Imperfection and the Human Brand

by | Jun 6, 2005 | Marketing

Compelling stock photos, catchy slogans, and memorable marketing copy have just a fraction of the branding power of a single human being.

Think of all the great ad campaigns you’ve seen in your lifetime.

Now think of all the great people you’ve known. Family. Friends. Teachers. Classmates. Coworkers. Clients. Within moments, you can bring up vivid memories of hundreds, probably thousands of people you’ve met over the years. You can see their face. You can hear their voice. You can remember conversations you’ve shared.

Why then, do so many companies invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in figuring out how to promote themselves with traditional media, and then hire mediocre people to be the face and voice of their company?

John Windsor, author of Beyond the Brandrelates an experience that left a last impression on him:

When I asked Chipper how to get there, Chipper started off by saying, “You’ve got it bro,” and then gave me detailed, simple instructions on how to get there. When I told Chipper thanks, he said “Believe it!” It was magical.

Soon after we talked, I realized I was going to be early so I called back looking for a friend to borrow a surfboard and get some exercise before my meeting. I called Chipper back and he paged my friend. Unfortunately, my buddy was in a meeting. When Chipper asked what I needed, I told him I wanted to borrow a surfboard. Chipper said, “No worries, come see me and I’ll have a board ready for ya, bro!”

When I arrived, there was Chipper, stoked to see me with a board ready to ride.

Who is this mysterious “Chipper” guy? He’s the receptionist for Patagonia, an outdoor apparel and gear company.

If you saw a tremendously expensive ad for Patagonia products in a glossy outdoor sports magazine, you probably wouldn’t remember it for more than a few seconds. John Winsor, however, will probably remember Chipper for the rest of his life, as well as the positive mental associations he brought to the Patagonia brand.

Many years ago, I did most of my banking through a small supermarket branch of Wells Fargo. I usually went after work, when the branch manager wasn’t there. The late-shift tellers were young and notoriously silly. They laughed, exchanged jokes with customers, and had a great time doing their job. I loved going there.

I remember walking in one afternoon and finding them more somber than usual. I asked one of them what was up, and she indicated that they had been “caught” by the branch manager, who had arranged a secret shopper to observe their behavior after he left.

Now my favorite banking experience was reduced to boring sterility. They went back to calling me “Mr. Archer.” Banking was returned to its previous status of being a necessary chore, rather than a pleasant experience.

From a business perspective, that branch manager probably congratulated himself on making his tellers more efficient and professional. He optimized their performance by removing the minutes they spent chatting with each customer.

He also lost at least one customer, as I no longer had any particular attachment to Wells Fargo (and the wonderful human brand those tellers had created), and I eventually switched to Bank of America.

As social animals, our brains are hardwired to understand and appreciate the people around us. We respond to them on a profound level that can’t be approached by mailers, television commercials, or viral ad campaigns.

Who is the voice of your business? Are they imperfect? Are they memorable? Are they lovable?

Or are they merely professional?

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