The second tier of your pyramid focuses on how your brand stands apart in your industry. Your brand is more than a static entity. It should have a personality that embodies values and experiences your customers can connect with.
If your business took the Myers-Briggs test, The Color Code, or any other personality quiz, what would be the results?
You can take personality quizzes while keeping your business in mind:
- Color Code
Use results to help find qualities or attributes that will help connect you to your customer.
Are you fun-loving and people-pleasing, or are you rigid and quality-focused? Do you work first and play later, or do you shut your doors in perfect weather conditions and allow employees to go out and play?
There is room for every type of business, and the more clearly you communicate your values the more likely you are to connect with customers who share your values.
Zappos is an online shoe retailer with a call center that is a legend in its own time. Zappos employees aren’t trained to put the smallest band-aid possible on a problem. They are trained to surpass your expectations to such a degree that you might just think they’re joking when they offer you free overnight delivery of shoes you forgot to pack for a wedding the next day.
Companies in this day and age don’t do things like that…right?
Most don’t, but Zappos does.
When you visit Zappos website, they state that they are a company that is all about expression and that “At Zappos, We’re Always Creating Fun and a Little Weirdness!” They want to help you WOW the world by first WOWing you. If that means letting you buy six pairs of shoes and return five pairs for free just to find the right style and size, well, be ready to be WOWed by their customer service. And if it means sending you flowers because the customer service representative picked up on the fact that you are having a bad day? WOW customer service allows for that.
Now ask yourself:
- How many customers do you think Zappos retains as it embraces WOWing customers with creative fun and weirdness?
- Do you think they are attracting and retaining their target customer through these policies?
Zappos may not be the right fit for every person who wears shoes, but based on their sales and customer retention, there is evidence showing a strong customer base embraces Zappos fun and permissive approach to online shoe shopping.
Competitors that support different values will catch the eye of a different customer who is looking for a little less fun and a little more of something else. For example, competitors may attract customers who are more focused on:
- Flash or overstock sales
- Confirming social status
- Pairing shoes with accessories
In each instance, choosing a brand personality helps target customers instantly connect your offerings.
As you build the second tier of your brand, keep in mind that your brand personality often has more impact on loyalty than your logo or your marketing.
By embracing a personality and lifestyle you validate everyone who shares or embraces your attributes. And if some people hate your business personality? That’s okay. I dare say that sometimes that’s even good.
Anything that is distinct in any way is loved or hated by someone, so stop worrying about pleasing everyone. If you’re so “meh” that no one objects to you, chances are that you’re so bland no one remembers you either.
Stick with being memorable by choosing to create a recognizable business personality. And to have a personality you need to have a voice.
Finding Your Voice
All strong brands have a voice that expresses their personality. This voice is the tone of your messaging. Every word that is uttered or written in proximity of your brand name or logo will be associated with your brand. This means you need to clearly define this voice and keep it consistent.
DEPENDS vs. HUGGIES
Respecting the fine line between diapers for babies and bladder control for adults is a minefield where even the most silver-tongued and circumspect marketing executives can unwittingly trip into dangerous territory. After all, everyone expects a baby not to have control of its bowels. Seeing a baby in diapers is par for the course. They don’t know any better and they can’t help it. Society accepts that and for the most part has no problem swapping horror stories in mixed company.
But once we are “potty trained,” maintaining control of our bowels becomes a matter of dignity. Where and how we do the daily activity of processing food becomes highly regulated.
As a children’s book so succinctly states it, “Everyone Poops,” but when you’re in the market of advertising to different adult demographics who may or may not make it to the bathroom on time, the voice you use to let your customer know you have what they need becomes paramount.
Below are two statements taken from ads. One of these statements is advertising Depends (adult underwear protection) and one is for Huggies (diapers for babies). One advertisement is aimed at a mother buying for a baby, and the other is aimed at a woman buying for herself.
Which ad copy do you think goes with each item?
Option 1: New comfy fit that lasts.
Option 2: Confidence is always in fashion.
As you’ve likely deduced, Huggies is represented in Option #1. A “comfy fit that lasts” is exactly what a mother is looking for in a diaper. Depends uses more formal language in Option #2 to address the values of a more mature audience.
Even though Depends and Huggies are fundamentally similar products, they target different audiences. Because they target different audiences, they need to use different voices. Huggies uses words a mother might use in front of children, like comfy. Depends stays away from slang, humor, and anything undignified that makes light of their product’s function.
Finding the right voice is all about knowing who you are speaking to and the words and tone they connect with.
