business

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?

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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.

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.

Before You Start Branding, Answer These Three Questions

Brand Questions

We all know that many companies have a hard time getting their branding right. They have rebrand after rebrand, but their message never seems to hit home with customers. It seems helpless. After working with hundreds of companies in this exact situation, I’m confident to say that it isn’t helpless. They’re just making one fatal mistake:

These companies are focusing on the output of branding before adequately understanding their customers.

Many companies see branding as writing the perfect copy, choosing the perfect color scheme, and writing up a perfect brand message. This isn’t the case. These things might be the output of branding, but branding is one thing: understanding your customer.

This is a challenge. There are thousands of ways you can understand your customers, and many companies are paralyzed with understanding where to start.

From my experience helping companies understand their customers, there are three core questions that really get to the root of how the brand and customer interact. If you can answer these three questions, you’ll be in a much better place to start your branding process.

1) What does your brand say about your customers?

The first question for brands to answer is what it says about a person that he or she uses this brand. What does it communicate both to the outside world and to the customer him or herself?

This is important because, at its core, this is what a brand is. It’s a statement about the customer, and it’s crucial that, as a business, you know what that statement is.

Answering this question requires you to really get inside your customers’ heads and understand what they want to achieve in their lives, how they measure their success in achieving those goals, what they care most deeply about, and, ultimately, how the brand must deliver.

2) What is the singular thing your brand delivers that customers can’t get from anyone else?

The second question to understand is what the singular thing is that a person using this brand gets from it that they can’t get from any other brand.

In other words, what makes your brand singular and indispensable. What you’ll find, as you dig into this question, is that most of the answers aren’t tangible. It’s unlikely that your product has a feature that no competitors can provide. Instead, what commonly comes up are intangible benefits, like the ways the company makes them feel or the story it tells them about themselves.

3) How do you make your customer a hero in the story of his or her own life?

The third question requires an understanding of how your brand makes the customer a hero in his or her own life story.

Everybody wants to be the hero in his or her own story. Everybody wants to be the protagonist. Some brands may achieve that in an obvious way (like a fashion brand making the customer stand out from the crowd), whereas others might be more subtle (like an IT brand making the purchasing manager look good in front of their colleagues). No matter what the case, if you can answer this question, you’ll have loyal customers for life.


At a very high level, everything we do in branding is about answering those three questions.

Before you do any copywriting, design, or other branding outputs, take some time to answer those three questions. If you have trouble getting to the bottom of them, don’t worry. Ask your customers for help, and keep digging until you really understand them.

With this newfound understanding of who your customers are and how they want to interact with your brand, you’ll be on the path to defining a powerful brand strategy.

Whose Job is Branding?

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Branding is a funny thing. It’s often a part of marketing, but requires different skillsets than the marketing team has. It comes from the customer experience, but customer service reps aren’t able to set the strategy. It requires design, but it starts long before design. So the question is: Who is responsible for branding?

This question is one of the main issues that stands between a company and a powerful brand.

So who should be responsible for the brand strategy at your company? It doesn’t matter if you are a small business owner with five employees, or you’re the CEO of a billion-dollar company, the answer is the same...

Branding is everybody’s responsibility.

Contrary to commonly held beliefs, branding is not the responsibility of some marketing manager or the person in charge of campaigns or the person with brand in his or her title.

Organizations that benefit most from branding are the ones where everyone in the company is a steward of their brand.

The companies that do the best are the ones in which the people at the top of the organization lead the charge for branding. In those companies, it’s often the CEO, but it’s also the COO and the CFO and the CTO and basically anybody with a “C” in their title who takes up the cause and drives the strategy through the entire organization.

In order for branding to work, every single person must feel ownership and responsibility for the brand. And the leadership must drive that into every nook and cranny of the organization so that people are walking the brand talk.

How do you do that? It starts by answering the three most important brand questions for your business:

  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 are big questions. Branding is Sex spends three full chapters diving into how to best answer each of them. But once these questions are answered, you have the foundation to allow your entire team to take responsibility for branding.

Your answers to these questions, as well as your understanding of what’s at the top of your Brand Values Pyramid, need to become gospel within your company. Every employee should know the answers and, more importantly, should embody them in their day to day actions.

It should be clear to everyone in your company that every single thing that any person in the company does must align with delivering on those promises.

When you have that, the question is no longer “Who is responsible for branding?” Instead, it becomes “Who isn’t responsible for branding?”

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

When should we brand? Early, often, and always

WorkplaceBranding

By Deb Gabor I hear one question from business owners all the time: “When should we brand?”

My answer is always the same: “Early, often, and always.”

Branding is not optional, and the risks of not taking it seriously are very real. Your customers might lose touch with your brand and leave you. A competitor with a strong commitment to branding might overtake you. Or, perhaps worst of all, the market might define your brand for you.

Brand yourself, or someone else will brand you. It’s very dangerous to let your customers, or the news media, or bloggers, or social media, or your competitors define your brand for you.

If you don’t intentionally control your brand yourself, it will take on a life of its own.

Brand or be branded For decades, cable television companies had no competition. They owned a local franchise, which allowed them to do business in a particular geographic area, and that was that. The regional cable companies had mini-monopolies because their customers had few options for home entertainment.

