PA business leaders applaud State Senate’s approval of permitting bill

Following up on the collective letter forwarded Monday by more than 60 Pennsylvania chambers of commers, employer associations, and labor groups, the Pennsylvania Senate on Wednesday approved important permitting reforms aimed at streamlining and expediting the state’s much-criticized permitting process. 

Sponsored by Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, and Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland/Dauphin/Perry, Senate Bill 350 requires state agencies to implement an accessible website so permit applicants can check the status of their application in real time.  

The bill also requires permits to be publicly accessible and if turned down, the legal authority the agency relied on must be stated. In addition, the legislation requires that a permit, license, or certification is considered approved by the state if the agency reviewing the application misses its statutory deadline. 

Greg Moreland, state director, NFIB-Pennsylvania, said Bill 350 would “provide certainty and clarity which is critical for small business owners.” 

Robert Bair, president of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO, called the measure “an important step in streamlining the permitting process so that we can start the projects that will propel Pennsylvania into the future.” 

Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an Executive Order on Jan. 31 seeking to reduce permitting delays by creating the Office of Transportation and Opportunity and the Economic Development Strategy Group in the governor’s office. 

Bill 350 looks to build on the governor’s actions by establishing a program for third-party review of permits and a resolution to delays in permit decisions. 

A report from Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office released earlier this month revealed that wage-earning groups were leaving Pennsylvania for pro-business states, Florida and North Carolina among them. 

“We are losing Pennsylvanians to other states at an alarming rate,” Phillips-Hill said in a statement. “This is not a Democratic or a Republican problem, this is a Pennsylvania problem that requires commonsense solutions that have been successful in other states. 

“Regardless of partisan affiliation, I think this is an area we can all agree on: No one wants to lose residents and businesses because they are hitting dead ends within their own state government.” 

Rothman said residents expect their state government to be efficient and responsive. 

“With this bill, we send the message that Pennsylvania is serious about growing the economy, attracting job-creators, and reforming government for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians,” said Rothman. 

Luke Bernstein, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said there is a generational opportunity to advance a significant permitting reform bill that would lead to an increase in jobs, transparency, and a more robust economy. 

“Senate Bill 350 takes a giant step forward propelling our state to become more competitive,” said Bernstein. “By building on the governor’s efforts to improve permitting, this measure further helps to modernize, streamline, and add much needed transparency to the permitting process. The PA Chamber is proud to support Bill 350 and be part of the solution that will help Pennsylvania become more competitive.” 

David Taylor, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association, urged the state’s regulators to “move at the speed of business and serve as partners in compliance” to improve the state’s economy.

Op-Ed: Does your customer experience reflect the heart of your brand?

Having done all the work to create a sale, the next question is: What is that customer’s experience like? Is it different? Is it remarkable? Does it reflect what makes your brand unique?

 Disney was one of the first to really develop the concept of customer experience at their parks. They realized that beyond the laughter and thrills of their various rides, it’s the little things that also delight their visitors—the actors shouting dialog as they run by you on the street, the videos while you wait in line, the parades through the park. It’s even as random as the maintenance man who uses his broom to draw a mickey mouse figure with water from a puddle. (Check it out on YouTube.) 

When Apple decided to enter the retail market with its own stores, they were as innovative as their computers, phones, and other devices. They have no check out registers or stock on the shelves. Their employees are casually dressed in t-shirts but know everything there is to know about the products. There is generally some version of free user training taking place in a part of the store. At the back is the Genius Bar, whose personnel back up its pretentious name with expert solutions and incredibly patient advice to most of the problems that are plunked down in front of them.

Southwest Airlines started as just another no-frills, low-fare airline but quickly developed a unique, high-energy customer experience that is a key part of their brand. There are no reserved seats, and passengers are assigned a boarding position based on when they check-in. Even the pre-takeoff safety briefings often seem more like a comedy routine. (One of my favorite lines: “For those of you who haven’t been in a car since 1962, this is a seatbelt.”) Southwest has an upbeat approach that keeps passengers entertained in what can be an otherwise dreary activity.

Each of these brands found ways to make their customer experience different and special, which can be a real challenge in any industry. 