To help keep brand voice consistent, it is common for companies to choose three adjectives that describe their voice.
GE vs. MINI
GE (General Electric) and Mini Cooper are both well-known international companies. GE makes pretty much everything the modern world runs on and Mini Cooper makes sporty, compact cars.
If you think maintaining brand identity and voice is difficult as a startup business, imagine managing tens of thousands of employees around the world who speak different languages. Imagine seeing your ads translated into different languages and having to trust that the translation is true to the original concept.
Big companies like GE and Mini Cooper have to do things like this every day. They’re releasing the same product in France and Japan and targeting the same customer, so the voice has to be just right or all their advertising efforts will be a waste.
Enter the function of the three voice adjectives.
GE: Imaginative, Responsible, Inspirational
Mini: Confident, Rebellious, Joyful
With these three defining adjectives, these companies now have a standard to use when creating their packaging and advertisements.
|GE can ask:||Mini can ask:|
|Is it imaginative?||Is it confident?|
|Is it responsible?||Is it rebellious?|
|Is it inspirational?||Is it joyful?|
Now let’s take a look at some ad copy from each company. Using the questions above, can you determine which company is speaking?
- Plug into the smart gird
- Runs on irregular
- See the world 30% clearer
- Cheetahs are pussies
- Survival of the quickest
- Unleash the possibilities
- NOT NORMAL
- Top down thrills
(Answers: 1- GE, 2-1 GE, 3-Mini, 4-GE, 5-Mini, 6-Mini, 7-GE, 8-Mini, 9-Mini)
Some of the messaging is quite obvious, such as calling cheetahs pussies. Very few companies would venture into that territory, but Mini knows that while someone who buys a Toyota might frown and object when they see that phrase in an ad, their target customer will likely let a rebellious smile sneak out.
Conversely, “unleash the possibilities” may seem like appropriate language for both companies at first glance, but is it more inspirational than rebellious? Yes. When Mini wants to say the same thing it uses language like “top down thrills.” It’s risky language, but that’s exactly what connects them with their target customer, just as responsible language connects GE with theirs.
You hear the voices of companies all around you. Literally. Everywhere.
- Online ads
- TV and print ads
- Radio commercials
- News headlines
- In-store/on-site messaging
Unless you have no contact with society, you have brands talking to you all day. It’s a constant broadcast of voice aimed at getting the thousands or millions of target customers to step forward and self-identify.
One thing to note is that you may or may not get your voice right out of the gate. You may think you’re targeting men 35-50 only to find out that 9 times out of 10 it’s their wives calling you. In cases like that, learn, adjust your voice to speak to your actual audience, and reapproach. It’s all part of growing.
Don’t be afraid to listen to feedback. How are people hearing about you? What did they hear? What language are they remembering? What words do customers use when they talk to you?
Your voice should speak your customer’s language on a peer-to-peer level, and if something works, keep doing it. Familiarity and predictability breed trust. If people are connecting with a phrase, keep using it.
But always, always, always have your three adjectives on display and ask yourself:
Is it . . . . ?
Is it . . . . ?
Is it . . . . ?
Before you know it, customers will be able to recognize your ad copy before they see your logo or your name, just as you can recognize a friend’s voice before they turn a corner and walk into sight.
Take note of voices you like and see if they will work for your company. Remember, the voice needs to appeal to your target customer, not necessarily you. If you have a product people take seriously then you need to match your tone to your product. The CEO of Depends may like Mini ads, but that doesn’t mean the same voice that sells cars will sell adult underwear protection.
Take a few minutes to list adjectives you want your business to personify. Write down every word that comes to mind.
You can narrow down your options later, but to keep the flow going in brainstorm mode you need to let all the words out. You can get picky later.
In the end, you’ll want to choose the three strongest adjectives you can realistically maintain, because words with strong meaning will quickly help your audience find you.
Your brand promise is fundamental to your brand’s personality. It’s what your customer can count on each and every time they interact with your brand.
Notice I said every time—not some days or on special days, and not only if you buy the premium model. Every time. Once you create a brand promise, you must deliver on it every time. If something falls outside the scope of your brand promise, then you need to drop it or put it under the umbrella of a different brand. If you don’t, people are going to be confused and ultimately disconnect.
Ask yourself: What do you offer all day, every day, with every single product or service?
Build your brand promise on that.
AUTHOR PEN NAME
An example of creating multiple entities to target different customers would be an author who decides to take on a second pen name. Let’s say there is an author who has made a career writing sweet romances who decides she wants to write something not-so-sweet. What do you think will happen if this author begins publishing her graphic material under the same name as her clean material?
