When the City of Santa Monica asked me to speak on a small television show helping startups shape their ventures, I immediately agreed. We have been working with the city for 6 consecutive years, and I see them as an extraordinary group of innovative people running a city nothing short of amazing; of course I would show support.
Being on the show was tons of fun, or perhaps thrilling is a better word, mainly because it was a big experiment (a ‘pilot’), and I was part of getting it through Episode #1. Yes, I was a guinea pig, no doubt about it. The dream of television being a place of perfection, endless cuts and edits to make it just perfect were quickly replaced that day by a single take, no rehearsal, no presenter notes, yet a live audience and a few cameras pointing towards me.
Did it make for my best speech ever? Absolutely not.
Is this short video a great way for startups to learn about how not to screw up their branding? Absolutely.
Imagine you own a well established, sophisticated Mexican restaurant in a wealthy neighborhood that is frequented by out-of-towners as much as by locals and has been receiving rave reviews for years. You made a good living and decide to buy the Irish pub a few doors down the street, on the same block.
So far so good.
Your logical next move is to announce to your customers that you now run another great establishment, serving different cuisine and drinks, same quality, same owner, just a few doors down. Have a pint after your dinner!
And this is where a perfectly logical move is costing you customers instead of gaining them, because you thought of your customers instead of like them.
This is not a fictional story. I was reminded of that anecdote when I talked with a client last week about how he must hone in on his target audience and focus on a singular message that speaks to his specific offerings and their specific needs. Sounds so simple, but as you can see, it is not. The temptation to reach out to your customers, or to widen your offering or your clientele, often leaves the most important part of branding left behind: Empathy.
Don’t think of your customer, think like them. If you would, you would never dilute your established authentic Mexican restaurant brand (which is about an authentic and cultural food experience) with Irish pub chatter (which is about pints in quantity rather than quality). While dining at said restaurant, I saw a tabletop advertising their ‘other’ completely unrelated venture and it turned me off in an instant. So much so that I started coming in only once every month instead of once a week. If the owner would have thought about why people loved her restaurant, she would have ensured to separate the two businesses (A Brand Architecture exercise would have made that crystal clear), their respective audience and outreach.
This particular venture experienced organic growth, and that often leads to brand disasters. Thinking like your customer is the single most important thing you can do as an entrepreneur while establishing your brand, and the one that entrepreneurs tend to be doing the least. Next time you communicate on behalf of your brand, ask yourself: Is the whole enchilada worth the pint?
It’s not quite as harsh as it sounds, but yes, I would like for you to imagine your new venture’s death. Here is why.
Not a proprietary exercise to my consultancy, writing a memorial speech for your brand during the Brand Foundation stage is a cruel, yet crucial step in defining your brand’s lasting values, and has been a staple in early brand development for many brand strategists. Given that those speeches are short, to the point, and always focus on only the best one has to say about the deceased, it is a great opportunity to dig deeper (did not mean for this pun to happen) into the soul and its bigger, social purpose. A brand can only leave a lasting positive impact if it cared to make a difference in people’s lives.
This is why a memorial speech is an extremely fruitful, imaginative, and most of the times rather entertaining exercise to be doing at the very onset of your brand development; and you can rarely say that about a memorial speech.
Over time we uncovered a secondary, but equally important finding during the exercise: The realization that you need to ponder about how your venture will die. And that uncovers the real long term vision for your brand: Will it be bought by Costco, improved upon and distributed to the masses? Will it become part of Marissa Mayer’s tech portfolio, giving you a nice financial push (and we don’t quite know what Yahoo! might do with it)? What is your dream, way past your 5 or 10 year business plan? If it has to end, how would you want it to end? That insight will help shape the overall business and brand strategy.
And here you thought I wanted to harm your newborn venture, while I want to do the exact opposite – watch it grow through planned retirement towards a happy ending.
To find out, ask yourself this simple question:
What Is Your Brand’s Scent?
I am not referring to the overwhelming perfume infused air you have to walk through when entering an Abercrombie & Fitch store (a scented brand environment). I am talking about the metaphoric scent your brand emits to attract, distract, or utterly confuse your audience.
During a delightful call with Stuart MacDonald (Freshbooks’ CMO) earlier this week, Stuart used the word ‘scent’ when we talked about branding. It really hit home. Like animals, we are attracted to scents, in the literal and metaphoric fashion. Nike emits the scent of inspiration and innovation for athletes, Oprah the scent of belonging and community.
When thinking about your brand, and why customers will be attracted to it, think about what scent your brand has. It will make you think beyond logo, beyond copy, beyond imagery and campaigns. You will have to take a step back and start to interact with your brand from afar, as if it was the very first time you ever ‘smelled it’. I hope it smells like roses, unless roses are not really your brand.
The closer you will get to your brand, the stronger and more intense (= focused) the scent will get, and once you are deeply immersed in it you will realize if you are in fact emitting the right scent altogether. It’s powerful. Try it today and let me know how it educated your actions.
You created a robust business (or launch) plan and a solid brand platform. You hired a great branding firm to tackle the important task of creating a brand identity on time and on budget. What could possibly go wrong?
There’s one thing that can come between you and a winning brand identity: You.
Before you start your hate mails, think about it with me for a second. You have superior taste in art and design. You know your new service or product better than anyone else. You need to see it succeed. How could you possibly turn into a road block? Because of exactly these reasons you will want to create a brand identity that you will like. Colors that speak to you, shapes you like, a concept that resonates with you, fonts that feel current to you. That’s a whole lot of ‘you’ even though this is not at all about you, it’s about Julian, Rich and Adrienne. Your target personas. What you need to like is that your new brand identity will resonate and be liked by them.
Will you like the new brand identity design? You surely should. Does it matter if orange is your color and that you prefer sans serif typefaces? No, it does not. Nor does it matter what the Designer or Creative Director ‘likes’. What matters behind every creative decision is why it was made and how it will further improve adaptation by your customer. This is extremely difficult as an entrepreneur, or even CMO, to personally detach from, but it is what will make the brand ID a success for your audience and in turn for yourself.
We advise our clients to dive deep into 3-5 target personas with us. We give them names, research and ‘listen’ to them. We encourage our more advantageous clients to create life size cardboard figures of them to place around the office. Next time you nod your head during a creative presentation and say ‘I like this, the colors are beautiful, the type is cool and the concept really resonates with me,’ take a step back and say ‘Adrienne would really like this, these colors disrupt her world just enough to stand out and I see her adopting the icon easily.’ You will like what you