Understand Your Audience

Branding Yourself to Customers Who Hate Branding

The Ridotto in Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1750s
The Ridotto in Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1750s

She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by-
And never knew.
― Shel Silverstein, Every Thing on It

There are more ways than ever to convey your marketing and branding, but also more customers who have grown weary of always being “sold.” In his book Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium, Dick Meyer describes how smart, information-savvy customers find most branding to be an obnoxious call for conformity, and at times even a threat to the individuality they treasure. As Meyer writes, “Living fast-paced lives, immersed in media and separated from community, has made us squirrely, to put it bluntly.”

If your customers have become alienated from traditional  marketing and branding, it may be time to try a different approach when creating your content. When it comes to complex, expensive purchases, the era of the hard sell is over. What’s in? Delivering information that speaks directly to the views, needs, and expectations of your customers.

Many companies and government agencies are good at collecting numbers about their customers and patrons, but little knowledge about what motivates them. To help break down this barrier, you might try a beautiful exercise developed by economist Edward de Bono called the Six Thinking Hats.

It may sound like”Harry Potter,” but to summarize a unique and potentially complex process, de Bono suggests serious thought go into six hats:

  • White – Analyze your data, using history to try to predict the future from the past.
  • Red – Consider your customers as emotional beings who react based on intuition and gut instinct.
  • Black – What’s bad here? What are the risks and the weak points that may cause a customer to choose someone else or not make a choice at all?
  • Yellow – What’s great here? What are all the benefits and values you can offer your customer?
  • Green – Get creative! Now is not the time to censor your thinking. Break out of “the way we’ve always done it” and consider some different ways you could present the same old (or brand new) information.
  • Blue – Control the process and synthesize all the ideas, making sure all get due consideration.

For your curious and discerning customers, a decision will come only when they have weighed all the considerations — tangible features, service elements, and emotional yet critical factors such as good will and credibility. In this Internet age when you are not ever fully in control of your own message, it is more important than ever to create written materials that address your customers’ human element in a fully considered format that respects their intelligence.

When creating your newsletters, blogs, case studies, and other written pieces, you want to infuse them with your own rich history, image, and legacy. But by creating content that is more about your customers than it is about you, you can stand out from your competition with pieces that are emotionally persuasive as well as factual.

So — what do your customers value? How does your product or service fit in to the organizational cultures they inhabit, the problems they must solve, and the economic challenges they face? When you can answer these questions for your customers, you will gain credibility as a creative and dynamic partner — not just another vendor — and everyone wins.

Want to know the story behind the painting? If you think your customers are a mystery, imagine living in old Venice! There the festival of Carnival could last up to six months of the year, and people would wear disguises that included beaked masks that enabled them to eat, drink, and breathe comfortably while still concealing their identities. Because of the masks, nobles and commoners could rub elbows at all the festivities, including this gambling house, or ridotto — which means “to reduce one’s wealth by gambling.” What deep desires lie concealed beneath these mysterious masks? Learn more at the Getty Museum’s A Portrait of Venice Unmasked.

P.S. A warm welcome to my newest customer, Baker & Taylor!

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