Need high awareness fast? Get personality

If you want your customer to 'be a fool for you,' you've got to have 'per-son-al-ity.' Don't laugh. As a key to accelerating brand recognition, some marketing professionals say this paraphrased lyric from a popular 1959 ditty can be as good...

If you want your customer to ‘be a fool for you,’ you’ve got to have ‘per-son-al-ity.’ Don’t laugh. As a key to accelerating brand recognition, some marketing professionals say this paraphrased lyric from a popular 1959 ditty can be as good a technique as any concocted by today’s sophisticates.

‘Get the right ambassador for your brand and, just like adding sulphites to wine, it can hasten the fermentation,’ says M. Victoria Foley, president of Toronto’s Belladonna Communications.

‘It’s straight out of Psychology 101. If A [the consumer] likes B [the personality] and B likes C [the product], then the likelihood of A liking C is enhanced.’

So what kind of ambassadorial personalities are jet-propelling their brands?

They don’t get much more appealing than the cuddly pooches that are helping Fido chase top-dog status in the wireless telco litter. Or the obliging cows whose instantly identifiable black-and-white holstein hides are herding consumers into Gateway Country computer stores. Or the noble beaver who helped Roots create what Roots Air public relations manager Brock Stewart calls ‘a Canadian icon right up there with Mounties and maple syrup.’

Before that, of course, there were the star athletes who quickly catapulted Nike to worldwide recognition among jock wannabes. And the white-mustached celebrities who rapidly conferred adult status on milk drinking.

But permeating a brand with cut-through-the-clutter personality shouldn’t be limited to putting animal, human or inanimate ambassadors up front, says communications director Brad Williams from Gateway’s San Diego headquarters.

‘Yes, our cow pattern is meant to signify a brand that’s warm and welcoming in an industry that can sometimes be very cold and technology driven. But we put just as much emphasis on bringing that attitude to the in-store customer experience.’ This stance is spotlighted in Gateway’s new U.S. television campaign, which features actual employees recounting ‘stories about the lengths they go to to serve customers.’

Peter Drummond, vice-president and general manager at Cossette-owned Graphème’s Toronto office, agrees with Gateway’s approach. ‘To a great extent, the key to building brand recognition, whatever your timeframe, is forging relationships with consumers. So your executions may vary but, whether you’re selling hamburgers for McDonald’s or touting the Toronto Olympic bid, you use a lot of the same principles.

‘What somebody like Fido is really doing right is not just stressing personality in its marketing and communications, but also bringing some of the life of the brand into the customer interface,’ Drummond explains. ‘So when you call in for messages or dial wrongly, for example, you hear a much more humane voice [than the competition's] and it actually cracks jokes.’

That friendly, loyalty-building impression is no accident, says Sean Dalton, vice-president of marketing for Fido’s owner, Montreal-headquartered Microcell Solutions, which zoomed from zero Fido customers when it launched in late 1996 to enjoying the highest customer growth rate domestically in 2000, according to Canadian Corporate News.

‘We knew we were getting into a category that can seem technologically daunting,’ says Dalton. ‘So we deliberately picked a name and a personality that communicates simplicity, warmth and honesty and also makes the technology part of it non-intimidating.’

Yet, the exact opposite approach – wowing customers with a high-tech challenge – can also be an attention-grabber and thus a powerful brand differentiator, says Ryan Mugford, marketing lead and ‘games guru’ for Microsoft’s Xbox Canada.

Well before Xbox game consoles debut this fall at stores in Canada, Japan and the U.S., the ‘serious gamers’ who are its target, Mugford says, will be inundated with the core message that, ‘This is way beyond three times better than anything else in existence because it will be limited only by their own creativity.’

Why did Microsoft decide on this in-your-face strategy, which it expects will help it muscle in on Sony PlayStation 2′s share of the US$20 billion worldwide video game market?

Mugford says the company came up with it after doing in-depth tripartite market research. Naturally, Microsoft’s team studied game aficionados to find out what had disappointed them in the past and what their wildest dreams were for the future. But they also consulted leading game developers to find out what technological restraints were clipping their most imaginative wings. They picked the brains of game retailers ‘because they have that ongoing contact with serious gamers.’ Then the development team got busy addressing all these factors.

As for marketing Xbox to the techies, Mugford says the plan is essentially to ‘get ‘em where they live…with a surround-sound approach across the multitude of communications platforms they regularly access.’

Sounds convincing. But turn another 180 degrees in the personality sphere and you arrive at its antithesis. It’s the homespun, hometown strategy with which Krispy Kreme Doughnuts expects to quickly capture Canadians beginning next spring, when the North Carolina-headquartered company opens its first north-of-the-border stores, says marketing vice-president Judi Richardson.

In an era geared to technological marvels, Krispy Kreme has bet – and won – down South on the gamble that people will get hooked on watching dough fry in what it calls its ‘doughnut-making theatres.’

The company’s showbiz savvy has also paid off with product placements in top TV series including NYPD Blue, ER, Just Shoot Me and Will & Grace.

Result? Millions of snackers have watched influential actors munch Krispy Kreme’s stock in trade.

Another way to leapfrog to the front of the queue is by having an intriguing, instantly memorable name. And if it begs the question of just what’s being sold, so much the better, say a number of marketing professionals.

The enigma technique worked for Kinko’s, Ikea, OshKosh B’gosh, Yahoo!,, Starbucks, Sympatico, Fubu, BlackBerry, Fido and many others, they say, because it prods consumers – and if you’re lucky, the news media – to think about, ask about and talk about the mysterious new brand.

Among newcomers currently banking on this strategy are wireless enabler Bluetooth and Procter & Gamble’s Swiffer dust cloths. ‘Swiffer,’ says P&G spokesman Win Sakdinan, is meant to ‘symbolize the action of the product and evoke the speed with which floors and hard surfaces can be cleaned.’

He also says he won’t be surprised if Swiffer hits the ultimate home run in the name game by landing in the popular lexicon as a generic and even a verb, just as Xerox and Ski-Doo did. ‘My wife is already talking about ‘swiffing’ the kitchen floor.’

Dalton says Microcell is entertaining the same high hope. ‘We want to turn Fido into the Kleenex of the wireless industry.’ Hence the tagline in the company’s current ads: ‘Call me on my Fido.’

If Fido does become a generic term, it will replicate a feat of the 1940s when, thanks to starring in a movie about Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone, actor Don Ameche’s surname briefly became a synonym for telephone – as in ‘I’ll get you on the Ameche.’

But deliberately choosing a puzzling name can also backfire, according to a couple of marketing professionals who chose not to be identified in connection with the following case in point.

Potshots have been aimed at Accenture ever since Anderson Consulting adopted the new moniker last New Year’s Eve. New York-based Y&R Advertising’s Super Bowl commercials took the worst hits. In return for a tab of US$8 million, Accenture garnered a range of putdowns, including that of Advertising Age’s editor-at-large Bob Garfield, who termed the identity campaign a ‘very expensive exercise in vanity and cluelessness,’ and one from USA Today, which ranked the spots as among the least popular in its annual Super Bowl ad poll.

You have to hand it to Accenture for getting its name out there quickly, but maybe the problem was that they tried to do it too quickly.

While any new brand is racing against the clock, ‘too much speed can be a mistake,’ says Belladonna’s Foley. ‘Like anything else in life, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. You only get one chance to introduce a brand for the first time.’