Strong personalities appeal to me and I don’t think I’m alone in that. In fact I was reading research last week that suggested that most of us find people with strong characters more attractive than people who were just “nice”. Of course, it’s great, if you can be both – “nice” and “interesting” – but if its an either/or give me “interesting” every time. It adds up to some difficult relationships, but hey! … it makes life colourful and most importantly for us marketers – its engaging!.

This factor influences us in more ways than we might at first appreciate. For instance, it influences the brands that we buy. Think about it. Its how Apple (full of character) scored over Big Blue (full of … boringness?) or how Mark Ecko, the T-shirt guy made his rhinoceros the thing to have on your chest or back pocket (who saw that Air Force One stunt? – Wild!). Talking of aircraft, I don’t know anybody who would consider Ryan Air’s Michael O’Leary to be Mr Nice Guy, but he has become one of those people you love to hate and his airline is a runaway success. Conversely, you don’t see any cool people wearing T-shirts with “Boots the chemist” printed on them because Boots are boring!

This is not some kind of new radical thinking of course. Adam Morgan explained how it works in his book Eating The Big Fish(still one of my favourites) way back in 1998. Its “lighthouse branding” and its the basis of challenger brand marketing. If you are a market leader you might think you can afford to be boring (that’s why so many market leaders are) and of course, once you are there, in the top slot its easy to fall into the trap of believing you don’t have to put yourself out too much thinking of new stuff to make yourself interesting, but while you are kicking back, give a thought to some of the big organisations who had their business snuck away from them while they were resting on their laurels. I can think of a few who are heading that way now.

I’m no advocate of superficial branding, but it’s certainly true that if you want to be successful you have to be the best at what you do and if you can’t be the best being different will certainly buy you the first rung on the ladder. One of the nine elements (the nine P’s) in the brand models we create in my Brand Discovery workshops defines the brand’s “Point of difference”. It still surprises me how few of the delegates to my workshops really appreciate what “different” really means. Rarely is anybody extreme enough at the first pass around the table and its clear that most organisations delude themselves by believing that their very ordinary traits make them distinctive. I usually find that the best way to identify a potential point of difference is to ask customers. For instance, some years ago I worked on this with a mobile phone company whose subscribers told us that they were sick of the complicated tariffs that mobile operators offered. They felt that they were making them confusing on purpose to disguise high costs. We replied with a real point of difference – one tariff for all, wrapped up in a “champions of the people” brand character, and it worked.

Most places that you see a real success story you will find a distinctive brand character – Starbucks, Harley Davidson, Virgin – and they’ll almost always be a response to a consumer need. Modern media makes it simple to gather consumer feedback at pretty much every point of contact so there’s no excuse for not knowing what your customers want, think or believe is interesting and as I always say – every communication in any communication strategy should be two-way. I find there are people who don’t think that’s possible, but you can usually get feedback if you really want it with a little applied ingenuity.

Of course, you still have to deliver your promise and in part that’s about maintaining your point of difference, but that’s the another chapter in my Full Effect Marketing story.

Michael Weaver
February 29, 2008

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