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People as Brands

By JAMES COAKES Published 24th Feb 2015
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The association of a brand and its owner is a potent combination that can be used to incredible effect with the right marketing strategy. A prime example of this is the Jimmy's Iced Coffee brand which has become extremely popular in a relatively short space of time, thanks in part to owner Jimmy Cregan, who has built the brand around his own name and personality.

The master in this area, of course, is Richard Branson of the Virgin brand. It's hard to think of another owner-brand that is so closely associated. When you think of Richard Branson, you think of the Virgin brand, and vice versa, and Branson's larger-than-life personality has always been a big part of what makes Virgin stand-out.

A built-in brand personality

One reason why this is such a successful strategy is that people respond to brands in much the same way as they do to other people. Brands earn customer loyalty when they provide good products or services and behave with integrity, because from this behaviour customers learn something about the people behind the brand.

Having a human face and human personality to associate with a brand provides a built-in personality on which to base a marketing strategy. The Virgin group, for example, has a reputation that's fun, exciting, and innovative, in large part due to the real-life antics of Richard Branson, who was the first person to cross the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon, and been involved in various other stunts, in some cases putting his own life in danger. Branson's personality and the Virgin group's personality are perceived in more-or-less the same way.

Making a personal connection

Personal connections are more important than ever. The online world is often perceived as faceless and impersonal, and that means marketing strategists are always on the hunt for ways to make this and other forms of advertising more personal, and more personally relevant to consumers. The owner-as-brand concept makes it easier to achieve one of the most important goals of all marketing strategies: the forging of a personal connection between brand and consumer.

When the owner is the face of the brand, the human face of the brand is the brand. Instead of finding a way to humanise the brand with a clever marketing strategy, that part of the job is already done. It's a clever short-cut that immediately makes a brand more appealing and more trustworthy and Jimmy's Iced Coffee wouldn't be the sensation that it's become in just four years were it not associated with the cheerful and likeable face of Jimmy Cregan himself.

Jimmy's Iced Coffee is based in Dorset close to the coast where Jimmy and some of his team like to go surfing after work. They have a liveried vintage American Ford pickup truck which can be seen at events. The whole image is one of a very specific aspirational lifestyle, backed up by Jimmy Cregan himself with his beard and surf hispter image. When you meet him or see him talk it comes across as authentic - the danger in this is that it might seem contrived.

Jimmy has a philopsophy known as KYCU, which has become a brand in its own right. The idea is that it looks like a University and there are KYCU baseball caps. It actually stands for Keep Your Chin Up and it's more of a philosophy than a brand. It fits perfectly with the image that Jimmy's is crafting.

The company is engaged in some very clever social media strategies. When they find people who are fans of their product they contact them and often meet them, making stories out of their enjoyment of their product. This gives them a steady stream of positive social media stories but more importantly it underscores the brand as a personal experience.

Jimmy's Iced Coffee are engaged in some very clever and sustainable marketing strategies around their founder as a figurehead. The key is that it comes across as authentic, most probably because it is. The challenge is how sustainable the strategy will be as the company grows, and also what will happen if it is ever sold. The answer to that one may be found in Colonel Sanders. In a survey by USA Today 61% of 18-25 year olds did not know that the 'guy in the logo' had been a living person.

That could be good news for entrepreneurs who are setting themselves up as a brand in their own right. They can live on in the form of a logo or cartoon. Not only is this a very effective business strategy, if you get it right, but it can lead to immortality.

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