Few things are more commercially powerful than your customers seeing themselves in your brand, connecting with your product value, at scale, across the marketplace.
Concepts, like brand and community, are big aspirational ideas with tangible applications. Not every company will build a community of substance, but success without brand connection with your customers, outside of a pure commodity play, just doesn’t happen.
Brands, at their core, are rapt with anomalies.
We design them with specific intent but in reality, they exist solely in the emotions and beliefs of our customers. We craft each component, but the results are unpredictable at best, ineffable even. We build them with excruciating attention to detail, yet their power and control rests solely in our customers’ perceptions.
And of all the things we do as marketers, nothing pays back dividends more than a brand that connects with passion and purpose. You can’t hold a brand in your hand it but you can measure its value in dollars.
From a market perspective, a brand is simply your customer’s and the market’s view of your company value translated into their own terms that drives their purchasing behavior.
It’s that simple to define. And truly difficult to place in motion.
Whether you are Lululemon selling joy wrapped in yoga gear, Nordstrom’s selling customer service as shoes, or Blizzard skis selling attitude and over the top performance with their new Bonafide—It’s brand that drives who they are in their customer’s eyes.
As entrepreneurs, we start from nothing and will our brands into being. Graying brands are dusted off as markets and products change. And we leverage brand value into new products and broader markets.
Brands are mostly built by intent, and however different the segment and state of the company, I always comes back to these four simple elements to build from.
-What is your company about? It’s core value?
Not just today, but over time.
Are you selling sneakers, sports footwear that speaks to excellence on the court or performance engineering? Waterproof hiking boots, the wonder of the great outdoors or wildlife preservation? A business tool for predicting and managing growth or power of the science and math to add weight to business decisions?
This is non trivial to really get clear. It’s a powerful rudder for business and communications decisions once you discover it.
-What’s the connection between what you believe and what you sell?
Some companies sell their dream and wear their core beliefs on their sleeves. The artisanal movement is all about this. One to one connection between product and value.
Or are you like General Electric, donating money to ‘causes’ to elevate your humanity in your customer’s minds? Or a neighborhood business giving part of your profit to support your local schools giving back where you earn?
Digging in and really understanding who you are, and how you sell and attract customers, is key to playing out how true your brand is and how it plays into your model.
-What’s your unique vernacular and voice?
How we are heard is equal to what is said. A core marketing tenet.
Are you about information, crisp and clean? Referential and objective, or conversational, messy and communal? Are you about delight in a phrase that informs, or a SKU number to purchase with the utmost efficiency?
There’s no one right answer and the brands that rise from nowhere to become part of the mass market’s world are invariably inventing a new voice along with new value.
-Is what you look like who you are?
Do you really think that how you look is who you are? Or are you a platform to surface the perceptions of your customers? Or are they one and the same for you?
Brand, as a term, came from branding livestock to create ownership stamps. I’m a believer that how you dress is part of who you are. I’m not a believer that logo and presentation as marketing is key. It colors more than it defines.
Whether you are a bakery down the street, a global platform for gathering opinions, a neighborhood brewery or a social network. Whether you sell to customers directly or sell to partners who touch the customer through their own brand, these are the questions to ask yourself. These are the conversations I have with clients every week.
It’s that amazingly not simple, like all things marketing.
We all start out believing we are Apple. The penultimate example of a mass market brand that is loved and revered.
All brands are not created equally of course. Some by definition are highly charged, like Apple, Armani, Porsche or your local artisan. Some are functional, yet still essential, like QuickBooks or Asana. And some we use but honestly dislike and will replace as soon as there is an alternative, like Time Warner Cable or Verizon Wireless.
We start from the same place, from the same four questions and end up where the market, your skills and luck takes you.
Brands are not market veneers nor window dressing or a makeover.
They are the molecular element that is inclusive of everything from your product capabilities, your pricing, to your company attitude. It’s what compels people to buy your product rather than someone else’s. Pay a bit more to support you and most important, feel like you are making the product just for them. And feel good about it buying it and making it their own. Then sharing that decision and contentment with others.
That’s where brand value becomes market magic.
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Best seat in New York…
I need some Jackson Pollock to feed my soul today.
