Does your brand mean something to your customers? If so, what does it mean to them? What are the things that you brand needs?
Consider today’s most prominent consumer brands. When you buy a pair of Nike shoes you’re not just buying fabric and rubber — you’re attaching yourself to the feeling of perseverance, athleticism, and victory that Nike presents alongside its brand.
When you fly with Southwest, you’re choosing affordability and mobility.
When you drive a Subaru, you’re buying into adventure and thoughtfulness.
What Are You Signalling?
Ultimately, your brand is a signal to your potential customers.
And it has real financial value. One study from Consumer Reports found that brand-name products cost an average of 25% more than the generic product. Why would anyone pay extra for that brand name? Because the brand name means something to them — quality, trustworthiness, or familiarity.
Your brand also gives the customer an opportunity to signal something to everyone that sees the product. If you are carrying a luxury purse, then you’re signaling your wealth, class, and style.
Signalling is why presidential candidates wear blue jeans and roll up their sleeves in TV commercials — they’re signalling that they’re hard-working and relatable. They’re just like you!
Different brands create different signals, though. What does your brand signal to your customers and the people in their sphere of influence?
Identify Your Why
In his book Start With Why (and the corresponding TED Talk), author Simon Sinek explains the “golden circle”. In his illustration, there are 3 concentric circles — Why (the innermost circle), How, and What.
Sinek describes that if people buy into your brand’s Why (it’s larger purpose) then they’ll buy your What (your product).
What your company makes is not compelling enough. There are always competitors that can offer a substitute product. Your company’s Why — your purpose — is what customers are really buying.
Not only do you need to identify your Why, you also need to communicate it so that your employees, partners, and customers are aware of it and buy into it.
What’s Essential About Your Company?
In another one of my favorite books, Essentialism, Greg McKeown shares his philosophy of “the disciplined pursuit of less.” The book is written for bettering your life personally, but it applies incredibly well to business as well.
McKeown argues that “Almost everything is noise and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.” He argues that we should only invest in those areas that are truly essential.
In one of the most powerful quotes from the book, McKeown says “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
I’ve often seen businesses fail in this area. Companies too quickly let everyone prioritize their initiatives for them. You can’t please your leadership team, investors, employees, customers, business partners, and customers all at the same time.
Steve Jobs said “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things. You have to pick carefully.”
What is the essential strategy or competitive advantage that your company offers? Go all-in on that essential element. Too many businesses try to do it all and over-invest in non-strategic areas.
Aspirational and Identity Marketing
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Compare your brand’s Why with your customer’s identity, aspirations, and problems in life. Then, offer to be their solution.
Financial services companies aren’t just offering a web portal for managing investments for retirement. Web portals and easy interface aren’t truly what their customers are seeking. Financial services companies are offering a clear path to freedom and security in the future. They’re selling hope. That’s the Why.
To go back to the Nike example, their customers don’t just need shoes. Nike customers want to overcome adversity in their lives on and off the field. They want to set a new personal record. They want to feel like they’re able to be the best version of themselves.
Make it romantic and idealized. Make it attractive. If Nike can make exercise apparel beautiful, then your business can be beautiful too.
But there has to be truth to your messaging. Your Why needs to be a visible, organization-wide priority.
Use Your Why as a North Star for Strategic Decisions
Your Why needs to be present at every level of your business.
And it needs to be present even when the customer isn’t in the room.
From my experience, this is the most difficult part of strategy for business executives. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to good opportunities. Don’t fill up your bandwidth okay or good ideas. If you do, there won’t be room for the great ones.
If a project doesn’t progress your Why, don’t pursue it.
Intentionally apply your brand’s Why as a filter to eliminate non-essential and non-strategic products and initiatives.
Use Your Why for Clarity in Marketing Messaging
The final step is to effectively communicate your Why to your customers.
This is where segmented messaging can be appropriate, if done strategically. You can reach different customer segments and sell different products while still maintaining your focus on your core Why.
But always maintain that focus. You have to tell your story for your customer to engage with it.
Consider Apple as an example. They offer a variety of products — phones, computers, watches, music, video streaming, and data storage.
They’re not selling all of their products to the same customers, so there’s segmentation. But the Apple brand means something consistent throughout these segments: innovative solutions with beautiful design.
And that’s what their customers are buying. They’re buying forward thinking, a premium experience, and a brand that will be meaningful to them every time they see the product design and the Apple logo.
So what are your customers buying from you?
If you’re only selling a product, then your product is a commodity. To build a competitive advantage over time, you need to be selling a meaningful Why.
Mr. SR writes about personal finance, decision-making, and early semi-retirement at Semi-Retire Plan. He has been featured on MSN, Yahoo Finance, and Databox and holds a master of science degree in business marketing.
Mr. SR is a fan of college football, Taylor guitars, and extra-large coffee mugs.