How to position your work within the mind of the consumer &
craft a kick-ass marketing message that gets the right attention from the right people.
What is Branding? When we say “branding” people usually think of a brand name like Coca-Cola, Red Bull, Nike, Apple, Burt’s Bees, and the visuals or “personality” associated with their products and marketing materials. But these are only signifiers of what the brand really is. “Branding isn’t a logo or color scheme” (Morgan, 10). There are many definitions of branding. Put simply, “your brand lets people know who you are. It answers these questions: Who are you? What do you do? Who do you do it for?” (Morgan, 2). But it also represents a connection between the consumer and the company: “Your brand is simply the emotional connection people have with you or your business” (Morgan, 2). How people feel about a brand can be very powerful. “People fall in love with brands, trust them, and believe in their superiority. How a brand is perceived affects its success” (Wheeler, 2). This is important to understand because the most definitive definition of branding is how it is perceived within the mind of a consumer. More on this later...
Why is branding so important?
Because “perception is reality” (Kang, 102). When it comes to business, it doesn’t matter who you actually are if the people around you perceive you differently. “The world perceives you in a particular way and puts you in certain categories. From an external imaging standpoint, what you wear, your personality, and your gestures and presence guide how people perceive you” (28, Branding Pays). You already have a brand. So why not control it?
In his film Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock documented his journey of making a movie about product placement, using product placement to fund the film itself. So the story follows Morgan himself pitching the idea for the film to countless brands, getting shut down, but also getting some very large sponsorships. Meeting with David Art Wales (who “makes his living predicting the next big trends in advertising“) Spurlock learns that, “You yourself are a brand. What’s your brand collateral? What are you bringing to the table? I guess that’s what you need to figure out in terms of making yourself appealing to them.” So before pitching the idea of the film to various brands, Spurlock first consulted with one of the biggest branding companies, Olson Zaltman Associates, to figure out what his personal brand is in order to pinpoint what brands may actually want to do business with him. This is a great story that exemplifies the power and importance of branding. What kind of a brand is crazy enough to actually be interested in sponsoring a crazy idea like Spurlock’s film? Apparent Pom Wonderful and many others thought their brand aligned very well with Morgan’s personal brand and the idea of the film.
THE TEN QUESTIONS
Here are ten questions you need to be able to answer very simply in order to craft your best brand and marketing message:
1. Who exactly is your Target Market?
Business and entrepreneurship is not about you, it’s about your audience. This excerpt from John Morgan’s book Brand Against the Machine explains the reasons behind the first three questions on your checklist:
“The first step in your branding framework is to know your audience, which goes beyond just identifying your target market. It’s about knowing what your target market wants. You need to know what frustrates them most. Your product or service will solve the problem that is frustrating them. You need to know what it is they want. Notice I said what they want, not need. People buy what they want, not what they need” (Morgan, 11).
Answering these detailed questions first requires you to have major rapport with your target market. Your rapport can come from two places: secondary data from market research and primary data straight from your target market themselves. It is important to use both types of data to give you a better perspective from two different angles; sometimes the data isn’t specific enough, and sometimes human beings really just don’t know what they want.
Secondary Data… This is where the studying comes in. Secondary data from market research sources is used to answer these questions: “Are you targeting consumers or a business/industry? What is the geographic makeup of your target market? What are the demographics of your target market? What are the psychographics of your target market?” (SmallBiz U, slide 51/153). There are plenty of resources online that will give you demographic information about your target market’s “age, gender, race, ethnicity, income, education, occupation, family size, marital status, social class, etc.” (SmallBiz U, slide 45/153). Coming from traditional advertising from the 1950s, this data gives you a broader idea of who your target market is. It’s not as useful today because not every golfer is the same age, not every African American is in the same social or economic class, and not every middle school kid living in the suburbs is going to like the movie Iron Man. Psychographic data is a little more sophisticated. “Psychographics help define characteristics of a group based on their lifestyle, personality, and social class” (SmallBiz U, slide 48/153). One of the most comprehensive psychographic data analyses is the VALS survey which organizes everybody into eight segments based on “value, attitude, and lifestyle” (SmallBiz U, slide 49/153).
Primary Data is collected from surveying your target market. Simply ask them questions like, “Hey, what is it that you struggle with most?” This can be very illuminating. It is very simple and obvious, but most beginning entrepreneurs don’t think to do this. All this data collecting doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds. Think simply. Examples: Mac users, W.o.W. players, entrepreneurs, painters, authors, podcasters, Harry Potter fans, struggling stand up comedians, Harley Davidson owners, etc. People in groups like this usually have more specific demographics and psychographics. Focus on a niche that you already understand and have rapport with.
2. What do they struggle with?
What are their biggest problems and frustrations? “Find a problem and create a solution has been the formula for entrepreneurial success for generations” (Morgan, 12). Notice how the creative process of coming up with an idea for a solution/product/service is secondary to first knowing your customer. “In positioning, we are either solving a problem or enabling an opportunity” (Kang, 50). Aligning their challenges with your abilities is the easiest way to a successful product or business. But this again requires a lot of rapport.