Since this scenario has occurred more than once, not much speculation is needed on what happens when an author keeps the same name for these value-opposite genres. It’s disastrous. The “clean” readers feel betrayed when they’re tricked into buying explicit material, and readers who want graphic scenes feel tricked when they buy a book with only one kiss tacked on at the end.
The backlash from both audiences is universal, the reviews are abysmal, and sales disappear. Both audiences have lost trust, and the author’s options are to either retire or make up a new name and start all over.
Regardless of your business category, you can expect strong reactions when you betray a brand promise—whether the brand is an actual business or simply the branding of your name, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the brand promise your customer can trust you to deliver every time.
Put some time into your brand promise and identify what your customers can count on you bringing to the table each and every time they interact with you. Once you’ve decided what your brand promise is, be prepared to advertise and deliver it.
Your values shape your business personality and directly inform your brand promise. Your values show others what’s important in your world.
Take a moment to think of companies you love and why you love them. What values are they built on that resonate with you?
Do the same exercise with companies you hate. What values are they built on that rub you wrong?
Look around at the brands surrounding you at this very moment. Your phone, your computer, any food or drink items you have with you. What brands are you currently wearing and what car do you drive?
What values are infused into the brands you love that make you a loyal customer?
- Are they high quality?
- Are they made locally?
- Are they always affordable?
- All they all-natural?
- Do they do one thing the competition doesn’t?
- Do they look better?
- Are they more comfortable?
- Do they last forever?
- Do they keep their shape/color?
- Do they support up-and-coming talent?
The list can go on and on, but if you are loyal to a brand, chances are they do one thing really well that you like. That’s a brand value.
What’s your brand’s value?
Toms sells shoes. That’s their product (among others), but it’s not what Toms is selling. What Toms is really selling is the value behind their brand promise of “one for one,” which promises that every time you buy a pair of their shoes, Toms will donate a second pair to a child in need.
Yes, you can get similar shoes from a competitor for cheaper, but that competitor isn’t going to gift a new pair of shoes to a child in need. Toms is a great illustration as to how the values of your business can create customer loyalty because it underscores how your company’s core values can be either industry- or community-related. You can be like Chipotle, a company committed to the quality of life their animals enjoy before they become part of the menu, or you can be like Lady Gaga and be highly dedicated to a social cause outside of your industry. Either approach or a combination of the two can be successful, so long as they are consistent.
Brandy Melville is a brand of girls’ clothing that only sells up to size Small (size 2). Their value system embraces only the petite.
This level of exclusivity based solely on a girl’s size gets a lot of push back from those who fight against an anorexic culture, but loyal customers see things differently. They see cute, affordable clothing that keeps them on trend. They love Brandy Melville’s offering and are unfazed by the knowledge that anyone with a circumference larger than 25 inches need not apply. That’s fine with them. Those people can shop somewhere else.
In this case, Brandy Melville’s values are met with opposite reactions—one enthusiastic and the other a soap box of opposition. If you truly stand for something then you are likely going to create a similar split reaction in public opinion.
Another example of brand values is Harley-Davidson, a company that vocally supports troops on active duty. But do they just put a yellow ribbon in their shop window and call that support?
In most cases, locations take their support a step further by offering free motorcycle storage to any deployed soldier who has bought a Harley from their location. This is a huge savings and a business value that nearly everyone can get behind. And those who are not behind it are probably a bit jealous that they don’t qualify for free storage themselves.
Examining the values of other companies can help you better identify the values you want your company to embrace.
Reflect on the brands that currently have your loyalty. What have those brands done to make you feel so confident in supporting them?
Once you feel comfortable that you understand the values that resonate with you, it’s time to craft your own. Start with up to three value statements you are willing and able to take action on.
P!nk is a singer/songwriter by profession, but she is also a committed vegan who uses performance art to communicate why being a vegan is important to her. Similarly, Josh Duhamel is an actor who quietly volunteers at animal shelters when he is touring through a city to promote a film.
Think like Toms, Brandy Melville, Harley-Davidson, P!nk, and Josh Duhamel. What values can you embody in your business that customers can applaud you for. Where are you willing to take action beyond simple lip service and lead by example without flip-flopping and betraying trust in the future? As a brand you don’t need to be all things to all people. You just need to be authentic, which means your values should be authentic. People can smell a poser from a mile away so don’t aim to pander. Stick to your own truth and make it your value-based rallying cry.
A huge part of branding is understanding the market and your place it.
- Who are your competitors?
- How are they positioned in the field?
- How do you compare to them?
- Who’s more expensive?
