Sol Marketing

Branding: The Key to a Knockout Campaign

American Flag

It might be difficult for some people to see the overlap between political consulting and branding, but as we experienced in the last election cycle, branding is playing a larger role in campaigning than ever before. These emerging market trends line up perfectly with our brand philosophies at Sol Marketing. Here are some lessons we learned this past January: 1. Before anything else, make sure your political party is in alignment. This will allow you to communicate with your target audience in a deliberate and effective way.

2. It's not what you do, it's how you do it!

3. Don't try to be something you're not - authenticity is key.

4. With all types of distractions floating around these days, it can be hard to keep anyone's attention. Candidates have to be creative in how they stand out; the more eyeballs that are on you, the better.

Read on for a better understanding of political consulting trends and how they relate to branding: https://www.campaignsandelections.com/campaign-insider/10-trends-in-political-consulting-the-trendsetters-that-made-them-cool

 

Why is Branding like Sex

Business Woman
Why is branding like sex? The answer is simple. The best brands in the world are the ones that get their customers laid, the brands that make their customers feel like they have life by the balls.
Your brand doesn't come exclusively from you. Your brand has to include the hearts and minds of your customers.
How does YOUR brand get your customers laid? Find out how in the latest episode of the @Rise Business Podcast, "Why Branding is like sex with Deb Gabor".
Sol Marketing founder and CEO, Deb Gabor gives her mini MBA in branding in this enlightening talk with host Antonio Da Mota. This is some free business advice you don't want to miss out on.

What is a Brand Personality?

Brand Personality

Branding is, in a lot of ways, the act of creating expectations for how you will interact with your customers. Like an individual’s personality can give you clues into what interacting with him or her will be like, a brand’s personality sets the expectation for what you’ll experience as a customer of a particular brand.

Whether that’s the expectation that you’ll be relieved when you call Zappos customer service, excited by the kindness of the team at Passion Planners, delighted by the fun emails from Kettle and Fire, or hysterically laughing at any interaction with Cards Against Humanity, brands have a personality, and it dictates what we expect from them.

The brand personality can help bring your brand into clearer focus. It provides you with clues to how you want customers to experience your brand—the feeling you want to give them when they interact with you through your marketing, customer service, and even your products.

What’s my brand’s personality?

To understand your brand’s personality, think of your brand as if it were a human being. Create a comprehensive list of personality traits by detailing as many characteristics of that person as you can.

If you’re having trouble getting started, begin by considering how old your brand is. Is it ten years old? Is it twenty years old? Is it forty years old? Is it sixty-five years old?

Is your brand a man or a woman? Is it friendly or slightly more aggressive? Is it a lone wolf? Is it funny? Is it maybe a little bit irreverent? Does it like to shock people?

One of my favorite travel brands is Virgin America. I will happily fly at odd times of the day or on different days of the week in order to take a Virgin flight instead of a flight on one of the usual suspects like United, American, or Delta, just because I love the Virgin brand.

Most of our domestic airlines have really dry, authoritarian personalities (with the exception of Southwest Airlines). Aside from going “off book” as an outlaw brand, the Virgin brand personality is distinctly different from other airlines. It’s upbeat. It’s funny. It’s uplifting. It’s irreverent. It doesn’t feel oppressive and rigid like the other airlines.

Most travel days, I show up at the airport thinking, “How am I going to get screwed today?” When I fly Virgin, I don’t have that feeling, and I actually look forward to flying. I feel the brand’s warmth. It’s welcoming. It’s modern. It’s hip. It’s lighthearted.

In contrast, I recently took a trip to New York on Delta, another brand that offers a product that is exactly the same as what Virgin America provides. Yet Delta’s personality feels completely different than Virgin’s. Everything on Delta was totally buttoned up, all the way down to the uniforms that the flight attendants wore—pressed blouses buttoned all the way up to the top, suit jackets and vests, and black stockings. To Delta’s credit, they had an entertaining in-flight safety video featuring a host of visual gags to keep passengers’ attention. But the whole experience of watching that video fell flat because it didn’t align with the rest of Delta’s more serious brand personality.

Brand personality is so important for defining the way people experience the brand. The brand personality informs everything from the way the brand looks, the way it sounds, the voice and music it uses in its commercials, the actual words it always says, and words it would never say.

Brand personality is another way to ensure your brand carries the right tone and character to deliver on your brand promise to your customer.

How Does Your Brand Get Your Customer Laid?

Macbook

When I consult with clients and they struggle with the story their brand tells about their customer, my favorite shortcut is to ask, “How does your product or service get your customer laid?” I literally ask my clients this very question. At first, they’re shocked. But it works.

Strong brands help their customers solve problems, present a positive image to the world, feel empowered, feel accomplished, and feel like the hero in their own personal stories.

Think about what happens when you’re feeling like you’re on top of the world, feeling heroic, and feeling that everything is working out the way you hoped it would.

No matter which cliché you use—the feeling of having wind in your sails, the world on a string, or holding life by the balls—that feeling puts you in the mood for sex.

When I say having sex, it may mean literally jumping into bed naked with your partner. But it may also have a more figurative meaning: experiencing the exhilaration of neighbors or other moms in the carpool complimenting, fawning over, and praising you, as well as having your ego stroked and being appreciated your husband and children. All of these things feel great, too.

Branding is about making people feel so good that they want to take a roll in the hay. That’s it.

The IT manager as hero

The most successful and profitable brands in the world are created around people. Sure, some brands are naturally sexier than others, but why should a purchasing manager have less of an emotional connection to their microprocessors than I do to my shoes?

Let me give you an example.

My company works extensively with Dell Corporation on the enterprise side of their business, the part of their company that sells systems and solutions to the IT managers of other businesses. Traditionally, Dell treated enterprise IT managers as if they were robots—completely devoid of feelings and abstract thoughts.

What we know here at Sol Marketing is that each of those IT managers has a story they are writing for their own lives. That story involves them, eventually, getting laid.

If your brand can help that happen, you’ll have a loyal customer.

When I am working with Dell or with any other company that sells technology products and services to IT purchase influencers, I want the company to step outside of itself as a brand and step into the hearts and minds of its IT manager customer. That IT manager is a human being who has wants and needs and desires.

Conjure up an image of that person in your mind. Ask yourself, “What does success look like for that person? What does getting laid look like for him or her?” Then ask yourself, “How does my product/brand/service do that for them?”

Dell sells a lot of servers. The servers Dell sells go into racks that live in computer rooms and data centers all over the world. Servers don’t feel cool when you hold them in your hand. To the unindoctrinated, run-of-the-mill human, a server probably looks like a mess of metal and plastic and wires.

On the surface, a server just isn’t that sexy, nor is the Dell brand. A server is not like a bottle of perfume, a designer leather jacket, or a Ferrari.

So let’s do an exercise for illustration’s sake. For purposes of this exercise, take a walk in an IT manager customer’s shoes. Let’s say this particular customer is a forty-seven-year-old man. He works at a nationwide furniture retailer with stores in twenty-two states.

He has a need to put together an IT program in which all of the remote stores can send their transaction and inventory data to a central location at night. That requires a lot of computing power, remote access capabilities, and powerful servers and software—none of which are very sexy. All of those things must work together flawlessly.

If you think about what is unsexy about this IT manager’s job, it is a phone call from a store manager in the middle of the night.  Also unsexy is when the chief information officer comes down on him hard and says, “We did not pull data last night, and we don’t have the store-by-store results. My boss is up my ass for sales results, and because of an IT infrastructure issue and a network failure, we cannot do that.”

These are terribly unsexy things that can happen to this guy, and they absolutely can prevent him from getting laid.

The essence of brand strategy is to take that unsexiness and turn it around. To do that, you should ask, “How do we actually get that guy laid?”

How we get our IT manager laid

Dell does that by offering reliable products that they stand behind and develop with IT purchase influencers’ needs in mind. Dell is trying to give that IT manager the world-on-a-string feeling we described earlier in this chapter by delivering on its promises to him.

Dell’s goal is to make that IT manager the hero in his own story. It’s right there in their current brand manifesto: “The Power to Do More.”

Dell gives an IT manager the power to do more, not only with IT but in his life. Dell gets him home for dinner on time and inspires him with the confidence that everything back at work is functioning flawlessly, even when he’s not there.

Dell’s industry-leading uptime and reliability get him laid by preventing phone calls in the middle of the night when stores cannot send their data to the home office.

Dell makes sure the boss is not standing in the IT manager’s office at 8:00 a.m. the next morning growling, “Where have you been? The network crashed.”

These are the things Dell does to help him become the hero in the story of his life. Sure, Dell products are reliable, scalable, flexible, durable, innovative, and a good value. But it’s the way they make, sell, deliver, and support those products that enable their customers to “do more.”

How can you get your customer laid?

Take a moment to answer this same question for your own brand.

What does your customer need? What gets them love, attention, and affection? What could go wrong with your brand that would ruin their chances at sex?

By understanding the story behind your customer’s purchase, you’ll be better suited to ensure you are getting your customer laid. That’s the whole game.

The Importance of Understanding Your Customers (and What To Do About It)

Business Handshake

As we discussed in Your Brand Comes From Your Customers, Not You, branding isn’t about your color scheme, or the clever tagline you come up with from the confines of your office. Branding is about how your customer actually perceives you.

If your customer perceives you as filling a need (tangible or psychological) they have, that’s the essence of good branding.

With this perspective in mind, it becomes clear that the first step to successful branding is understanding your customers and their needs.

We’ve talked about the three questions, the brand values pyramid, and the ideal customer profile—all great tools to dive into your customer's’ needs and psychology—but the next question most marketers ask is always...

How do I learn about my customers?

So how do you learn everything about your customers?

Three words: talk to them.

There are many different ways to talk to your customers. On the super-low-budget end of the spectrum, you can just hang around in a Starbucks and ask people to try your product or service and then ask them for their opinions.

Be sure to ask open-ended questions, such as “What do you like about this brand?” Or, “How do you see this fitting into your life?” Or, “What would you change about this?” Actually talking to customers face-to-face is one of the most valuable things you can do to understand your brand.

Another easy way for marketing managers and executives to interact with customers is by fielding customer service calls or inbound sales calls. Even at the CEO level, if you take customer service calls for a few hours every month, it might just be the most valuable time you ever spend. The callers won’t have any idea you’re the CEO, so they won’t sugarcoat how they feel about your brand. And you can ask them almost anything you want and they’ll answer honestly.

Another free method is hosting a pizza and beer party (or pizza and wine party, depending upon your target demographic). Invite friends and friends of friends to visit your office or your home and try your product. Tell them you’ll provide take-out food and beverages in exchange for their time. The key here is to make sure you’re getting honest feedback. Friends and family usually will try to tell you they love it, even if they don’t. So offer them the booze in exchange for brutal, unvarnished honesty.

Those three ways of talking to customers are free. Even if you’re an entrepreneur on a shoestring budget, you have no excuse not to do them. As we discussed in When You’re Ready, It’s Too Late, the sooner you can start doing exercises like this to understand your customer, the better.

On the opposite end of the cost spectrum is formal market research, such as in-depth interviews, ethnographies, focus groups, and surveys. Professional focus groups can yield a tremendous amount of data, but they’re costly. Many books discuss techniques in market research. If you’re on a budget, or you have no budget, you may want to check out the book called The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, which suggests many methods for obtaining customer feedback throughout the development and growth process.

Don’t overcomplicate things. If you are having trouble answering the question, “What does it say about a person that they use your brand?”, just go out and ask them.

“What do you think it says about you that you use this brand?”

It’s as basic as that. Start there and then you can expand your customer research to learn other important things about your products, services, and brand.

The bullshit test

Understanding what your customers need and marketing to that isn’t enough. You need to walk the walk.

Once you understand your customers, ask yourself, “Do we have places where it’s an incomplete experience? Are our customer service representatives embodying what we say our brand stands for? Does our product or service really do what we say it does? Do customers experience the essence of our brand in a way that adds value to their lives?”

It’s important to know the answers to these questions so you can assess how well you and the rest of your organization are aligned on delivering a brand experience.

