Posted by: kwbrand | July 18, 2007

Hocus Focus

A woman I’ve known since childhood recently founded her own magazine called Get Born. She started it because she needed a forum in which to honestly discuss her experience of grappling with the daily issues of motherhood as it relates to one’s own child(ren), other mothers and societal expectations. She needed a place where it was safe to be uncompromisingly honest about the experience of motherhood. She needed a literary vehicle that would allow her to wax philosophical, emotional, or spiritual and swear when necessary. She wanted to provide a forum for other women with the same needs. Get Born’s tagline is “The uncensored voice of motherhood.”

 And recently, Get Born experienced one of those pivotal branding moments that makes or breaks a new business.

 In the course of talking to a woman my friend had met at a networking event, the woman shared that she was an independent consultant for one of those multi-level marketing companies that encourages its employees to achieve success by talking to anyone who will listen, hosting house “parties” and recruiting other people to work as consultants themselves. As this particular woman chatted up my friend, she asked for information about the rates for advertising in Get Born; she said she might like to advertise, which normally would have been great news. Get Born, like many magazines, survives on revenue collected from advertisers.

 The only problem was that the very next issue of Get Born was due to feature an essay in which the contributing author described her experience of meeting a fellow mother at a mall play-area and her uncomfortable realization that the woman’s interest in her was primarily motivated by an interest in selling product and recruiting another salesperson to work underneath her.

 The mall sales-pitch situation is an experience that most suburban mothers have had. I get invited to a couple “parties” (makeup, kitchen product, candle, children’s books, jewelry…fill in the blank) a year. My friend decided to publish the essay because it spoke to the problem of mothers feeling isolated and the frustration they experience when they try to reach out to women around them. As it turned out, the multi-level company that the woman at the mall was representing was the same as that of the networking associate requesting the ad rates. My friend wisely told her new contact about the upcoming article and suggested that she read it before placing her ad. The following morning she received a call from the woman who informed her that she wouldn’t be placing an ad and neither would she have anything further to do with Get Born.

 Losing a potential customer was difficult for my friend not only because at its young stage of development, one might argue that Get Born can use all the customers it can get, but also because, throughout childhood, my friend was conditioned to be nice, to avoid offending others. Many of us have had this conditioning. Therefore, when, as brand managers we’re in the position of laying and defending a clear brand boundary, we equivocate. We don’t want to say “no,” or describe ourselves in any but the broadest terms. We worry that there aren’t enough customers and strive to attract any warm body we can get. We try to be all things to all people and try to offer products and services that go beyond our true strengths or passions. We complain about servicing the difficult customers who sap most of our time and creative energy when the truth is that our goals and their needs were probably never a good fit. We tear our hair out at the resource drain caused by employees who had the right technical skills but whose values are tied into those underlying the brand.

 My friend could have pulled the offending article; that issue of Get Born had not yet gone to print. She could have replaced the multi-level critique piece with a happy feature on how to make summer crafts with kids. Doing so would have kept the woman’s business and her approval. However, doing so would have compromised Get Born’s mission, diluting it to the point of ambiguous neutrality.

 Losing a potential customer is not a pleasant experience and should certainly never be the goal. However, maintaining brand focus should require the articulation and defense of clear brand boundaries—setting clear parameters and using situations that come up as a chance to clarify and reinforce them. People who don’t like where the boundary lines are drawn may not come back, but in the meantime, there will be other people who hear about the focus of the experience will feel greater assurance that once inside, they will find what they’re looking for.

 Brand management is investment. Losing the wrong potential customer is difficult at the time, but if it helps you win the right customers down the road, the payoff will be worth it, for you and for them.

Kyndra Wilson KW Brand Translation


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