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Key Idea: Build Brand

When John Hawkins was able to secure 1-800-9-SHUTTLE he decided that the number 9 became an asset that needed to be exploited fully.

Key Question:


Keep your name in front of customers any way that you can. When you take over an existing business you get the good, the bad and the ugly. You get the good employees and the not so good ones. In this case, John got the vans but they were painted dark blue like the rest of the Super Shuttle national fleet. In many cases, what is an asset on paper can turn out to be a pain in the neck.

Q: What Super Shuttle asset did John end up using to his great advantage?

The phone number, 1-800-9-SHUTTLE. Working with the "9" they came up with Cloud 9 because San Diego is seen by residents and visitors as heaven or paradise. This feeling about San Diego is imbedded in the thinking of many and has been for years. Cloud 9 graphics work on the white vans so when a person steps out of the airport and sees the vans, they think "I am in heaven."

The artwork includes palm trees and a sunburst. Tourists choose Cloud 9 out of the other vans because it fits what they expect to see when they arrive in San Diego. A tourist assumes the van will get them from the airport to where they want to go, so using names like Sure Ride and Super Shuttle aren't as attractive as this name that carries with it the promise of a wonderful visit to San Diego.

The name also works locally. The Convention and Visitors Bureau is made up of over 4000 businesses who all believe San Diego is paradise. You will often hear these people say, "Welcome to paradise;" they constantly promote tourism and they believe Cloud 9 Shuttle is promoting a feeling people want when they come to San Diego. It is easier for John to get the other businesses to recommend him because of his approach to the "shuttle business." Cloud 9 isn't just a shuttle, it is part of the tourism experience.

How was the name selected and why did the expert push for Cloud 9?

A group of employees, friends of the business and a few experts sat in a room for hours to brainstorm possibilities and they emerged with Cloud 9. The expert noted that this name is, "graphically extendable and legally protectable. It's unique. It's sellable. It's cute. It's appealing to young and old, male and female, visitor or residents. It's got long legs in the San Diego community."

Q: What was wrong with the name?

A: It seemed silly, especially to John. But since it fit the qualities they had agreed to in advance of the brainstorming session, John gave in and approved it.

A name means nothing until you build an image in the mind of the marketplace. Once you have done that, the name means everything. Disneyland means fun. IBM means stability. We have feelings and impressions of these names because billions of dollars have been spent to create brand awareness. This is done with traditional advertising, marketing and public relations.

Big businesses take all of these tasks very seriously and it seems they spare no expense when it comes to building their name and protecting it from negative impressions. Remember how Dow Chemical was forced by the media to take responsibility for the accident in India which killed people? This is a public relations nightmare because every impression people absorb about a name is like a permanent record in the mental database.

For a new business, you can do some market research to come up with a name for your business; that's what John did. While Henry Ford named his company after himself, we don't think this is such a good idea. It can be off-putting to employees and you lose the opportunity to find a name that you can exploit. In order to build brand awareness around a name, it should be legally protectable and graphically extendable. And, the more collective conscience a name touches the better.

Think about it

Does your name make it easy to market your product and services? Does your name have deep meaning?

Clip from: Cloud 9 Shuttle

San Diego: Meet John Hawkins and learn about his company, Cloud 9 Shuttle; he threw out conventional marketing wisdom, pulled the company out of bankruptcy, turned employees into owners, and installed key technologies. It just doesn't get any better than this. Not that it has been easy for John and his team; it has been very tough. Yet, this is the great American success story. He may not have made billions of dollars, he did save a business and he instills confidence being a good citizen is good business.

Upon arriving in America's Finest City with her beautiful, cloudless skies and moderate weather, you quickly discover that there are ubiquitous clouds at city's airport, Lindbergh Field. Here, the clouds are "Cloud 9" vans, a shuttle service from the airport to anywhere.

But it wasn't always so perfect in this perfect city.

This is a turnaround story. It's a branding story. And, it is a love story. To begin this story we went to the airport to meet the man who knows San Diego better than anyone. John Hawkins just loves this community and her people. And because of his service, when we asked about a business to study, everybody recommended John -- the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Mayor's office, Economic Development and many others. 

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Cloud 9 Shuttle

John Hawkins, CEO, founder

3550 Kurtz Street
San Diego, CA 92110

Visit our web site:

Office: 858-505-4900

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1991

Build Brand

HATTIE: OK. What's in a name? Stop on that a minute.

JOHN: Nothing's in a name. Band-Aid, Kleenex, Charmin. But if you go back to the great companies in America--Ford, Disney, Nordstroms, DuPont--those are people's names. They just named the company after themselves because they didn't know any better. What did those names come to mean was something radically different than old man Ford or old man Disney or Nordstroms or DuPont. Those people built in a real brand identity with their name.

So our name is cute, it's fun, it's unique, it's different. It's largely differentiated from what other people do in airport transportation, taking people to and from the airport, but for us, what we wanted to do is brand ourselves like those people that had done such a marvelous job in branding.

Cloud 9 came about because in 1991, when we started this thing, we wanted to go get a vanity phone number, and we wanted to get 1-800-4-SHUTTLE because we knew that'd be easy to remember and people would dial 1-800-4-SHUTTLE and they'd get us and we'd take them to the airport. 1-800-4-SHUTTLE belonged to the US Virgin Islands. We went back to White Plains, New York, tried to get AT&T to break the rules and to give it to us and we were going to spend money, which we had none of, to get this number because it was so important, but we couldn't get it. Pac Bell had 1-800-9-SHUTTLE. We said, `Well, a little bit is better than nada. Take 1-800-9-SHUTTLE.'

MIKE DIEHL (Cloud 9 Shuttle): It's about the marketplace. Why not...

HATTIE: (Voiceover) The former Director of Marketing, Mike Diehl, recalls the renaming exercise.

MIKE DIEHL: You know, we sat in a room and sat down and we made the decision at that time that 'if we weren't gonna be Super-Shuttle and we weren't gonna be Sure-Ride, who were we gonna be?' When we took a picture of all the competitors in the marketplace, we had to ask ourselves what they were selling, and it really just showed that they were hauling things. And we wanted to capture an opportunity of a personality, put a name that's sellable.

HATTIE: Pain Reliever...

MIKE DIEHL: Oh, we had it all. We had from Golden Retriever, On Spot on Time, Peppered Express, Sun Diego Shuttle, Paradise Shuttle, Super Ride, which was common. But it wasn't until one of the gentlemen in this group here, Jeff Nauser, he says, `You guys got the name sitting in front of you. You're just not leveraging it.'

We had this 1-800-9-SHUTTLE for a long time as Super Shuttle. He says, `You're talking about comfort. You're talking about reliability and safety.' He says, `You live in paradise,' unlike today; it's a little gray, but it's winter. He says, `You're on cloud nine.'

JOHN: And we all said, `You are on Mars. You are crazy. You're the weirdest guy in the world,' which he still is. And he's terrific. But he said, `The best that I think it's got longevity. It's graphically extendable. It's legally protectable.' And we had all those things written on the wall. You know, it has to be a good name, it has to be these 36 characteristics. If it passes that screen, it's a good name. He said, `This one passes that. It's unique. It's different. It's sellable. It's cute. It's appealing to young and old, male and female, visitor or residents. It's got long legs in the San Diego community. You guys can make this happen.' And we thought he was crazy, but then we put it back through this very academic list of things one had to do to be able to name a product successfully, whether it was Coca-Cola or Kleenex.

It passed all those screens; so we said, `OK, 1-800-9-SHUTTLE is Cloud 9 Shuttle.'

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