- Who’s cheaper?
- What are your competitors doing better than you?
- What do you do better than your competition?
It can be easy to pretend that your peers are not worthy of your study, but doing so is the equivalent of a sports team refusing to play games against other teams and self-proclaiming that they are the undisputed division champions.
It doesn’t work that way. Teams practice, coaches watch tapes of other teams, and rivals face off against each other to see who earns bragging rights. Both teams bring their A-games, but in the end the stats add up showing who is the winner.
Study the competition. Know their plays and have your own plan. Go head-to-head with the competition and see how you fare. And if you need help connecting with customers who are currently with the competition then take things a step further and take a look at how and where your competitors are connecting with customers.
What social media sites have a lot of traction?
Where do their ads show up?
What do their loyal customers like about them?
Find the moves that are working and add them to your playbook. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel if one is there for the taking. Are there any free lessons you can pick up from the competition, or is there a blind spot where you can own the space?
To truly compete, you need to know your industry inside out.
- Who is your strongest competition?
- Which brand is the best value in your industry?
- What is the total revenue of your industry?
- What is your share within the industry?
- What are the company values of your greatest competitor?
- What makes you unique in your field?
Perform some research and learn current answers to these questions. Then stay up-to-date with the data as it evolves. If it’s relevant to your industry, it’s relevant to your business and your brand and you should know it.
Take a few minutes to answer each of the questions mentioned in this section in order to get a sense of your industry and your place within it.
Experience breeds trust. It’s the reason consumers check tags and labels on products. They want to know if they can trust the brand to be what they need.
Think about all the products in your home and how you trust them to perform their functions. From your dish soap and your washer, to your couch and TV, everything you own has a reputation for quality, or lack thereof, in the marketplace based on the experience it provides. It’s the reason some bicycles are $50 and some are $5,000.
So what experience do you bring to your field? What credentials are valued? Your customer will definitely care.
Are you an architect who earned a high degree and has since won several industry awards, or are you a parent who desperately needed a product for your child and invented it out of necessity? Whether your experience is industry validated or won in the school of hard knocks, it has merit and your customers need to see it.
Going back to the TV series The Shark Tank, you will notice that experience is something the sharks ask about every time.
- Who are you?
- What’s the story behind the product?
- Why are you the best one to move your business into the future?
The answers to these questions alone can make or break a deal with investors and customers.
Imagine a man who claims to have invented the perfect road bicycle. The inventor doesn’t actually cycle himself and has no reputable cyclists vouching for his design, but he promises it is still the best bike on the market.
Now put this guy’s bike next to the bike that just won the Tour de France. When the Tour de France winner points to his bike and says it’s the best, and the inventor points to his bike and says it’s the best, who are you going to believe?
These showdowns of credibility happen every day in the business world. Your experience creates a product that your customers experience, and that customer experience creates your reputation. Your industry experience directly informs your customer experience. This is why your experience in your field carries so much weight.
When you create a reputation for using your experience to provide both a consistent and positive customer experience, shoppers and clients gain security in the predictability you provide.
Think of Starbucks. Do they make the best coffee in the world? Pretty much every poll ever taken says no, they don’t. Yet they are by far the largest coffee chain.
Consistency and experience.
Starbucks may not be the best, but if you’re going to drop $5 for a coffee, you at least want to be confident you won’t hate it, right? So while Starbucks may not be high-end luxury coffee, if you see their sign in New York, Dubai, or Shanghai, you know what you’re going to get, and there’s comfort in that.
Starbucks doesn’t have to serve the best coffee to be #1 in the coffee business. They just need to be the best at delivering an experience the on-the-go customer wants to repeat.
Your experience in your field will have a direct impact on your customer’s experience with your product or service. Experience speaks to you credentials and your competencies, which is why customers and investors alike will always ask you about it.
What experience do you have in your field, and what credibility or tactical advantage does it give you?
Just as there is more to you than what you can do and how you look, there is more to your brand than what you sell and the package you put it in.
As much as anything, your brand is about the personality and attitude you bring to your industry. People may initially choose your product or service simply because you look like the basic fit they need, but the loyal customer relationship comes when there is a personality click—when you become the brand that isn’t just hocking wares for maximum profit. Loyalty comes with trust, shared values, and vision.
So don’t shy away from creating a culture for your company that people can get to know and even join. Develop your brand personality and let it shine. Doing so will attract the kind of clients (and employees) you want.
Once you have established both the foundation and the personality of your brand, you will be able to use them to design the more visible aspects of your brand in the style section.
Right now your pyramid should look like this: