- Lee Hartley Carter is the president of maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm. She has over 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications and manages a diverse range of language strategy work for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, trade associations, and nonprofits.
- The following is an excerpt from her book, “Persuasion: Convincing Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter.”
- In it, she talks about a vodka company she worked with that found itself getting pushed out of its market. It considered hopping on the “craft” and “small batch” trend, but found their audience to be resistant.
- Instead, telling the actual story of the brand resonated much more. Businesses shouldn’t try and blend in with trends — instead, they should utilize their own unique stories.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Have you ever walked away from a social setting thinking you couldn’t stand to be part of the conversation for another minute because the person you were speaking to seemed fake? How many times have you rolled your eyes at an advertisement for a skin cream that promised to be the fountain of youth? Walked away from a job interview saying, “I just can’t put my finger on it, but I don’t trust that person”? Closed a brochure about a new financial product thinking that there is just no way that it can perform at that pace with no downside?
We live in a society that strives for perfection but celebrates authenticity. And there’s a problem with that because these two concepts are frequently at odds with each other. Sometimes, however, acknowledging vulnerability in marketing can be the savviest strategy.
Right now we’re living in a world where people like small batch. Where people like craft. They want their food and drinks to be local, organic, and artisanal. These buzzwords are the opposite of innovative. People want to be as close to their food and the ingredients they put in their body as possible.
Which put a recent beverage client at an incredible disadvantage. Because they owned a vodka that was suddenly getting pushed out of its market share by Tito’s. Now, in their portfolio, that vodka had been their exclusive brand, so they were really flummoxed.
Their first step was to bring in a new branding executive with the assignment of rebranding it as a craft vodka. But she did not think that was a good idea because it wasn’t authentic. She came to us to do the market research on that approach and get our input on the direction she wanted to go in, repositioning the vodka in a way that genuinely was authentic.
So the first thing we tested was how people would feel if we used craft to describe that vodka. The response was clear — and negative. As we suspected, their target audience said that it didn’t seem true or authentic to the brand and they were very sensitive to people using craft inappropriately. They pretty much said that everyone was trying to ride the craft train, but you had to be craft in order to say it.
The other part of the picture is that cocktails were becoming more of an experience. You are using what you drink to actually make a statement about yourself. In some ways, it shows that you have a level of sophistication. Your brand of alcohol is telling your own story. Some people were embarrassed to drink vodka in general because brown spirits were more in. So what did that mean for our beverage company?
Well, let’s go back to what craft means and why people like craft. It’s partly because they think craft has a story behind it. It means quality and some level of authenticity. So how then — instead of trying to “be” craft — could this vodka bring out its heritage story? Make the longevity of the brand and the origin of the brand matter.
What we collaborated with her on was reminding consumers about why they ordered it in the first place. In certain parts of the world, having a consistent taste and flavor is as important as anything else. So what this vodka could stand out on was their process and their ingredients. They were one of the first high-end brands, and when we talked about the quality of their process, and the story of how they were the first premium vodka, people responded very positively.
The bottom line: Don’t try to blend in. What you need to do is be uniquely you by telling your story. If you’re a person who is in charge of making these decisions at your business, don’t try to match your brand to a trend that’s outside your lane. A few years ago, Coors launched a line of sparkling water when they saw that bottled water was becoming a trend and people were drinking less of their beer. But people don’t want sparkling water from Coors. Seeing Coors on the label made consumers feel less good about making the healthier choice. Don’t chase the water drinkers if you’re a beer company. Be the best beer brand you can be.
If the plan you’re proposing is going to cost more, don’t hope that no one notices; acknowledge it, then make a case for why it will save money in the long run. If you’ve never been on the PTA before, make a case for why bringing an outsider’s perspective will be advantageous. If your company isn’t sexy, say, “We’re not sexy, because you don’t want sexy, you want reliable.” Own the truth of who you are. Because when you acknowledge a truth your client can plainly see, you are instantly engaging in a dialogue with them. You’re saying, “I validate and respect your perspective of me. Now let’s talk.”
Reprinted from “Persuasion: Convincing Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter” by arrangement with TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019, Lee Hartley Carter.