Smarten Up, Marketers. Itís a Personality Contest Out There!
By: Michael Mark

I have a friend whoís a real rascal. He wangles his way into places he doesnít belong better than an A-list celeb thronged by his thick-muscled posse. He slips out of trouble like a greased David Blaine. This guyís smart but heís no Mensa grad. Heís not that good-looking, and heís not well-connected. The tools of his trade? His genuineness and natural charm. Heís likeable. Watching him work is remarkable. Itís not so much what he says Ė itís all about how he says it. And donít think heís some butt-smoocher. Iíve seen him tell people to take a long walk off a short pier, and they look forward to the trip!

My friend is a poster boy for reminding us, as we craft strategies and executions for our advertising campaigns, that brand character can be even more persuasive than the actual selling message. Itís hard to be emotionally committed to an attribute. Features donít beget followers.

A great deal of strategic development time is focused on getting the message right: delivering the single-minded relevant point to the target. We task it with being original, unique. Ownable. I was schooled that this was by far the most critical element in strategic positioning because it was where the big idea dwelled. Well, according to Jack Troutís latest missive in ďForbes,Ē there are no new ideas anymore. We are blowing time -- and our clientsí money -- with the over-reliance on the rationale. (

At my advertising agency, NYCA (, we grow our clientsí businesses with inspired ideas. We know itís important to concentrate on the brainy quotient, sure, but weíve learned to heavy-up on the tone, the manner, the body. Thatís where brand personality comes strolling in, dressed for success, making the everlasting first impression before he ever speaks an SAT word.

We can learn from a master teacher: Apple. You wouldnít know it from their raving user base but these are machines, for cripes sake. Plastic, wires, glass and tiny pieces soldered together to help create pictures and words, remember them, and connect. But I know MAC users who would rather go graphic-less in public than fraternize with a PC. They would revolt, feeling like they are betraying their friend. The machine seems to understand them, empower them Ė but this is lunatic devotion. A MAC has no feelings (yet!) so why does it stir them up? And, techies, please donít blog/flog me with, ďItís the operating system.Ē Thatís just a microportion of the emotional equation. To see it another way: Iíd venture that PC people could more easily Ė emotionally speaking - move to Mac than the other way around. They arenít as devoted to IBM and the like as MAC users are to Apple. IBM just doesnít have the magnetic personality of Apple.

The Apple personality was brilliantly reverse-designed. They may have built the machine first but they sold the personality first. So the initial contact is the embrace of the upbeat, creative, change-the-world brand character before you ever boot up. Itís in the logo. And at every touch point, the personality is true. We feel the easiness in their open, friendly, clean-lined stores, enjoy the good-natured yet competitive TV ads, groove with (not just listen to) their iPod communications, hug their black-jeaned, bespectacled wonderboy leader. Personality perfectly designed.

Barbara Coulon, vice president of trends for market researcher Youth Intelligence, says that surveys show, "Apple has a clear brand personality. People feel like they are part of a tribe. There are a lot of people who are passionate about it. It's sort of a cult brand. Apple is a way of life." (

So study up and invent a brand message thatís university smart. But invest some creative muscle in developing the brandís personality so itís genuinely persuasive.

Great brands have defined personalities within their categories but theyíre not exclusive to their sector, so you can easily borrow inspiration. Here are two examples of one personality statement: Down-to-earth, family-oriented, genuine, and sincere. Now, who would that be - Coke or Pepsi? Easy. But pour a glass of each and stand an inch from them - you couldnít tell the difference. Brown sugar water is brown sugar water.

Take the same words for a car: Volvo or BMW? Again, no doubt. Because their brand personalities distinguish them as much as their safety or handling claims. Better.

A well-developed personality has the power to engage from afar, stir deep feelings, and make it all up-close and personal. And thatís the flashpoint where interest moves into buying, and buying into loyalty.

You know, maybe my rascal friend is a genius after all.

About The Author

Michael Mark is Creative Director/CEO of NYCA, a full-service marketing agency that grows businesses with inspired ideas. NYCA has grown business for clients like TaylorMade Golf, San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, Rossa Putters, Maxfli Golf, ViewSonic Corp., The San Diego Union-Tribune,, The EastLake Company, Kyocera Wireless, DIRECTV, Penta Water, National City Mile of Cars, AutoAnything, First Dental Health, TaylorMade Performance Labs, and others. To find out how NYCA can grow your business, log on to

This article was posted on October 09, 2006
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