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Don't let your brand be 'That Guy'

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A few years back, I worked with this guy who had a very healthy ego. For the purposes of this blog, let’s call him Bob. Well, Bob would just go on and on about how great he was. He had an MBA from a top business school. He had great work experience. He had worked internationally. He wore custom-made suits. He chatted with the CEO daily. He had a hot wife. And on and on and on.

Does this guy sound familiar? I think every office has a Bob. Or as I call him, “That Guy.” You know about him—the one who is offensively arrogant, and at the same time lacks all self-awareness of how others perceive him.

I actually didn’t think Bob was a bad guy. He was pretty smart if you could get past his constant chest beating. And he was good at his job. But, everyone hated Bob. Why? Because he was just too full of himself.

So, you’re probably thinking, How does this relate to marketing? Well, brands are just like people. It’s very important to pay attention to your “brand personality.” Who is your brand? What is he or she like? Would you want to sit next to your brand on a six-hour flight? These are interesting questions for a marketer to ask.

This was exactly what we grappled with at AutoTrader.com several years ago. Our company had gone from a small dot-com to an industry leader in just nine years. We were very proud of our achievements and we weren’t bashful about promoting our success.

Our b-to-b advertising campaign at the time reflected this celebration of success. We weren’t at all modest when it came to telling our customers how great we were. Our tagline at the time was, “What we do works." All of our advertising featured big claims about how good we were.

A wake-up call came when we showed some of our ads to our customers in a focus group. The moderator asked the group, “What’s the first thing that you think when you see these ads?”
 “Arrogant!” said one customer.

 “It’s all about you. But what about your customers?” said yet another.

As I sat behind the double glass watching this unfold, I thought back to Bob. Oh my gosh, I thought, our brand is “That Guy.”

That was a sobering realization. But, once we accepted reality, we sought to change it.

The first step was to make sure our customers understood the most important thing: We are only successful if they are successful.

We had to take a more humble approach to our marketing. So, instead of talking about ourselves in our trade advertising, we talked about our customers and demonstrated how our partnership produces positive results for their business.

We also changed our advertising tagline from “What we do works" to “We work for you." A small change in words but a big change in meaning.

So, what happened? Well, our ads started to resonate more with our audience. In fact, our ads consistently rank in the top five when we do print ad testing. And, I don’t say that to brag. Well, maybe just a little bit. Old habits die hard.

Now when we do focus groups, our customers don’t look at our ads with that I-just-drank-sour-milk look on their face. Instead, they respond positively. When the focus group moderator asked for their first impression of our new and more humble ads, a dealer responded, “Partnership.”

Now, that’s what we’re looking for!

Brands are like people. They have distinct personalities. Ask yourself as a marketer, What’s your brand’s personality? Is that personality going to win over your customers or turn them off?

Take it from me, people want to work with people they like. And people want to buy brands they like.

So, is your brand likeable? Or is your brand “That Guy?”

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