Creating focused expectations

I’ve been thinking about brand personalities lately, especially ones for b-to-b companies. It’s really the essence of branding, because personalities lead to expectations and expectations lead to preference (or, in the case of a negative expectation, lack of preference). We have the opportunity to build a focused expectation with every ad we place, every web page we design and every tradeshow display we erect.

Unfortunately, many b-to-b companies have yet to pick up on this.

With most b-to-b advertisers, creative responsibility is pushed as far down in the company as possible, although marketing and sales managers still enjoy dabbling in the process. It’s like an exciting hobby, except they get paid to do it. The result is that advertising for Division A rarely conveys the same look and feel as ads for Division B or C. Because of this, customers fail to receive a focused impression of the company’s image. And that’s a serious mistake.

Caterpillar’s “One Voice” program is a great example of how to overcome this problem. You won’t find any dainty Caterpillar ads because daintiness doesn’t fit the Caterpillar voice. You won’t find any funny ones either, nor will you see eye-popping computer effects.

It’s not that Caterpillar doesn’t have a sense of humor or that their graphic designers don’t like special computer effects, but that they make conscious decisions not to use these techniques because they feel building a consistent personality for their brand is more important. Each ad reminds customers and prospective customers what they can expect from Caterpillar: strong, reliable products backed by serious, competent people.

IBM used to stand for business machines – boxes with complex computer stuff inside. But just about the time that personal computers started looking pretty much alike to computer buyers, IBM changed its image to that of a company that could help us do more with our boxes — like hook them up in huge networks, integrate enterprise software solutions and mine data for better decision-making. Our expectations of IBM have changed as a result.

I’m old enough to remember drilling for oil with truck-mounted drilling rigs that were essentially designed for shallow-depth water wells. You can’t do that anymore. Now you go down more than a mile just to get to the ocean floor and you drill several more miles before you reach pay dirt, assuming your geophysical information is correct.

That’s why Schlumberger, a leader in seismic and geophysical data services based in Houston, makes each and every one of its ads in oil-industry publications convey a serious, technologically advanced image. Its body copy is full of high-tech phrases like “microresistivity imaging” and “deep-water cementing for zonal isolation.” Layouts are always similar with the Schlumberger logo in white on a reflex blue background (which gives magazine production managers the heebie-jeebies, I’m told).

Schlumberger’s customers risk hundreds of millions of dollars on these subsea projects and the asset managers they’re trying to reach are not likely to settle for second-best. So in their world, either you look like the one-and-only right choice, or you’re no choice at all.

Having a deadly serious brand personality isn’t always the way to go, of course. New Pig Corp. based in Tipton, PA has built a $100 million business in spill-containment products by taking just the opposite approach. When you call the toll-free number (800-HOT-HOGS) or get ready to select something from their “Pigalog” of more than 5,000 leak and spill control products, you’re probably already smiling. New Pig has happily built a loyal, predictable customer base that shares a messy, disgusting problem: industrial seepage. And they’re smiling all the way to the bank.

So you see there are many ways to skin this cat, and there’s not any one right way to do it. .

If you’re going to spend the time and money to develop a brand image program, make sure you consider the personality aspects of it. Because your brand personality tells people what they can expect from you, and if they expect something good, you’re on the way to making a sale.

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