3. What do they want?
Notice again, the question is what do they want, NOT what do they need. We all need food, water, clothing, shelter, and we buy these things because we have to. But we are willing to pay hundreds of dollars more on designer clothes to look the way we want to. Humans are more willing to spend our money and time going after what we want – we always want what we don’t have, “the next big thing.” We don’t camp outside of the Apple Store or Best Buy or the Movie Theater for the newest spinach or jeans. So answering this question requires a little more meditation and creativity. What is it that your target really wants? Ex: They may struggle with losing weight, but what they really want might be to look sexy, have more energy, or to live longer.
4. What do you do?
Now that you have a clear understanding of your target, you can finally define what it is that you do in terms of what your customer wants. “What do you have to offer in relation to your audience’s needs?” (Kang, 51). You might have a weight loss shake supplement, but if somebody asks what you do or what your product is, you might say, “I help people live longer, happier, healthier lives with my plant protein shake supplement BioGen that you can make in a blender in seconds.”
5. What are your benefits?
This one is tricky, but it parallels the previous question. Selling is about benefits, not features. So you must ask yourself what is the real value that you offer? Not just what it is that you do. What is your emotional value? How do you or does your product make your customers feel? Dig deep to answer this one. Using the weight loss supplement example again, we described BioGen as “plant protein,” “easy-to-make,” and “quick-to-make.” These are features of the product, not benefits. Other features might include “contains wheat grass, barley grass, and other super-food supplements.” But what are the benefits of the product? They might include “delicious,” “filling,” and “cleansing.”
6. Who is your competition?
Competition may seem like a dirty word, but don’t see this as a threat. In fact, the more competition you have, the more likely it will be that people buy a product of your type, and therefore the more likely it will be that they buy your product. Competition actually creates the marketplace. Build it and they will come! Tons of cars are sold because there are so many car manufacturers; we can’t even afford cars, putting them on payment plans, and we are still buying them. Everybody is doing a crowdfunding campaign now because there are so many crowdfunding sites. People are even crowdfunding their surgeries, their education, their new car. It’s crazy!
Why is competition so important? Pay attention to your competitors so you can differentiate yourself from them. “It has never been more important to differentiate yourself from the pack” (Kang, 17). “The only difference between you and your competition is your brand. Anyone can copy what you do, but few can copy how you do it” (Morgan, 71). “Instead of trying to be like the biggest brands in your industry, try to be the opposite…. But there must be a reason and a benefit to the customer for being different” (Morgan, 46).
There is an art to standing out. “Most brands are boring. Why? Because boring is easy to do. Few are willing to do something unique and even fewer have a distinct point of view…. The marketplace is dying for something different” (Morgan, 43). “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” (Wheeler, 90). “People embrace those who challenge the status quo. Those who win brand themselves against the tiresome mundane noise…. Let’s make a ruckus” (Morgan, 4).
7. What is your X Factor?
This is one way to differentiate yourself from the competition and to craft your specific brand. What are you best at? What do you do better than everybody else? What do you do that nobody else does? In your branding, highlight your strengths, and they will flourish.
8. What is your Brand?
Now that you’ve done all the legwork, it’s finally time to define your brand. In traditional marketing, there are what’s known as “The 4 P’s of Marketing”: Product, Price, Placement, Promotion. But today there is a 5th P known as “Positioning.” Positioning is what “branding” really means. “Positioning is not dealing with where you will place your product in the market, but where you will place your product in the mind of the consumer” (SmallBiz U, slide 12/153). “Branding isn’t about market share, it’s about mindshare” (Morgan, 2). Remember, branding is psychological, it’s perception, and perception is reality. “It’s all about what prospects think of you” (Morgan, 21).
To help you understand the concept of positioning further, here’s its creation story… “After spending several billion dollars on advertising, David Ogilvy listed 32 things his ad agency had learned. Of the 32, he said that the single most important decision involved positioning the product. He claimed that marketing results depended less on how advertising was written than how the product or service was positioned” (SmallBiz U, slide 53/153). “People’s attention spans are getting shorter by the day. Today’s marketplace is overcrowded and noisy” (Morgan, 1). Because of the advertisement overload, a new strategy was needed. “In their 1981 book Positioning, The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries and Jack Trout describe how positioning is used as a communication tool to reach target customers in a crowded marketplace” (SmallBiz U, slide 54/153). After that, it became a key strategy in marketing and communications. “It is quite difficult to change a consumer’s impression once it is formed. Consumers cope with information overload by oversimplifying and are likely to shut out anything inconsistent with their knowledge and experience. In an over-communicated environment, the advertiser should present a simplified message and make that message consistent with what the consumer already believes by focusing on the perceptions of the consumer rather than on the reality of the product” (SmallBiz U, slide 56/153).