Building things that are different, inventing the future and creating a real business is a long and often very lonely slog. But you don’t hear about that. Instead what you get is a lot of babble about startups from so-called mentors, advisors and startup gurus. Peel away their sharkskin and you find they have never started a company, and they continue to live in the reflective glory of the company that once employed them. Others are the creation of social media, having struck a pose. And some are born consultants. They find willing listeners among a growing army of entrepreneurs who like enterprenuership as a lifestyle. — Om Malik (via joshuanguyen)
I’m a believer that the market is always right.
This doesn’t mean that the market knows what it wants, nor that you don’t have to sell smart and hard, and often take huge, gut-directed leaps of faith to nudge it in your direction.
But it is the only proof that matters. It’s the playground where it all happens.
I’m a believer that marketers, at their best, are the practitioners of market dynamics. Their job is to understand that consumer behavior is the atomic element of any market, and the key behind every transaction. This is expertise and gut talent you need on your team.
Marketing, as a point of view and a mastery of skills, is often misunderstood and invariably butchered by definition.
What marketing does is simple to phrase–working the world from the market side in—but just plain difficult to do, and beyond challenging if you don’t have the DNA for it.
–>Marketers work the space between what customers feel they are buying and what the company thinks they are selling.
–>Marketing’s goal is connecting the right customer to your product in the most effective way at the most opportune time.
–>Marketing’s secret sauce is aggregating customers into groups, groups into communities, and communities into that ineffable broader market that really matters.
–>Marketers are obsessed with why customers should care enough about your product, your brand and your company, to share that connection.
–>Marketing knows that buying is an act of approval. Margins are a calculation, pricing as part of consumer value is market intuition.
There are scads of metrics that are used by marketing practitioners, many invaluable, though none of them matter at all if you don’t sell product and establish a brand with true customer value.
It’s a long journey to a black and white judgment as to whether marketing made it all come together. Most successful marketers are heroes or bums many times over in their careers for just this reason. The old Hollywood saying that every ‘movie executive will one day come to work and be fired’ could well apply to the marketing leader as well.
Marketing exists at the intersection of customer behavior, strategic intent, partnership with sales and product, and maniacal mastery of executional details.
If you limit marketing to execution alone, it will never be effective. It you remove it from tactics, it’s all just talk. If you are driven by anything other than getting customer behaviors in line with market intent, you are simply playing the odds. And if you don’t work hand in hand with sales and product, you will always fail.
It’s crazy stuff.
The intersection of soft sweeping strategies, deep value understanding, an infantry of special team skills and science, and hard visible tactics. But at the end–stuff either works or it doesn’t. Traffic pays off over time or it doesn’t. People come in the door with intent to buy or they don’t. Clever is stupid to many and funny is flat to more. And brilliant strategy at 20,000 feet doesn’t fill the sales funnel.
We judge marketing by countless data points daily–customer acquisition costs, buzz, lead counts, how the logo looks, brand value that drives a premium price—and the pride and joy that comes from a market that tips its hat to your product and brand behavior because you are a cut above.
It’s all about the obvious and what’s behind it.
Not simply about drawing customers to you (which of course you do), nor simply about pushing intent down the chute to the transaction (which we certainly do as well). Perfection can be mechanical, but it’s not what counts first. You can scale an undeniable core customer value by beating on a drum if that is all you have. But you can’t make people love you if they don’t.
It’s that’s simple.
The social web has invariably changed everything in our world including the gestalt of our markets and how we impact them. More profoundly than even the internet and basic ecommerce itself.
It’s evolved a new language for business communications. Handed the power baton to the customer and established socialization as the vernacular to how we market our products and manage our communities.
It’s a massive customer sandbox for product development and communications. And a place to play nicely with the market when you don’t really have all of your pieces in place. It’s made the unimaginable, possible.
It has also made us lazy and mistake activity as work at times.
The web, the social nets are not the market though they are critical ramps to it. Nor is social media the new marketing. Not in any way!
The web, although it has accelerated everything– including consumer evolution– is not the end game. The customer is, and they straddle the off and online markets naturally. So does marketing when it is cognizant of itself and its purpose.
There are people who are really skilled community managers, gifted mavens of the social channels, wordsmiths that wow us with how good we sound, scientists who dream SEO ratios and savant email strategists who are magicians at touching just the right person at the right time with a message that will get opened just when it should.
Every one of these activities will fail unless integrated into a coherent point of view. This can be discordance at a deafening din or perfection without self-awareness or soul.
