I met my wife a year and a half ago.
I was at a conference and saw a friend of mine carrying a coffee mug that he had just bought at an exhibitor table. It looked like one of those metal camping mugs (although it was clay) and had one of my favorite non-profit's logos on the front. I was determined to buy my own.
As I walked up to buy the mug at the exhibitor table, I saw her. The beautiful, artsy, tall, curly-haired woman I noticed last year at the same conference, but never talked to. She was the one selling the coffee mugs.
I went into the conference determined to ask someone on a date. I thought to myself, "Here's my chance. Play it cool." I stretched my back upright, clenched my jaw to look as handsome as possible, and tried to hide my nerves.
As I looked for a sign that this woman was interested in me, I was left wanting. She was professional and kind, but not flirty. We made small talk as my window was closing to ask her on a date. "That will be $10," she said. I smiled and said "Thanks!"
Then I walked away...
Little did I know I would spend the rest of my life with this woman.
I would eventually get her number when her sister approached me later that night and asked if I was dating anyone. A great way for an introvert to get a number!
Before taking my wife on our first date, I went shopping for some new clothes. I texted my stylish friend back and forth, verifying that what I was buying looked good. I even had my car detailed! I had a feeling this one was promising.
On my way over to her house I kept repeating, like a mantra, "Be yourself. You're a catch!" I reminded myself that I was making a decision too. Maybe I wasn't going to be interested after our date.
As it turns out, I was interested. She was too.
My wife had been looking for someone just like me for a long time, and I had been looking for someone just like her. Our faith is everything to us, we are both creatives (she's a former dance therapist), and we have a blast with each other!
Today, I'm inspired to sacrifice for my wife daily. I have no intentions of letting my stupidity get in the way of holding onto her for the rest of my life.
Branding is attracting and holding onto your "The One."
This is how I propose you think about your company's brand. It's personal.
If I were to list all the reasons I was the right fit for my wife on our first date, she would have been turned off. Many of you have been on those dates. You know, the ones where your date just talks about themselves the entire time? This mistake isn't limited to dating.
You have to build a connection with your customers. Branding is not talking yourself up (that's marketing), it's connecting in such a way that your customers believe in you.
From the book Zag: The Number One Strategy of High Performing Brands, by Marty Neumeier
Branding is creating an experience for your customers.
On our first date, I told my wife that my Catholic faith was important to me. 9 months later, my wife has seen me pray, she has witnessed me make decisions based on that prayer, and she has seen me going to church throughout the week, and not just on Sunday. She understands now that my faith is important to me because she has experienced it.
Today, more than ever, companies are shifting their focus away from advertising and marketing.
The most successful brands are becoming a way of life for their customers. Look at Target, Dunkin Donuts, and Apple and you will see a trend. Their customers are extremely loyal because these companies aren't selling a commodity. They're selling a lifestyle.
Target prioritizes your experience of shopping in their store with a Starbucks and clean design. Dunkin Donuts prioritizes the opposite, pushing you out of their store and into your life as soon as possible by even refusing to provide wifi. Apple doesn't sell tech, they sell a revolution.
If you can create the right experience for the right customer, you will grow.
The question is, how? The same way you help the "person of your dreams" fall in love.
"Just be yourself." I'm sure you have heard this advice before while dating. If your goal is truly to find your "The One," and not a "one night stand," the last thing you want is to set an expectation early on that you are someone you're not. You will only be exhausted and miserable in the end.
The same goes for your company. Running a company is already exhausting enough without having to lie to your customers all the time. If you're authentically yourself as a company, your efforts to attract and hold onto your ideal customers will be life giving. Not exhausting.
Before you can be yourself, however, you have to define who you are. Here are 5 questions to help you establish your brand.
1. Why did you start your business or launch your product?
Everyone loves a good story. You launched your brand for a reason. Knowing the answer to this question can work as a compass to keep you on track with your goals. You might also find that your original reason for taking on this risk has changed over the years.