Personal vs. Corporate branding… Karen Kang says personal branding is both about your image and your reputation. She explains a personal brand is about showing your “Cake(your rational value, functional benefits, expertise) + Icing (your emotional value, personality, image)” (Kang, 35). But more importantly, you are your company’s brand. Consumers used to be very loyal and trusting of corporate brands. Corporations used to take care of people, both customers and employees. Perhaps our trust has been compromised too many times, perhaps we are realizing that corporations don’t actually care about our well-being, or perhaps we are beginning to understand the impact of corporate industrialization on our earth. Whatever the reasons, brand loyalty has changed. Bottom line is, “people do business with people. They connect and engage with people. Corporate branding is no longer an effective strategy. Today people connect with your personality, content, and values. Not your product or service…. The world doesn’t need another corporate brand, it needs you” (Morgan, 9).
Now you’ve done all the appropriate legwork. Can you define your brand in a few sentences that clearly defines your target, solves a problem they have, satisfies a desire, explains what you do simply, shows your benefits, differentiates you from your competition, and highlights your strengths? Don’t focus on your brand’s personality or brand identity. If done correctly, this will shine through what you do. Imagine a map of the world – every country is a different brand. What brand/country are you? What are your coordinates? In order to triangulate your positioning coordinates, you must remember “your target’s wants, your strengths and value, and your competition” (Kang, 45).
Examples… Here are a few examples of simple brand statements from Wheeler’s textbook Designing Brand Identity; an essential guide for the whole branding team:
• Coca-Cola – Coke brings joy. It’s happiness in a bottle. Let’s find the truth and celebrate it.
• Olympic Games – The Olympic Games celebrate human spirit and achievement, and challenge the athletes of the world to be the best they can be. The festival itself transcends the politics of a fractured world to focus on our shared humanity.
• Starbucks – Our mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time. Every Starbucks store is part of a community, and we take our responsibility to be good neighbors seriously.
9. What is your Marketing Message?
What are you trying to say to your ideal customers? And what’s the best way to present that message? Here are a couple frameworks for you to try on:
Storytelling… We are creatures that communicate with stories. We’ve been doing it since we could draw on cave walls. Stories teach us and help us understand meaning. “What’s your story? People love to know how something came about and how it got started. These creation stories fascinate us and give us a better understanding of you and your brand. Every time someone is introduced to you for the first time they are wondering, ‘Who is this person?’ Your creation story answers that” (Morgan, 39). “As you define your story, people will look for similarities with the struggles they have been through themselves. This tightens the bond they have with you. People relate more to your struggles and the challenges you’ve overcome than they do your accomplishments” (Morgan, 41).
Emotions… Human beings are emotional creatures. We often disregard logic and “act irrationally based on our biases or emotions” (93, Branding Pays). “Emotion turns prospects into buyers” (Morgan, 6). So play in to that. Appeal to the consumers’ emotions by telling a great story, focusing on a product or business that you are personally passionate about, and getting to understand your target so well that you know what they want better than they do. “When you appeal to rational thought you, in effect, create an argument in the customer’s mind. To solve this issue, try moving your message from the customer’s head to their heart. To do this, you need to appeal to their emotions” (SmallBiz U, slide 71/153).
Share your why. Remember, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” (Sinek, 41). Meaning and purpose inspire us, give us energy, and get us out of bed in the morning. “The best brands stand for something: a big idea, a strategic position, a defined set of values, a voice that stands apart” (Wheeler, 32). “People love people who are passionate. When you feel strongly about something and your passion shines through, then your audience will get behind what you believe in. Fans are very attracted to a strong stance on something. All great brands have a point of view. A brand’s philosophy or ANCHOR BELIEF, as I call it, is that thing that motivates you to do what you do” (Morgan, 34). The biggest authority on purpose and meaning is Simon Sinek. His book Start With Why has become a new bible for marketers and leaders all over the world. I can’t explain it any better than he does, so here’s an excerpt straight from the book:
10. What next?
Now that you can define your awesome brand and have created an awesome marketing message around it, what next? Now it’s time to get that message out there. But how? That’s a whole ‘nother ball game that goes beyond just branding, into marketing and advertising. Every product and service is different and requires different ways to generate leads and close those leads. But at least you now have a much better idea of how to communicate what you do, so make sure all your content revolves around this brand and message, what your target wants, how you are different, etc. “The [last] step in your branding framework is content. It is your content that will attract people to you” (Morgan, 12). “The key to effective branding is attracting people to you and then building a relationship with them…. Attract first; then engage” (Morgan, 32). Good night and good luck!
Kang, Karen. Branding Pays; The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand. First. Palo Alto, CA: Branding Pays Media, 2013. Print.
Morgan, John. Brand Against The Machine. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Print.
Online eLearning Classroom, SmallBizU. “Marketing 101: The Fundamentals.” Online Course.
Robbins, Anthony, and Chet Holmes. Introduction to Business Mastery. www.TonyRobbins.com: Robbins Research International, 2010. CD. Business Mastery.
Siltanen, Rob. “Think Different.” Apple Inc., 1997. Television.
Sinek, Simon. Start With Why. London, England: Penguin Books Ltd, 2009. Print.
Spurlock, Morgan. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Sony Pictures Classics, 2011. Film.
Wheeler, Alina. Designing Brand Identity. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. Print.