There have been a few times over the past 20 years that I’ve been working with brands, that I have sat down with new clients to do a deeper dive into understanding their brand. Then, in initial discovery meetings, in my response to probing questions to get to the essence of their brand—their key differentiator, the company persona, their brand promise—have heard in response, something to the tune of, “But yes, what do the customers want?”
I’m just going to say it. You should never try and build a brand around “what the customers want.”
I know what you’re thinking now. “But businesses should be customer centric. The customer is always right.” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
You’re right, in terms of how you should build your business processes, craft a customer service philosophy and ensure perceived value for your customers.
But those are business practices. Your brand is so much more.
There are three things you need to keep in mind in terms of your company brand:
I totally understand that when you think of your target markets there are a variety of customers who utilize your brand and that you really don’t want to alienate anyone. That’s always the fear of so many brands. You want everyone to like you. But don’t become so paralyzed that you might leave someone out that your marketing becomes watered down because you aren’t willing to stand out.
When you think of your ideal customers, why is it that THEY use your brand? Why are they loyal? What is it about you that makes them tell their friends or colleagues about you?
You truly need to pin your brand promise down to 1-2 core things that are real and authentic about you that your competition cannot claim. It needs to be innate. Something that is a part of your culture and the essence of your success. It needs to be something that improves the lives of those willing to pay for it (or at least perceived improvement….that Starbucks coffee, iPhone, BMW may not really be changing your life but advocates of those brands sure do believe that they are!).
Who are you really? What are your core values? What does your company stand for? Be introspective. Go deep. Don’t be afraid to let people get acquainted with the inner voice of your organization. Sometimes companies are so afraid of offending someone that they are the opposite of real. They are manufactured.
Customers sense falseness in a company voice. If it’s too corporate-like. Or trying too hard to be funny if your company really isn’t funny. Or whimsical. Or whatever. If it’s not who you really are your customers and prospects will totally know. It won’t pass the sniff test.
Figure out who you really are and be yourself. Consistently. Consistency is key. For example, retainer REI opted out of Black Friday and instead marketed that they hoped their customers would instead #optoutside and enjoy the outdoors. A bold move when so many retainers rely on Black Friday shopping to catapult them into the holidays. But this move only made their customers all the more loyal.
Stand true to who you are and what you believe and like-minded consumers will find you and follow.
Sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone in order to get people’s attention. Leverage your marketing and customer touch points to be different. If everyone in your industry “does it this way” that’s the exact reason why you shouldn’t. Trust me, people will take notice if you aren’t afraid to be different. Especially if you’re doing it for them. Show your true colors in a creative and authentic way in your marketing like our client Nix Health did in their 2010 rebrand. A David and Goliath story, Nix Health was a privately owned health care system competing against national brands with multi-million dollar marketing budgets. They had to show their unique differentiators in a bold way. We helped them with a new logo, color palette and messaging platform that touted the advantages of a smaller health system.
You, too, can build a powerful brand for your company. But the first step is always going to be to dig deep, figure out your core strengths and why it is that your best customers stay loyal to you. How are you improving their lives? Build your brand on that and then reel in more customers like them! In marketing, different is a good thing. Especially if it’s 100% genuine.