Build a brand that repels

December 18, 2012

Sometimes having a brand that repels is a good thing. Or so we told a prospective client at a new business pitch recently. Following cries of vehement objection, we attempted to explain ourselves. A brand, repel? Isn’t it supposed to do exactly the opposite?

Well, yes. And no.

A good brand should attract the right customers, prospects, employees and partners. It should speak with a personality and live within a distinct position that are so clearly defined, that those you want to be attracted to your brand have but no choice.

But consider the opposite side of the coin, if you are attracting those customers and employees that are “right” for your organization, might you also inherently be repelling those who are not? In the case of the university we were pitching, we hypothesized that creating a brand that repelled would result in a higher admission yield for the school.

Because the brand would attract those for whom the school is their first choice, the percentage of accepted students that enrolled would be higher. Those who were “repelled” by the university brand would likely not as readily apply. Ultimately, the school would become more selective.

The New York Times recently published an article entitled “What Brand is Your Therapist?” that also supports the theory of creating a brand that repels. As with many consultants and service industries, therapists are having trouble maintaining a regular roster of patients. Clients are actively waning. “Yes the economy was bad, but the real issue was that psychotherapy had an image problem.” And so, a cottage industry of branding consultants for therapists has developed.

Consultants are finding that “people want to see the therapist who fits their exact situation.” As a result, successful therapists are finding it necessary to define themselves more narrowly: as the expert therapist for birth trauma, the go-to for tween issues, a solution for repeat DUI offenders, a parenting coach or even a therapist who conducts sessions via text.

Consequently, each therapist is attracting a very specific client while repelling those looking for something (or someone) else. While the industry is still in transition, there are several success stories. One therapist cites that since clearly defining her approach and target patient, “…her schedule is full, and her income has increased about 15 percent a year.”

Consider that a brand can’t be everything to everyone. Nor should it be. The purpose of a brand is to be true to the organization, to define it accurately and aspirationally, to target the ideal customer, and to attract employees who will both be successful and help make the company successful. Keeping these objectives in mind, it seems only fair to conclude that a good brand must attract as much as it selectively repels.

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