Are you hiding your business personality under a paper bag?

Are you hiding your business personality under a paper bag?

Two emails, from opposite sides of the planet, got me thinking this morning; what is it about personality that makes so many business owners do everything in their power to hide it from their customers and potential markets? It seems to me that most salon & spa owners bend over backwards to use their ‘professional’ image as a shield, deliberately protecting their own life stories from the people who give them money. Or want to give them money.

One email came from a WSM Member and owner of a large and very up-market spa in the Middle East. My team and I had been working with this very talented and driven businesswoman on an extensive re-design of her online and offline marketing. At my request, she’d sent me absorbing details of her up-bringing in Russia, her childhood love of all things fashion, beauty and glamour, her move to Dubai as a young single mother knowing no English or Arabic, and the fascinating story of how she finally shunned the party life and established her now-successful spa in the heart of the city.

get more salon clientsI wrote her a new biography based on these ‘personal’ details, complete with pictures of her with famous people such as Ariana Huffington of the Huffington Post, and Italian fashion guru Roberto Cavalli, for use in all kinds of media, online and offline. She wrote back,

“Can we skip all that personal stuff and keep it only professional?”

There followed a long, detailed and incredibly bland ‘shopping list’ of her achievements and business milestones. I wrote back:

“I disagree. It’s precisely that lack of ‘personality’ in most company executive profiles that makes them all so ‘beige’ and dreary. People in business are generally so afraid of exposing any sign of having a real personality or personal history, hiding it behind a purely ‘professional’ front, that they all tend to blend seamlessly together in a blur of sameness. Do you really think Sir Richard Branson would be where he is now, do you really think Steve Jobs (Apple) would have been able to create such a huge company, if it weren’t for their willingness to put their private lives out there, to allow people to see who they were as humans (and very flawed humans at that), not just ‘professional’ business operators?”
branson jobsThe success of Apple, and of Virgin, and of thousands of other business household names, wasn’t because they merely created great products or services, or had excellent ideas. It was people bought the story of their creators.
The problem – and the obvious solution – is this: people want to do business with people, not merely faceless, professional, one-dimensional entities. The more you cover that up, hide it behind mere ‘branding’, the more difficult it becomes to differentiate your products and services from a thousand other ‘me-too’ competitors.

The second email was a request for my comment on the ‘re-branding’ strategy of a nationally-franchised spa chain. I’ll preface this by saying that the entrepreneur behind this chain is obviously driven, talented, progressive and the owner of a very sharp business brain. But my opinion was sought purely on the re-branding exercise he’d just spend a not-insubstantial amount of money on. So I replied:

Well, on the face of it, re-branding a business is all terribly important for the owners of that business. Years ago, the Commonwealth Bank paid a consultant more than $1million to design a new logo, of which the bank was extremely proud, but I doubt any of the bank’s customers gave much of a toss about it. They care about what interest rate they’re paying on their mortgages, and the service they get from the people at their local branch or at the call centre.

As always, people put self-interest first, and there’s daylight between that and anything a company does or says about itself.

Which is why I’ve never paid the slightest attention to our own brand imagery. A graphic designer threw our logo together in half an hour years ago, and I’ve never bothered to change it, because I don’t think any of our Members pay any attention to it. The fact that our systems and processes help them make more money is really our brand.

From a pure branding point of view, it’s probably more important to your franchisees and prospective franchisees, because (presumably) it makes them feel they’re part of a more polished organisation.

But in the overall scheme of things, no, I don’t believe spending large amounts of money on pure branding exercises can ever be measured in terms of Return on Investment. I’ve always taught people to spend money on the things that measurably bring customers through the door, which is direct response marketing (online or offline), lead generation, upselling and cross-selling, and branding should always be a by-product of that process. Unless of course you’re a big publicly-listed company and have lots of shareholders money to spend.

Now, it would be mere dogma to claim that ‘branding’ has no place or value in small to medium businesses. But in isolation, absent any measurable, complementary and supporting systems and process for getting customers through the door…and absent the essential ingredient of personality…branding alone cannot do all the heavy lifting.
The entrepreneur came back with a very well-argued case for ‘brand-awareness’, particularly for the benefit of franchisees and employees, and ended with “Let’s revisit this conversation in 6 months and see what the results are:-)”
Yes, let’s do that. But whatever the results, it’ll be damn-near impossible to look at any figures – positive or negative – six months from now, and say with absolute certainty that ‘re-branding did that’.