August 31, 2010

When Might's Not Right

"Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It's yours to take, re-arrange, and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head." Banksy, Street Artist

Like many mothers and fathers, I suspect, I'm ashamed to say that I sometimes fall into the 'Don't argue with me, young man / lady' -school of parenting; a sort of lazy, might-is-right, my-way-or-the-highway approach to making and enforcing the rules of the household.

It might surprise my children to learn that this apparently unbending defender of virtue, good manners and tidy bedrooms has more than a sneaking regard for street-artist Banksy, a figure dismissed as a delinquent and vandal in some quarters. And that, although I'm distinctly uncomfortable with much of what passes as street-art and the defacing of public buildings, I see a certain amount of good sense in what he has to say about the imposition of advertising messages on people in public places.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Citizen Tannam is about to storm the billboards of Dublin town armed with aerosol can and black marker, but I do think that brand-builders of all sizes (and particularly those with a budget that enables them to commandeer public spaces) need to think long and hard about how we pitch to customers, particularly when our messages are uninvited.

Of course, many of the new media channels allow the customer to opt-in or out of receiving promotional messages, but even when we're pitching to the unwilling, we need to be respectful of the customer and seek as far as possible to speak only to those who need our product or service. Or we need to at least make sure that our message adds something to the shared conversations in that public space.

Humour is often used in this way to prompt a smile from both targets and passers-by but, on the whole, messages that are socially-aware and inclusive bring something to the street in a way that make them less likely to be the target of Banksy and his fellow-artists, who understandably feel that many brand-owners are inclined to ram our marketing messages down their throats.

So, no more my-way-on-the-highway for this parent and brand-owner.

Over To You: Do you think messages in public places are fair game for confiscation and revision by those on the receiving end?

August 17, 2010

Branding Starts With The Customer

Having difficulty knowing where to start when it comes to branding? 

Here's my take on it from an article I wrote for The Hub on

My customers sometimes tell me that the thing they find most difficult about branding is knowing where to start. And I know exactly what they mean.

When we look at the big brands, the celebrity brands, the ones that make the headlines, it seems that they ooze a power and charisma that’s way beyond the reach of a mere mortal brand. Our own efforts can appear grey and mundane by comparison and we can despair of ever finding something remarkable to say about what it is we do for our customer.

But for most of us, life isn’t a glamorous whirl of parties and high society, and just as I don’t look to the celebrities of cinema and sport for clues on how to lead my own life, I don’t recommend that you look to celebrity brands for guidance on how to build your own brand.

Instead, I suggest that you start with your customer and the problems they face and work from there. All business begins when somebody has something to sell that solves a problem for someone else. This is the basis of your brand, the reason why a customer will choose what you have to offer over what’s for sale elsewhere. The purpose of a brand is to make this obvious to your customer, so that they naturally and easily choose you as their favourite supplier.

So the first question we must ask when we brand is: What problem does my product (or service) solve for someone else?

Too often, we don’t even get that far. We’re so proud of what we have to offer that we don’t bother to ask why that should matter enough to someone else that they would be prompted to pay for it. If we don’t make it obvious to our prospective customer that we will help them to fix something in their lives that’s broken, or replace something that’s missing, then our product won’t attract their attention or win them over.

When we make it clear what problem we fix for our customers, then we can go on to say how we do it in a way that’s better than how our competitors do it.

So how does this work in practice?

Say, for example, that you’re an accountant offering the usual mix of financial services. You’re surrounded by other accountants, most of whom have studied at the same institute as you and have the same qualifications. Now look at the situation from the point of view of the difficulty facing your prospective customer. Their problem is not in finding a suitably qualified accountant. They’re spoiled for choice. You’re going to have to work a little harder if you’re going to stand out from the crowd.

Say that you get talking to that prospective customer and you learn that they find meeting their accountant to review annual accounts a frustrating and demoralising experience. They tell you that this has nothing to do with the actual accounts, just the whole experience of looking at numbers that they don’t really understand.

For them, this is the real problem. It’s also an opportunity for you. You might determine that you will be an accountant who helps your customer get on top of the numbers. Now you have a real problem to fix for your customer and a real basis for branding, a reason why prospective customers might choose you over other accountants.

So when my customers tell me that they don’t know where to start when it comes to branding, I tell them to start at the very beginning. Start with your customer and ask them what problems they face in their lives. When you’ve identified a problem that you can help them fix, you have the basis for your brand.