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Lessons in branding for a ‘not so sexy’ business

Social & Digital

Lessons in branding for a ‘not so sexy’ business


Sometimes marketers need to inspire passion for functional, or even utilitarian, products or services. Ben Cohn shares his experiences and tips for marketing and branding when your business is ‘not so sexy’.

Often, the benchmark of good branding and marketing is transacting on more than value and price, but rather on emotions. So why does it seem so elusive to inspire passion for things buyers actually do need? Will there ever be a truly ‘sexy’ way to market toilet cleaner? Or are some products and services just uninspiring no matter what?

In my view, when you pare every product back to its basic form, absolutely everything is a bit dry and uninteresting. Soft drinks are merely carbonated sugar water, first-class seats on an airplane are glorified bus tickets and sneakers are just well-designed plastic shoes. When shoppers browse supermarket shelves for basic functional items like aluminium foil, paper towels or sour cream, what brands are really competing against is not each other, but customer apathy.

Truth be told, marketing has evolved beyond winning brand loyalty through messaging. Brands are always talking about wanting to engage with customers, but is simply directing people to a call-to-action or social media really what people want? And is it enough to capture the attention and loyalty of younger consumers, who are notoriously immune to the marketing approaches of yesteryear?

We’re not alone

Some of the best run brands in the world are working with ‘unsexy’ products. 

In Australia alone, Who Gives a Crap, Koala and Oatly (not an Australian brand, but they’re very active here) are capturing the attention and loyalty of young, savvy market segments by blending a fun, irreverent brand personality with an experience-led approach and innovative ways of addressing customer pain points to infuse everyday items and services with life and meaning.

Distil your offering until it connects emotionally to customer need

Real creativity in branding and marketing transcends trends. It involves paring your offering back to its purest form. A brand wants to create an emotional connection with a pain point or aspiration in a customer’s life. At its highest levels, this creates markets and shifts cultures. For example, Nike is widely credited with popularising jogging in the US, creating a new market for their shoes and activewear.

For TAXIBOX, we distilled the self-storage industry down to its most basic value – space. You only need to look at Australia’s soaring house prices to see how much of a premium we give to space. And space can mean many things. Space in your home, space to have time to plan your next house move, space to clear out your in-laws’ furniture from the spare room, or space to create your ideal home office. And seen in this light, space is actually the ‘sexiest’ commodity of all. 

Find out what your customers really want

When we established the business as an alternative to the established self-storage sector, we knew that capturing relocating and renovating homeowners in the 24-34 year old demographic would be key to our success. We conducted workshops and did extensive market research. Then, we developed a thorough understanding of our target market, further refined as busy young professionals and working mums.

We discovered that our customers are after an incredible, purpose-led and digital first experience. They are grounded in clear, simple communication and fast, personable customer service. We then reviewed the entire customer journey from their perspective, developing a business model and solutions that directly addressed key pain points. Keeping pace with what our customers want is an ongoing obsession. We hold monthly meetings to sift through all customer reviews, good and bad, to further improve our service delivery and communications.

By identifying our target market (busy young professionals and working mums) and reviewing the entire customer journey from their perspective, we developed a business model and solutions that directly addressed key pain points. Additionally, we identified through continual testing of our pricing strategy that our customers valued great service and a memorable experience above all else – to the point that our fully digital booking and public review scores outranked pricing as deciding factors. With that in mind, we had to ensure that each interaction with the business fulfilled these expectations.

Product and marketing are the same

To give the customer more control and oversight of the service, we introduced an online booking, payment and checkout experience designed to update the user at every stage of the product journey. Consequently, we created a digital-first product and experience with the potential to turn every customer touchpoint into a marketing opportunity.

By treating product and marketing as one, you can provide customers with a fun, enjoyable and seamless customer experience. In our case, knowing that our customers are time poor, we ensure that all touchpoints are easy-to-use and intuitive. This then gives talking points when we’re crafting messages to advertise with.

Creating a ‘point of difference’ in the product itself can be great to develop brand personality. We made all storage units an iconic, eye-catching bright yellow and infuse all customer communications with a funny, irreverent brand personality. Also, don’t underestimate the power of surprise-and-delight features. For example, we send customers a Spotify packing playlist, offering insurance by asking if they remembered to bring ‘protection’ and providing discounts if customers can beat staff high scores at a game of Tetris.

Don’t overcomplicate things – stay true to the brand

Most importantly, never forget the customer has come to you for a service. The quirky brand personality only works because the service itself is transparent, meticulous and highly efficient. 

Be holistic with attribution. Don’t place too much weight on what channel is generating the most revenue because bookings are coming from a particular channel on whatever attribution model you use. Real success comes from the strength of the brand, word-of-mouth and how much the target audience understands the service. Then it’s the job to get the paid media to effectively amplify this with the best creative, targeting, channel mix and the rest of the technical details.

Also, practice unrelenting (verging on obsessive) attention to detail. Website analytics will have a hard time telling you that new site visitors have heard about how easy the service is from ‘all of their friends’ – but your customers will.


Ben Cohn is the CEO and co-founder of TAXIBOX.

Photo by Cullan Smith on Unsplash.


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