Branding is perhaps the single most misunderstood concept I have encountered
in business, especially in small businesses.
Started on farms as a way to distinguish one cow from the other, branding
helps create a distinct space for your business in the minds of your
It’s all about longevity.
Every successful brand that I’ve seen has a brand character. A brand
character is a set of human traits associated to a certain product or service.
A brand’s characteristics often reflect the founder’s character, as in:
- Richard Branson: Virgin(debunker of the establishment)
- Anita Roddick: Body Shop(animal activist)
- Jean Coutu: the Jean Coutupharmacies in Quebec (the humanist)
- Donald Trump: Trump Casino (larger than life personality)
However, the brand character can be unrelated to the founder’s as in:
- Absolutvodka- artsy, stylish
- Oakleysunglasses- cool
- Diesel– a philosophy of life
- W network- feminist
Then there are the brands with no clear established character, such as say,
Reebok. In comparison, who do you see when you close your eyes and
visualize Nike as a human being? An image of a hard core athlete
probably pops into your head immediately.
By contrast, there’s a deep
confused silence in all my workshops when I ask the same question about
Reebok. Why is that?
In essence, a brand character is a product or service’s internal identity.
All elements of the business strategy actually flow from this brand character.
This is why branding is the most powerful concept in business. When focus and
clarity is even more important to small businesses, having a brand character
becomes even more crucial.
I’ll demonstrate the power of establishing a crystal clear brand character in
a small business with a story about my client Ann*.
Ann had a small jewelry design business she was having difficulty growing.
When I asked her what the human traits she wanted to associate with her jewelry
line were, she said the following:
- 40+ year old
Her brand character was coincidentally the same as her target market.
I want to make a distinction here that the brand character and the
characteristics of a business’s target customer don’t have to be the same. Take
for example, the moving company “Two Small Men with a Big Heart’. Even though
it’s a small company, almost everyone I ask remembers seeing this company’s name
The brand character in this instance is:
It is apparent from the brand name itself. On the other hand, the
characteristic of the customer target might be:
- 25-30years old
- wife of an executive
Do you see how different the brand characteristics can be from the target
Back to Ann’s story, when I asked her to actually visualize a celebrity who
had the same characteristics as her jewelry line, she thought long and hard for
weeks. After 3 weeks, she finally came up with the name Susan
Sarandon, the Oscar winning actress, as the perfect representation of
her brand character.
Prior to this exercise, this was Ann’s business strategy:
- Marketing vehicle: Ann had been using a blind (unaddressed) faxing
service to mass fax black& white pictures of her work to offices in Toronto
with zero returns.
- Packaging: She was using clear plastic bags to deliver the product
to the customer.
- Pricing: She’d been selling her jewelry at rock bottom prices.
- Distribution channel: She would sell at any shop that would take her
jewelry, namely mom and pop stores.
- Brand name: The name of Ann’s jewelry line was– of course, called
Ann Norton Designs since she thought that all big designers used their own name
on their line.
Once Ann locked in on the representation of her brand character of
Susan Sarandon, she saw that there was no consistency between
how she was conducting her business and what she wanted her product to stand
This is how her business strategy changed:
- Marketing vehicle:She invested in a stylish website and brochure.
- Packaging: She promptly changed her packing to a polished mahogany
box instead of the plastic bags.
- Pricing: To absorb this increase in cost, as well as to reflect a
higher quality, she increased her prices by 25%.
- Distribution channel: She only targeted high end stores to sell her
line. The mom and pops could no longer afford her goods anyway.
- Brand name: Perhaps the biggest benefit of having crystallized her
brand character was that the name of her brand became a more fitting and
Armed with these changes, Timeless has grown into a
successful brand that is now only sold at exclusive boutiques and online. Ann
no longer wonders what colour to use on her business cards and what her pricing
strategy should be. She just asks herself the question ‘what would Susan
Sarandon say, do or be seen in or price herself at?’ and the roadmap to her
business strategy is clear.
Here are some other examples of brand characters from clients I’ve worked
|Inspector Gadget||Curious||Market Research Company|
|Picasso||Unusually creative||Graphic Design|
|Liz Taylor||Opulent||Import South Asian handicraft gift items|
|Jane Fonda||Healthy&Smart||Organic Snacks|
|Bill Gates||Tech freak||Digital Photography|
|Anne Geddes||Innovative||Baby Welcoming Places|
|Jerry Seinfeld||Clever||Freelance Illustrator|
|Martha Stewart||Efficient||Admin Services|
|Hulk Hogan||Tough and durable||Automobile Components|
|Mr. Clean||Thorough||Draft Detailing Services|
Don’t feel attached to the actual celebrity, everyone has a different vision
of what celebrity’s characteristics are. Most important in this exercise, is
that you define the actual characteristics of your brand as any human and make
sure you consistently act that way through all aspects of your business
So I ask you, what celebrity lies at the heart of your business and more
importantly—are you being consistent in your business strategy?
With kindness as always,
*client information has been changed for confidentiality reasons