July 7, 2009
The one question every business, branding, and marketing consultant asks is “what makes you special; what makes you different?” If you want to grow your business and get to the next level, defining what makes you special is a good place to start.
Most businesses are copycat companies, selling the same thing, in the same way as most of their competitors, making for a real challenge in providing an adequate answer to the “what makes you so special?” question. But fear not, it is easier than you think.
A Rose Is A Rose, Until It’s Axl Rose
Coke or Pepsi? Which one do you prefer? Here are two products that are next to indistinguishable, that serve the same purpose, and are sold in substantially the same way. Now I can hear the Coke and Pepsi lovers screaming into their monitors that their favorite is better, but are they really all that different? Perhaps the taste of one is slightly sweeter, but in the grand scheme of things they are substantially the same. So why are people so loyal to their brand, so adamant that it’s their brand or nothing?
It’s branding, the end-product of a marketing communication effort that delivers an emotional value-add that distinguishes one product or service from another; and once that brand identity is established, it is hard to break. No matter how many times these soft drink behemoths are convinced by their ad agencies to change their slogans, to me, and my generation, Coke will always be “The Real Thing” while Pepsi represents “The Pepsi Generation.” What makes these companies special is not what they sell or how they sell it, it’s how they communicate the emotional value their products bring to the table.
What we are talking about is brand communication: the process of identifying, developing, and communicating the emotional value your company, product, or service provides. It is the one thing that can make any company different, no matter how many me-too competitors it has.
What About Conventional Wisdom?
If it’s so simple why doesn’t everybody do it? The answer is fear, fear of making a mistake, fear of going against conventional wisdom. What people forget is the phrase ‘conventional wisdom,’ coined by economist John Kenneth Galbraith, was a derogatory term used to describe the way politicians and pundits reduced complex issues down to digestible sound-bites based on what people wanted to hear, rather than explaining the complexities and implications related to an issue. Does the phrase “read my lips, no new taxes” ring a bell; no matter how discredited a concept, politicians still promote the idea that government can do its job without people paying their fair share – it’s what people want to hear, what they want to believe, even though it makes for counterproductive public policy.
Today’s mad dash to join the Twitter craze is another example of conventional wisdom gone wild. Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it an effective marketing communication tactic. Everything you ever wanted to know about everything in 140 characters; it’s anti-marketing, and the height of non-communication. The “Cluetrain Manifesto” concept of a global Internet conversation has been corrupted beyond recognition. True communication implies meaningful dialogue, not instant messenger pseudo-speak and Twitter twaddle.
Just as a matter of interest, the Web-video on Twitter’s home page used to explain the concept, and promote the service, is two minutes and twenty-four seconds long. Too bad they couldn’t have done it in less than 140 characters of text. You think maybe they know something their users don’t.
What About Slogans and Taglines?
Sure slogans and taglines are pithy little statements that like logos, convey a brand personality in an instant, but these short-form symbols and catchphrases are merely reminders of the emotional benefit of the product, service or communication they are attached to, and are the result of ongoing, consistent marketing campaigns that portray the brand in an emotional context. The meaning and value of phrases like “Tastes Great, Less Filling” and “Where’s The Beef?” are the byproduct of long-term consistent campaigns that connect on a human level.
So What’s The Problem?
The Web has created a whole new class of business executives that never ran a business that didn’t have the Internet available. Technical know-how and engineering expertise has replaced human understanding, while market research, surveys, focus groups, metrics, and statistical modeling have replaced good old-fashioned business savvy and experience. It’s a wonder anybody sells anything any more.
Conventional wisdom states that to sell someone your product or service you need to align your sales pitch to your prospect’s thinking. In other words, tell people what they want to hear, but what if what they want to hear is wrong, counterproductive, and not what they need, or more importantly what they really want?
The average Web-based business entrepreneur tries to think and act like his mega corporation counterpart but without the financial resources to shape and mould public opinion. When a business website fails, it’s because it does not deliver what its audience really wants, it delivers what the company thinks that audience wants.
Gerald Zaltman, professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School is a founding partner of Olson Zaltman Associates, and author of “How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market.”
Zaltman states, “Most of what influences what we say and do occurs below the level of awareness. …The goal of advertising should be to engage people with a message that has an emotional impact. And that requires actually grappling with the means by which they have experiences and react with emotion, sentiment, and feeling.”
In order to take advantage of this insight, the Web-based business must change how it thinks about websites and how it presents meaningful, memorable experiences that tap into the emotional underbelly of audience desire. The value proposition you offer must be found in the audience’s emotional connection to the Web experience you provide. In order to create an effective online experience you must understand how your audience consumes what you present. Zaltman points out six fallacies that inhibit effective marketing communication.
Zaltman’s Six Customer Fallacies
- Customer decisions are rational?
- Customer behavior can be easily explained?
- A customer’s mind, body, and societal influences can be understood independently of each other?
- Customer memories are accurate?
- Customers think in words?
- Commercial messages are interpreted as intended?
Think about your own consumer behavior. Everything you purchase has an emotional subtext that influences the purchase: the car you drive, the clothes you wear, and the wine you drink are based on how you see yourself, or at least how you want to be seen. Even the analytical perfectionist who compares all the features, and studies all the reviews is making as much of a statement about his or her need to be right than they are about buying the most functional, cost-effective product.
What’s your brand’s ‘Emotional Value Proposition?
Branding remains one of the most poorly understood and ineffectively implemented marketing tactics business has at its disposal. Yet branding is the key to customer-loyalty, action, and word-of-mouth proselytizing.
What do Nike, Apple, and the US Army have in common? They deliver a brand proposition that offers their audience the opportunity to be the best they can be. It is simple, clear, and unequivocal, your customer wants to be the best they can be and these companies offer the opportunity to reach that goal through their offering. How does your company engage your audience with that kind of emotional value proposition?
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit http://www.mrpwebmedia.com/ads, http://www.136words.com, and http://www.sonicpersonality.com. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (905) 764-1246.