Outside my office window as I write this, there is a lawn treatment service truck parked next door; on that motorized billboard there is a compelling brand promise: “Barefoot Approved.” The truck is clean, the technician looks professional, and the logo and graphics are appealing and stylish. This company has passively fulfilled several levels of brand acceptance, and I am not even in the market for their services.
Why not show a picture of a green lawn (or a shiny boardroom installation for that matter)? Good grief, everyone does that, and as a potential customer, that image adds very little to my decision process. I have no emotional connection to someone else’s lawn, nor is my primary goal to impress others with the uniform greenness of my landscaping. The brand message “barefoot approved” changes the criteria. It makes me want to enjoy my lawn. My bare feet are a much better judge of a successful outcome than my eyes. It’s an emotional customer experience moment.
Suddenly, I am a prospective buyer instead of just a target. I already expect this outcome to cost more than other providers simply because I want it more. If I were inclined to hire someone to feed my lawn, I might visit this company’s website. Or, I might go to a customer review aggregator, such as Angie’s List, to see if the ratings and comments are any good. My next step would be to contact the company and validate my perceptions, or more precisely, give the supplier the opportunity to support my first impressions. If all goes well, I will be paying a premium and expecting fantastic results. If they deliver, then this supplier will have my business for as long as my feet are happy, plus I will give them a nice review on Angie’s List.
Still think that marketing is an optional expense? Or that branding is just for big companies?
The important lesson here is that good branding leads with outcomes and not promises, processes, or platitudes. I like to say, “sell the end result and not the plan.” However, that outcome needs to be expressed in customer terms. Thinking about my lawn service example, they have probably spent considerable time and money to research the right ingredients and delivery systems to properly fertilize a lawn to achieve the intended results. Sure, I want lush and green, but to what end? So I can better enjoy my yard…with my bare feet. “Barefoot Approved” is a customer-centric outcome—something valuable to the buyer that might not be self-evident until it is cleverly identified and then connected back to the service.
Discovering what outcomes are important to your customers requires some basic market research. Do not succumb to the notion that you can derive what is valuable to the buyer through your own analysis. Needs and wants are not the opposite of complaints and concerns, which is where too many AV integrators start. There are a number of methodologies that can help you understand what excites your targeted segments. Traditional focus groups and individual interviews conducted by market research professionals will generate the best results. Online surveys can sometimes elicit useful perspectives of what your brand promise should be. Testimonials and accolades also contain clues about what really matters to customers. In any case, what you are looking for is the outcome with the most emotional impact. Do you know what a powerful and compelling outcome is for your customers?
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes. Tom helps owners and management teams rediscover the fun and profit that comes from making better decisions about smarter goals. Since 2006, he has successfully advised over two hundred companies and organizations on business strategy, process, marketing, and sales. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unpacking Brand Promises
Your brand promise doesn’t have to say anything about the product or service, which is a difficult concept for most stakeholders. It does, however, need to address an emotional fear, a personal need, or a desire for a powerful outcome. Here are a few examples that sound more like successful journeys than final destinations:
Martial Arts Studio: “Our Students Get Their Homework Done.” The brand promise suggests that the outcome of discipline in the dojo transfers to home and in school. Not only will the martial arts training teach a skill, it will enhance the student’s performance in other areas.
Auto Parts: “The Right Parts on the First Trip.” How many trips do you want to make to get the right part? Expert advice is the key to a great auto parts counter, and in the end, probably more important than price to the savvy mechanic. In the world of internet-enabled, self-service mistakes, this promise speaks volumes.
Home Repair and Remodeling: “It’s Like We Were Never There.” Why do customers hesitate to take on remodeling projects? Why do they dread letting contractors into their home? I think owners want the outcome, but fear the process. Can this company do it better? They are betting that this counter-intuitive promise will convince you that they are serious.
Generic corporate services promise: “Why hire us? Your job might depend upon it.” Are you brave enough to promise something that matters? Can you back it up with consistent, connected actions? Are your potential customers ready for something better?
In the end, your brand promise—no matter how well thought-out your strategy—is simply a collection of impressions to the buyer. It is not likely that you or I will come up with a succinct “Barefoot Approved” statement for our businesses. However, we can leave a lot of connected clues that will help customers overcome their fears and pursue their dream outcome.