Customer Experience

Do Performance Marketers Intentionally Ignore Brand?

In one of 2PM‘s recent Member Brief’s, (article is here – behind a paywall), he describes the reaction to his Brand-First Strategy. (In a nutshell, it’s an outgrowth of the growing CAC’s, at least in bigger digital channels. And that those who’ve used aggressive performance marketing strategies are struggling a bit to continue their growth. The Brand-First Strategy is more focused on content to build a community, then leading to commerce. Build the audience, then sell to them. I have separate thoughts on the specific strategy which I’ll save for a different post (it makes sense, it’s just expensive and only a few handfuls have executed well).

Back to the 2PM article. In it, he references a side conversation that occurred after his piece. There, he quotes Tonal’s founder Nate Bosshard as saying, “Seems like a straw man argument. What marketing executive has ever said “ignore brand?”

As a good friend of mine would say, I don’t think that’s the right question.

Instead, my experience with performance marketers over the years has been that’s it’s not that they SAY “ignore brand”.  It’s just that they IGNORE THE BRAND.  Not all of them of course, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s more often than not. And I find it’s not intentionally doing so, which is what I took from Nate’s comment above. Rather, it’s that so many of them have gotten so focused on growing a business, loving the process, getting customers, driving sales – that “brand” just doesn’t come up. 

To be clear, for me, “brand” really is about paying attention to and taking care of the product and the customer.  Which is crazy to think that so many people don’t really pay attention to either. They may say they do, but really they just love making money – often at the expense of brand. By the way, I’m nowhere close to perfect in this regard and am not trying to take a self-righteous approach here as you’ll see in the next paragraph.

When I was at Beachbody, so many of our decisions were driven in large part by the nearer-term, quantitative results – whether of an A/B test or otherwise.  I’ll give you an example of something I did which in retrospect was understandable intellectually but short-sighted from the brand side. Early on in my time there, I made a decision to remove an extra set of handles for our resistance bands from a box so customers would have 1 set of handles, not two, for the 3 bands we provided. It made us more money, and I simply figured customers could switch handles between bands. Great short-term financial decision. Horrible for the customer – those handles were brutal to take on and off.  (My bad if that affected you.) That might seem like such a simple and basic example, but it reflects the thinking that occurs in so many businesses today – save money but at the expense of the customer’s experience.
 
After I left Beachbody in 2015 to build my consulting business, I began speaking about bridging performance marketing and brand. More often, I was talking to bootstrapped entrepreneurs much more so than to venture-backed businesses.  So that brings a slightly different type of thinking – much more financially-driven because they don”t have the level of outside funding.  What i found is that the “brand” conversation fell on deaf ears. They just didn’t want to or just couldn’t hear it – given their mindset and priorities.  

Which is what has led me to focus so much more on this idea of crafting an incredible customer experience.  Done well, it can benefit both the performance marketing needs as well as help to build the brand.  So even if you’re not bought in to the brand conversation (at least not today), and you see that crafting an incredible experience satisfies your performance marketing sensibilities (customer acquisition and retention, most notably), then that’s fine.  And then if you’ve done it well, in a year or so, the brand should have started to build, and you’re happy you went down this path. 

As an example, Dollar Beard Club (now The Beard Club) did this well – by tapping into identity and community (what it means to be a bearded man) in their Facebook video ads.  Clearly performance marketing-driven AND it help to build their brand.  

There are plenty of other examples:
-Loot Crate and Nerd Fitness do a similar job of tapping into identity and community
-Supreme New York leverages scarcity and its Thursday morning drops to drive the real-life frenzy to help customer acquisition and repeat orders
-Rover uses information transparency so that dog owners have a sense of comfort of knowing where their dog has been, benefiting both its customer acquisition and retention goals
-NOBULL creates content to engage with its customers and to drive product launches
-For Warby Parker and Stitch Fix, their business model itself was based on creating a new and different customer experience, so it served a performance marketing goal and concurrently helped to build the brand.

No one is perfect, and there are of course examples of the above companies doing things that didn’t serve either a performance or brand-driven goal. But I would argue that these businesses have realized that building their brand is not at odds with their performance marketing goals. They are not mutually exclusive but can entirely co-exist.