Zappos.com is known for its excellent customer service. That’s their brand promise. But what if a customer called and had a problem with a pair of shoes and wanted some resolution but the customer service rep was snotty to her on the phone?

Their marketing materials wouldn’t matter, because the customer’s experience wouldn’t be living up to the brand promise. They wouldn’t be fulfilling the need that the customer had, and therefore wouldn’t be living their brand.

When to hire outside help

One reason you may need professional help is that sometimes your boss or your team or your CEO is so in love with the brand that they can’t see its flaws. Sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective.

I look at my daughter and I am just in love with her. I think she is amazing, incredibly beautiful, smart, and talented, but I probably overlook a lot of flaws because she is mine. I made her. She came from my genes and my loins. A brand can be like that, too. It’s easy not to see the flaws, especially for founders and long-time team members.

Bringing in an outside brand consultant might make sense for you, but it’s getting ahead of ourselves.

  1. Speak to your customers. Try to really understand their wants, needs, and motivations.
  1. Read Branding is Sex. Use the tools discussed earlier in this post to gain clarity on who your customers are and how your brand needs to serve them.
  1. If you’re still struggling to get your branding right, or if it just isn’t clicking with your customers, think about hiring an outside brand strategist.

The Definitive List of Brand Archetypes

Brand Archetype

We all want a loyal following. We’re constantly looking for that magical marketing plan that will connect us to our audience and make our product an irreplaceable part of their life. What we don’t often realize is that connections are relationships. If we aren’t clear about who we are, no one is going to be interested in dating us.

In my book Branding Is Sex, I’ve devoted an entire chapter to understanding who your brand is, and how you should be starting a relationship with your customers.

The short version is this: There are 12 basic identities—or archetypes—a brand can assume. Below I’ve broken down all 12 in extreme detail to help you understand where you belong.

1. The magician makes dreams come true

The magician archetype is all about vision. Magician brands don’t build you a better toothbrush or help you keep your house clean, they bring your wildest dreams to life.

What they offer is a grand experience no one else could achieve. A magician is so in tune with the fundamentals of the universe that they can create the impossible.

Magician Archetype
Magician Archetype

Disney is the perfect magician. Disney is fundamentally a media company, but they are unlike any other.

Quick—think of the books and videos that have helped you in your career. You’re probably thinking of titles targeted to your industry, full of actionable advice and guidance.

Disney doesn’t do any of that. What they offer is a transformative experience.

They are in a category of their own because of the grandness of their vision. Imagine another brand that could build a “Magic Kingdom” or a “Disney World.”

2. The sage is always seeking the truth

To a sage, wisdom is the key to success. Everything else is secondary to the pursuit of knowledge.

A sage brand might not feel warm and cuddly. They don’t enrapture you in a fantastic world like Disney. Instead, a sage commands your respect by showing their brilliance.

Sage Archetype
Sage Archetype

Harvard University is one of the most revered universities in the world. Boasting an alumni list that includes eight US presidents, 21 Nobel laureates, and Mark Zuckerberg (sort of), Harvard’s brand is all about being the smartest.

Take this video for example. It’s not about success in life or fantasy, it’s about the power of knowledge. The video says the secrets of the universe hide in books, and that Harvard is where they are studied.

3. The innocent just wants to be happy

The innocent belongs in paradise. Everyone is free, virtuous, and happy in an innocent’s world.

An innocent brand will never guilt you with an ad or go over the top to convince you. Instead, an innocent brand will charm you with something much more powerful: Nostalgia.

Innocent Archetype
Innocent Archetype

Orville Redenbacher is the prototypical innocent archetype.

orville redenbaucher
orville redenbaucher

[source: Hammer and Rails]

What adult do you know who is that happy about their suspenders? What adult do you know that even owns suspenders?

But that’s Orville’s appeal. They sell you a childhood treat, popcorn, and their mascot is a grandpa who hasn’t stopped having fun since bowties were a thing unironically.

Nothing heavy-handed, just happiness.

4. The outlaw wants revolution

The outlaw isn’t afraid. Outlaw brands control their own life without regard for the status quo.

Where the innocent archetype touches the part of you that loved snack time in kindergarten, the outlaw archetype appeals to the part of you that cut classes in high school.

Outlaw Archetype
Outlaw Archetype

Building a cult following like Apple is the ultimate goal of an outlaw brand.

Remember those old iPod commercials where monochrome people had the best times of their lives dancing?

Apple Magician Archetype
Apple Magician Archetype

[source: Cult of Macs]

That ad doesn’t tell you to stand in a crowd or go to a concert. It tells you to be yourself, to dance whenever you like, and to do it with Apple.

If you think Apple doesn’t have a cult following, consider this. Did people wait in line for hours when the Galaxy S7 was released? No, is the answer.

5. The jester lives in the moment

The jester is all about having fun. Jester brands might not be curing illnesses, but they’re making your day better.

Humor, silliness, even nonsense are all in a jester’s toolkit. The goal of a jester brand is to make you smile with light-hearted fun.

Jester Archetype
Jester Archetype

The Old Spice Man is one of our all-time favorite ad campaigns, and the perfect example of a jester archetype.

Old Spice Man Jester Archetype
Old Spice Man Jester Archetype

[source: ePharmacy]

Some guys react well to hyper-masculine branding. Other guys don’t. By making a joke out of these super manly brands, Old Spice gets to appeal to both sides.

Guys who are into overly masculine brands get to be in on the joke. Guys who aren’t into macho brands get to laugh at them.

Everybody laughs, and everybody likes Old Spice as a result.

6. The lover wants to make you theirs

Passion, pleasure, and sensuality are the lover’s keywords. A lover brand wants you to associate them with intimate moments in your life.

What do you buy to celebrate? What do you buy your significant other for birthdays and anniversaries? Chances are, you’re buying from a lover brand.

Lover Archetype
Lover Archetype

Think of Godiva Chocolate ads. Do they ever make you think about your health, your finances, or your future?

No. Godiva seduces you. It shows off its richness and creaminess. It invites you to take part in life’s greatest indulgence: Chocolate.

7. The explorer wants to break free

Freedom is all an explorer cares about. Where other brands might try to help you build a home, explorer brands want to get you outside.

