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Creature Comforts

Published In: The Blend - July 2009
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So how did the decision to build a brand that doesn’t check in its personality at the door work out for its owners?

Checked At The Door

There are some people who are so dull and colourless that we say of them that they must have ‘checked in their personality at the door’. And there are some businesses like that too.

Now these people and businesses are not necessarily found wanting when it comes to the performance of their duties, it’s just that they seem to go about their work with a certain joyless efficiency. They are typically intense, sometimes scarily so. They speak in monotone, often in relentlessly long sentences. Their faces scarcely register a flicker of emotion and they have no time for social niceties or chitchat. Instead, it’s all business.

Whilst there’s no doubting their proficiency, these people and businesses are not very attractive to others. Sure, others often come to them when they absolutely need something done, and want it done right, but otherwise they give them a wide berth. And sometimes too, colleagues and customers prefer not to deal with them at all, even at the expense of leaving something undone or having it done poorly.

I recall as a student being in terror of the critical and unsmiling mechanic who serviced my motorcycle and letting months go by whilst my machine coughed and spluttered rather than take it in for repair. Foolish, I know, but that’s how it was.

Personality Not Included

As business-owners, we shouldn’t be surprised at the apparently unreasonable behaviours of our customers. Efficiency is not as highly prized as we sometimes imagine, particularly when it comes with ‘personality not included’. As social animals, we have a deep mistrust of behaviours that seem automatic or heavily programmed. They unnerve us; make us uneasy. Our nightmares of the future often feature faceless machines, grinding out victories against a puny and all-too-human population. In these scenarios too, there’s no place for the social gesture or personal touch. Again, it’s all business and the individual player is relegated to a bit part.

Of course, very few of us go to market with the relentless efficiency of a machine, but many of us do check in the personality of our business at the office door or factory gate. It’s not deliberate but our focus on productivity, on getting things done, leaves little room for personal charisma or charm and those on the receiving end often feel snubbed or taken for granted. And yet we’re surprised when colleagues and customers steer clear of us, leaving us to our own devices.

Regardless of which line of work we’re in, we’re all in the people business and we ignore the more social aspects of our offer at our peril. Whilst it’s essential that we get the mechanical parts working away as productively as we can, we need to balance that efficiency with the warmth of the personal touch. Otherwise, our customers are left with what my grandmother used to call “the comfort of a poultice of cold slack”.

More Than A Balancing Act

When we were invited to meet with our new clients, Eamon O’Brien and Ron Downey of EventElephant, they had already had some work done on the visual identity for the brand. We immediately loved the name they had chosen but were concerned that the new brand mark, which featured an elephant balancing on a globe, failed to either reflect the passion and excitement of its owners or put down a strong marker for the type of working relationship that the customer might expect to have with the service. Whilst there was some warmth in the mark (it’s almost impossible for an elephant to check in its personality at the door), we heard from Eamon and Ron of their plans to design a business offer that was much more than just a mechanical balancing act and their frustrations that the identity somehow wasn’t working for them.

Our research over the following weeks bore out their misgivings. EventElephant provides online event registration and guest management and its target customers are people who organise events, whether that’s a ‘large multi-day, paid-for business event or a free social get-together, like a birthday party or a reunion’.

When we spoke with those who organise events for a living and others who do it just for fun, we were impressed by the importance they each attached to getting things done properly around the administration of the event (and particularly in terms of confirming guest numbers and organising payments). But it didn’t stop there. The benefits of the service as they described it went much further. They talked about the headaches associated with trying to organise an event without the support of a good system and recounted how their time could be swallowed up managing the endless lists and variations on lists that they needed to stay on top of things. As they saw it, EventElephant promised to free them up from the drudgery of list-making and number-crunching so that they could concentrate on the business of delivering a great event.