Take a look at consumer banking services. Most people have numerous choices for where to put their savings and checking accounts. These products are essentially commodities, but banks are continually experimenting with ways to add an experiential difference. Some have tried adding a coffee shop to their lobbies, others have created “universal tellers” who greet you at the door and handle requests from check cashing to loan applications. Some have added automated kiosks with onscreen assistants to help you find what you need. The products are the same; the experience is what’s different.

Sustaining a superior customer experience isn’t easy. Disney maintains Disney University, where employees receive training on how to be “Cast Members” at their theme parks. Apple looks for “magnetic personalities” and trains each store employee in exactly how to greet and serve customers, as well as how to deal with those who are agitated by a problem with their device. 

Southwest also has a university for employee training and leadership development. But is it really any surprise that the same companies that have crafted and sustained unique customer experiences are also some of the most successful companies in their industries?

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group
David Taylor, president of Taylor Brand Group

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

Op-Ed: GM recharges brand with new logo, electrifying message


Recently, GM announced a new direction for their brand with a redesigned logo and revamped brand message. 

Social media whiners immediately moved to attack the logo’s design, describing it in a variety of negative terms and, for the most part, completely missing the point of GM’s endeavor. As with all brands, the logo is not the brand, it’s just a symbol of the message and the promise that brand intends to deliver.

And make no mistake, GM’s new brand promise is a bold move. They are seeking to stake a claim as a leading provider of all-electric cars and have promised to offer 30 new electric vehicle models (EVs) by 2025. I did the math, and that’s four years and about 28 new models from now, so there must be quite a few fresh car concepts in the pipeline. 

GM says that we can look forward to an electric SUV priced under $30,000, vehicles with a range of up to 450 miles, and zero-to-60 acceleration times as low as three seconds. (Also did this math. That is very fast.)

GM believes that they have a strategic edge with their still-developing Ultium battery technology, which will allow EVs to perform much more like gasoline- powered cars and will soon be able to match their price tags. Electric car sales are growing nationally and globally, but still make up a small percentage of overall vehicle sales.

So good news, right?  There is nowhere to go but up. However, standing in the way of GM’s electric vision are several other EV brands that currently far outsell the EV options from the Detroit mainstay. 

According to insideevs.com, cumulative sales leaders are the Tesla Model 3 at 645,000 units, the Nissan Leaf at 490,000, and the Tesla Model S at 305,000 units. Renault, two models from the Chinese brand BAIC, and the BMW i3 follow. All these sales combined would amount to less than 10 percent of the cars and light trucks sold in just the US each year, about 17 million in 2019.

Investors see the Tesla brand as the far and away EV leader with Tesla’s market capitalization now at $800 billion compared to GM’s relatively paltry $61 billion. To be fair, Tesla has other growing product lines like solar roofing that GM does not. On the other hand, Tesla doesn’t currently offer an SUV or any kind of heavy-duty truck.

Tesla is way out in front as the leading EV brand and shows no signs of slowing down. Interestingly, Tesla hardly mentions that their cars are electric or good for the environment. They take these as givens and focus on safety, style and technology as their core brand messages.

All of which means GM has its work cut out to start building a new brand based on a rapidly expanding EV product line. They have promised a major marketing campaign to introduce this new concept, and it will no doubt be unavoidable. But GM had better stock up on fresh batteries, because it’s going to be a long trip to get within even shouting distance of Tesla and perhaps other EV brands as well, with or without a new logo.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

The evolution of the VW Beetle brand rolls to a stop

The first Volkswagen Beetles hit the U.S. market in the early 1950s, and 10 years later they were selling by the hundreds of thousands per year. Sales peaked at 420,000 in 1968, the same year the Disney movie “The Love Bug” debuted.

Designed by Ferdinand Porsche (Yes, that Porsche) it was everything American cars were not — rear engine, air-cooled, no flashy fins or chrome plating and a lower price tag. One of the most classic print ads of all time provided an elegant two-word summation of the brand with a black and white shot of a Beetle from a distance. It read: “Think small.”

But while the car itself was diminutive, its brand was not. It was essentially the UnCola of automobiles, and its marketing continually reinforced a brand that was all about eschewing gas-guzzling domestic cruisers for economical, easy-to-maintain Beetles. It was quickly nicknamed the “Bug” and appealed to both the practical-minded consumer and the countercultural crowd who saw themselves as shrewd car buyers. The brand boasted of being ugly, touted its mileage and resale value, and even embraced the Beetle jokes that sprang up around the brand.

