In this conversation, Rohit Bhargava, SVP of Digital Strategy and founding member of Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence, talks about how your business can find its voice, delight its customers and use its personality to boost growth. Rohit is a marketer, blogger, speaker and author of the book Personality Not Included — a guide for companies on understanding and using their personality to better connect with customers in the social media era. He has been writing the Influential Marketing blog for the past 3 years, which is now ranked among the top 50 marketing blogs in the world and is often featured as an expert in media including The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and Fast Company.
Rohit's message is simple: Although many businesses hide their personality behind layers of packaged messaging and advertising, to truly be great, brands and products must evoke a dynamic personality in order to attract passionate customers.
Question: What advice do you have for businesses wanting to get well known online?
Rohit Bhargava: For any business wanting to get well known online, I think the main thing you need to focus on is building your personal brand and network. This may mean starting a blog or joining social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. It could also mean starting to do more online interviews (such as blog interviews and podcasts). The more content there is out there for a Google search on your name or business name, the more ways that people can find you.
Question: What is the one social media tool that you feel right now a small business cannot live without?
Rohit Bhargava: It may be odd to consider this a social media tool, but I think that social networks offer a very powerful tool that many small businesses are not using as much as they could be. Depending on who your audience is, this could mean Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, MeetUp, LinkedIn, Yelp, or another niche community. No matter what kind of business you are in, there are people who care about it or are looking for information that are seeking it through their trusted networks. This is not about search optimization but about being a part of the right communities. Whether you associate your business with a particular industry or a particular region, finding the right social networks and joining them is the smartest social media tool any small business can start to master.
Question: Is email overload killing our brand personality? Even our personality in general?
Rohit Bhargava: This is a great question because it cuts to the heart of why personality matters. If you have a personality, you can help your company avoid being faceless. When you think about the potential power of email, it could be a great ally in doing that. The problem is that many companies use it as a way of blasting out information to a mass audience at a low cost. When you do that, you are certainly not helping your brand personality. But on the flip side, imagine how much impact a single well-timed personal email from a real person in a company could have. Not only could you establish a very personal connection (perhaps even more so than the phone), but also that connection could translate to others because of how easy emails are to pass around. It means we all need to rethink how we use email, but I think there is so much undiscovered potential in email that many companies are missing.
Question: If you could choose the one single takeaway that is the most important for marketers in developing a brand personality, what would it be?
Rohit Bhargava: It would be that "personality matters." It matters for the brands that customers are loyal to and it matters for the companies that people want to work for and continue to work for. This doesn't mean you can replace the necessity for having a good product or service. You need to do that too. But if you can just focus on bringing the personality out of your organization, you are already ahead. In terms of an actionable way to do that, here's a quick exercise. Go to the about page of your website and read what you have on that page out loud to yourself. Does it sound like a real person talking or like a faceless marketing brochure? Now think about using a human voice instead of that marketing voice and see how much better you can make it.
Question: Do you evangelize for any brands?
Rohit Bhargava: I think I'm very much like anyone, I evangelize for the brands that I have a personal connection to or make products that I love. Those that are able to offer me more of a connection to their products or an inside look are the ones that I tend to talk about even more.
Question: What 2 or 3 things are the MOST important to do with regards to initially establishing a brand for yourself as an information expert?
Rohit Bhargava: I think that in addition to having your own platform of what you are an expert in, you need to proactively offer yourself up as an expert to get people to start to consider you. Part of that is thought leadership and having a way to promote your voice, but a bigger part is keeping an eye on where your point of view would be of benefit to someone and to target those opportunities. The other thing is to take some risks, and perhaps do something that may be outside of your day job. No one is going to hand you a personal brand with the possible exception of having a famous parent or family lineage. So take a risk and try to stand for something.
Question: How can you stress the importance of maintaining a focus on brand personality in a lagging economy?
Rohit Bhargava: That's an easy one — in a lagging economy it is more important than ever to keep the customers you have. The costs of getting more customers will continue to escalate from the already imbalanced ratio of how much it costs to keep a customer versus getting a new one. Customer loyalty is a big output from focusing on your personality. The other big output is that often by having a personality you are giving your customers something more to talk about ... a necessary thing when you consider the power and importance of word of mouth and referrals to most businesses. Add these together and you'll see that in a downturn, brands need to focus on personality more than ever.
Question: Should small businesses use twitter?
Rohit Bhargava: This is a tough one because it really does depend on the business. If you have a flooring business that is regional then Twitter could be a goldmine to spot new homeowners that are looking for vendors to quote for a new project (by doing a simple keyword search using a twitter search engine tool like Summize. In that case, LISTENING to Twitter would be far more important than actually updating it if you are focused on your bottom line. I could imagine lots of other business cases where this type of information is not really helpful and Twitter would be more of a distraction or idle hobby rather than a real business tool. Ultimately it comes down to what you are trying to sell and whether there is a good reason to use or listen to the "twitterati."
Question: What do you think is the most important thing for someone starting their own business in this personality-driven market?
Rohit Bhargava: I think the most important thing is to be a real person and deal with others in the same way. Being faceless doesn't necessarily take having lots of employees. A single person shop can be equally faceless. The idea is that if you share more of your personality in your business, you create more of reason for people to interact with you, buy from you, and tell others about you.
Question: How can a business ensure that its personality doesn't just blend in with the crowd? Seems like there are more and more personality driven businesses out there — won't we just eventually run out of "fresh" personalities?
Rohit Bhargava: The thing to remember about personality is that it's not a question of whether you have more or less of one, but rather whether you can let people see a more authentic part of your company. It's not necessarily about having a fresh personality, but having one that is true to what it is that you sell or offer. If your customers know what you stand for and have a personal association with your brand, you are on your way to using personality ... and it's not an idea that can get old or overused because every brand is aspiring for something different.
Quesetion: How can small businesses best use social media?
Rohit Bhargava: Embrace your accidental spokespeople, focus on your personality, tell your backstory and seize your personality moments. That's the "recipe" for personality if it could be called that.
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