There are several great bicycle shops where I live. They sell established, respected brands: Specialized, Cannondale, Orbea, Felt, Orbea... 

The shops market themselves well. The brands market themselves well.

In branding terms, they're all winners. 

But when I bought my grandson his first bike, I drove a few hours to buy a bike at the shop where I used to live. And even though the cycling needs of a 3-year-old are pretty darned limited, I bought him a Trek bike.

Why? Because when I first got into cycling, the guys at Shenandoah Bicycling Company were extremely gracious and kind. Unlike all the people with esoteric knowledge who treat newbies dismissively, they welcomed me with open arms: Answering basic questions. Patiently walking me through the basics. Even though I was the farthest thing from a cyclist, they treated me like I belonged.

In short, they were nice to me.

So while plenty of fine -- and much more convenient -- bike shop options exist, SBC will always be my bike shop.

The same goes for Trek. John Burke, Trek CEO and son of company founder Richard Burke, has always been nice to me. So has Tania Burke, the President of Trek Travel. I like them.

So while plenty of fine and sometimes less expensive bike brand options exist, I'll always lean towards Trek bikes.

Which tells you everything you need to know about the power of likability. 

When you're likable -- when you make a genuine personal connection with a customer -- marketing doesn't matter. Branding doesn't matter. Spending huge sums trying to stand out, differentiate yourself, become the option of choice... sure, branding matters

But likability matters much more.

I'm a fan of Vikings, partly because it's a great show... but also because creator and showrunner Michael Hirst has always been gracious, thoughtful, and kind to me. So when I watched the first few episodes I was much more open to enjoying it -- even predisposed to enjoy it -- because it was Michael's show. I was rooting for him. I wanted him to do well. To paraphrase Guns N Roses bassist Duff McKagan, I wanted Vikings to kill it. (And it does.)

The same is true for the band The Faim. Lead singer Josh Raven is an exceptionally likable guy: Warm, funny, smart, enthusiastic. (It's hard not to like a guy who ends the conversation with, "Mate, you're a legend!") So when I listened to their new album, I wasn't just listening to a band and a singer. I was listening to Josh. I like Josh. I wanted The Faim to kill it. (And they do.)

The list goes on. I buy some clothes because I like the company founders. I use some services because I like the company founders. 

Even though they might not be the "best" options. Not the cheapest. Or the most convenient. Or the hottest or trendiest or, conversely, not the legacy brand.

But I don't care, because my connection to the people behind the brand trumps marketing.

Which actually means I do care -- about the people behind the product.

Best case your brand, whether business or personal, sets you apart: Makes you memorable, makes you stand out, makes you more likely to succeed. Best case, your brand connects.

But nothing connects like people.

That's why likability matters. 

Being likable can help you overcome deficits in skill or experience. Being likable can mean other people will not only be patient, but actively help you gain the skills you need. Being can help you overcome a lack of capital, a lack of service offerings, or even comparatively higher prices.

Being likable often means people will buy your products or services even when, objectively, a competitor provides the better option.

Even the people at the far end of the steely-eyed, bottom-line, value proposition-seeking spectrum often make subjective decisions.

Which can make likability a true competitive advantage. 

Want to build a successful brand, but don't have the resources to spend on marketing?

Be nice. Be kind. Make genuine one-on-one connections with customers, with employees, with vendors, with suppliers... 

Focus on building your business one person at a time.

Do that, and your customers won't care about your external "brand."

Because you -- and your people -- will be all the brand you need.

And the best brand you can ever establish.