With this in mind, it makes sense that many outdoor brands are natural fits for the explorer archetype.

Explorer Archetype
Explorer Archetype

Subaru is the classic explorer brand. They don’t sell their cars based on luxury or comfort, they stress the freedom a Subaru provides.

Subaru Explorer Archetype
Subaru Explorer Archetype

[source: Tutsplus]

Blizzard? No problem. Subaru lets you decide where you’re going, no matter the circumstance. You’re free.

8. The ruler wants absolute power

Luxury and exclusivity are what the ruler is all about. A ruler brand is a gatekeeper. If a customer buys from them, they get to belong to the elite.

Being perceived as high-quality and expensive is critical for a ruler brand. Jewelry and high-end vehicles are natural fits for the ruler archetype.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.03.40 PM
Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.03.40 PM

Do you buy a Mercedes Benz because of its crash test rating? What about its gas mileage? Its heated seats?

No. You buy a Mercedes Benz because you can afford to, and most other people can’t. Whenever you park your car, people will understand your status without you saying a word.

That quietly understood value is what a ruler brand sells.

9. The caregiver wants to nurture you

The caregiver is benevolent. They want to be there for you and the people you love.

Caregiver brands are all about warmth and trust. You can depend on them when it comes to your children. It’s rare to see a caregiver brand run an ad that takes a shot at their competition. They are the opposite of confrontational.

Caregiver Archetype
Caregiver Archetype

Johnson & Johnson’s tagline line is “Johnson & Johnson: A Family Company.” You can’t get more committed to families than that.

Johnson & Johnson Caregiver Archetype
Johnson & Johnson Caregiver Archetype

[source: Johnson & Johnson]

A Johnson & Johnson ad always focuses on how their products help you take care of your children. How their products build families. This is bread-and-butter for the caregiver archetype.

A caregiver is all about instilling trust between in the customer that for the rest of their life, the brand will be there for them.

10. The hero wants to prove himself

The hero makes the world better by being the best. A hero brand isn’t concerned with nurturing you, they’re interested in challenging you.

If you want to rise to the occasion, you’re going to need a hero’s help.

Hero Archetype
Hero Archetype

The U.S. Army is the ultimate example of a hero archetype.

Think of the recruitment commercials you’ve seen with troops jumping out of helicopters, running through training courses, and protecting the country. Any of that resemble your day-to-day?

Of course not. It’s not supposed to. It’s designed to compel you to “answer the call” and rise to the occasion by joining with a hero brand: The U.S. Army.

11. The regular guy/girl wants to belong

No glitz or glamour, just a reliable product that gets the job done. That’s what regular guy/girl brands are selling.

The archetype is focused on providing something so far removed from pretentiousness that it can appeal to everyone. It is the hardest archetype to pull off, because you have to have a product that actually appeals across demographics.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.05.19 PM
Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.05.19 PM

Everyone drinks coffee. Not every individual person, but every major demographic with the possible exception of infants. That’s what makes Folgers a great every guy/girl brand.

Folgers doesn’t market to a hip crowd. They don’t brag about their high quality, all-organic coffee. They keep it simple: “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.”

Everyone wakes up. Everyone drinks Folgers.

12. The creator craves perfection

A creator isn’t worried about the cost of production or making things at scale. They care about one thing: building the perfect product.

While the magician also stresses vision and imagination, creators are different in that they don’t unlock the world’s magic and create the impossible. They create the perfect product.

Creator Archetype
Creator Archetype

Lego is a great example of a creator archetype. Take a look at this ad for Lego Vision:

Lego Creator Archetype
Lego Creator Archetype

[source: Ads of the World]

Lego recreated in stunning detail the most famous sights of the world. They didn’t build new sites, and they didn’t create some new technology that put the sites in your home.

Lego used the simplest technology possible: blocks. They took this simplicity and pushed it to its most perfectionist extreme. That’s what being a creator is all about.

What archetype is your brand?

This is one of the key questions we help clients answer at Sol Marketing. Almost every client comes to the table assuming they are the every guy/girl, but in 99% of cases, they aren’t.

Drilling down into what makes your brand special and how your customers best connect with your products isn’t easy, but it’s the most important thing you can do to understand what archetype you should be using.

The ideas in this post were inspired byCarol Pearson’s The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes.

When You're Ready, It's Too Late: Brand Strategy for Startups

Startups

Ah, startups. The land where branding is everything, yet most companies ignore it. For a branding geek like me, startups are incredibly fun and rewarding to work with. In addition to Sol Marketing, I also run another business called InvestorPitches.com, where we work with early stage companies to help them tell their stories effectively.

In my work with startups, the same theme comes up over and over again:

  • Is it too early to start branding?
  • Is branding a worthwhile investment at this phase?
  • Can’t we just focus on having a great product?

Of course, having a great product is important. But it’s not a trade-off where you can choose one or the other. For an early stage company nobody has heard of, branding is absolutely essential.

It’s Never Too Early

I always say, “Brand early, often, and always.”

Startups often fall into the trap of thinking they need to grow and be established players before branding matters. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The truth is, whether you work on it or not, you will have a brand. There will be a set of emotions, expectations, and feelings around your brand in the minds of customers. And if you don’t intentionally decide what that brand should be, your customers will decide it for you.

For an unfunded startup, it may be too early to invest significantly in ad spend and building a visual brand. But it’s never too early to understand your brand strategy from your customers’ point of view.

Minimum Viable Brand

Branding doesn’t need to be a big ordeal. New companies without much money to spend don’t need to hire expensive outside consultants, or run costly research studies, in order to understand their brand. But they do need to think about it.

At the very least, I encourage startups in their very early phase to understand the answers to the three fundamental questions of branding:

1) What does it say about the customer that they choose your brand?

2) What is the singular thing that only your brand can deliver to your customer?

3) How does your brand make the customer the hero in their own story?

These questions are simple, but they aren’t always easy to answer. Don’t think of this as a one-time, thirty-minute exercise. Instead, think of the process of answering of these questions as an ongoing discussion that unfolds as you find product-market fit.

I spend three full chapters in my book, Branding is Sex, explaining how best to understand and answer these questions. If you implement this process early, your branding is well taken care of. Like I said, branding doesn’t need to cost you tens of thousands of dollars. The book only costs $8.99!