What that means is they’ve managed to achieve impressive financial results (both top AND bottom-line) as the brand grew. And arguably, it was their attention to brand (again, product and customer), while matched with a performance marketing set of constraints, that lead to these outcomes.

And so in thinking about Nate’s original comment, these companies clearly did the opposite of saying they wanted to ignore the brand. They were intentional about making it a priority.

As for others, it’s a rare company that says they actively want to ignore the brand. And to those who just do so – whether believing it’s not important or they can’t afford it – I’d offer some of the above as examples and inspiration to start doing so.

If you’re interested in seeing further examples and contexts of where to create incredible customer experiences, I’m in the midst of writing a book on the topic. You can see some of my thinking here. I also share my eCommerce Framework, which ends with a lengthy section on the categories and companies (70+ in total) that I’m featuring in my book.

A final note here. I’ve found that many performance marketers fear that focusing on brand means that they’re now a brand marketer. Which sounds like a big insult to brand marketers. But it’s not the label but rather the feeling that they’ll be doing things that aren’t measurable, or at least not as measurable as what they’re accustomed to. Again, I would simply say to start by trying to create an experience in the context of the performance marketing goals. That doesn’t mean spend a bunch of money and don’t track it. But to the extent you can be intentional about what you’re trying to create longer-term and you use those goals with your acquisition or retention goals, you’ll be much farther down the path of building a successful and sustainable business (er, brand).

Consumers Love Watching Experts – See What Others Are Doing to Better Their Customers’ Experience

Consumers love to watch experts showing off their skills.  Some skills, like sports, are more mainstream than, say, being able to navigate Excel without a mouse (like your truly, ahem, ahem).   Any glance at YouTube shows not merely the diversity of expert skills that exist in this world, but when looking at the view and subscriber counts of some YouTube channels, the sheer *interest* in their respective categories.

This concept shouldn’t be news to anyone who has been paying attention.  But connecting the fact that consumers want to watch experts with a business’ desire to build a brand hasn’t been as pervasive as you might expect.

Why don’t more businesses tout their expertise in a demonstrable way that customers can benefit from?  Why don’t they create more content – not just any content, mind you, but content showing off a level of know-how that consumers would envy?  Especially when doing so would result in a more engaged customer.

When you buy a desk, it doesn’t require any expertise to use that desk. However, some products and services require, even depend upon, specialized skills and knowledge. Particularly when a product requires customers to use it to achieve a goal (whether cooking, weight loss, building something or otherwise), watching an expert apply their skills can help customers achieve their goals and can be a fun aspect of the customer experience.  Or, sometimes we may not want to do-it-ourselves, but merely want to observe, enjoy, appreciate and sit back in awe of an expert.

Anytime we can get customers to spend their time watching one of OUR experts is a win.  It means we have their attention, it means we are doing something of interest to them.  In a very specific way, we are being of service to them.  And it means that we are building a connection, positively affecting their experience with the business.

Though there are a few ways to allow customers to see an expert’s skills, the most effective is through video or an in-person demonstration.

Benihana: Fun with Cooking

Benihana restaurants have been serving and entertaining guests for over 50 years.  If you’ve never been there, the basic concept is that guests sit around a teppanyaki table, which is basically a flat grill.  The chef prepares the food in front of the guests, cooking up everything from shrimp appetizers to steak and seafood entrees.

Making food in front of patrons may not seem like a big deal – be that a sandwich at Subway, a salad at Sweet Greens, or sushi at Nobu.  But Benihana was one of the earliest presentation-style restaurants, bringing with them an entirely new dining experience.

The big difference with Benihana was, and still is, the way their chefs interact with the customers.  To start, they all have phenomenal technical skills; watching a chef at Benihana clean and cut up shrimp at the pace they do is harrowing and awe-inspiring.  But it’s the real sense of entertainment they bring that is the real differentiator.  We’ll see this below with Twitch, in a totally different genre like gaming, but when technical skill is matched with an engaging personality, that is when the real magic happens.

Each chef brings their own sense of flair.  Some may flip the food perfectly onto a guest’s plate, others create a tower of onion rings that smokes when they pour oil into it, and some crack jokes.  The goal is that Benihana is part dining experience, part theater.  And when you are watching a chef wield obviously sharp knives in the manner they do, combined with a sense of flash and personality, Benihana has made a name for itself in what a dining experience can be.