I originally started Artifex to bring more beauty into the world as a graphic designer. As a Catholic creative, I was inspired by St. John Paul II's "Letter to Artists," which gave me a sense of responsibility to use my talents as a designer. My mission has expanded since then. With great branding, comes great power. I want to make sure it's not abused. Now, my mission has shifted to infuse truth, goodness, and beauty into business through branding.
How do I do it? By working with passionate entrepreneurs to build brands that create authentic value and look great while doing it.
What's your story?
2. How does your company make the world a better place?
If it doesn't? Stop taking up space.
Your company might make the world a better place in some huge, grandiose way. It might also make the world better simply by the way you treat your employees.
Some of my friends started their companies because they found a way to make money, giving them more freedom to give back to the world. To them, charity isn't just a societal pressure. It's the reason their company exists.
Other friends experienced a great frustration with an industry not providing something that would make their life easier and more enjoyable.
My wife started her doula business because she wanted parenthood to start off on the right foot. She believes that, if parents can get the first moments of their children's lives right, they will be more inspired to get the rest of it right.
If you don't make the world a better place, your customers will see right through you. Stop taking up space and start adding value.
3. Where do you want your company to be at the end of its life?
Imagine your brand is on its death bed. What has your brand accomplished? What was the meaning of your brand's life? Why did your brand exist?
You probably aren't where you want to be right now, but you will never get there without defining where "there" is. Where do you want to be? Follow through with your mission, no matter the cost.
Kodak said they wanted a camera in the hands of everyone when they set out to make the world's first personal camera. However, when they invented the digital camera in 1975, they hid their invention because it would have been a disaster for their bottom line.
What if Kodak had followed through with their mission, no matter the cost? They might have become the Ieader in digital photography. Instead, it's just been painful and awkward to watch them die over the years.
Take some time to picture your brand on its death bed.
4. Don't focus on your competitors too much.
If you want to attract the "customer of your dreams," stop copying everyone else. Branding consists mostly of positioning. From your messaging and content creation all the way to your product, how are you providing the most unique value?
In the book, Rework, the founders of the productivity software giant, Basecamp, propose that it's not worth paying much attention to the competition. It's a reactive mindset as opposed to a proactive mindset. You have to research the competition to identify if there is a product-market fit for your business, but don't obsess about what they are doing.
Obsess about what you are doing.
Yahoo Mail made a huge mistake by obsessing about Gmail, resulting in every Yahoo email being hacked.
I used to work for a non-profit where our competitors were also making the world a better place. What did we do? We focused on ourselves and the unique value we brought to the table. We even leaned into the fact that our competitors were finding success driving forward our same mission, by collaborating with them.
Don't ask yourself if you are "beating" your competition. Ask yourself if you are winning over your customers by providing value.
5. What keeps you in check?
Often this is referred to as your brand's "core values." Defining what few attitudes you want to have each day about your brand will help keep you in check, helping you to reach your goals.
At Artifex, our 4 core values are "We don't just make pretty things," "We are a 'one-service' branding agency," "We are expert learners," and "Family always comes first."
We refuse to rely on our personal preference alone or the latest design trends, we're not a "full-service" marketing agency (branding is all we do), we are never content with what we know, and we don't let our work interfere with family. As you can see, these values can be internal and external.
What values can keep you focused on the main thing? Once you identify what keeps you in check, practice what you preach. Stay devoted to those things, unless you have a really good reason to shift away from them.
Over the course of my life, I had crushes on different women. I had a crush on the same girl from kindergarten to 6th grade, another from 7th - 8th, another for 4 years in college, and still another for a couple years into my professional life.
I struck out with every single one.
I realize now that I wasted my time thinking so much about these women. None of them were looking for me. They simply weren't interested. Every time I realized that, I realized I wasn't interested in them either.
Who wants to exhaust their energy trying to attract someone who isn't attracted? Coming to this realization sooner would have saved a lot of heartache.
Identify Your "The One."