As a start-up, if you do nothing else, dedicate time each month to discussing these three questions. This process gives you your brand’s North Star, which gives you direction and points you toward where you’re going.

Benefits Beyond Branding

The best thing about branding at the early stage isn’t just that it will impact how customers see you. It’ll also impact how you see yourself.

By going through this exercise, you’ll identify not only what you’re going to do but also, and more importantly, what you’re not going to do. It’s really easy as a startup to be opportunistic and to try to be all things to all customers.

But we all know that doesn’t work long term.

When you start to understand your branding and know directionally where you’re going, you can make more strategic, thoughtful, and deliberate decisions about your business.

Branding on a shoestring - Deb Gabor at General Assembly ATX

Money
When starting your business, there's a lot to think about -- your product/service, your team, your employees. But there's also your brand. You want to make a big splash, but you don't have a big budget. So where to you start?Learn from Deb Gabor, founder of Sol Marketing, noted brand dominatrix and author of "Branding is Sex: Get Your Customer Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything." Register today for

Branding on a Shoestring General Assembly 600 Congress, 14th Floor Monday, August 8

Free social media is a good place to start, but there are strategic things you can do up front to dial in your strategy to ensure you maximize the use of your limited funds and unexpected low-cost opportunities to build your brand's visual and verbal assets. This class is highly interactive, so expect to roll up your sleeves and begin the process of defining your brand's core DNA and go-to-market strategy.
This session about branding for early stage companies will expose you to the following ideas:

  • Basics of branding -- what it is and what it isn't
  • Why and when to brand your early stage company
  • Using DIY techniques to define your brand's core DNA and story
  • Building a visual and verbal identity on the cheap
  • Growth hacking your go-to-market strategy
  • Getting in market without going out of business
  • Using your resources wisely

Create your ideal customer profile

IdealCustomerProfile

By Deb Gabor

What’s the one thing that should always be at the center of your brand?

It isn’t design, color schemes, or masterful copywriting.

It’s your customer.

Some business owners have a hard time understanding this, but your brand isn’t about you. Your brand exists to bolster your customer’s self-image, lead them to achieve their goals, and help them become the kind of person they want to be.

To accomplish this requires you to think carefully about who your customer is. You need to understand them better than they understand themselves.

First, ignore traditional marketing advice Traditional marketing has always taught us to think about segmenting and dividing markets.

When you’re bringing a new product to market, the traditional textbook methodology is to think about who are all the potential people who could possibly buy this product, and then segment based on the potential use cases, the possible purchase channels, and their reasons for buying and not buying the product.

In other words, traditional marketing methods tell us to identify as many potential audiences as we can and then divide them further based upon demographics or shopping behaviors or desires and attitudes.

Using that old way of thinking often means taking your brand message and dividing it rather than multiplying it. Segment marketing suggests that you’re going to create a different brand experience for each of those different audiences. When you start dividing and segmenting your market, you start creating more and more marketing messages that are dissimilar from each other. If not managed, that practice can dilute your brand’s impact.

I’m not against segment marketing. In fact, part of my company does quantitative psychographic research with the goal of creating and identifying market segments and then coming up with marketing strategies and tactics for companies to go after those segments.

But when you create your brand, you need to look to what’s similar among all of those segments to create a singular brand for a singular customer archetype. That customer archetype is called the ideal customer, and it’s an in-depth profile of the customer who is most highly predictive of a brand’s success.

Who is your ideal customer? The ideal customer archetype is something that serves as a guiding principle for everything you do in branding and gives you a singular, highly identifiable customer persona toward which to point your brand’s story.

The ideal customer archetype is a fleshed out, detailed, hypothetical profile of your absolute ideal customer.

This doesn’t need to encompass anyone who might engage with your brand. I like to think of the ideal customer archetype as the profile of that single customer who will spend the most money with you over the longest time because he or she has so strongly bought-in to your brand experience.

Create your ideal customer profile This is where your creative skills come into play. After you’ve spoken to enough customers and people in your social networks who use the product, it’s time to write down a description of your ideal customer.

Close your eyes and conjure up a vivid image of who the perfect person is to buy your brand. Who are they? How old are they? Are they male or female? Married or single? What is their income?

Conjure up an image of who that person is, and write down everything you can think of.

Once you’ve written down everything you can think of, dig deeper.

The best trick I’ve found is to try to imagine his or her lifestyle. For instance, for a hypothetical online grocer in the Northeast, the ideal customer might be a thirty-five-year-old mom with two school-age kids at home.

That’s great as far as demographics go, but we can dig deeper by picturing the rest of her life. She works thirty hours a week outside of the home. She lives in the New York suburbs. She shops for groceries once a week in a big shopping trip, and then she does fill-in shopping every other day. She’s a technology user — she has a smartphone and a laptop and a tablet. She wears high-end casual clothes with designer labels when she shops. She carries a gigantic pocketbook. She keeps a yoga mat in her expensive European SUV, and she does not like minivans. Her total household income is around $200,000.

Now dial in your vision even further. Imagine her getting out of her SUV wearing one of her pairs of high-end designer jeans that cost around $200. She’s wearing a puffy down vest from North Face because that’s what all the other moms are wearing when they pick up their kids from private school.

Continue to go through the process of envisioning who this person is and what their life looks like. Write it all down. Even draw a picture of her if you have to.

Identify the Ideal Customer’s Needs Once you’ve created this ideal customer profile, the next step is to think about that person’s needs.

This is the hardest part of the ideal customer archetype process. This is the part where you have to really dig in.

Let’s go back to our suburban, working mom with two kids. From that detailed description, I can probably deduce some of her needs. She needs to feel like she is the best possible parent she can be. She also needs to look like the best parent in comparison to other moms at her kids’ school. Since she works outside the home, she likely feels the strain of balancing her job and spending time with her kids at this critical age. So she has needs for activities and services and products that give her as much time as possible to spend with her kids in the way that she wants to that also makes her feel like she is fulfilling her potential as their mom.

We also know that she values quality in the products that she buys because she doesn’t have time to drive around town making returns. In thinking about food, for instance, she probably wants to have the healthiest, most nutritious meals she can get for her children without the need to do a lot of shopping or preparation. She certainly doesn’t have time to shop at multiple grocery stores, and sometimes she doesn’t have the time to cook everything that comes to the table for a family meal. However, she still wants to feel like she’s the provider of tonight’s dinner and that the meal meets her very high standards.

Understanding your ideal customer in depth enables you to understand what that person needs most from you and your brand. By getting inside the head of your ideal customer, you’re able to extract from it the story that the customer wants to tell themselves and the world about who they are.

Eventually you’ll get a clear image of who your ideal customer is and, ultimately, whom your brand is for.

The ideal customer profile exercise This is great, but how do you actually do it? How do you figure out who your ideal customer is?

The ideal customer archetype exercise is ideally done in a group brainstorming session with the staff in your company who are most involved in customer-facing roles.

Don’t just invite the top executives! Often it’s your salespeople, customer service reps, returns processors, and delivery drivers who are closest to the customers. They actually know more about your customers than your marketing team ever could.

What I’d recommend is bringing a group together with a big roll of butcher paper, and dividing up into smaller groups to answer the following questions:

  • Who is our ideal customer?
  • What does their average day look like?
  • What are the needs they’re looking to fulfill?

This seems easy enough, but companies often struggle with these branding exercises because the conclusions are sometimes difficult to swallow. It’s hard to leave behind the myths and beliefs that are part of the company history.

But, ultimately, this ideal customer process is extremely galvanizing for companies.

I’ll give you an example. One of the companies that I worked with for a long time was iVillage.com. Back in its heyday, iVillage was probably the largest online destination for women. At the time I started working with the company, it had just become part of NBC Universal. With a mid-2000s onslaught of “mom media,” iVillage struggled to remain relevant and knew it had to reinvent itself in order to compete. Additionally, the proliferation of highly focused digital media sites in passion verticals, such as food, entertainment, parenting, fashion, and beauty, was stealing their readers.

By late 2011, iVillage was struggling to figure out how to both narrow its focus and grow traffic. As part of a branding engagement, I had them do the ideal customer exercise.

For iVillage’s ideal customer exercise, we did exactly the process described above. My team brought out a big roll of butcher paper and cut it into six-foot lengths. We divided up the staff of about one hundred employees into smaller groups. We gave each group markers, art supplies, magazines, photographs, glue, and scissors. Then I gave them the assignment of creating an image of iVillage’s ideal customer, using all that stuff.

One group actually had one of their team members lay down on the butcher paper, and they traced her body with magic marker. They gave her big eyes and big ears because they wanted to communicate, “Our ideal customer is somebody who has a curiosity about the world around her and is seeking information from other people.”

Another group drew their ideal customer as a woman with a gigantic pocketbook filled with items from different categories, such as parenting, beauty, fashion, and health. Their idea was, “Our ideal customer is somebody who is super engaged and productive in her world and needs inspiration, information, and connections in all of these different areas of her life.”

Another group drew this Picassoesque Cubist version of a woman with five arms and six legs and ten eyes. This was their version of a woman who is doing a lot of things at once.

Each team presented their ideal customer diagrams to the rest of the teams. Then I challenged them as a larger group to combine those traits to come up with a singular ideal customer profile. That group of one hundred people used all of those inputs to create the North Star version of their ideal customer.

Although it was difficult for them to give up some of their company’s tribal knowledge and assumptions around who their audience should be, it was extremely galvanizing for them to narrow their focus to align on a singular profile.

What’s next? The ideal customer profile is just one exercise I recommend for companies to align their focus on exactly who their customer is and what deep needs they are fulfilling.

For all the tips, tricks and exercises we use with our Sol Marketing clients, as well as a deeper understanding of how to think about your customers’ needs, check out my book, Branding is Sex.

 

Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything

Brandind_is_Sex-cover
Brandind_is_Sex-cover

If you hate making money and the feeling of a mind-blowing, toe curling orgasm—stay far away from Deb Gabor's new book.

In Branding is Sex: Get Your Customers Laid and Sell the Hell Out of Anything, the Sol Marketing founder and "brand dominatrix" explains how proper brand positioning gets your customers in the mood.

In just seven short and sweet chapters, Deb covers these juicy topics and more:

How the most successful brands in the world get their customers laid How to never fail The Bullshit Test Who your brand should hop in the sack with (and it’s not who you think)

Don’t rot in the brand graveyard like Blackberry, Oldsmobile, Circuit City, Compaq, Blockbuster Video, and Pets.com.

Get your sexy back and move from being “just friends” with your customers to being long-term “friends with benefits.”

Branding is Sex provides you with a concrete foundation and a basic how-to plan for building or re-igniting your brand without needing a PhD.

Buy your print or e-reader copy here, or read more about it at brandingissex.com

Part 3 of 3: Kerry Rupp and Sara Brand: Investing in positive purpose

Morning

Kerry Rupp and Sara Brand from True Wealth Ventures recently sat down with Sol Marketing to discuss their new fund, why women-led businesses are a great investment, and what they’re doing to make sure women-led businesses get the capital they need to grow. In this last of three posts, Rupp and Brand talk about why they're focusing on companies with a "positive purpose" and what they're obsessed with, and offer up words of wisdom for women entrepreneurs.

(Read parts one and two of this three-part interview)

What makes a for-profit company that is a positive purpose company different from a non-profit or a regular for-profit?

SB - The simple answer is that the positive purpose for-profit companies are looking to make money and grow their business model so that they can create significant financial returns. One of the things we have seen with women being investors is that high net worth women have made a lot of philanthropic ventures, but have not tended to invest in VC early stage asset classes. A lot of investors behind VCs have a similar gender profile. We see this as an opportunity as being an easier way for investors to try us out and know that their money will make a difference in the world, and that they will receive a significant ROI.

My view is that these for-profit, for-good companies look at creating a view of their stakeholders beyond just their shareholders. They think about the environment and having a greater impact in the world and they have the potential to move markets and change the world faster and in a bigger way than nonprofits.