I’ll say from my own experience that I’ve never left Benihana disappointed with the food.  But I have left disappointed with the experience.  Like every business where a certain level of personality and creativity is involved, consistency is a very difficult thing to maintain. I recall a visit to New York City where I felt so rushed that I didn’t get to enjoy the time at the table didn’t get enough time to watch the chef do his thing.  Another time I had a chef that just didn’t engage with our table.  It felt like the blackjack dealers in Vegas who simply deal and don’t engage with the guests; whether you win or lose (more often the latter based on the odds unfortunately), guests want to have fun playing.   With Benihana, it’s the same thing.

I only mention the sense of disappointment I felt because it reflects the standards which they had previously set.  Guests have a certain measure of expectations when they go to Benihana.  Most of the time, their chefs nail it.  It’s one of the primary “why’s” of why you go to Benihana.  Guests can get great surf and turf many places.  But they go to Benihana for the experience.  They go to watch a chef do what they can’t.  In an entertaining way.

Twitch: Watch Them Play

The gaming site Twitch shares many similarities with Benihana in the experience they both aim to craft with their respective audiences.  In allowing viewers of their site to watch someone play a video game, Twitch may at first seem like the virtual equivalent of a bunch of friends playing games and hanging out on the couch.  Except that it’s not simply a few friends but can be hundreds of thousands watching a single player.  And just as playing at home with friends is a lot more fun when there’s a level of engagement between players, the most-viewed and followed gamers on Twitch are those who are not just great at the game but know how to engage their viewers well beyond what’s happening in the video game.  What they say and how they interact with their fans is a key aspect of why fans watch some players over others.

For some context, Twitch was acquired by Amazon in 2016 for one billion dollars. As with so many things gaming these days, there’s a lot of money in this business.  Currently, the top player is twenty-something Tyler Blevins, who is known to his fans as Ninja; Blevins is currently making $500,000 a month, in large part from donations that fans can make on Twitch.  Not only does he show off his technical skills while playing, but he also brings an engaging personality. Ninja interacts with his audience, speaking to fans and creating a real sense of community. Twitch makes this possible.

It might seem crazy to some that so many people would sit on their phone or in front of their computer to watch someone with whom they have no direct relationship play a video game.  But this misses two key points.  First, many of those who are gaming fans grew up watching their friends play videogames.  For them, Twitch is an entirely normal thing, albeit online rather than in person.  And second, gamers such as Ninja, who are masters at games like Fortnite AND who have an engaging personality, have connected with their audience to make it feel like there is in fact a direct relationship between the two.  Fans of Ninja feel like they know him and feel like they are right there with him as he’s playing.

In Twitch’s case, some viewers watch because they are fans of the game the player is in, and there’s a certain level of appreciation they have for the skill.  Others just want to be entertained even though they may not fully appreciate just what level of skill is involved.  Regardless, Twitch has created an immensely valuable platform where experts, both in a game and in entertainment, can draw others in at huge scale.

Home Depot: Free Classes to Help You Do-It-Yourself

Years ago, hardware stores were places where shoppers could get some of the basics, and perhaps some of the more advanced repair and construction needs.  While some professionals would frequent a local hardware store, most customers were individuals wanting gear for their home or office, but primarily for more minor work.  When contractors or those in construction needed to make more substantial purchases, there were stores that serviced them more readily.

And yet, if you enter a Home Depot today, it’s common to see people of all types – from those who need a basic screwdriver to a contractor buying goods for a current job to a hobbyist buying the same goods as that contractor.  Do-it-yourself is not a new thing.  People have been gardening, fixing dishwashers, or building decks in their homes for years.

What has changed is the number of non-professionals doing so and the scope of the projects they are tackling.  For its part, Home Depot has helped with this shift by hosting classes in its stores, allowing all-comers to attend, ask questions and learn.  It’s a brilliant strategy – if people understand what it is they need to do (and certainly what they need to buy) to redo, for example, the flooring in their bedroom, they’ll have more confidence.  They are then more likely to purchase the equipment the need to do so, and it’s much more likely that those purchases will happen at Home Depot if the classes are there.

Sure, people can and will continue to hire contractors and handymen, so it’s possible to argue that from Home Depot’s perspective, so long as *someone* is making the purchase, they are indifferent about who that person is.  But for many consumers, given that one of the largest cost buckets in this type of work is the actual labor, the difference between doing the work and not doing so may be that cost of labor.  So if they can do it themselves, then those are purchases that Home Depot likely would not have gotten.

