September 22nd, 2015
Can you say orange peels or what? I talk about brand persona all the time (as you are aware). I tend to ask, “dusty, fresh, or bloody?” Loved this article in Sunday’s Dallas Morning News, reprinted here for easy access, and commentary of course!
We frequently talk about buying being an emotional decision (unless talking commodities, then it’s all about price, and only price). People buy from people they like, how or why they like you is a sum that is much greater than any of the individual parts. Your branding, messaging, people, how they present themselves, the culture you create and, if done well, permeates your brand are all large components of this sum.
Read below for a different perspective on many of the orange peels we have taken up here, or in the classes I teach, or the clients with whom I have walked this pathway to success!!!
CHICAGO — Shortly after Jenny Niemann launched her office furniture dealership last year, a branding consultant asked her a question that put her back on her heels.
Is the brand male or female?
“That one really caught me by surprise,” said Niemann, CEO of Chicago-based Forward Space, a dealer for office furniture maker Steelcase.
Do cubicle walls and swivel chairs have a gender? What does that even mean?
It doesn’t mean what people might first assume: that if it’s a woman-owned company, which Forward Space is, or it caters to women, which it does not, then it must be a female brand.
Rather, branding consultant Bradley Peacock from Chicago-based Peacock Nine was helping Niemann craft the brand’s personality based on the feelings she wanted the brand to evoke in her customers. And in the process, her company underwent something of a sex change.
Declaring brands male or female can seem like a throwback to a Mad Men era. But gender can be a powerful part of shaping a brand’s story, and some in the field say shifting social norms are enabling traditionally masculine brands to embrace feminine characteristics, or mix the two, as they fight for shoppers’ attention.
“It’s interesting for brands to consider a gender reassignment,” said John Manley, senior vice president and group strategy director at ad agency DDB.
Not everyone sees it that way. Leo Burnett chief strategy officer Mick McCabe said gender rarely comes up in conversations about brands, especially those with mass audiences, like Coca-Cola, Samsung or McDonald’s.
But for Niemann, the male/female question inspired a moment of reflection.
Niemann formed her company after acquiring and merging two Chicago-area Steelcase dealers that were male-run and felt “a little more masculine,” she said, in part because of the hard-edged associations people have when they hear “steel.”
But Niemann wanted her company to be known for helping employers think strategically about their workspaces — more of a creative, counseling role.
“Jenny understood that people are buying furniture to help change culture,” Peacock said. “One of the keys to building culture is having empathy, listening first rather than solutions first, and that is generally more female.”
And so Forward Space embraced its feminine side, which informed a series of decisions, including its logo design (softer edges) and thematic color (purple). Its purple showroom sends the message that “we can help our customers to create innovative work environments that inspire people to excel wherever and however they work,” said Niemann.
Conflating empathy with femininity — and purple — may ring of stereotype. But brand genders are not about being pink or blue or skirt or pants, Peacock said. Rather they are archetypes — in the case of Forward Space, the caregiver/creator — that evoke an emotional response and help companies and their consumers understand where they fit in the broader story of their lives.
“If you don’t understand what your unique meaning is, then you can spend millions of dollars on advertising and it just won’t resonate,” Peacock said.
The importance of a brand’s gender depends on the category. Krissy Vanderwarker, art director and strategist at Chicago branding consultancy Seedhouse, which specializes in consumer packaged goods, said clients increasingly want their brands to be gender-neutral.
“Now a lot of people are doing the shopping because traditional gender roles are breaking down, so there is less of a target to moms,” she said.
But shoppers seem to find comfort in easily recognizable gender cues. In a study of 140 brands, European researchers found that higher levels of perceived masculinity or femininity in a brand are associated with higher levels of brand equity, which translates to greater brand loyalty and ability to command a price premium, according a report last year in the journal Psychology and Marketing.
For example, highly feminine brands like Dove, Nivea and Chanel and highly masculine brands like Adidas, Audi and Mercedes scored better in brand equity among the 3,000-plus German consumers polled than brands that shift between genders (like Peugeot and H&M) or gender-neutral ones.
When a brand’s gender identity is not obvious, Peacock’s company surveys current and potential customers and asks what they want from the brand. If they seek empathy and patient counsel, it might send them into a more female space, whereas if they are driven more by price and efficiency, it might send them in a masculine direction.
“All of the great service companies are more female than male,” Peacock said, such as Zappos, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Johnson & Johnson.
The strategy does not come without risk. Several gendered branding attempts have “failed miserably,” said Linda Tuncay Zayer, associate professor of marketing at Loyola University’s Quinlan School of Business.
The 2012 launch of Bic for Her, “sleek” pens in pastel colors, was met with ridicule. And Under Armour has disavowed the “shrink it and pink it” strategy of a decade ago that assumed athletic brands could attract women by making products smaller and pinker.
“In today’s society, gender roles are increasingly fluid, so businesses and brands should not fall into old stereotypes,” Tuncay Zayer said.
A brand can be patient and caring without necessarily being female, she said, and labeling it as such is not a useful distinction. Better for marketers to define the brand personality as a whole rather than risk shilling to men or women and putting people off, she said.
Despite social strides toward gender equality, the prevailing theory in marketing has been that it’s easier to sell a masculine brand to men and women than a feminine brand to either sex, Manley said. With men making up the vast majority of the nation’s chief marketing officers, that approach still dominates, he said.
But there are signs of a shift. Manley points to McDonald’s Archenemies ad campaign, which launched earlier this year, in which historic antagonists — Batman and the Joker, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote — expressed affection for each other, sometimes by sharing a burger or offering a fry.
“That’s an interesting one that feels like it has more of a feminine sensibility,” Manley said. “Working out differences instead of just fighting over them.”
Anyone who teared up watching Dove’s Men + Care commercials during the Super Bowl, in which fathers were seen lovingly comforting their children, witnessed a strong female brand using a feminine characteristic — sensitivity — to appeal to a male audience, he said.
Younger generations are driving some of the rethinking. Manley described a focus group his firm did with young men last year as it was developing creative concepts for Miller Lite. One of the ideas presented was about “being with your bros, homeboys.” The young men said it felt like pandering.
“The interesting quote was, ‘Some of my bros are women,’” Manley recalled.
Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune