Does your reputation preceded you? Do people turn to look when you enter a room? You may be able to differentiate your brand by becoming its public face.
Every celebrity has a personal brand. If an actress builds a great brand, she may become a strong driver of ticket sales. Singers sell albums by marketing their personas, and a popular writer can sell books on the strength of his name alone.
Artists aren't the only ones with personal brands. Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray have added their personalities to thousands of household items, from latex paint to kitchen utensils. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs lent their personal brands to the companies they built. People have a hard time connecting with corporations, but they can, and do, feel connected to the real people that lead those businesses.
But if you don't want to be the public face of your brand, you can still use this approach — a fictional character can do the same job. Betty Crocker, an invented woman, has been invited into American kitchens for almost a century. A cartoon mouse serves as the brand of the world’s most visited theme parks. A clown represents the world’s largest chain of hamburger restaurants. Even a fictional personality can make a brand more accessible and less abstract in the mind.
A personal approach to brand differentiation can make it easier for consumers to relate to what you sell, and can create a clear point of differentiation between your company and all the rest.
Gene’s Grocery Story
Food may well be the oldest consumer good. We must eat to live, and we must spend money to eat (assuming our diet consists of more than what we grow in the backyard). So when Gene began planning his grocery store, he decided to brand his business from the perspective of his customers. He asked himself, “What are the most important considerations for shoppers? What do they really want, and how can we show them that Gene’s Groceries has it?”
Most grocery stores divide up the consumer experience based on how food is produced: dairy, meat, produce, and processed foods. But this isn’t how consumers think about food. When you sit down at a meal you probably don’t have a dairy course followed by a produce course; you eat several kinds of food at the same time. You might have fried chicken with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus; each is prepared in its own way from different ingredients but served together on one plate. You just think of it as “dinner.”
Gene looked more closely and realized that four characteristics describe everything we eat. Foods range in nutritional value from the healthiest produce to the empty calories of candy and soda. Some foods provide great flavor, others don’t. Some, in their natural state, need no enhancement (fresh fruit) while others don’t taste too good on their own (raw potatoes or flour). Food comes ready to eat, like ice cream or potato chips, or in a state that requires preparation, like raw meat. And, of course, foods come a wide range of prices, from inexpensive uncooked beans and pasta to spices that cost hundreds of dollars per pound.
Gene wanted to incorporate personalities into his brand, but rather than have one face for dairy and another for meat, Gene decided to brand his store using these four characteristics. He recruited four different professionals to serve as the faces of these four factors. Together, these characters could tell a grocery story instead of just marketing a grocery store. These four professionals worked as a team, but each offered a unique perspective.
- Nick talked with customers about nutrition. He showed customers how to extract the highest nutritional value from the foods they bought, using proper preparation methods and storage. He was in charge of educating customers about specific diets and offering low-salt or low-sugar options to shoppers that need to adhere to specific guidelines. He also educated customers on how to balance not-so-healthy choices with the delicious things we crave like desserts and salty snacks.
- Cost was Carl’s domain. All customers worry about getting good value from their grocery dollars. If we spend a lot on an item, we need to know that it will deliver exceptional quality. We want to understand how to purchase the best and when to make purchases to avoid tossing out spoiled food. Carl gave customers information on all these topics. He helped them find the best deals on seasonal produce while also showing how a few high-end products, like rare olive oils or cheeses, could turn simple ingredients into show-stopping meals.
- Frannie was the ambassador of flavor. She taught customers how to draw the best flavor from an onion through caramelizing over slow heat or how to add herbs during the last few minutes of cooking to draw out the aromatic oils without overheating them. She could explain how to use specific oils or what apples work best in specific situations. She was also the queen of the spice rack, explaining what to use, how much to use and why — a difficult challenge for all but the most experienced cooks.
- Preparation was Paula’s purview. She showed customers how to cut down cooking time or take simple steps that saved hours of prep. She was also in charge of demonstrating how to use the many tools that Gene sold. Many customers didn’t understand how to use chocolate shavers or deep-fat thermometers, and learning how to employ the right tools saved time and money while helping customers feel less afraid of trying new things.
Gene used these personalities in every facet of his branding programs.
- He set up an in-store “studio” where his experts could do demonstrations, talk to customers about various subjects and answer questions. His team of experts came in one day a week to present various topics and products.
- These weekly demonstrations developed into an online show that consisted of 5-10 minute videos, very similar to daytime television show segments, that covered a wide range of topics. Everything was recorded and uploaded to the store’s website and YouTube channel.
- Gene’s team also went on the road with a camera crew to visit local suppliers, giving customers a chance to see where their groceries come from.
- These personalities were used to create guides for shoppers, covering topics like “ten ways to cut down veggie prep time” and “the nutritional benefits of beef.” Eventually, these guides were collected into an ebook, available on the store’s website. This book could be downloaded into a smart phone for easy access while shopping, minimizing printing costs and making these experts part of the shopping experience, regardless of whether or not they were in the store.