Hence, they often didn’t treat their customers well.

The cable companies knew their customers weren’t going to leave and, as a result, poor customer service became an ingrained way of doing business.

I don’t know if you’ve ever personally had the experience of being a customer of any of the big cable TV companies. If you have, then you’ve probably experienced the overwhelming sense of dread that comes whenever you have to call a cable company about anything. Dealing with cable companies is not a pleasant experience.

Invariably, you’ll start by waiting on hold for 30 minutes. When you do get a customer service rep on the line, you have to repeat all your account information that you’ve already entered. Then the rep will ask you a bunch of stupid questions you already answered for the person you spoke with previously. When you do schedule your appointment, customer service provides you a four-hour window of time when you need to be home. The technician shows up either early or late, or not at all. Finally, you get your cable bill, which is already too high to begin with, and discover that the company charged you way more than you expected for the service call.

When it comes to customer satisfaction—or the lack of it—it doesn’t get much worse than this.

With that atrocious level of customer service, pretty soon some of the big cable companies earned a dismal reputation among customers. You can go into a party and overhear people talking about how frustrated they are with their cable provider. “Oh gosh, I had to call the cable company the other day. What a nightmare. I’m still upset!” Everybody in the room utters a sigh of disgust because they’ve experienced the same thing.

Pretty soon, Consumer Reports or Temkin Group releases a survey and finds that the cable industry has the lowest customer satisfaction scores of any industry. Then the news media picks up the story. The bloggers start ranting. Twitter goes crazy.

Before you know it, the cable industry has been branded as an awful industry that abuses its customers. It can be very difficult to shed that reputation, and it can take years.

The cable industry lost control of its brand and let someone else—in this case, customers—own the brand. When you don’t take control of your brand’s image, and you don’t properly manage the relationship you have with your customers, the results can be devastating. And they show up on the bottom line.

What to do instead Branding doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need to have a major branding agency on retainer or go on weeklong branding retreats.

By answering three major questions, you can take control of your brand and understand who you are and how you fit in the market.

These are deep questions, and three full chapters in my book, Branding is Sex, are dedicated to understanding them and how best to answer them.

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?

By understanding the answers to these three questions, companies can ensure that they are sending the right message, and that their customers’ experiences are aligning with their messaging.

Branding is not a step-by-step process I want to be clear: Companies cannot just answer those three questions once and then hang up their branding hat. Answering the above questions is an ongoing exercise that should happen throughout the life of the brand. Branding is not something that takes place at a single point in time.

The answers to these questions will always be evolving and, even more importantly, living your brand and ensuring that customers experience your values is a constantly ongoing process.

You are in a competitive environment with changing customer needs and market forces that are beyond your control. Your brand needs to be constantly evolving to meet these challenges. You have to be in constant touch with your customers and your customers’ needs or subject yourself to the risk of becoming irrelevant.

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.

 

The brand values pyramid: get to the top

Brand Values Pyramid

by Deb Gabor In Marketing 101, professors taught us that customers make rational purchase decisions. However, as a student of branding and marketing over the past 25 or so years, I’ve learned that reason informs, but emotion persuades.

The practice of branding requires digging a lot deeper into your customers’ needs, wants, and desires and then trying to uncover the inner stories customers tell themselves.

Marketing 101 was a good start, but to really understand branding, we need to leave the business school and walk across campus to the psychology department.

Maslow Was a Marketer If you think back to Psychology 101 class in college, you probably remember studying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow shaped his hierarchy like a pyramid, with the most basic human needs—food, water, shelter, air—at the base and loftier, more emotional needs at the top. The theory is that all humans must first solve for the lower levels of the pyramid before moving to the upper levels.

Once a person is no longer worried about finding food and water, he or she can move up to solve the problem of safety. Once that person figures out safety, he or she can move up to love, and so on.

brand values graphics for blog-04
brand values graphics for blog-04

Just as Maslow’s hierarchy explains human motivation, the brand values pyramid illustrates the idea that, when a person makes a decision to purchase or use a brand, they are motivated to achieve certain needs. After fulfilling one need, a person seeks to fulfill the next one, and so on.

As customers move up the pyramid, brands must meet more of their customers’ emotional needs, and as those emotional needs are met by more and more companies, the best brands must support customers’ process of becoming self-actualized.

Branding Lessons from My Garage Currently, I have two cars parked in my garage. I drive a sweet midsize Audi SUV, and my daughter drives a midsize Hyundai SUV.

Baseline Requirements The things that make both of these products midsize SUVs are what we call baseline requirements, which equate to the base of Maslow’s hierarchy.

In Maslow’s pyramid, those basic physiological needs are food, water, shelter, air, and so on.

In midsize SUVs, the baseline requirements are wheels, an engine, and a steering wheel, as well as seats, mirrors, windows, and the basic functional benefit of getting you from point A to point B.

The basic things that these two cars have in common with one another that make them function as midsize SUV’s are the baseline requirements for anything in the midsize SUV category.

All cars must meet these baseline requirements and deliver these functional benefits, or today’s market of SUV buyers will not take them seriously.