Our research into elephants and their role in societies across the world also confirmed that Eamon and Ron had chosen a very special animal to represent their business. We discovered elephants to be powerful and highly intelligent creatures, capable of both great feats of strength and endurance and remarkable deeds of organisation and planning. Working elephants in Asia in particular are often set tasks that involve a series of steps, some of them requiring a certain amount of delicacy and dexterity, and can be left largely unsupervised to complete them. Elephants also communicate very effectively with one another, both through the ‘jungle telegraph’ of trumpet sound and stamping feet and by way of blowing gently on the trunk and face of their companions.

As importantly, elephants are almost universally liked and, in some cases, revered. It’s not only in children’s books (where ‘E’ is always for elephant) that the animal is presented as a great kindly presence. The elephant has been a hugely popular attraction in parks and shows of all kinds ever since Europeans first travelled to Africa and Asia and enjoys a special place in the affections of western culture.

The Great Beating Heart

Here then was a personality who could help to bring real purpose and warmth to the business of event-management. Our task for Eamon and Ron was to translate this into a hard-working metaphor that would help EventElephant convey to their customers both the mechanical efficiency of the system they had built and the enormous benefits of using the service.

This came initially in the form of the mental picture they had painted for us of this great, kindly creature, working away quietly in the background to keep tally of the all-important numbers, so that the event-organiser could get on with the even-more important business of delivering a great event (and getting to enjoy it too). This image emerged informally in our descriptions of the brand as ‘the great beating heart of the event’ and was given final expression in the EventElephant tagline ‘The Event Organiser’s Best Friend’. In the meantime, the business team reported that they often used the ‘great beating heart’ expression to powerful effect to describe to prospective partners and customers what made the business offer truly different from what was on offer elsewhere.

Just as importantly, the unmistakeable image of the elephant (it’s no accident that our everyday language is peppered with references such as ‘the elephant in the room’ and that a popular game challenges us ‘not to think of an elephant’) meant that there was no pressure on the graphic designer to show the elephant in the brand mark. Instead, Isabella was freed up to create a simple mark that would thrive in its online environment and draw on the powerful familiarity of ‘E is for Elephant’ and the distinctive shape of the elephant body with trunk. This in turn led to the development of a signature font that means the EventElephant word-mark also works hard to put the relationship between the business and its customers on a firm and friendly footing.

The Organiser’s Best Friend

So how did the decision to build a brand that doesn’t check in its personality at the door work out for its owners? Eamon and Ron tell us that the personable name and identity of EventElephant has brought a smile of recognition to the faces of prospective customers and introduced immediate warmth into the discussions and negotiations that follow.

Early feedback from customers suggests a depth of appreciation that goes far beyond the usual perfunctory testimonials that greet an automated service. There is growing evidence that event-organisers do see EventElephant as a best friend when it comes to managing an event.

Whilst the business-owners continue to develop a service that does deliver the mechanical efficiencies that are required when an event-organiser takes on the task of issuing invitations, registering guests and managing payments, they do so confident in the knowledge that there is a ‘great beating heart’ to their brand that works tirelessly away to help build the powerful relationships that stand squarely at the core of all the great businesses.

To check out a brand that hasn’t checked its personality at the door (and to make a new best friend), tap lightly on www.EventElephant.com

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Published In: The Blend - July 2009
PDF  |  Print

About 'The Blend'

Creature Comforts is one of ‘The Blend’ series of articles in which Gerard Tannam takes a look at how to cook up a great brand, samples some of the ingredients you'll need to make one of your own and weighs up the impact of branding on different parts of the business mix.

Gerard is the founding Managing Director of Islandbridge, a business that delivers brand direction, planning and corporate communications across a wide range of sectors including retail, property, hospitality and tourism. Recent clients include Temple Country Retreat & Spa, Musgraves Food Services, Choice Hotels, The Westport Woods Hotel, Liffeyside Properties, Littlejohn Health Centre, and DIT School of Hospitality Management. For more on putting your brand to work for your business, get in touch with Gerard Tannam on +353 1 495 3330 or gerard@islandbridge.com

 

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