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The Grueling Truth about Sports

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Figure out why you need to differentiate yourself in order for your startup to survive. What does your startup provide that customers can't get anywhere else? Listen to this week's episode of Surviving the Startup Podcast, "The Grueling Truth About Sports", with host Marc Amazon and special guest Sol CEO,Deb Gabor. Give this one a 5 star rating and subscribe here!

 

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.

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.

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.