One of the basic tenets of marketing is “Don’t sell features. Sell benefits.” To be sure, that’s excellent advice. But too many marketers take that as the one-and-only commandment. So over and over again, we’re bombarded with lists of the benefits of this product or that service. It’s an easy trap to fall into and most marketers get caught up in it every so often. Lazy marketers do it all the time, thinking a list alone will excite the customer. A slight improvement on the list of benefits is the practice of promoting one, big benefit. Our beer will make you attractive to women. Or our bank will give you financial freedom. At least those kinds of offers are easy to remember. But they’re often considered implausible. Just running the benefit or benefits up a flagpole and leaving it at that won’t do much. The customers will remain distant. Smart marketers tell stories that demonstrate the product or services’ benefits. It’s the stories that draw customers and clients closer. It’s the stories that bind them to your brand.
Sometime in March 2020, the customers all went away. A new virus, heretofore unknown to man, was spreading rapidly across the world. And word about it was spreading as fast as the virus. But, being new, there was very little we could say about it so a great deal of misinformation was going around too. We knew very little about the origins of the virus, and nothing at all about how to prevent infections or cure the infected. All we knew was we could slow the pandemic’s spread if we all wore masks and stayed at least six feet away from one another. For most people, that meant staying home. No more eating out. No more shopping sprees. No more concerts or sporting events. Restaurants and entertainment venues were all shut down anyway. Only “essential” businesses were kept open but many of them saw demand evaporate as panicky customers sheltered in place to see what was going to happen next. Now, gradually, businesses are starting to reopen. But what if they sound the all clear even though the virus is still as deadly as ever? What if they open restaurants, concert halls and sports arenas? Will the customers ever come back?
In the sidebar of this week’s newsletter, there is an article entitled, “The Value Proposition Defined”. Perhaps the author felt compelled to write such an article because, like me, he’s becoming perplexed. No one seems to be able to agree on what a value proposition is anymore. In my view, they are often conflated with the brand promise. I don’t want to disparage the article. It’s well written and I take the author’s point. But, to my mind, he substitutes “value proposition” for “positioning tagline”. Again, I understand where he’s coming from but it doesn’t match up with my experience. To me, a brand promise, often expressed through a positioning tagline, has to be a rock-solid constant. It is a north star that guides the business in everything it does. It is a beacon of authenticity that customers trust. I’ve always seen value propositions as mutable, usually a retail offer that changes with market conditions. Let’s look at one of the author’s examples to see what I mean.
So you’ve decided to do it. You’re going to begin an initiative to launch the strongest brand strategy you can possibly attain. Good for you. You’re going to identify all the different constituencies that make up your market. You’re going to go out to listen to them, offering them a confidential way to tell you the honest truth about how they experience your brand. You’re going to comb through all your findings, looking for patterns, themes and common threads that are shared by all these constituencies. You’re going build your brand strategy around all the positive insights you uncover. You’ll eliminate or rectify any negative traits. You’re going to survey your competition and examine how they’re branding themselves. You’re going to look for any “white space” that may be available to you. And you’re going to wrap your brand strategy around a brand promise that only you can deliver. This initiative will be led by your marketing team and, as CEO, you will involve yourself closely. But don’t forget to get sales involved. They are the people who know the most about your current brand and will be most directly affected by any changes.
In addition to visual stimuli, brands also do a fair amount of communicating through language. Using both the written and the spoken word, brands need to engage in dialog with their markets. Of course, brands should mostly be listening. But, on occasion, they’ll need to answer a question or impart some important information. When that happens, it’s important for the brand to affect the correct demeanor – the right voice – so as to elicit a positive response from the market. The potential voices to choose from range from austere to zany. These days, as America, grows more casual, corporate voices are trending away from the deadly serious end of the scale. The most serious national, brand spokesman I could find is Dennis Haysbert for Allstate Insurance. And even he delivers his lines with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye. I guess, in these troubling times, nobody wants to be the voice that tells you, in no uncertain terms, that you have to eat your vegetables. Consumers won’t stand for it. So how does one determine the proper voice for one’s brand? And how does one formalize it?
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Best Branding Reads
Week of September 14, 2020
The Reason Good Businesses Tell Boring Stories
They confuse story with narrative.
Brand Loyal vs. Price Loyal: How Customers Perceive Brand Value
If you can’t attract them with your brand, forget them.
Time And Intensity Redefine Brand Engagement
Consumers today – Fully engaged or completely disengaged.
Ask Not What Your Community Can Do for You…
Can your brand provide the glue that binds individual customers into a community?
Jet refuels its brand as it heads towards a low carbon future
Can you make money by encouraging your customers to buy less of your product?
New Logo, Identity, and Packaging for Omsom
Food packaging takes a bold new approach.
Marketing’s Role In Quality Of Life
Marketers are getting a front row seat at the game of life.