the argument for polarization
polarization is a touchy word among brand folks. it's either a black or white or a very, very aspirational gray. you can't be both. and then add into the equation, the actual brand, which may be as vanilla as Wonderbread or steeped in niche and controversy. i, for a vote of one, believe brands must work as hard to have loyalists as they do to define for whom they are not.
that doesn't mean i'm advocating for an "If you're not with us, you're against us" strategy, but a firm stance in what the brand means and stands for. at the end of the day, much to the hopeful brand manager's dismay, you can't be everything to all people.
which leads me to one of the more inspiring brands i interact with - and, possibly uncharacteristically - am for. SWOBO bikes, one of which I ride, is a no-b.s., take-it-or-leave-it, this-is-who-we-are brand. the brand's blog, How to Avoid the Bummer Life is an often hilarious link farm, thought-provoking narration of cycling culture and counter-culture and just a darn fun read. sometimes the blog links to bicycle safety news, sometimes to YouTube's latest. but, in step with the overall brand, it has a distinct personality that you either love or don't.
i was catching up on SWOBO's blog this morning and ran across a great example of this polarization debate: Friday Heroes. the post leads with a blurb (below) from Bicycle Retailer containing a quote from a prospective buyer who loved the SWOBO Dixon, but didn't buy because after researching the brand, realized SWOBO is 100 percent against the Bush Administration. yup.
two things i love here: the consumer made a choice based on personal preference, which is the cost of doing business with a brand that has an actual personality. secondly, i believe it to be true that for every one person who is offended by the SWOBO ethos or its honest blog posts, five more find kinship, and that's a ratio as a marketer, I'm fine with promoting.
for those that know me, they know i'm not an alleycat-racing fixie-nerd. hell, i have a yellow lab and a Volkswagen. but being part of the SWOBO brand is as much a decision to ride a supple, solid bike as it is to connect to a side of cycling that is much different from my road riding and mountain biking. it's what i take to Man Date at McCoy's. it's what I ride to the store. it's what i ride when i put in the earbuds and ride aimlessly at night. it's not what i get kitted up for. it's not what i mix Hammer Nutrition in the water bottles for...it's what I dump the rest of a beer into a bottle for. it's one of many poles in my life and it fills a great place in my heart.
the funny thing about the above blurb is that i love Trek bikes. and i got to thinking - you don't have to be one or the other! i've owned two and admired many more. i love the Trek company. and you know, though the brand gets a bit of the short end in the above post, Trek's also worked hard to form a personality. it's done so successfully enough that it was included as the other pole in the post. and i think that's just as important.
i get the business risk, the brand reputation fears, and the sweaty marketing manager who is trying like heck to hold onto his or her job. but this post made me remember, whether you're known for tattoos on your knuckles and playing cards in your spokes or you're known as the Tour de France winning bike, you have to be known for something.
SWOBO, through both its online and offline communication has found itself a place in a specific culture, one of which customers and loyalists can relate to, and maybe more importantly, one of which prospects can aspire to get just a little piece of.
and by creating that sturdy brand image, and pitting your brand against something WHILE you define yourself in relevant contexts (social, cultural, usage) you can make friends or at least gain perimeter admirers who one day might, as i did, find your brand among others and buy on pure joyful impulse.
kudos SWOBO. that's good press.