Often what sets one company apart from the next is the entrepreneur at its helm--his or her personality, history and philosophy shape the company's corporate culture and, ultimately, its image. This unique difference, this cult of corporate personality, can become a strong competitive advantage when properly nurtured and extended into all sales and marketing messages.
Customers define themselves through the brands or vendors they choose. Whether you're an inner-city minority business owner or a fashion model-turned-electrical contractor, your own life story, company ethics or mission can help you build a distinct image for your business or brand that will draw customers who feel a kinship with you and your message. This is one form of "emotional marketing"--getting customers interested in your products or services because of how they feel about your company, not just your day-to-day offerings. And it's an ideal way to gain customers with a vested emotional interest in your success.
Ties That Bind
Just look at the way Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, grew her single storefront into a global power-house by championing her belief that businesses can be both profitable and responsible. The Body Shop's success came from Roddick's ability to differentiate her brand based on her personal beliefs and unique business approach, much in the same way that Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's became legendary. From cosmetics to computers to ice cream, the stories created by these powerful entrepreneurs have distinguished their companies in the eyes of customers.
The key to effective emotional branding is to stay within a few important guidelines:
- Make customers for life. What do you as an individual represent to your target group? It may be a quest for a cause or your personal ethnic identity. Perhaps you have a grass-roots story of overcoming adversity, or you're bringing a product or service to an underserved market. Focus on the long-term customer relationship, not on today's sale, and build on common causes, characteristics or identities. For example, despite the sale of Ben & Jerry's for more than $300 million in 2000 to the Unilever conglomerate, there's no evidence of its ownership on the company's website or packaging, which might alter the brand image. And the company continues to trumpet its efforts to improve the quality of people's lives.
- Support the emotional quotient. Balance product and service information in your marketing materials with your emotional customer connection. Customers still need enough information about products and services to make buying decisions, and they expect a quality product. It's unlikely Jobs could continue to propel sales of the Mac if it were unreliable and poorly made. Customers with a strong emotional investment in your company or brand will feel betrayed if you ever let them down. The sale of The Body Shop to L'OrÃ©al in 2006 angered some customers, who feared the company would abandon its core pledge to use cruelty-free ingredients. Once you become a "symbol," it's vital that you live up to all expectations.
- Tell a great story. As the founder and entrepreneur at the helm of your growing business, personal branding--using your life story as an emotive tool--can only get you so far. It's essential to go beyond yourself and include your employees, corporate culture and expertise in the larger story. When the story is all about you, you limit your company's growth options. Steve Jobs, the ultimate company evangelist, has created a David vs. Goliath image for Apple that goes beyond any personal quest and imbues all its products with a unique aura. Make your own company, products or services the "hero," and everyone wins.
Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, at smallbusinessnow.com. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur magazine atsmallbizbooks.com.