In its own way, Home Depot has developed a content strategy that brings consumers into its stores, educates them on what’s involved in a project, and then makes it simple to purchase the necessary equipment for that project.

For all the talk around content marketing, particularly in digital marketing, isn’t this what valuable content should deliver?

Home Depot experts certainly provide similar content online, but this has been a core strategy for Home Depot for years, whether offline or online.

Red Bull: Watching Others Do What Most Wouldn’t

The fact that Red Bull created an entirely new business unit, a media company, tells you a great deal about what they’ve been able to tap into.  When you think about Red Bull Media Group, it’s easy to forget that Red Bull is a beverage.  The Media Group is very much aligned with the overall Red Bull brand, reinforced with its original tagline, “Red Bull gives you wings.”  The message Red Bull conveys through its videos is about pushing boundaries, which unifies with the theme of giving people wings.

Ultimately, though, Red Bull’s videos feature extreme athletes doing amazing things—the kinds of things most people might never attempt on their own. Customers don’t necessarily watch these experts because they intend to emulate them. Rather, they watch them to feel a sense of awe and amazement. In Red Bull’s case, there is less a sense of education or aspiration they are necessarily trying to deliver to their viewer.  It is much more about entertainment.  And certainly, of people doing things that represent what the brand is trying to help everyone achieve in their own way.

For its part, Red Bull’s “experts” showcase a message that supports the overall company’s brand.  They are the most extreme version of what they are trying to provide, inspire and support with their customers.  When you watch a Red Bull video, you can’t but feel blown away, sometimes scared.  But in that moment, there’s a sense that so much more is possible.  And that is a powerful feeling to deliver to people.  It’s what Red Bull’s “experts” help to communicate to viewers.

Your Customers Want to Watch You

Seemingly every business should include some component of “watching an expert,” whether through in-person demonstrations or some other technique. You could be selling a product (physical or digital) that requires skill to use.  There might be ancillary skills related to your product (think workout programs produced by a supplement manufacturer).  Ultimately, what is the reason people are buying your product? And then what type of useful, educational, and/or entertaining content can you create to connect with their goals?  However you choose to incorporate it, whether through video or in person, it will strengthen your customers’ sense of connection with your product or service.

Customers who are better connected to a business are more likely to buy again and more likely to tell positive stories to others.  Each of those helps to build the business and to build the brand, both of which are two primary goals of most businesses.

Your business has experts that your customers are envious of.  Show them off to your customers.

Serving the Underserved Creates THEIR Experience

In a literal way, inclusivity is the opposite of exclusivity.  And so, while being exclusive means something is for a select group, inclusivity, particularly for marketers, doesn’t necessarily have to about trying to include everyone. At times, companies can simply target people who have been underserved.  Especially when we think about one of the big no-no’s in marketing – that of trying to be all things to all people – it’s important to understand this distinction and not make the presumption that inclusivity is going against that adage.  The below examples demonstrate how engaging and enrolling audiences that have been ignored, in a sense crafting a great experience for the underserved, can yield great results.

Sephora: Clueless Shoppers are Welcome

Plenty of industries are filled with employees who like to make sure (potential) customers know just how “knowledgeable” the employee is, often at the expense of the customer.  For my part, I grew up a cycling fan and wouldn’t have enough time to list off the number of times I felt so belittled because an employee in a cycling store was seemingly offended by what he considered an offensively-simple question.

The beauty industry has a similar dynamic.

For its part, the beauty brand Sephora has done an exceptionally good job of making the beauty-shopping experience actually feel inclusive, not snobbish. Blogger Alicia Jessop has described Sephora as the equivalent to women of what a hardware store is for many men[1]. Just as men often go into hardware stores and browse without having any specific product in mind, women often shop at Sephora with that similar sense of discovery, exploration, and accessibility.

It’s fair to say that most everyone has gone into a store where there was a certain product domain they knew nothing about, then either tried to portray they knew something they didn’t, or they didn’t want to acknowledge that they knew nothing.  Unless we are just plain lucky, it’s a rare occasion that we leave with the right product and certainly none the wiser.