Every one of these doesn’t matter unless they are strung together somehow under leadership that can orchestrate the nits and the message with the right cadence and crescendo.
Markets matter. In fact, as an aggregate of a possible consumer population, they are all that matters!
Marketing is the other side of the market coin. Inextricably intertwined.
It is the fabric of communications and connections that with lots of luck, creativity and deep craft, can take an idea and turn it into a household brand, can make the elusive, the almost ineffable, tangible and a new market reality.
To comment on the blog post—>Marketing matters…
Sighting of these bags filled with blended greens, elixirs, and raw treats are being seen all over town.
At doorman stations, in incubator frigs, in corporate lunchrooms, in gyms.
www.lulitonix.com is getting a good start.
Value needs to be sold... -
The web makes starting things easy. It also makes us a bit lazy and smugly entitled.
We throw up a blog. Set up a store and sell something. Imagine a market or merchant need, and thread connections in a new way with an eye towards relayering peoples wants and needs.
It’s easy and inexpensive to get started on the web. Technology is our ally here.
Human nature, however, is not, and the web is littered with lightly programmed skeletal ideas hanging by threads. Not ready for prime time, not sure where to go next and no real idea how to get there.
Somehow people think that it just happens.
And somehow businesses think that just being there is marketing itself, as if the web is a favored address with qualified street traffic walking in the door.
Of course, neither is true.
There’s a softness that comes from these expectations that is out of whack with reality. There’s a misunderstanding that even though your customer may be in control, they certainly aren’t always right. That opted in discovery is what lead gen should be but you need to push hard before the market starts to pull.
This customer first perception as right as it is, is wrong when it drives marketing as survey, marketing as asking a customer what they like and what they want. It is about setting a new context and selling the value of the experience. Then you see if it touches a nerve
Actually, Henry Ford captured this perfectly:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
At its core, permission-based marketing has nothing to do with asking the customers or the community what they want. They are giving you the permission to sell them, not determining what they want.
I believe that core value needs to be sold. Sold smartly and sold hard. It’s really that simple, although the craft of selling and the orchestration of setting the proper environment are anything but trivial.
Neither the market nor people know what they want until you sell it to them. I’m not referring to a transaction, but to shared perceptions of a different tomorrow. Letting something be tried on with anticipation and good will, and seeing something in a new way.
New doesn’t just happen, it needs to carve it’s own spot in the market. New doesn’t exist to be bought, it needs to be sold within a conversation. Within an experience. Within a new context.
Some ideas have logical inklings of pent-up market demand (a singular online POS system for all consumers), and some things have merchant demand (customer acquisition tools that work for the SMB) but a generalized need and product that suits it are completely different.There are exceptions of course, but there are no overnight successes.
The idea of “Build it and they will come” is no idea at all.
We all dream of that magic moment when you stop pushing the market and it starts to inch toward you and pulls, as if with new found gravity. When your dashboard of metrics on campaigns and activities has no logical relation to the positive growth of traffic, transactions, referrals or market attention.
Most every successful company and product has that market aha moment.
It doesn’t happen because you built something and the market just moseyed on over. It happens because you pushed and sold, with passion and persistence. Because you found bridges between circles of adopters that, in total, defined a new community of customers.
Ideas in product form are the fuel that drives, but that the market defines. In between is where we work, iterate, execute and create our own luck.
Selling value is tough. Marketing is tough. Building something new is always devoid of oxygen at first. There is never momentum until we create it.
The cool thing of course, is that it can happen and does, every single day, and changes the market and potentially our fortunes along with it.
My last post, “Marketing Matters…” was a primer, and a reminder that marketing, as a mindset, is the other side of the market coin. That marketing is part of what you build and how you sell, and the interpreter between what you so believe to be true and what the market comes to adopt.
This post is a further nudge to all of us.
That value is there to be sold, not simply discovered. That just putting it out there is a non-starter.
That you need to create a common ground where selling what you believe on your customer’s terms is key, and that listening to their response, not asking for their approval, is how you create a new market reality with yourself firmly entrenched as part of it.
Blog post and comments—> Value needs to be sold…
Check out the first post in the series—> Marketing matters…
My favorite art show of the year.
Nothing like an icon captured from real life to transport you beyond yourself.