Monthly Archives: February 2010

Patrons define the brand, and they’re integral to it

Last week I blogged about targeting your brand to not only attract your most favorable market segments, but also discourage any unfavorable segments. Those are the folks your targeted customers and prospects would be uncomfortable being around.

Bar magnet demonstrates how a brand can attract and repel at the same time

Your patrons are part of your brand

That is, not only is the brand defined by stakeholders, the stakeholders are part of the brand just as much as your name, logo, trade dress and tagline.

In the context of “rubbing elbows”, our primary stakeholders are the customers. But there are also the employees, the retail reps, the associated companies and products, the suppliers and in some cases, investors. (After all, If ol’ Warren is invested in the company it must be doing something right.) So to some extent, all these associated groups are integral to the brand.

Customers reflect and resonate with the brand

Customers and prospects are the single most important group, other than your employees, that shape the brand itself.

As far as market segments are concerned, be very specific right from the beginning. Then determine who that target market would like to see excluded from the “family”. As I said previously, this is especially relevant to retail and services marketers.

Then in developing your brand platform and then your brand elements, attempt to encourage the attractive prospects and discourage folks your prospects wouldn’t want to associate with. This is a tight rope where balance and tact are required, but the messages, however subtle, need to be clear.

And even if an “undesirable” wanders in, your good customers will know it’s just by accident and the incident won’t destroy their loyalty.

I know this is an elitist point of view, but I don’t apologize for raising the issue and offering advice. It is the basis for what some branding consultants call “cult branding”.

Remember, your customers are part of your brand. When others see who patronizes your establishment, it says plenty about who you are. That’s branding.

I’d welcome any comments, pro or con, concerning this aspect of branding.

Branding to exclude the undesirables

That’s something to think about:

Just who is your brand attracting?

The demographics and psychographics of your major customer types really is as much a part of your brand as its mission statement, name or logo -whether you like it or not! This is particularly true for the brand of a retail outlet, but also for a service provider.

So the question to explore is: are the people I attract to my business the ones I am actually targeting. Am I discouraging those not compatible with my customers and prime prospects?

Oil and water don't mix. Sometimes customers don't either.

Here are a couple of hypothetical examples

Let’s say I wish to cater to the men in a working class neighborhood. I’ve directed all my promotional efforts, including sponsoring a bowling team, to attract these guys. But what if, probably because of an influential local blogger, professionals and society types begin frequenting my establishment to partake of its “quant ambience and really spicy home-made sausage”. Suppose my “regulars” then move a couple of blocks south to my competitors bar, and in a few months the Yuppies also move on to the next “experience”. Now I’m known for a operating a “quiet place where a drunk can be left alone”. What has happened to my brand?

Or perhaps I’m a chiropractor with a thriving practice nurturing senior citizens, and all at once my reputation for laser procedures begins attracting marathon runners and downhill skiers. Do I change my brand to appeal to the new clientele, and possibly lose my original patient base? Do I discourage the athletes and refer them elsewhere? Or do I possibly form a parallel practice so I can accommodate and appeal to both segments? Or, if I’m like most unsophisticated branders, do I just enjoy a dual practice for as long as it lasts, and then become just another chiropractor: unfocused, undifferentiated, unknown.

I don’t know many branding professionals who address this problem, or offer solutions to it.

Here’s my first take about the whole thing:

Identify and target market segments early on and find out from representatives of that group (or those groups if they are compatible) what they want, not only in terms of product or service, but also where they’ll go to get it, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and what it will take for them to refer other like-minded people to the business. (Remember, the main reason people refer others to great places is so they’ll “look good and feel good”).

Next, I’d determine who my target customers would find undesirable to associate with. Yes, that’s snobbish, or at least exclusive. But the people who frequent Hooters probably wouldn’t want to sit at a table next to a group of Red Hatters of a Friday evening.

I’d also locate my business in the right neighborhood, advertise in the right media and participate in the right events and sponsor the right causes.

And I’d create a tagline that both attracts my target members and repels segments my target customers are not comfortable with. I’d reinforce this tag with trade dress, graphics and employees that attract my market members and discourage others. Then I’d make sure that part of my messaging would attempt to discourage the “undesirables” with subtlety and tack.

If you’ve ever accidentally walked in to a prestigious brokerage firm to ask the receptionist for directions, you’ve probably felt as uncomfortable there as I was the last time I was on the 24th floor of the Petroleum Club Building..

No one can prevent that rabid blogger from recommending a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, or a family of six wandering into an exclusive men’s club. But by defining segments precisely, determining what is comfortable/enjoyable for them, and being very specific in conveying the right messaging and imaging to embrace the target market and discourage the non-targeted, you’ll be able to control the brand and its meaning…most of the time.

I’d appreciate any comments regarding the problem and the solutions I’ve proposed.