Who is already looking for what you provide, in the way you provide it?
That's the key question you have to ask yourself in order to identify your "The One" customer.
One of the best ways to do this, is to look at your current customers. Ask them why they chose you. You could also ask customers who made the decision to go with someone else, why they didn't choose you. You might be surprised by their answer.
*A word of caution here, beware of the pitfalls of market research.
Another way to identify your ideal customer is to look at your direct competitors. There are two types of competitors. Direct and indirect. Direct competitors are competitors who are providing the same product or service that you are. Indirect competitors are competitors who are targeting the same customers as you, but who aren't providing the same product or service.
In order to identify your ideal customers, focus on your direct competitors first. I advise waiting to look at your indirect competitors until after you have identified your "The One" customer. Research your direct competitors to identify their "The One."
Once you identify their "The One," you can tell who your "The One" isn't. The point of this exercise is NOT to target the same customer. The point is to identify which customers they are missing out on, that you are primed to target.
Dunkin Donuts is a great example. Their target customer, captured perfectly by SNL, is the exact opposite of a typical Starbucks customer. Coca-Cola focuses on happiness and comfort, while Pepsi (generation after generation since the 70s) has touted "We are not your parents' cola. Be a part of the 'Pepsi Generation," which is hilariously ironic to me.
Once you focus on identifying your "The One" customer on the front end, you will save a lot of time, money, and energy with trial and error.
Be as specific as possible.
Stephen King said it best when he wrote in his book On Writing, "I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, “I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?” For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha."
For King, his "The One" as a writer, is his "The One" in life.
Don't be afraid to target one literal or imagined person with your brand.
Your "The One" has a name. They have a daily routine. They have a personality. They have a unique set of problems. They have a unique way of solving those problems.
They are not millennials who like chocolate.
They are Amber. A millennial who is obsessed with chocolate, grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth, is very strict about what preservatives she puts in her body, and isn't afraid to try unique flavors. Especially when she can get 3 thousand likes for posing with a chocolate bar on her Instagram.
Congratulations! Now you have found your "The One" for your ridiculously overpriced, all natural, bold flavored, chocolate bar.
Now you know you need to emphasize your ingredients all over the place, design an eye popping and bold wrapper, and convince Amber to advocate your brand to all her rich friends.
My wife has a name. She's one of a kind. Not all artsy Catholics are attracted to me. At the same time, not all women who are attracted to me are artsy Catholics.
You will attract more customers when you target one specific customer.
I am not Starbucks' "The One," yet I still choose them for various reasons. I choose them over Dunkin Donuts because I'm on the Keto diet and Dunkin doesn't have heavy cream. I am definitely not a "basic white girl," yet I still like PSLs! I tried the Unicorn frappacino a few years back because I was curious, not because I wanted the perfect Instagram pic.
By getting really specific about your target customer, your brand will start to develop a unique personality over time. That chocolate bar will start to look a lot like Amber!
Get to know them intimately.
Once you have identified your "The One" customer, a great way to get to know them is to put yourself in their shoes for a day. Try it with this exercise.
Go through their day, hour-by-hour, and write down as many details as you can. What are they feeling? What problems are they encountering? What causes them stress? What excites them throughout the day?
The problem you solve isn't their only problem. Make sure you write down details that don't have anything to do with your product or service. Getting to know their lifestyle will give you a better idea of how you fit into that lifestyle.
Spend time with real people. Do you know anyone who matches your ideal customer? Ask them what they think and watch them interact with your product.
This is also where you can start to research your indirect competitors. For example, McDonald's doesn't directly compete with Pizza Hut. However, McDonald's is targeting the same customers.
Both are targeting hungry people who are in a hurry, aren't concerned with their health in the moment, and have limited money to spend.
Harley Davidson cruisers and Ford F150s are indirect competitors as well, targeting blue collar workers looking to make a statement about toughness as they travel.
