Friday, July 24, 2009

Eye of the Beholder

As promised a few weeks back, a post on the concept of viewing obstacles as assets…

The beautifully frustrating thing about branding is that it deals heavily in human idiosyncrasies. Given the same information, two people can form opposing opinions regarding a product or service (or religion, or politics, or just about anything). Some business people would prefer a more orderly world, but it’s the vagaries of the human mind that ultimately create opportunity.

All companies have strengths and weaknesses that influence the number and type of consumers they can attract. Sometimes, the potential audience is too small to support a company’s desired growth. If the obstacle is of a company’s own making (e.g. product design or functionality), then one solution would be to identify a different, larger or more profitable target audience, determine what beliefs and motivations drive their purchase decisions and then acquire the competencies to design, produce and market a product that will appeal to them. When the obstacle is more inherent, as it is when branding states (e.g. North Dakota), the challenge is slightly different.

A state like North Dakota has two inherent obstacles. First, North Dakota is sparsely populated and has few widely known attractions, so the state gets overlooked. Second, North Dakota’s climate is among the coldest in the union. Fortunately for North Dakota, and all brands, not every consumer wants the same things. For example, not all vacationers want the benign, contrived experience one might expect in Florida (note: repositioning the competition—another future blog topic). For more self-directed and adventurous vacationers, cold and sparsely populated can be positioned as rugged and untamed. While not appealing to every vacationer, for those seeking a more authentic, less commercialized experience, North Dakota might fit the bill perfectly.

Truly differentiated products and services are polarizing. In order for some consumers to fall in love with a product or service, it usually follows that others will hate it. The negative response is both the cost and validation of having created something meaningful. As the saying goes, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Sometimes the things that detractors point to…are the very things that make your offering special. It’s just that you are listening to the wrong people.