Personal Branding, Personal Connection

All branding that works is personal, because it makes some sort of personal connection.

Sometimes personal is manufactured. Betty Crocker was a creation that represented a corporate brand.

Sometimes, “personal” seems to spontaneously ooze from the people behind the brand. Joe and Mark, the two enterprising yard care teens who used to take care of my lawn are their own spontaneous brand.

Spontaneous Branding

Joe and Mark had a little time, access to a lawn mower, and the good fortune to live in a neighborhood where some of the population preferred to pay someone else to do the yard care. It also helped that the sidewalks were paved and level, as they didn’t have a car.

Joe and Mark were their own brand, spontaneously. They were everything you’d want from a pair of enterprising yard care teens: hard-working; charming; clean; dependable; provided a needed service at a reasonable rate, and they were reasonably happy and everyone wanted to give them cookies.

Their brand development and brand identity was pretty much to show up and be themselves while getting the job done. We should all be so lucky. On the other hand, as a business gets larger and more complex, there are more layers of everything. Showing up and being yourself while getting the job done requires certain accessories in order to grow. In Joe and Mark’s case, a truck would have been a deal-maker, a cornerstone. Even if they wanted to, their target market and business model didn’t allow for such a major expense. They could work, and work, and work and still not have enough saved up for a vehicle.

A Home Trench Advantage

One advantage of a small business person who lives in the trenches with their “target market” is that they aren’t insulated by whoever designs the focus groups. They truly know the target market. They may be the target market.

I used to know a small business developer who liked to buy struggling restaurants, one at a time. He’d work a place until it was in shape to sell, collect his profits, and move on to the next project. He had a policy of working every job in his current project for a few months, from polished meet and greet at the front of the house, to the back-back where he made a rather imposing dishwasher’s helper.

At it’s best, working and knowing every job in a restaurant helped him find potentials and fix problems, while making some sweat equity. At it’s worst, he could find himself with Joe and Mark’s problem: too close to the problem, too many jobs to do and no way to work hard enough to make a silk purse out of a diamond in the rough.

He had a feast or famine life.

Blog question: how many bloggers are too close to the problem, with too many jobs to do and no way to work hard enough to make a silk purse out of a diamond in the rough?

Responding, With a Face and a Name

There was a progression to the development of Betty Crocker that went something like this:

In 1921 a milling company created a name, “Betty Crocker,” to personalize responses to letters in which customers asked questions about baking. “Betty” was chosen for a friendly feel, and “Crocker” was the last name of a recently retired company director. For further personalization and authority, Betty Crocker’s signature was created from the most distinctive female employee’s signature.

The mood of the times was positive, with reservations, and women were busy.

  • 675,000 Americans had died in the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.
  • The American troops of World War I returned home in 1919.
  • In 1920, The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the legal right to vote.
  • The average work week was 47 hours in 1920.
  • Between 1900 and 1930, American women went from being 20% of the labor force, to about 25%.
  • A revolutionary product named Bisquick was invented in 1930.

Personal to Brand and Back Again

Now, I don’t know if the idea of user personas was used much in the 1920’s but it seems to me that Betty Crocker was an idealized version of a consumer persona. “Betty” was how the consumer of the time might want to see themselves.

The woman of the 20’s/50’s had a kitchen with new fangled electric mixers and other time savers, and could be in the market for time-saving food preparation mixes that would still preserve that touch of home-made goodness. The world was changing in a big way, at breakneck speed, and though anything seemed possible, sometimes a woman just wants to write to Mom for a recipe.

“Betty Crocker,” a name symbolic of the friendly and authoritative woman’s values of a busy home maker, is developed as a bridge between home-made goodness, Gold Medal Flour, and other General Mills products. General Mills refines and markets Betty Crocker as the name behind a line of cake mixes, cook books, and more. It works.

Today, “Betty Crocker” could almost be a blogger. She might need a serious makeover. Women in media haven’t been the same since I Love Lucy. Maybe a better “Betty” would be a Crocker grand-niece, a web developer who can whip up a mean organic falafel.

Perspective

I think that branding success is a circle, or many parts of a circle. At any point between product development and consumer purchase there can be an opportunity, a creative breakthrough, a logical conclusion, a paradigm possible when those involved see with more than one set of needs – some snag or smooth place that gives someone an idea – a willingness to get very, very close, paired with a long view. Betty had a very nice long view in 1921; today, not so much.

A figurehead persona for today might need to be a real person, or better yet a group of people with different backgrounds and perspectives… and I think it’d be cool if they blogged together, and indulged in a little social media. :-)

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