Unmistaken identity

The third Holtman's Donuts location in Cincinnati updated its appearance and layout from inside to out.

When a well-respected national magazine like Travel + Leisure praises your donut shop as a “cult favorite” that’s an integral part of Cincinnati’s hippest new district, the Over-the-Rhine (OTR), it’s clear to see that your marketing and branding efforts are on the right track.

Cincinnati, OH-based Holtman's Donuts, which opened its third location and first in the OTR district last year, is a family-owned bakery founded in 1960 by Charles Holtman. His daughter and son-in-law, Toni and Chuck Plazarin, operate two Holtman’s Donuts locations in Loveland and Williamsburg. The Plazarins’ son, Danny Plazarin, opened the OTR shop with his fiancé, Katie Willing.

The stylish outdoor sign is the first thing that grabs your attention as you approach Holtman’s Donuts OTR. As you walk in, there are two immediate visual attention grabbers. To your left, there is a large open window where you can see bakers preparing fresh donuts. Toward the back, a large chalkboard sign announces the daily specials and creative donut flavors for sale today.

Holtman’s OTR specializes in unusual types of donuts, such as the blueberry cake with vanilla icing or the maple bacon donut that comes with extras on top. There is the Vanilla Cake Maple Bacon donut or the Berry Maple Bacon, both of which sell for $2 apiece. For extra indulgence, customers can try the Muddy Pig, an iced chocolate donut with bacon.

One of the signature merchandising styles inside the bakery is the handwritten signage on the chalkboard and inside the front display case. The look gives off a personal touch, and the writing is well scripted, so customers feel as though they’ve walked into a gourmet food shop.

One well-known Cincinnati food blogger praised Holtman’s OTR soon after their opening. “They're a very dense dough that's not for everyone, but if you were accustomed to homemade donuts from your grandmother, then these are definitely for you,” writes the blogger known as Dexter.

It took Plazarin and Willing two years to find their Over-the-Rhine home base on Vine Street near 14th in Cincinnati. The couple says the storefront’s large windows create a very interactive, visual environment.

“You can see the actual baking area through the front windows,” Willing says, “so when you’re walking past, you’ll be able to look inside and see us baking.”

They make up to 50 different types of donuts a day, including seasonal specials including Lemon Cake for spring and Pumpkin Cake for fall. The toppings are generous and indulgent. Some donuts have sprinkles, others have toasted coconut, and still others have nut crunch and chocolate. There’s no doubting the gourmet appeal at Holtman’s newest donut shop.

Making your brand stand out

Once you open a new location or introduce a creative new product, bakeries are wise to quickly get the word out about what’s new and exciting. Social media is one effective platform. But if you really want to make a splash, invest a little more and you’ll be surprised by the results.

When Dominique Ansel in New York City introduced the Cronut last year, he also hired a publicist. That move alone was instrumental in getting the local press, influential food bloggers and then national media to call attention to the crazy long lines of people who waited to buy a Cronut, a donut-croissant hybrid pastry.

Dan Antonelli, CEO and creative director of New Jersey advertising agency Graphic D-Signs, Inc., and the author of Building A Big Small Business Brand, points out that notoriety is the name of the game for any business.

“In the marketing realm, we recognize that it often takes the perfect storm of qualities and opportunities to make your brand have impact,” he says. “It all boils down to a simple intrinsic fact: if you look the part, you probably act the part. That means everywhere you advertise, publicize, and operate, your brand identity should resound. What you’ll need is a strategic assessment of the competition: what are they doing and how can I do it better? Your budget will dictate the additional tools you can add to your marketing arsenal. However, it should start with a website and unique brand identity. That identity needs to span across every outward marketing tool, from business card and site signs to newspaper advertisement and social media.”

Experts agree the stakes are higher in today’s digital world, so it makes sense to strive harder to get noticed.

“If you are having success already, you’re on the right track,” he says. “Delivering exceptional service to clients and colleagues alike is your bread and butter. However, if you are trying to grow your notoriety, in this digital age, you’re going to need a fully integrated brand; one that’s so well executed, it makes the sale for you.”