One of the primary reasons we as consumers behave this way is an expectation of how the “expert”, in this case a store employee, is going to respond.  Prior experience has led many of us to be intimidated in environments where there is a lot of domain expertise or technical skill.

But Sephora, while obviously not perfect, mitigates this effect in several ways.

The most obvious way is the store layout.   Unlike department stores where all the merchandise is behind a counter and only accessible by employees, Sephora has put product front and center, so that customers can touch and try products without having to ask anyone.  There is no gatekeeper to get past or to ask what might be an ignorant question.  Instead, customers have free reign to products at Sephora – to touch, hold, and try at their leisure.  This may seem like a minor detail, but given the department store dominance in beauty and just the fact that a customer doesn’t have to speak to someone to try something that grabs their attention – these have been big changes in the beauty industry.

Next, when customers do need help, Sephora staff are there to serve them.  Training is an important aspect of Sephora’s employee onboarding, whether on the customer service side or the technical side (how to help a customer select makeup that suits them as well as applying it).  Training is done at the store level but also through Sephora University, the center for the company’s training.  While creating its own training center, aka the University, is an advantage that a massive company like Sephora can afford to do, putting attention to how employees treat customers is something that any business can do, whether big or small.

It’s important to acknowledge that no business is remotely perfect. In researching Sephora, there were plenty of examples I heard about sub-par, off-brand experiences.  Particularly in retail, where the inherently imperfect human interaction drives a good part of the experience, perfection isn’t the goal.  Being a ton better than everyone else is.  On a consistent basis.  At the same time, setting up aspects of the business, such as the store’s design, that are not dependent on how an employee chooses to behave, can shift that burden and reinforce the bigger experience that is trying to be delivered.

As we all know, a company’s brand isn’t simply created from one component of the business.  It is built everywhere.  And in Sephora’s case, creating a welcoming, interactive and fun environment, whether through the store design or its employees’ attitudes, has been a key to their success.  It affects customers in the store, their likelihood of making a purchase, and certainly the stories they tell (primarily positive in Sephora’s case), which drives the chances they return and/or how they influence others to do so.

Gwynnie Bee: Serving Plus-Sized Women

When the apparel and accessories business Stitch Fix launched, they initially didn’t target plus-size women (anywhere from size 10-14 and up, depending on whose arbitrary definition you want to choose from).  It was a business decision that Stitch Fix (a former client of mine) made, amongst others that also included not serving men or kids, all of which they do now.

This isn’t about right or wrong for Stitch Fix, but their success and focus on its core group of customers, meant that there were opportunities for others to target those that weren’t being served.  Stitch Fix was not the only subscription business focused on delivering these same products to women, but in being one of the earliest and certainly the largest (most recently topping $1 billion in revenues and 2+ million active clients), who they were and were not serving was much more visible.

So as Stitch Fix was building its business, and to a certain extent educating the broader market on what they offered, Gwynnie Bee launched at a similar time, exclusively serving plus-sized women. Not that Stitch Fix played into the stereotypes that are all-too-often found in beauty magazines, but the fact that they didn’t stock apparel for plus-size women gave Gwynnie Bee the opportunity to highlight how it was differentiated from the category leader in Stitch Fix.  Gwynnie Bee was specifically offering clothes for a group that are not always served by apparel retailers.  To this day, beauty magazines constantly reinforce the idea that skinny is better.  To its credit, Gwynnie Bee embraced its target customer, and didn’t try to show size 2 women on its site.

Body image is admittedly a sensitive topic; and yet from a practical side, the reality is that many women in the US fall under the plus-sized definition.  So while Gwynnie Bee was targeting an underserved and perhaps niche category, theirs was by no means a group with small numbers.

(It’s interesting to note that Stitch Fix eventually did serve plus-size women, in addition to men and children.  And Gwynnie Bee announced in early 2018 that to be considered truly inclusive, they were not remaining exclusive to plus-sized women.)

There are plenty of other examples on servicing what isn’t considered mainstream; certain shops target “big and tall” men, some restaurants are “family friendly,” while others are clearly designed for couples.

In all of these cases, whether Sephora, Gwynnie Bee, or others, inclusivity isn’t about trying to be everything to everyone. It’s about targeting a particular group of people, especially those who may be underserved.  And then making them feel warm, understood, and served in the manner which we’d all want to be treated.

 

[1] Jessop, Alicia. “What’s Good Wednesday: Why Women Love Sephora.” https://aliciajessop.com/2012/08/22/whats-good-wednesday-why-women-like-sephora/ August 22, 2012.

How Harley-Davidson and The Beard Club Use “Identity” to Build Customer Experience

(Note: This is one of a series of posts to come around the various ways that marketers are crafting incredible customer experiences.  In so doing, they are dramatically improving their customer retention and acquisition efforts, and concurrently building their brand.)

One of the most powerful ways to build customer experience is by tapping into raw human needs and emotions.

A person’s sense of sense, their actual, perceived and desired identity, is one of the more raw and powerful needs to connect with.  Many businesses have done an excellent job of using their brands to help customer’s think differently about themselves. When done well, customers are proud to be associated with the brand and willing to show off that association in public. They begin to think of the brand as more than just a product. It becomes part of who they are and, even more powerfully, a reflection of who they want to be.

Of course, a business can use the power of identity in a negative way, manipulating customers through psychological games, but the examples shared in this section come from companies who are using this power in positive ways.

Harley-Davidson: More than a Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson has become one of the best-known brands in the world, in any category. People with absolutely no interest in motorcycles have heard of them and already have a clear sense of the brand’s distinct identity.

While most people associate motorcycles with younger demographics, the average Harley owner is forty, not old but certainly not a 20-something thing.  This is due in part to the bikes’ cost; they aren’t cheap.  But if you’ve ever met a Harley owner, however, you know they tend to be extremely proud to be a Harley owner. They love to show it off, and “owning a Harley” is a key part of many owners’ identities.  They’re didn’t merely purchase a motorcycle; they became a part of a vibrant subculture.

The bikes themselves are loud, brash, and bold. You know when a Harley is moving down the street, and their owners rather enjoy that the bikes aren’t subtle.  They didn’t join a membership where the card gets tossed in the trash nor is kept quiet.  While it may not always be through their spoken words, but Harley owners scream being Harley owners.

One of the company’s biggest achievements has been transforming their product into more than a product. People know what Harley stands for: freedom, community, and a certain rebellious attitude.

Their website says it more directly, “If you want to fit in, take the bus.”

From a purely technical standpoint, there are probably better motorcycles on the market. However, Harley customers aren’t in it for the technical quality of the product. They are embracing the Harley attitude.

And for its target customers, Harley is giving them exactly what they want in terms of identity. For people in their forties and fifties, many of whom are empty-nesters, and some of whom are struggling through or approaching a midlife crisis, Harley restores for them a sense of youthful rebellion. Riders are able to detach from their jobs and the concerns of their daily lives to take to the open road with a sense of freedom.

While it’s hard to point to a single moment where the brand that had often been associated with the Hell’s Angels and featured in films like “Easy Rider” started attracting a growing following amongst older and more affluent customers (the average age used to be 32 and now it’s in the 40s, with average annual income increasing from $30K to $70K+), what is clear is that once the company noticed the CEOs, bankers and celebrities were taking to their bikes, they leaned in.  (As an interesting side note, back in the early 1900s, Harley target farmers, then in the mid part of the century positioned itself as the bike for police officers.  To say the brand has evolved and changed its targeting over time is a minor understatement.)

As an example of how the company has leaned in towards shifts in its customer profile, customers choose Harley-Davidson motorcycles because of how they feel and how they want to be as an owner.  One way to amplify that feeling is by joining with others.  Riding a Harley with others is a big part of being a Harley owner, and the brand encourages such connections with what they call H.O.G. (The Harley Owners Group).

H.O.G. was started in 1983, and today there are over a million club members. It’s the biggest factory-sponsored riding club in the world, and while many people think it’s managed by customers, each club is actually sponsored by a local dealership. In the past, dealers could only sponsor one H.O.G. each, but now they are allowed to sponsor two.

This is a great example of a brand recognizing what their customers would want, well beyond the basic “product,” and then creating opportunities to help their customers feel even more strongly about themselves and the brand.

From a financial side, this of course drives retention in the form of merchandise sales (I think we’ve all seen how decked out Harley riders can be) and certainly additional bike sales.  That image and brand story that is then told – whether by hearing an owner talk about it or just seeing them riding down the road with others – no doubt leads to future customer acquisition.  In fact, the company used to spend very little dollars in advertising.  But that didn’t mean spending nothing on marketing.  Their spend would show up in efforts like H.O.G. and other ways to support their customers.  How’s that for a different take on marketing? And all the while the brand continues to form, evolve, and grow.

