Brands have been with us since the dawn of humanity.
Even in prehistoric times, things like face paint and feathers in our hair identified our tribe.
As our world became more complex, the importance of brands steadily increased. A red cross on a white tunic spoke volumes about the faith and politics of a crusader. A swastika captured the nihilistic worldview of an entire nation.
But the real power and importance of brands only emerged after World War 2.
Brands and commodities
At war’s end, factory owners switched from producing fatigues and boots to blue jeans and sneakers.
That created a problem.
They flooded the market with identical sneakers that could only be priced based on their utility. They protected my feet, and cost a nickel to make…they’re worth 20 cents tops.
Factory owners knew that was no way to get rich. So they invited ad guys to the party, and challenged them to create a way to drive up sneaker prices.
The ad guys created brands.
These brands told consumers that a product was special because of the feeling it gave you. Not because of how it was made, or what it cost to make.
This intangible aura became brand value, which became the cornerstone to value pricing. Brands enabled factory owners to charge $150 for a running shoe, instead of 20 cents.
What is a brand?
A brand is two things.
First, a promise the product makes to you. I am a sneaker. I will make you feel like an athlete.
And second, a brand is an expectation. I am a consumer, If I give you $150, I expect you’re going to make me feel like Michael Jordan.
But there’s just one problem. When I promise you’ll feel like Michael Jordan because you’re wearing my sneakers, that’s a lie. You’re going to keep sitting on your sofa, eating snacks, with your Air Jordans on.
Here’s how advertisers got around that. They made the pitch emotional, appealing to the part of our brain that says ‘I don’t care, I want Air Jordans because they’ll make me feel cool!’ Before you know it, you’re reaching for your wallet.
Why do I need to build a brand?
You already have a brand.
As Malcolm Gladwell said in Blink, we humans form opinions about other people in the blink of an eye.
If you drive up to my jobsite in a beat up old truck, and you’re missing half your tools, I know you’re no good at what you do. And I’m not going to pay you a decent rate.
It’s one of the oldest truisms in my profession that if you don’t brand yourself, your customers and competitors will do it for you.
How to build a brand in a lowest-bid-wins world?
The importance of brands and branding comes down to one simple thing. The Unique Selling Proposition.
If you create a unique selling proposition, you create value in what you offer that goes beyond what you actually do.
A unique selling proposition is one statement that captures:
- What you do better than anyone else in the world…
- That is important to your customers, and…
- That you can prove.
Let’s go to the first point. What you do better than anyone else in the world.
When cars were first invented, somebody created the first tires. That person could legitimately claim to make the best tires in the world. He made the only tires in the world.
But then, somebody else started making tires. Did the original tire seller just pack up and go home? No.
He invented the first truck tire. And voila, he could claim to make the best truck tire in the world.
This could happen again and again. As long as our original tire seller kept staking out a narrower and narrower ‘exclusive’ niche, he could legitimately claim to be the best.
Sure his market would narrow. But wouldn’t you rather own a narrower market and pick your price, rather than being a faceless competitor in a broad market, charging a commodity price?
The brand you build needs to fulfill a real need your customers have.
Think of a carpenter. Most reliable. Good. Most experienced. Good. Ultra high end cabinetry. Very good.
Tallest? What? Nobody cares.
What about friendliest? That’s important, right?
I’d say friendly is what you need just to get to the party. You aren’t going to win the job with friendly.
The specialty you choose has to be important enough to your customer that they’d consider it a priority, and pay extra for it.
Now, you’ve established your speciality. You’ve discovered there are enough customers who want what you promise.
Here’s where the rubber hits the road. I want to hire you…if you can convince me your claim is true.
Where’s the proof to back up what you say?
Give me proof, and I’ll give you the job. Don’t give me proof, and I’ll just call you a blowhard.
Words, or actions?
The unique selling proposition is at the core of every great, profitable brand. You need one.
But a unique selling proposition, like a book on playing tennis, is just words.
Everything you do needs to back up the claim you’ve made. It’s a long process, and you can’t falter.
The good part is, you now understand the importance of brands and hopefully the brand you want to become. Which sets you apart from nearly every other person in your field. Congratulations, you’re no longer a commodity.
As a brand strategy expert, successful entrepreneur, and award-winning author, Marc Stoiber uses simplicity and creativity to help people discover what’s awesome about their business… and then helps them tell the world. For more on creating your company’s value proposition, connect with Marc on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and sign up to his monthly newsletter.
Want to try building your own powerful brand to create an unfair business advantage? Try out Marc’s Brand DIY Course – available now.