Branding — Put Yourself in Your Customer or Client’s Shoes

customer walking on beach while pondering brand choice

Putting yourself in the shoes of the customer/client/consumer is, of course, very important. Let’s call it “Branding Empathy”.

It’s far easier to talk about than do well. Some powerful brands have either made wholesale missteps or have had to course correct their branding message along the way.

On the corporate front, remember the early stages of Honda’s “Helpful” campaign? Their endlessly patient and well-intentioned employees were abused (sometimes physically), ridiculed and otherwise treated horribly in a variety of half-real seeming scenarios. Stung by bees. Knocked off ladders . . . and worse. Somewhere along the line, Honda must have realized that a) Sending the message that good acts are almost invariably met with punishment is probably not what most people want to hear and b) Portraying potential customers as sadistic, self-serving and cruel made for a fairly cynical world view.

Flash forward to present, and the Honda Helpful Acts of Kindness has obviously proven to be rousing success. So much so, that if you Google “Honda”, the related term “Honda Helpful” comes up next in the suggestion box. Really. Try it. Turns out that their customers would rather do business with a company that cares than one who will merely withstand abuse of various kinds.

Associating your brand as a solution to customer pain points is a time-honored approach and it REALLY does work, but the flip side appears true as well. Associating your brand, intentionally or not, AS something your clients or customers perceive to be a pain itself, can be injurious.

Remember Walter Palmer — the dentist who paid big money to go game hunting and ultimately killed Cecil, a well-known lion? Regardless of your feelings on trophy hunting, there can be no doubt that the association definitely cost him — probably not so much because his client base held radically different views on the issue, but because trophy hunting likely didn’t present the kind of paternal, caring image that potential and existing clients are looking for from a health care practitioner.

While creating an effective and appropriate branding proposition is a great foundation, it’s not a panacea in and of itself. Building, and then sustaining a business that actually FUNCTIONS as its message suggests is an essential part of the equation as well.

Ever had a look at the Yelp reviews for Mike Diamond Plumbing? At least here in Los Angeles, they are at 1.5 stars out of 5. After having spent a lot of time and a TON of money branding themselves as the “smell good plumbers” who are also upfront with their pricing — two solutions to pain points almost invariably associated with their industry, it appears that the majority of the 365 Yelp reviewers here in L.A. feel that they aren’t delivering on the message. Many of the reviews even cite specific failures in these areas that Mike Diamond’s ads noted to be their strengths. A problem in the long term, for sure.

Branding yourself in a way that makes customers or clients want to work with you is vitally important. Branding yourself this way and then DELIVERING on it is essential.

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