You can do a little reconnaissance on your indirect competitors to see how they are attracting your "The One" customer. Whereas copying your direct competitors is a huge mistake, taking cues from your indirect competitors can help you to understand your "The One" better.
Fall in love with them.
When your customers are a means to an end, they can feel it and they don't like it. No one wants to be used. The more you fall in love with your customers, the more value you will provide.
I fell in love with my wife for her own sake. She is not a means to an end, she is my end. My entire life from here on out will be devoted to sacrificing for her. You have heard the old saying "Happy wife, happy life." There is some truth to that.
A great example of this is the company, Zappos. Zappos relentlessly focuses on customer service. They have even been known to go so far as to send a baby blanket to a customer when they hear a baby crying in the background. Other examples include staying on the line as long as the customer wants, not using scripts, and not having to ask permission as employees to provide something that benefits the customer.
However, I will offer a word of caution when it comes to catering to your customers. A similar phrase used in business is "The customer is always right." This phrase (as I'm sure you know by now) is not true.
An inside joke with my wife is that, "I will do anything for you. As long as it's not immoral." You could replace the word "immoral" with the phrase, "bad for you." I don't pander to her every need when those needs will hurt her in the end. If she asked me to do something that is harmful (or just not the best) for her, I won't do it and I'll explain to her why.
Many brands choose to fall in love with their customers and maintain the integrity of their brand by saying "no."
In 1985, Coca-Cola listened to customers who were being convinced by the Pepsi Taste Challenge to start drinking Pepsi. Their response was to make their recipe sweeter with New Coke, ending in the company's worst disaster to date.
Coca-Cola failed to trust their original recipe when it was challenged by Pepsi. In reality, people were choosing Pepsi over Coke because, in a small amount, Pepsi was sweeter than Coke. However, when it came to drinking the entire can, Coke was usually preferred over Pepsi for its more subdued taste.
Coca-Cola attempted to give customers what they wanted, but they sacrificed the integrity of their brand in the process. As it turns out, their customers were wrong about what they wanted. Don't be afraid to say "no" when you believe it's not in your customers' best interest or it sacrifices the integrity of your brand.
Fall in love with your customers. They are flawed and human, but they will be loyal to you if you're loyal to them. No customer is a means to an end, they are not a tool for you to use to make more money.
If you entertain your customers, sacrifice for them, and look your best, you will be sure to woo them!
On our first date, I found out that my wife loves salsa dancing, so on our second date, we went salsa dancing!
There was just one problem... I can't dance.
Why did I decide to take my wife dancing on our second date despite being a terrible dancer? I could tell after our first date, that the decision to take her dancing would go over insanely well.
This decision was not an easy one, however. I weighed the risks heavily for days. One of two things would happen. Either she would be wooed by my sacrifice for her, or I would humiliate myself and she would never want to see me again.
To minimize the risk of humiliating myself, I chose to be honest and vulnerable right off the bat. I told my wife my secret. To my surprise, she was even MORE impressed that I wanted to take her dancing when I couldn't dance!
In my decision to take my wife dancing, I showed her that I was entertaining and willing to sacrifice my pride. Of course, I also bought some new shoes and made sure I looked very dashing. As a result, she was definitely wooed!
Why do people pay more attention to Super Bowl commercials than any other commercials throughout the year? They are entertaining.
Whether you loved or hated Mountain Dew's Super Bowl campaign, "Puppy-Monkey-Baby," I bet you talked about it for a couple weeks after.
There are several ways to entertain your customers. Try being sassy or random and ridiculous! No one wants to watch a car commercial highlighting APR financing. There is a reason we hate ads. They interrupt our entertainment and bore us.
YouTube ads, TV commercials, social media ads, Google ads, are all typically catered, at least a little bit, to what we are already looking for. However, if they don't entertain us or pique our curiosity, they quickly go from being helpful to annoying.
Sacrifice for them.
Love requires sacrifice. If you sacrifice for your customers, they will sacrifice for you.
By far, the most effective thing I ever did to win over my wife, was to prove I was willing to sacrifice for her. I had to prove that I had her best interest at heart.