The Beard Club: Are You Man Enough?

The Beard Club began life as Dollar Bear Club, introducing themselves to the world through a video featuring the company founders, Chris Stoikos and Alex Brown, along with the rest of their team. Through that first video, as well as subsequent ones, they have tapped into something deep in the psychology of their target audience.

They aren’t the only company providing products for men with beards, but in each video, they have created a strong sense of what it means to be a man with a beard. They show images and tell stories of bearded men doing cool things, elevating the image of manhood in a positive way. On their website, they even ask the question, “Still don’t think you’re man enough?”

It’s interesting to note that their videos speak both to men who have beards and work to instill a desire to grow one for those who don’t.  For bearded men, they’ve created what Seth Godin loves to describe as a “Tribe.”  The Beard Club wants bearded men to know they are being spoken to, to know that there is someone who understands them.  And The Beard Club wants bearded me to think about themselves differently, as particularly proud not just to have a beard on their face but to remind them that having a beard means being special and different.  (Whether this is “true” is irrelevant, it’s the message the brand is telling.)

Their message is also aimed at those who don’t have a beard, to say, “This is what you could have.  This is who you could be.  This is the life you could live if only you had a beard!”

Of course, any customer knows that having a beard isn’t a magic ticket to a wonderful life. The message is clearly tongue-in-cheek, but it still creates an identity that many men crave. Not only does it create a sense of aspiration, but it offers accessibility: “All this can be yours!” It could even be considered a call to arms: “If you don’t have a beard, grow one!”

What I find helpful in looking at The Beard Club vs. Harley-Davidson is that while the latter used its marketing dollars outside of pure advertising, the videos in which The Beard Club uses this strong sense of identity are primarily customer acquisition vehicles.  Sure, they help reinforce the brand message to existing customers.  But many of these videos are primarily used to bring on new customers.  And for those who lean more towards the performance marketing approach, crafting an experience using identity is no longer something vague but can be integrated with the same data-driven approach, but just done from a creative side to intentionally create an experience, even before someone has become a customer.

Who You Are, Who You Aren’t

It’s important to recognize that Harley-Davidson and The Beard Club have a well-defined target customer. They don’t try to be all things to all people. If the leaders of Harley-Davidson decided tomorrow to target a completely different demographic, they would need deliver their experience in a different way. That’s the key. The product would be essentially the same, but the experience around it would change in order to target a different type of customer.

That is perhaps an obvious but crucial aspect of tapping into identity.  And that is in being crystal clear of who your target (and existing) customer is, what they value, what you can offer them that is a clear point of differentiation, and that you can deliver on that message.

Some businesses try to create a sense of identity, but they fail to go deep enough. They don’t speak loudly enough about the identity of their brand because they don’t want to alienate other potential customers.  In the early stages, as a few different demographics are being tested, this approach might make sense.  But over time, not going deeper can mean a weaker connection with customers.  Yes, it means making a tradeoff and likely turning away a demographic, but brands that seemingly go all-in by speaking loudly to a specific target customer do better than by trying to speak to everyone.

And that is in part because that specific customer wants to be treated a certain way.  Unless there can be very clear segmentation within groups, trying to speak both to married women over 40 and single men in their 20s is very very difficult.  The language, imagery, tone, messaging, etc. should be different for those two groups.  So as much trying to straddle a couple worlds may feel like neither is alienated, it also means that neither get the sense that the brand truly understands them.

As you consider your own business, do you have a clear sense of who you are and who you aren’t? Are you clear on who your customer is, at least for 70% of the business?  That’s the group you should be directly all of your messaging to.  That is the group to see how you can connect with their sense of identity.  Whether in the form of reinforcing what they already feel or creating a sense of aspiration based on who they are or want to be.  And whether that shows up in strategic marketing efforts, in Facebook video ads, in the product or service you deliver, or anywhere in your business, being able to tap into someone’s sense of self can be one of the more powerful ways to build that customer’s experience.   One of the big wins we can have as marketers is for customers to tell stories about our brands.  And yet when that story is an outgrowth of their identity, it carries a much greater sense of impact and authenticity.