Emotional Benefits The next levels up in Maslow’s hierarchy are safety, belonging, and affiliation and esteem needs. These are the benefits that make you feel like you’re part of a group and protected.

In the brand values pyramid, these middle tiers describe how certain features make the consumer feel. In car talk, these are the options. In branding, we refer to them as emotional benefits. Emotional benefits can provide a competitive advantage, but they are not your brand.

The options packages in the middle of the pyramid for today’s cars are things such as Bluetooth, voice-activated navigation, heated seats, self-darkening mirrors, bi-xenon headlamps, and a variety of other cool things.

Not every model of car in a category offers those features, so they’re still somewhat differentiating and can command a premium purchase price. However, these features are easy for other brands to imitate, so they don’t define the brand and certainly aren’t sustainable long-term brand differentiators.

Like the functional benefits we discussed before, emotional benefits alone will never be enough to create and sustain a brand. As today’s options become tomorrow’s standard equipment, these emotional benefits aren’t enough to differentiate your brand.

brand values graphics for blog-02
brand values graphics for blog-02

Self-Expressive Benefits Self-expressive benefits—the stuff at the top of the brand values pyramid—enable customers to complete the statement, “When I eat/drink/drive/wear/use this brand, I am___.”

This is where brands become transcendent, symbolizing their customers’ self-concept and giving consumers a vehicle to express themselves.

When brands provide self-expressive benefits to their users, they can engender deep emotional connections. For example, consider the difference between the self-expressive benefits associated with Heineken beer, which may heighten a person’s self-concept of being a sophisticated, discerning, worldly person, with those of Budweiser.

Back to the two cars in my garage: the Hyundai and the Audi both meet the baseline requirements for midsize SUVs and provide some similar and compelling middle-of-the-pyramid features and emotional benefits. These two cars are so similar in their physical makeup, features, and benefits, that if you were to take the brand names away, they’d be virtually indistinguishable.

But everyone can agree that an Audi is an Audi, and a Hyundai is not an Audi. It’s a Hyundai.

Each of these two brands is unique and singular in what they let their owners say about themselves. For me, driving an Audi makes me feel powerful, cool, and in control. For my daughter, driving the Hyundai makes her feel responsible, stylish, practical, and safety conscious. Those feelings connect us to each of the two brands in very powerful ways, and elevate our concepts of ourselves and support us in telling a story to the rest of the world.

The most powerful brands are the ones that say something about their user. The key to successful branding is to make self-expressive benefits part of the brand value proposition to add richness and depth to the brand and the experience of owning and using the brand.

brand values pyramid for blog-01
brand values pyramid for blog-01

How to Discover Your Brand’s Self-Expressive Benefits There are three questions that every brand must be able to answer in order to understand how the brand values pyramid impacts their brand. These questions can be difficult to get to the bottom of, but once you understand them, they allow your brand’s strategy to flow naturally.

The three questions are:

  1. What does using your brand say about your customers?
  2. What is the singular thing your brand delivers that customers can’t get from anyone else?
  3. How do you make your customer a hero in their own story?

These questions may seem simple, but very few companies are able to answer them clearly. Those who can are usually the brands who win.

How to accurately answer these questions is beyond the scope of this blog post. In fact, there are three full chapters in my book, Branding is Sex, that focus exclusively on better understanding these three questions.

If you’re a brand struggling to deeply understand your customers, that’s the best place to start.

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.

Storytelling 101: Presentation is Everything

Every time you present about your business or yourself you are telling a story. Make the most of it. Join Brand Dominatrix and Investor Pitch Whisperer Deb Gabor and co speaker award-winning storyteller and entertainer Jon Bolden in a storytelling 101-- a FREE highly interactive educational hands-on experience that will equip you with the necessary tools to connect with audiences in unique and powerful ways. Register Today

Find out how YOU can generate irrational loyalty

Join the Austin chapter of the American Marketing Association for a professional development luncheon Thursday, January 21, 2016. Do you ever wonder how top brands create irrational loyalty among their users? The world’s most profitable and well-known brands bond in highly emotional and compelling ways with the customers who are most likely to spend the most money with them.

Deb Gabor, founder and CEO of Sol Marketing, will lead a highly-interactive workshop to guide you through identifying and profiling the customer who is most highly predictive of your success using the Ideal Customer Archetype methodology. Through the use of hands-on exercises, you will learn to use this method to go beyond traditional demographic and firmographic profiles to hone in on behavioral and attitudinal attributes that enhance the climate of consideration for your brand.

Once you intimately know your Ideal Customer, you can identify opportunities to make your brand part of your customers’ self concept, tell your brand story more effectively and focus your marketing efforts on the customers who will help you win.

Limited seating available: register today.

Don't have time to read the top 10? Try just one.

By Sara Breuer It's hard to make time to read all the business books people recommend, isn't it?

Top 10 lists are great, but I don't think I've made my way through the top 10 business books of LAST year yet. The clever people at Inc. magazine did some vetting and, with the Financial Times and McKinsey's choice of the ONE must-read book of 2016. You may not like it, you may not agree, but it's worth a look.

Read the Inc. list