From taking her dancing or driving an hour and a half to see her just about every weekend, to tidying up my apartment before she came over, I showed her that I was willing to do whatever it took to not only win her over, but to hold onto her as well.
This meant that I had to go beyond just convincing her with my words. I had to convince her with my actions.
Again, in one of my favorite books on business, Rework, the founders of Basecamp, describe the differences between "At Store Good" and "At Home Good" products.
"At Store Good" products are products with beautiful packaging and messaging that sparks your curiosity, but when you take them home, they don't deliver. "At Home Good" products provide repeated value and slowly (or quickly) build brand loyalty over time.
I once bought a suitcase that impressed me with all its features. The suitcase contained a battery charger with usb charging ports built in. It also featured a fold out mini table to rest my laptop on.
At the time, I was traveling a lot and these features sounded perfect! But once I bought the suitcase, it fell apart within a week. I will never buy anything from this brand again.
In order to provide "At Home Good" products, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure you consistently demonstrate value. In other words, you have to sacrifice for your "The One" customer.
No one worries about Nike apparel falling apart in the first week (or even the first year). They just don't. Why? Because they have proven time and time again you are getting a quality product when that swoosh is attached.
Show your "The One" you love them by doing whatever it takes to add the most value you can with your brand.
Look your best.
We are attracted to beautiful things. It's in our very nature.
When I met my wife, I had just lost 65 pounds on Keto. Who's to say my wife wouldn't have still been attracted to me 65 pounds earlier, but it didn't hurt!
Along with my new weight, I invested in tighter fitting clothes and shaved my scraggly beard (I love beards, but I'm not very good at growing them as you can see below).
Looking my best paid off.
The same goes for design. Your brand must look its best.
On average, a potential customer spends 5 seconds making up their mind about whether they are interested in a brand. Do you want them spending those 5 seconds looking at a generic logo of a swooshy, abstract, stick figure running that screams 1998?
Or do you want them spending those 5 seconds looking at a clean, simple, and timeless logo attached to a larger brand identity system?
Sagi Haviv, a partner in the firm that brought us the NBC, National Geographic, Chase, and Mobile logos to name a few, provides us with 3 characteristics of a good logo in his TED talk.
1. A great logo is appropriate.
A common misconception about logos is that they must give us an emotional feeling when we look at them right away.
This isn't what Haviv means by "appropriate." What he means is simply that your logo must match your personality. Just like many of us dress in clothes that represent our style, your logo must be true to your style as a brand.
Over time, your logo will begin to communicate because of the brand recognition surrounding it.
2. A great logo is distinctive.
The biggest issue with swooshy abstract people logos is not that they are outdated (which they very much are), but that they are cliche and overused.
The last thing you want is for your logo to be mistaken for something else. The primary purpose of a logo is to identify your brand as distinct from others in the same industry.
3. A great logo is simple.
A great logo needs to be recognized right away. Our eyes can only take in so much at a time. The more complex the logo, the harder it is for it to stick in our minds. Anyone should be able to draw your logo from memory.
One interesting example of a logo that has been simplified over time, is the Apple logo. Notice the complexity of the first Apple logo below featuring Isaac Newton and an apple.
It's hard to read, impossible for most people to draw, and takes forever to see what's even happening inside of it. It's a truly terrible example of a logo.
In 1977, they radically rebranded and released a simple, distinct, and appropriate logo that is instantly recognizable today.
However, one thing Apple didn't consider was the logo's use over time. The original rebrand screams late 70s and the 2001 / 2007 renditions scream early 2000s. Notice they got it right in 1998, but failed to trust the value of simplicity.
In addition to a great logo, your brand must also invest in an entire identity system. Chobani is a great example of this.
Below is the Chobani logo...
...and here's the Chobani's logo incorporated into its entire brand system.
