In the past, a faceless corporation worked because big also meant being credible. This is no longer true. Gen-Y will not tolerate anything that talks down to them and embrace irony and humour with glee. They’re adept at all sorts of gizmos, are passionate about the environment and love to shop. “The age of the faceless corporation is over,” said Rohit Bhargava, a founding member of the 360 Digital Influence practice at Ogilvy Public Relations. He has served as lead strategist for many of Ogilvy’s largest accounts including Intel, Ford, Unilever and the launch of two new Virgin companies.Bhargava’s new book — Personality not Included —helps brands discover their personalities and define it. “Faceless companies never laugh. They have inane policies and laughable marketing proclamations, but are loath to poke fun at themselves. Companies that can do this automatically win credibility for being more authentic and real,” says Bhargava in his just-released book, which is flying off bookshelves in the US. The much-sought-after marketing speaker, who has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and BrandWeek, spoke with Uttara Choudhury in New York about why personality matters in the new customer universe.
How do you define a company’s personality?I define it with three core elements. The personality of an organisation is a combination of what is unique, authentic and talkable (UAT) about it. The UAT filter helps you identify a company’s personality by looking at these elements.
How can a company craft a backstory people care about?The backstory gives people a reason to believe in your brand. There is a company called Under Armour that makes sports apparel. Under Armour was created by a former American college athlete Kevin Plank who came up with a brand of moisture-repellant, skin-tight shirts that could be worn under football gear. Plank knew he was getting into the sports apparel market, which is dominated by giants Nike, Adidas and Reebok. He did what Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, did 30 years before him. Driving his Ford Explorer to college football games, Plank gave Under Armour shirt samples to college athletes, including his former teammates at the University of Maryland. This was how Phil Knight once sold sneakers to runners from the trunk of his car to start Nike. Plank understood that the best endorsement for his product was to get athletes to wear them and tell others about it. He pioneered these ultra-dry, tight-fitting shirts and kind of drove that market for sports apparel to the degree that it took Nike, Adidas and other competitors by surprise. Under Armour’s triumph comes not only from growing its business but also from its willingness to take on large competitors. The underlying message in Under Armour’s backstory is that this is a brand not afraid to fight. People like that.
You have an interesting section on karmic marketing, fallibility marketing, un-whatever marketing and anti-marketer marketing. Can you expand on these ideas?These are essentially new styles of marketing. One of the things that were very important to me as I wrote this book was that I didn’t want it just to be a theoretical book. I wanted it to be practical and you can think of these techniques as the building blocks of personality. For example, fallibility marketing idea is that when sometimes you make a mistake, it can actually be a good thing to promote your business. Real people make mistakes and have to own up to it, yet companies have traditionally done this poorly. The typical faceless corporation will refuse to apologise and offer small compensation. Fallibility marketing is about taking those moments when you make a mistake or something goes wrong and turning them into an opportunity to build an even stronger bond with your customer. The other thing to remember is that this will not work if you always make mistakes. Karmic marketing is this idea that you can do something good for your customers and at some point in the future that will come back to benefit your company. It is a very un-businesslike idea because businesses are so bottomline-focussed. Karmic marketing is not something you can assign a line item to saying this percentage of sales came from this. You have to trust that good will come from doing good.
This sounds like a very India-inspired cosmic principle…Yes, it is. It comes from the concept that what you do today will somehow come back and affect what happens to your tomorrow in an unpredictable way.
What is anti-marketer marketing?For every good marketing message, there are plenty of others that are amateur, blatantly overstating product benefits and presuming an audience of idiots. Anti-marketer marketing is the idea that you can make fun of this common feeling that a lot of people have of being manipulated by marketers. It is about positioning your company as something above or better than that. It also requires a sense of humour about the usual marketing that your customer may be used to. A recent Axe campaign video features Axe making fun of its own marketing in general. It is a little about poking fun at yourself — a big part of a person’s personality is humour and companies are no different.
Was it part of an anti-marketer marketing ploy to call your book Personality Not Included?Yes, you could describe it as that. What I wanted to do is have a title that was a little out of the ordinary; something that would make people wish to learn a little bit more. The title had some built-in intrigue. People want to find out why personality is not included. Then where is it? The other part is that it is a play on a very common disclaimer found on a lot of products — batteries not included. You can’t run the product without the batteries. So, that is what I am trying to say — you cannot have a truly successful business without the personality. Personality is really the idea that you can bring products and services to life through the people who are selling them as well as the people who are buying them who really believe in them. Personality is what can set one company apart from another one.
Does the CEO define the personality and project it? For instance, it is hard to tell where Richard Branson’s flamboyant personality ends and Virgin’s begin. When you think Virgin, the first image that comes into your head is Branson… You definitely do. There are several companies like that where the personality of the founder really defines the company, but the majority of companies are not in that situation. A majority of companies are in the situation where their personality is not composed of one individual but lots of individuals — those are the companies I am writing about. Do new businesses enjoy an advantage in creating exciting personalities for themselves? For instance, Google and Facebook are seen as young and vibrant, whereas Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft are seen as stodgy tech establishments…One of the things that I argue about in the book is that I don’t believe personality is just for young companies, and I don’t believe it is just for small companies.
6 months ago