KR – It’s starting to become a bit of a requirement for consumer products because millennials and women are building criteria about companies and how they behave when utilizing their decision process-- thinking about locally sourced, sustainably raised. Instead of thinking of it as you’re giving something up by giving so much to these other stakeholders, instead it can be what drives revenue streams and purchases because they are listening to their target market. The traditional view was that by taking into account certain stakeholders you are giving up some financial rewards, this is not true anymore. This can be how you win!

 

If you could go back in time and kick your younger self in the butt what would it be about and why?

SB - I got my PhD in Mechanical Engineering. I spent many hours doing these detailed things that I use zero of today. I would go back and tell myself just pass the exams. You don’t need to master this material that you will never use again.

KR - I’m going to take a bit of a cop-out answer, but I would say that I wouldn’t take any of my failures back. It is a part of the process and critical for learning. I feel like they were important in my development.

Besides your work with entrepreneurs and investors in the VC world, what are you obsessed with?

KR - I have been spending more time researching the health sector. Over the last few months I’ve been looking at inflammation and diseases and how epigenetics impacted these diseases. I started looking into what type of things people can do in a preventative way to stop these diseases from happening. I’m also looking into therapeutics in this space.

SB - I have a similar answer, so when you take that away I don’t have much to add. I have a son that was diagnosed with celiac. Because we owned a microbrewery, we ate a lot of bread products and all things gluten. I learned a lot about disorders like celiac. This opened my eyes as to what affects the things we eat are having on our bodies, especially in cases with autoimmune diseases. This is something I have been educating myself on and trying to learn more about.

Any parting words of wisdom for our women entrepreneur readers out there?

SB - Woman entrepreneurs need to know that there are so many opportunities out there for them, because they can bring a lot of value to the table for these startups that lack gender diversity. For woman investors, I think that what’s most inspiring is that today women hold 40% of the U.S investable assets and in the next 15 years that number is supposed to go up by 2/3. Women at the purchase point and their investments, they have the power to move markets. There is a lot of influence that women can have with their investments.

KR - From a marketer’s point of view, there was a process that got us to this place where we could focus on particular sectors and the gender lens. For people that are going through the process, talking to your customers and understanding your target market to identify your competitive advantage is something we all go through.

 

Part 2 of 3: Kerry Rupp and Sara Brand talk about why they focus their investments on women-led businesses

Kerry Rupp and Sara Brand from True Wealth Innovations recently sat down with Sol Marketing to discuss their new fund, why women-led businesses are a great investment, and what they’re doing to make sure women-led businesses get the capital they need to grow. In this second of three posts, Rupp and Brand talk about their "why."

(Read part one of this three-part interview here)

Why did you start this endeavor?

SB - Well the light bulb came on about a year and a half ago. I knew I wanted to get into venture capital somehow here in Austin. Austin is rated as the number-one startup city in the U.S., we have UT with their research and their new medical branch opening up. Over the last few years of education and career I was always around male-dominated environments. My husband and I started a microbrewery after I worked in the semiconductor industry.

All of these were very male-dominated. I was asked at the semiconductor job to become the executive sponsor of the Global Women’s Forum. After taking the position I read some studies and found that companies with more women in leadership positions performed better financially. At the same time, I was trying to figure out what my company could do about their numbers. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out my right move here in Austin. I realized that women were underrepresented and that I had never met a woman in VC here in Austin.

Of all VC partners, only four percent are women. Three percent of companies are women led, and those companies see 35% higher return utilizing a third less capital. We found a blind spot in the market without funds that are investing with this lens.

KR - When I ran DreamIt we started a DreamIt Athena for woman-run startups. Many times these people had trouble fundraising and/or they received comments from VCs that this market was just not a sector in which they invested. Then I met Sara and found out about her fund. I realized that we really had a significant gap in what the market offered today and what we could deliver.

 

What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities women face both on the investment side and as entrepreneurs, given this underrepresentation?

SB - Well, my mind went first to the disadvantages. What women have traditionally seen is that they are undercapitalized. They don’t have the same networks that most entrepreneurs use to get their companies off the ground. Or they are not willing to ask-- not thinking about it or willing to ask as men have typically done.

Also, as they start scaling the business, because of less capital they tend not to think as big or grow as quickly. Many woman-led businesses end up being undercapitalized and under scaled.

KR - Advantages are that with women making a lot of the purchasing decisions, we have a lot of the point of view around what marketing would resonate, what type of messaging should we use, etc. Because they understand the customer better, this can be an advantage.

SB - That reminds me of another study I read. When entrepreneurs created a product or service based on a particular need they have, they were significantly more successful. Women tend to be the largest percent of that category. The advantage women have here is that there have been a lot fewer leaders at companies addressing the certain needs that women have historically had a better understanding of.

 

Are you getting traction with this? What do you see coming short- and long-term?

KR - These numbers really resonate with people. When you quote the statistics on the performance of women-led companies, people gasp and it really opens their eyes. They realize there is a gap here. The health and sustainability sectors are particularly popular here in Austin, and we are already seeing many startups in these sectors here in Austin being led by women. Although we focus on Texas as a whole, it’s great that we have these types of organizations right in our back yard.

SB - As more women invest and millennials can invest more significant sums of money, this is an area that really resonates with them. Seventy-three percent of millennial women not only want a great financial return, but also to invest in areas that have a positive impact in the world. There are similar numbers for investors that want to invest in more gender diversity.

 

Watch this space for part three.

Part 1 of 3: Kerry Rupp and Sara Brand from True Wealth Ventures are funding women-led companies for the greater good

Part one of three Kerry Rupp and Sara Brand from True Wealth Ventures recently sat down with Sol Marketing to discuss their new fund, why women-led businesses are a great investment, and what they’re doing to make sure women-led businesses get the capital they need to grow.

Who is True Wealth for, and why do you do what you do? Kerry Rupp - We are an early stage venture capital fund. This fund raises money from investors, then invests the money into women-led companies. By that, we mean there’s a woman of significant decision-making influence on the executive level of the company. Companies with more women in leadership do better financially, and having gender diverse teams-- with women making 80-85% of the consumer purchasing decisions-- will have inherent advantages when developing products.

Our target is an early-stage company that is high-scale with opportunity to grow quickly and get acquired in a five-year time frame. They fall under the sustainable consumer or health-related business umbrella.