Notice Chobani's combination of collages and bright colors (emphasizing the bold flavors of its yogurt) along with their understated and ever so slightly playful green logo (emphasizing its natural, Non-GMO, products).
With this combination, Chobani has created the perfect look to attract their customers.
Don't sacrifice on appearance if you want to be taken seriously and attract your "The One."
Wooing your customer isn't enough. You could invest millions of dollars in branding and still have a terrible brand if you don't invest in your product.
I have every intention of spending the rest of my life with my wife.
In order to make that happen, I have to be thinking and praying about how I can improve now in order to be the best husband and father in the future. I'm committed to reversing bad habits and I'm often pondering how I can help my wife to feel more loved.
I'm going above and beyond being just "good enough" for her.
It takes work to hold onto your "The One" customer over time.
If you want your brand to be around for 100 years or even get acquired in 2, you're going to have to avoid the following mistakes.
Don't be "good enough."
Don't ever settle for mediocrity. "Good enough" won't get you very far.
Once you have a solid product, you can ride that wave for decades (depending on your industry). Take Lego for example. You can use a Lego brick made today and it will still fit the bricks of 1958.
However, until you have at least one great product, always be improving.
Here are 3 ways to do just that.
1. Seek outside help.
In order to improve, we all need help. Whether that's asking your customers for feedback, hiring a consultant, or outsourcing, you can't rely on internal wisdom alone.
In the branding industry, we have a phrase for this. "You can't read a label from the inside of a bottle."
Stick to your core competencies and rely on the experts for everything else when you can.
2. Test your product.
Think you have a great product? Prove it.
The only way you can do that is by putting it to work and measuring its success. Just look at any smart phone manufacturers on the market. Apple, Samsung, and Google are always updating their phones and their operating systems in order to provide the most value possible every year.
Successful software companies always launch beta tests before ever going to market. They don't assume they have created their best product until it's been proven.
3. Don't be afraid to pivot.
Don't be afraid to abandon your ideas and start over if your testing proves to be disappointing. Many of the most successful brands to date don't look anything like they looked when they started. Twitter used to be a podcast company, Starbucks only sold coffee machines and beans, and YouTube was a video dating site!
They all had one thing in common. After testing their products, they pivoted when they realized their customers were actually looking for something else.
Although it may be tempting to pretend that you are someone you are not, don't make this mistake.
This is the premise of just about every romantic comedy of all time. Girl meets boy, boy lies to attract girl or use girl for something else, girl finds out, boy has to make up for lying and tells the girl "Everything else was real! I promise!"
Boy and girl live happily ever after.
In real life, this story doesn't have a happy ending. Volkswagen lied to its customers, promising lower fuel emissions on its diesel engines, and paid a hefty price for it. They would eventually agree to pay $15.3 billion to settle various public and private civil actions, their stock prices fell 39%, and their sales in the U.S. declined by 24.7%.
Don't let your company be a romantic comedy cliche. Don't lie to your customers. You will get caught.
According to Marriage.com, infidelity is the number one reason for divorce. Why? We want to believe our spouse has our best interest at heart. Who wants a selfish partner who is only concerned with his/her own interest?
Business is no different. If you don't want your customers to divorce your brand, don't cut corners.
In the case of the BP Oil spill, cheating on safety cost the oil giant $144.89 billion, harmed an entire ecosystem, and killed 14 people.
Yahoo cheated on security, resulting in every single Yahoo email being hacked.
Your employees come first, but a close second is your customers. Always keep your customers top of mind and ask yourself, "If we cut corners here, will we lose customers?"
If the answer is "yes," weigh the risks carefully and err on the side of holding onto your customers. Whatever you do, don't kill people or lie to them.
When in doubt, always ask yourself, "What would I do if I was dating the customer of my dreams?"
Would I want a "one night stand," or a long lasting relationship? Would I show up on our first date looking like a bum, or would I dress my best? Would I use the person of my dreams for my own personal gain, or would I sacrifice for them?
If you answered yes to the former of any of the above questions, good luck. Your brand will fail.