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Let’s get personal

Create personalities for your products and your business.

Some business disciplines have an unfortunate habit of wearing out words. ‘Branding’ and ‘marketing’ have been around since someone first raised their voice at the village market. But the process has now developed and changed to such an extent that these original terms no longer cover it.

Branding can erroneously be seen as something you scorch onto the outside of your product once it’s ready to sell and marketing as something you do at the market, and not before.

Today you must create personalities for your products and your businesses that are as intrinsic to them as your personality is to you. It is on this that your relationship with others, principally your customers, will depend.

In order to understand this relationship, like any relationship, you have to ask the other person how they feel about you. Then you have to really listen to their answers, and be able to analyse them dispassionately and accurately.

From this you will develop a much deeper understanding of what your business and products must do to keep customers coming back for more—and what to avoid doing if you don’t want to lose them.

Mark Robotham from New Zealand Enterprises’s Escalator service says, “People see the brand as a public relations exercise. But if they really know what their business is, this becomes integral to the whole strategy, so you can make the right decisions on a daily basis.”

The key to creating attractive personalities is to let people see clearly who you are and where you stand. And this may not be what you first think. Virgin started out as a record shop, but now includes branded mobile phone technology, transportation, financial services, media and even Virgin Active fitness centres. It’s clear it no longer just sells vinyl, it sells a sense of escape, blended with adventure and innovation. Similarly, Amazon.com does not sell books, it sells effortless access to a range of products.

Grenville Main from design agency DNA earns his pay telling businesses what they really are. “Some people set up a business and have no idea what business they are in,” he says. “Trade Me, for example, seemed to be based on the idea of helping people with their garage sales. But what it has now is a reputation for being intuitive and helpful.”

For Main, a key aspect of a successful brand is one that is understandable and approachable. This means not getting too carried away with the supposed uniqueness of what you have to offer. “Often the last thing you want is for something to look too new. We don’t necessarily crave new, we crave good. Excitement is good, but you nearly always have to line something up against what it is competing with, replacing or superseding. The consumers have to understand what you are selling.”

You can spend a lot of money generating passion around an ordinary product, but as soon as you stop spending money, the passion is gone

—Grenville Main

This is especially true of business-to-business sales, where dependability and reliability are sacrosanct, so need to be reaffirmed at every opportunity.

Without the market research, if you don’t make sales, you will have no idea what to change to get them. Maybe your story isn’t resonating. Or maybe it hasn’t reached enough people yet. Or it could be that your business plan is based on incorrect assumptions, or the product itself is actually crap. On the other hand if you are doing well, you could just be lucky. And if you don’t understand the true nature of that luck, you won’t be able to repeat it, or capitalise on it in the long term.

“You can get carried away with your wonderful idea and the brand,” says Main, “and stop listening in detail to what the customer is telling you. You can get a bit sidetracked with ... winning awards. But the real test is sustained increase in sales.”

The process of creating your product personality is really just another way of checking the fundamentals of your idea and promoting them clearly. To succeed, your product must make a clearly identifiable and positive impact on people’s lives. If it does, marketing is just a matter of telling the right people that it exists and how they can get it. If it doesn’t, the world’s flashest branding consultant won’t be able to shift the units over the long haul.

“You can only fool some of the people some of the time,” says Main. “You can spend a lot of money generating passion around an ordinary product, but as soon as you stop spending money, the passion is gone. There will always be those geeks who get wildly excited about something, but the worst thing you can do is think they are big enough to be your market. The people you need to form a real market is the rest of us—and we’ll be ambivalent at best.”

Business guru and BNZ advisor Sue Lindsay says the best thing you can do is ask yourself two questions: “Are you getting your fair share of everybody in your target category? Are you doing enough to ensure you have a client for life?”

Getting the personality right can also help you to gauge which other products and businesses yours should be hanging out with. If you find the right partners, this can lead to lucrative deals and massively increased sales. For instance, slotting a Product [RED] Apple iPod Nano into the specially designed interface in a BMW offers the joys of three top brands in perfect harmony, plus the chance to help battle AIDS and HIV.

By combining brands you can also add exponentially to the complexity of your story, but you’ll be wedding your success or failure to that of your partner. If you get it wrong, you can waste a lot of time and money and betray your core market.

Ultimately, the modern customer is looking for you to behave with integrity. If you build your brand around the fact your products are robust, they had better be bomb proof; if you say you are cutting edge, your R&D needs to be there before others even know ‘there’ exists.

Once you’ve got it right, keep the thing fresh, even if it is simply finding new ways to tell the same story. Complacency is not attractive. Don’t think the competition is so crap there’s no need to worry about your branding and marketing. You still need to keep working at it, all the time, to stay ahead.

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