Throughout my career as a marketing and branding strategist I’ve always started a new engagement by asking the same question:
Me: Why should people buy X product or Y service?
And I almost always get the same answer:
Earnest CEO/Director/Sales Manager: “Oh, because we’re the best.”
This question and answer pattern has become so predictable that I have to bite my tongue and let them finish before diving into my well-practiced response:
People don’t buy your app, your book, your subscription box, your jacket, your soap, your chocolate, your candles, your artisan blankets because they are the best.
They buy your products and services because of how they make them feel.
This response often makes people uncomfortable. Feelings scare people. Feelings are not numbers. Feelings are not easily quantified. Feelings can be unpredictable. Feelings rarely show up in customer survey responses and for the record, I’ve been asked once-ever in a user interview to describe how a transaction made me feel about a brand.
Saying, “We’re the best” is the worst way to qualify your business. It’s meaningless.
This seemed incredibly obvious to me, coming from a publishing background where we would never answer the question, “Why should I buy this book over the literally thousands of other books in this store?” with “Oh, because it’s the best writing. The author’s command of diction is stellar and they really cared about what they were writing. They really thought about the end-user.”
First of all, the “end-user” is a term I hear all too often. The “end-user” is a reader. A buyer. A fan. A human being.
Second, as human beings, we are wired to seek out a human connection and shared experiences. No one buys a book because the designer was a master at margins and page breaks. They buy a book because it promises escapism, or help, or inspiration, or information, or an education. The story makes them feel what it’s like to be a different version of themselves -- their best self, their more exciting self.
Our approach to evaluating products and services is the same. When we consider buying something, we’re visualizing what our life would look like with that thing in our life. When I buy that double-stitched, rip-proof, reinforced zipper hiking backpack with the removable hydration pouch, I am picturing a world of travel and possibilities ahead. It excites me.
When I’m deciding which small business software to buy, I’m imaging how my life might look after using it. Will I be more productive? More organized? Less stressed? Will it leave me feeling like it was worth every one of my monthly pennies?
When I’m looking to buy gifts for my friends and family, nine times out of ten, I will choose a product or service that has a unique story behind it, and a purpose for its being.
And I’m not alone. Brooking’s research shows that nine out of ten millennials would switch products to purchase a more responsible option, with almost 90% buying a product purely on the basis of its social or environmental benefit.
There is real money tied to sharing and marketing your purpose.
What if I don’t have a purpose?
Yes, you do. You just lost track of it amongst the spreadsheets and P&L statements. Or, you let someone tell you your story was unimportant to the customer, they only care about price. (If this is the case, let me help you win this argument. Get in touch with me, ASAP.)
Let me give you some examples using completely made up client-types representing product, services, and multi-purpose social organizations.
“We sell pipe cleaners...”
From the classroom to the craft room, the kitchen table and on car trips, our pipe cleaners inspire fuzzy spiders, springs, and rings. A durable bend in every color imaginable, Pippa’s Pipes knows, there are a thousand ways to be creative.
Purpose: Celebrating the art and benefits of open-play and early childhood education.
Feels like: Nostalgia, Fun, Creativity, Possibility
“We build software…”
Rigorous standards and a human-approach, TechCo helps you build for today, tomorrow, and the future of your business. Our approach is where technology meets empathy, because at the end of every application is a real person.
Purpose: Building radically inclusive technology that doesn’t put its own ideologies before the user. Building for outside the bubble.
Feels like: Confidence, Client-focus, Long-term investment/relationship, Level-headed, Mature
“We sell soaps handmade by women’s prison inmates, but also teach them vocational skills, and have a large hand in affordable housing advocacy and recidivism programming. But we need help selling the soaps...but also want to create awareness for all the other things we do.”
Second Chance Soaps provide female inmates with the opportunity to build savings and receive the vocational training necessary for a smooth transition back into society. All proceeds from this bar go directly toward the Second Chance Sisterhood Co-Op where the earnings are distributed to its workers. We partner with the Women’s Incarceration Fund to advocate for policies and programming that support the Second Chance road ahead.
Purpose: A holistic and comprehensive approach to women’s social justice and advocacy.
Feels like: Compassion, Understanding, Renewal, Do-gooding, Hard-work, Sisterhood
The story you tell about your brand gets people to pay attention to you for a split second longer than your competitors. Strike the right cord, and they’ll hover over your Contact, Donate, or Add to Cart buttons.
Make them feel like they want to join you on this adventure and that together you can start contributing to the bigger picture, and they’re your next brand advocates.
Whatever you do, please, do not lead with “We’re the best, I promise!”
If you’re in a slump, your marketing feels like more of the same, your sales team is struggling to convert leads, and your people seem uninspired, it’s time to look at your brand through a third-part lens and ask:
What reasons have you given to make me care? Do you spark any feelings in me? Does it seem like you’re just trying to sell to me? Does my money do more than line your pockets?
If you’d like a taste of what an experienced, objective, third-party evaluation could reveal about your brand, sign up below for a complimentary brand assessment, below.