Before you go about developing your business’ brand and image you must first answer the question: how different do you want to be? As much as showing off your personality and distinctiveness can help to place your business firmly within a niche, projecting your true colors incorrectly may cause a lackluster response at best and at worst, alienate your potential customers. Underneath All the Props The idea for this post actually came from a very unlikely place. While online the other day I came across this video of Stefani Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga. Underneath all the bizarre clothing, make-up, theatrics, and electronic enhancements, I was rather surprised to learn that she’s actually a very talented woman. Dido for the likes of teenybopper favorite Justin Bieber. It got me thinking. Here are two very talented people, yet you wouldn’t know it just by looking at them or listening to their music. They are both to a large extent, albeit in different ways, the product of some music marketing masterminds who realized that certain combinations of style, appearance, demeanor, personality, and music (including the heaviness of the beat and its speed) would become popular within their respective target audiences. It helps that these marketers also know how to successfully promote their products. If these two singers were just themselves without all the “props”, as talented as they are, then it is pretty safe to say that they wouldn’t be nearly as famous. Building Your Brand is a Balancing Act Developing your brand is not just about creating a distinct picture of your product, service, or business, nor is it about finding your niche. Sometimes, the most successful individuals and companies are not necessarily the most talented, skilled, or experienced ones. They succeed precisely because they intuitively understand the needs, hopes, and desires of their market. It is thus vital that you be constantly in touch with the perceptions and attitudes of your current and potential customers as you go about positioning your products and/or services. Keep in mind that in some markets and industries there is a larger amount of freedom and tolerance for expression, while in other markets, customers tend to be fairly rigid in what they feel makes a product or service worthwhile. In the former case, being different, or “being yourself” may be what is needed to stand out, attract customers, and enter a niche. In the later case, spending resources trying to change your customers’ perception often proves to be a thankless, unrewarding task doomed to failure, and this can hold true even when you are trying to help your customers out by saving them money or make a smarter buying decision. It reminds me of a post I read a few months ago over at M4B Marketing in which blogger Susan Oaks described the case of an analgesic medication that in reality was stronger, more efficient, and cheaper to buy than that of the competition, yet sales of the product tanked precisely because customers “stubbornly” perceived the product as less potent and effective- even when they were being told (by the company) otherwise. The truth is that the majority of the time, developing and maintaining a brand is a careful balancing act, that may cause you to lean slightly one way or the other in response to changing attitudes or beliefs among your customers. If you fail to understand this, though you may be talented or have a superior product, then your customers may give you the cold shoulder.