But by the early 1970s, competition arrived from Japan, with both Honda and Toyota introducing small-car options, including the Civic and the Corolla. VW introduced the Super Beetle with more power and a tad more styling, but it was gradually losing both its lead as an economical option and its luster as a cultural icon. In 1979, VW discontinued sales of the Bug in the United States, although it continued to produce Beetles and sold them in select markets around the world, including in Brazil and Europe.

Nearly two decades had passed when VW introduced the New Beetle into the U.S. market in 1998 with familiar styling, but more conventional mechanics. As a front-engine, front-wheel drive car, it was no different than most other small cars, except now it was one of the most expensive in the market rather than one of the least costly. The company’s brand managers attempted to capture the irreverence of the original brand with marketing headlines like “Zero to sixty? Yes.”

Initial sales were strong. But while VW could present a new car under an old brand name, this time around the market was far different and more competitive than in the 1960s. About 1.7 million New Beetles were sold worldwide in the next 20 years (compared to more than 21 million of the original Beetles), and in 2018 only 14,000 were sold in the U.S. With sputtering sales, VW announced last fall that the Beetle would cease production in summer 2019.

While classic-car reintroductions like the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger have all had moderate success, the VW failed to catch lightning in a bottle for the second time. Perhaps the reason, though, was a failure to adapt the brand to the market without losing its essence. The Mustang, Camaro and Challenger all held to their roots as muscle cars, but the New Beetle was far more pricy than its predecessor and one of the most-expensive options in its category of subcompact cars. In reality, the New Beetle may have run out of gas because it was a mere visual imitation of the original brand and lacked much of the original brand’s panache. It was a Beetle, but it wasn’t a Bug.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

You believe in your brand. Does your target market?

Without belief in your brand, it doesn’t exist. The leadership of a company must believe in the brand. The staff and employees must believe in the brand. Most importantly, your next customer must believe in the brand.

Brands that are different — Uber, Apple or Tesla for example — have to convince people that the difference is better, that their innovation is real and not just flash or fad. Apple has created an aura of individuality and creativity around its products. The company has an incredibly loyal following that literally buys into the entire “ecosystem” of Apple products (iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple watches) and services (apps, Apple TV). Their customers believe in the products and the brand, with many waiting in line to buy the latest upgrades as soon as they become available.

Lots of companies make great products that compete with Apple, but this incredibly strong belief in the Apple brand is what makes it the most valuable company in the world.

Uber is much earlier in its life cycle as a brand. Uber has created a belief in its concept of easy transportation that’s a better experience and usually cheaper than catching a traditional taxi cab. Taking an Uber has become a daily practice for many users and at least weekly for many more. So-called “Uberites” love the service and the brand, and they promote it.

But there’s big difference between Uber and Apple. Uber is losing money. In effect there hasn’t been enough believers in the brand for the company to make a profit. The believers who are keeping it in business right now are the investors who have put up millions of dollars of venture capital to support the concept. And you better believe that they believe in the brand because they’re betting a whole lot more than a ride home from the bars that they’re right.

It can be even harder to convince audiences to believe in a brand that claims the same concept as others in their industry. Exhibit A: Health care. Brand A may very well be a very caring organization. Its employees may very much believe that “we care.” But how effective is Brand A at proving that it cares more than Brand B or C? They all think they care. The key is: Does the market believe in Brand A more than another?

I should note that while trust and belief have overlapping meanings, there is a subtle difference for a brand. Trust in a brand is earned over time. But belief can come first, as in a person will believe a message before having it proven to be true and, therefore, earning trust. So establishing an early belief in the promise of a brand is key.

Startup brands often do this with early adopters who may become unofficial ambassadors for a new brand. As more and more “believers” are created, a brand can build the trust that is needed to grow and sustain its business. Apple has done this. Uber has created a lot of belief in its users, but hasn’t turned a profit. In a sense, the company is buying some of that belief by discounting the true cost of its service.

A simple question for any brand manager to ask is, “Do our customers and prospects truly believe in our brand and what it can do for them?” Because if the answer is yes, that brand should be successful. But if the answer is no, believe me, there’s work to be done.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.