What do you think it says about someone that meets all that criteria and they work with TW and not someone else? KR- Only three percent of all VC-backed deals are woman-led. Given that women are starting companies at 2x the rate of men, there are a lot more woman-led companies than three percent of the market. An entrepreneur that wants to work with True Wealth specifically understands the need to get more growth capital to women and they believe that having a woman’s perspective brings benefits and insights.

Sara Brand–We have two “customers”: those who invest in us and those we invest in. The primary criterion when making an investment is the financial return. There is also a feel-good component-- the social issue of having woman led companies. Our fund also focuses on people that care about social issues such as gender, health, and sustainability. It makes them feel good that they can make money and do good things at the same time.

What is it that your clients get from you that they cannot get from anyone else? What is singular about the experience you deliver? KR – Well, in one sense that is a really easy question to answer. Because in terms of VC funds that are women-led and investing in early stage companies specifically with women decision makers, there are no funds like this in the central United States. They cannot get this anywhere else besides California and New York.

SB - And, actually, if you look at impact investment funds, and we are one because we have the gender focus. We are also investing in sustainable consumer and health verticals. There are no other impact funds that have a specific investment thesis to get more women to the leadership table.

KR – I think that one of the components that women portfolio companies mention is having someone on their investment side that “gets them” and their market better than a traditional VC. Especially when the end customer is a woman. Having a woman at the leadership of those companies and having an investor that gets the decisions that are being made around design, delivery, etc. of those products. The magic is in the diversity, bringing the different perspective to the table considering most companies are led by men.

With all those pieces in place, how do you put that together to make your client the hero in their own story? SB - A lot of our focus is on women and women entrepreneurs: supporting them and their great ideas, scaling them into the market and the world. The number one issue we found is capital. We have seen a lot of organizations focusing on educating women about business plans, etc.– but not a lot of writing checks to scale their business. They need access to the growth capital.

KR - Thinking from an investor’s point of view, thinking about their investment decision, it allows them to “do good and feel good.” Because they are getting a financial return, given the thesis that companies with women in management teams perform significantly better financially. At the same time, they are investing in sectors that are helping the world and affecting social/environmental issues that matter to them.

Check back for parts two and three of our conversation with Kerry Rupp and Sara Brand.

Austin startup funding in 2015 led by HomeAway’s buyout by Expedia

Built In Austin surveyed the local 2015 startup financing landscape and – not surprisingly to those who’ve been paying attention – it was a banner year. Companies in Austin’s digital technology industry raised almost $1 billion in new capital in 2015—not counting HomeAway’s behemoth $3.9 billion buyout by Expedia.

Top segments securing fundraising were e-commerce, marketing and advertising tech and data and analytics—all topping $150 million.

That HomeAway deal is important for another reason. It proves Austin is capable of nurturing and birthing a consumer technology brand and not just enterprise tech brands.

This is all very good news for Austin, and for the tech industry. Congratulations to everyone. Now let’s see what happens next!

Sol Marketing salutes the Austin tech scene, and HomeAway in particular. Sol Marketing has worked with HomeAway several times over the years, starting before the company was even called HomeAway.

Read the whole report here.

SlideShare: Your Ideal Customer Archetype

Sol Marketing is ecstatic that we were able to help a great group of fellow marketers identify their ideal customer. Deb Gabor gave a unique presentation at AMA Austin's event: Building Your Ideal Customer Archetype. It was a wonderful interactive experience in which we were able to dive deep into the questions you must ask yourself in order to define your #IdealCustomer. If you missed out, or you just want to refresh your memory, take a look at the Ideal Customer Archetype Presentation and Ideal Customer Archetype Worksheet. In this presentation you will:

  • Discover the three existential questions you must ask yourself
  • Understand how to protect your brand using individualized interactions
  • Learn how to create your ideal customer archetype

If you enjoyed the AMA luncheon, we hope to see you at some of our upcoming events such as

Interested in more information? Let's start something great together!

New year, old you: Why thinking you'll transform yourself in the new year sells yourself short

It’s the new year, a traditional time for setting goals, feeling guilty and inadequate, and resolving to be a better person. Not necessarily in that order. Goals and resolutions are great, and everyone here at Sol is definitely on board with making them and supporting each other to achieve them.

Let’s be realistic. Expecting to completely transform yourself by losing weight, being a better parent or spouse or daughter, becoming more active in your community, learning new skills, getting a better job and finally taking that dream trip to Vietnam is setting yourself up for failure. It’s also selling yourself short.

First, you didn’t make it this far by being a complete loser. You’ve managed to eke out a career of some sort, make your way through this complex society to become at least a semi-responsible adult, and be in a position to read the Sol Marketing post about setting goals. You, my friend, are already aces.

Second, goals that are vague are difficult to achieve. As my grandpa may or may not have once said while we were skeet shooting, “You can’t hit a blurry target.”

Just as you do in your company planning sessions, set those SMART goals for yourself for 2016.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Time bound

One of my own 2016 SMART goals is to enter my homemade canned goods in two categories (tomato preserves and sour brined pickles) into competition at the State Fair of Texas. That’s specific, measurable and actionable. I’ve made these before and have gotten lots of positive feedback, so I know it’s realistic to do this. And, the deadline is sometime in July, which is perfect because the spring tomatoes ripen in late May through June, and cucumbers are starting to come on in July. So there’s a timeframe associated with this.

Rather than think you need to completely reinvent yourself—you don’t, and even if you did it wouldn’t work—think about specific steps you’ll take to have a spectacular, or at least satisfying, 2016. As for myself, I’m taking orders now for the limited edition batches of tomato jam.

 

Investor pitch archetypes

Archetypes abound in all sorts of storytelling, and investor pitches are, after all, storytelling. Which archetype best represents these classic startup stories? archetypes_V6

Austin entrepreneurs say branding is their biggest challenge for 2016

Finding funding isn't it. Even making key hires isn't it. Instead, members of the Austin chapter of the Entrepreneur's Organization say increasing brand awareness and lead generation will be their biggest challenge in 2016. Are you ready? Ready to go from startup mode so you can scale and grow? It's going to be a great year.

Read the story