Smarten Up, Marketers. It"s a Personality Contest Out There!

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I have a friend who's a real rascal. He wangles his way into places he doesn't belong better than an A-list celeb thronged by his thick-muscled posse. He slips out of trouble like a greased David Blaine. This guy's smart but he's no Mensa grad. He's not that good- looking, and he's not well-connected. The tools of his trade? His genuineness and natural charm. He's likeable. Watching him work is remarkable. It's not so much what he says - it's all about how he says it. And don't think he's some butt-smoocher. I've seen him tell people to take a long walk off a short pier, and they look forward to the trip!

My friend is a poster boy for reminding us, as we craft strategies and executions for our advertising campaigns, that brand character can be even more persuasive than the actual selling message. It's hard to be emotionally committed to an attribute. Features don't beget followers.

A great deal of strategic development time is focused on getting the message right: delivering the single-minded relevant point to the target. We task it with being original, unique. Ownable. I was schooled that this was by far the most critical element in strategic positioning because it was where the big idea dwelled. Well, according to Jack Trout's latest missive in "Forbes," there are no new ideas anymore. We are blowing time and our clients' money with the over-reliance on the rationale. (

At my advertising agency, NYCA ([]), we grow our clients' businesses with inspired ideas. We know it's important to concentrate on the brainy quotient, sure, but we've learned to heavy-up on the tone, the manner, the body. That's where brand personality comes strolling in, dressed for success, making the everlasting first impression before he ever speaks an SAT word.

We can learn from a master teacher: Apple. You wouldn't know it from their raving user base but these are machines, for cripes sake. Plastic, wires, glass and tiny pieces soldered together to help create pictures and words, remember them, and connect. But I know MAC users who would rather go graphic-less in public than fraternize with a PC. They would revolt, feeling like they are betraying their friend. The machine seems to understand them, empower them - but this is lunatic devotion. A MAC has no feelings (yet!) so why does it stir them up? And, techies, please don't blog/flog me with, "It's the operating system." That's just a microportion of the emotional equation. To see it another way: I'd venture that PC people could more easily - emotionally speaking - move to Mac than the other way around. They aren't as devoted to IBM and the like as MAC users are to Apple. IBM just doesn't have the magnetic personality of Apple.

The Apple personality was brilliantly reverse-designed. They may have built the machine first but they sold the personality first. So the initial contact is the embrace of the upbeat, creative, change-the-world brand character before you ever boot up. It's in the logo. And at every touch point, the personality is true. We feel the easiness in their open, friendly, clean-lined stores, enjoy the good-natured yet competitive TV ads, groove with (not just listen to) their iPod communications, hug their black-jeaned, bespectacled wonderboy leader. Personality perfectly designed.

Barbara Coulon, vice president of trends for market researcher Youth Intelligence, says that surveys show, "Apple has a clear brand personality. People feel like they are part of a tribe. There are a lot of people who are passionate about it. It's sort of a cult brand. Apple is a way of life." (

So study up and invent a brand message that's university smart. But invest some creative muscle in developing the brand's personality so it's genuinely persuasive.

Great brands have defined personalities within their categories but they're not exclusive to their sector, so you can easily borrow inspiration. Here are two examples of one personality statement: Down-to-earth, family-oriented, genuine, and sincere. Now, who would that be - Coke or Pepsi? Easy. But pour a glass of each and stand an inch from them - you couldn't tell the difference. Brown sugar water is brown sugar water.

Take the same words for a car: Volvo or BMW? Again, no doubt. Because their brand personalities distinguish them as much as their safety or handling claims. Better.

A well-developed personality has the power to engage from afar, stir deep feelings, and make it all up-close and personal. And that's the flashpoint where interest moves into buying, and buying into loyalty.

You know, maybe my rascal friend is a genius after all.
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