"What makes us unique? Why do people choose us over our competitors? These are the questions I hear when I sit in on marketing committee meetings," says David Ryan Polgar, an attorney, professor and creative consultant to brands ranging from local theaters to regional associations.
"And the answers lead down a rabbit hole because they break up the components of the brand. They dissect brand attributes in a hyper-rational way when, in fact, we make decisions as consumers in a holistic manner. We choose one brand over another because there's a culture or image we buy into," adds Polgar.
He likens brand selection to online dating, and he thinks there's a lot brand owners could learn from the online matchmaking process.
What brands and singles have in common
With some 40 million people now using online dating sites, finding love online is about as competitive as finding brand followers in the marketing world. Both need to overcome the obstacle of "choice overload," a term Lizzie Crocker and Abby Haglage use when presenting "The New Rules of Online Dating," which could just as easily serve as a guide to brand-building in 2013.
Among the requirements they cite are individuality, honesty, guts, confidence, personality and distinction. And the cardinal rule, which they attribute to OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, is to be "really, really hot." In other words, to gain attraction, singles and brand-builders alike need to turn heads by standing out in a way that makes an immediate and positive impression on those in their target audience.
And once you establish a good connection, whether you're building a brand or looking for love, the new rules require that you "get offline as quickly as possible" in order to move the relationship out of the competitive arena and into the relationship-development phase.
What would your brand's profile look like?
"Marketing groups can benefit from asking, ‘Who would date our brand?' or even, ‘Would I date our brand?'" Polgar says. "As a playful exercise, create a dating profile for your brand. What are our hobbies? What music do we like? What do we do on weekends? Who do we aim to attract? If we were choosing an actual person to represent our brand, who would it be?"
The questions he lists resonate with ones I present in the section titled "Getting Real About Your Current Brand Identity" in "Branding for Dummies," a book I co-wrote with Bill Chiaravalle. "If your brand were a car, what car would it be? If it were an actor, which celebrity would it be?"
"Your answers," Polgar says, "have to combine the identity you want to project with real-world perceptions about your brand in order to be authentic and therefore capable of not just attracting but actually winning selection and affection from those you aim to reach."
Matchmaking mistakes to avoid
Research verifies that nearly half of U.S. online daters lie on their profiles, and not all brands are entirely honest with their presentations, either. But while a heavily airbrushed photo or an inflated profile or ad might win attention, it's not likely to lead to long-lasting love. Nor is a match that's based on statements or values you can't uphold.
The key to long-lasting brand love
"Lasting relationships result from a matching-up of values," Polgar says, in a statement that's as true for singles as it is for brands.
Once people fall in love, he says, "The Velcro effect lasts even after initial attractions fade. And while you can't count on those who love you to change or adapt to your every whim," he cautions, "brand love can withstand a few errors," especially if the errors don't shake the core beliefs people have and hold for your brand.
"The process of love is kept alive by evolving and not getting stuck," world-renowned holistic health expert Deepak Chopra wrote in a Valentine's Day post titled "The Secret of Love (Spoiler Alert)." "Infatuation is an early stage of the process" — in love and in business.
And you have to start somewhere. So ask yourself, is your brand capable of infatuating the person you want for a customer? Do whatever you need to do to get to a resounding "yes." Then do all the little things it takes to keep your relationship endearing and enduring.