No Offense: Brands Need to Embrace the “Unpopular”

Erika Napoletano, whose titles with consultancy RHW Media include author, blogger and Head Redhead, pulls no punches when it comes to embracing unpopular – which is her sage catchphrase to help boost brand equity.

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Napoletano, who spoke at the National Etailing and Mailing Organization of America fall directXchange conference on Wednesday in Mystic, CT, told attendees that brands are afraid to offend people.

“If you’re building a brand for universal popularity, you’ll be building for a long time,” Napoletano said.

Napoletano singled out Lehman’s as a niche brand – the Kidron, OH-based marketer sells old-fashioned, non-electric merchandise from oil lamps, Amish-made wood toys, soap-making supplies and butter churns – as a prime example of a merchant who puts the customer first above all else.

“One reason you get to stay in business is because your customers allow it,” Napoletano said. “If everyone likes what you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong.”

Polarizing your audience is a necessity, Napoletano said, because the people who love you will love you for who you are and what you’re not. “If you’re building a brand, you’re going to piss some people off.

Brands have to have a personality because having that personality allows you to build relationships with customers.”

Napoletano offered her definitions of unpopular and unlikeable. Unpopular means a brand has your long-term best interests in mind. Unlikeable means a merchant forgets that customers allow it to make brand decisions.

“You have to become one of them, be a part of their lives and not an accessory they can tack on,” Napoletano said.

Embracing unpopular makes your brand approachable and sharable, Napoletano said, because “you’re building a human brand. We want to be the cool friend who tells everyone about some new great thing. Putting customers at the center makes them want to share your brand.”

A “forgettable” brand, Napoletano defined, places “we” at the center of its messaging.
Napoletano said a “like” on Facebook translates to currency for a merchant.

“Look at how your customers are spending your social currency,” Napoletano said. “Brands who get unpopular are building communities by paying attention to their audience. I wish more brands would get out there and say what they believe. Why do we care what the general public thinks?”

Napoletano offered the following final words of advice: “Be honest with yourself and don’t be apologetic. Accept who and what you are.”

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