by-play announcer, talked about the promotion.

A single tweet from a guy who owns a restaurant outside of Buffalo was responsible for sparking massive media coverage and worked its way into the Olympic television broadcast and into 4.1 million viewers’ homes across America.

The United States lost the game to Canada, but Amherst Pizza and Ale House showed that even the smallest businesses can win if you position yourself to seize an opportunity.

The formula is simple:

  1. Discover your business’s purpose.
  2. Communicate it loud and proud.
  3. Act quickly and decisively when opportunities arise.

Any business can — and should — have a purpose. It doesn’t matter if you’re Chick-fil-A or a chicken wing restaurant. Just find your purpose. Embrace it. And let it be your guide.

Recovering ad man and marketer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store