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.

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