The Hitchhiker's Guide to Branding
Full disclosure. I left my parent’s home when I was 15 years old. By the time I was 20, I had hitchhiked across the lower 48 States, through the Yukon and into Alaska, and across the greater half of Europe.
I didn’t realize it until recently, but doing so helped me learn the rules of branding early on.
Think of it like this. Our customers often see us only in short, nanosecond spurts on social media, at the grocery store, outdoor boards, or on television.
Now think hitchhiking. Because the driver is coming at you at 60 miles per hour, you have only seconds to connect. How are you going to engage them and create marketing success get a ride?
Here are some tips:
- You must present yourself; be present and in the moment. Connect.
Smiling helps, but that’s never a sure thing, much less the only thing. Some people hold up signs. I never did. Except one time. I wasn’t getting anyone to pick me up in Colorado, so I wrote a sign that said “Denver.” I only did it because I thought that if everyone else did it, they must be doing it because it worked, right? Wrong. It didn’t work. Kind of like going on Facebook, funding a golf sponsorship, or creating Super Bowl spots, just because that’s what everyone else is doing?
So when I hitchhiked I just smiled and was myself, and let highway drivers draw their own conclusions. Today, we might call that being authentic. I covered thousands of miles just by smiling.
- Act quickly when someone stops (or wants to buy). When the car stops, run to it. Why? Some people might change their minds and drive away. But that’s okay. They didn’t mean to stop, anyway. They were teasing you. When the moment comes, seize it. If it doesn’t, back to Step One.
- What do you do when you’re in the car? It’s time to present yourself all over again. Smile. Be pleasant. Why? Because you want the ride to last for as long as possible.
- Engage. Tell a story. Think of Scheherazade, the maiden who entranced the sheik by telling a cliffhanger every night. Outcome: If you keep talking, they won’t kick you out of the car. Some might call this social media. Spread it wherever your customers can engage. Keep them interested. Keep them anticipating the next great thing from you. Like Apple. Like Nike. Like HBO. Keep telling your story.
- The more you keep talking and the more you engage them, the longer the ride. Don’t fall asleep. Maintain the engagement. Make it interesting. Exciting.
- If something goes awry, immediately tell them you’re sorry. I’ll never forget the time someone picked me up in their brand-new Toyota, and something on my backpack scratched their seat. I felt awful. I apologized. I was sincere. (And I’ve felt bad ever since. Sorry, fella.)
- When one of you has reached your destination, thank them for the ride. Life is filled with good moments, and this has been one of them. Thank your customers. Too often, we take them for granted.
- Be alert to danger signals along the way. Have your antennae up. Anything can happen to change the course of your planned trajectory. You may have to detour. There could be rain or snow. If you’re hitchhiking, there could be real danger. And there are dangers in marketing, too. Products could go awry, or you might have a recall or mistakes.
- This is the most important lesson of all: No matter how good getting that ride has been, understand that you’ll have to do it all over again.
Let me know if this metaphor works for you. It might be a stretch, or it might be a long, pleasant journey. Let me know.
PATRICK HANLON | Columnist
Patrick Hanlon is CEO and founder of Thinktopia, a company specializing in community innovation and integrated brand development. He is the author of Primal Branding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company and Your Future. Thinktopia’s staff of social anthropologists, cultural ethnographers, trend spotters, research analysts, venture catalysts, graphic designers, urban planners, innovation experts, videographers, stylists, retail experientialists, cool hunters, forensic researchers helps leaders get unstuck, develop new markets, and re-define their futures.