Your brand should be a story. You know, a “Once upon a time…” story, a “What’s your story?” story. A proper page-turner with heroes and villains, ambition and jeopardy, conflict, journey, epiphany, and, if you’re lucky, a bit of good old-fashioned magic.
While it would be lovely if all organisations were forced to communicate via the medium of the fairy tale, what I’m getting at here is connecting with prospective customers, talking to them in the way that their brains want to listen and talking about something that actually matters to them. Most organisations don’t do this very well and it’s especially noticeable when they’re talking to other organisations. B2B communications are still largely dominated by the features of the products and services they’re trying to promote and the physical attributes of the organisations offering them. They talk about themselves and their widgets. And that’s completely understandable because that’s their area of expertise; it’s what they know, it’s who they are.
But the problem is they’re not the only ones talking about those products and services, unless they’re very lucky – and even then it won’t be for long.
The gaggle of carbon copies of any commercial enterprise you can possibly think of are all talking about vanilla versions of same thing.
For the prospective customer this is a nightmare. On the face of it, choice would seem to be a good thing. But it can very easily be an “unwelcome benefit”. The act of choosing is an outcome arrived at following of a whole host of other processes and acts, most of which happen below the level of our conscious, rational minds.
Choosing implies making a decision, favouring one option over another (or several others usually). It implies that there are criteria for judgement against which the favoured alternative is deemed to perform better, that it is somehow more suitable and that the others are less suitable. That’s asking quite a lot of the customer. If it were true, it would require them to not only be experts with detailed product knowledge but also ready with a predetermined virtual “score card” of criteria, against which each of the available choices would be judged individually. Some purchase decisions are made like this of course. A whole discipline has evolved within larger organisations to try to rationalise all purchasing activity in the name of accountability, and these days CSR too. And that’s a good thing, in many ways.
Most things are not bought like this though.
Most customers are not experts on the items they are purchasing and they don’t know which option is “better” than the others. Not only that, but once they have come to a decision and chosen, they don’t really know why they chose that way and even spend quite a while worrying about whether they made the right choice. It’s called cognitive dissonance or buyer’s remorse, and it’s all the proof you need that choice is not all it’s cracked up to be.
But actually, the problem I’m describing isn’t really due to choice. The issue is quite the opposite. It’s that we don’t perceive there to be a proper choice when all the offerings are so similar or when we’re unable to confidently tell them apart and know or feel which is more suitable than the others.
In the customer this is through lack of experience; in the supplier it is lack of differentiation.
And while many competing offerings within the same category are often made to appear a little different from one another, those differences are usually arbitrary, superficial and irrelevant. And so our wonderfully creative and powerful brains make up their own ways of deciding which one is “better” – and that’s a phenomenon for another time and another blog, coming soon.
As customers, what we really want is a way of knowing, of feeling and believing how to choose. We know what we want to achieve and that usually also includes something we want to avoid. We also want to be able to trust the organisation that we buy from. We want to be as confident as possible that what we’re buying is indeed going to provide the outcome that we’re after.
We can tell the story behind why we’re buying.
So… brands that can talk to the customer about all of those different components comprising what they “need” are so much more engaging and appealing than their competitors.
In the same way that the customer has reasons why they want to buy, brands should communicate the reasons why their offering will meet that need. As customers want to be able to trust in what they buy and the organisation that provides it, brands should provide ways to help prospects relate to them in the same way they relate to people. Humans can only relate to humans; that’s why pets have names and cars sometimes have genders. Assigning things human characteristics is called anthropomorphic personification and we do it unconsciously all the time. More on this soon too, in another blog.
Your next customer, then, is currently looking at some of your competitors (and hopefully you) and not enjoying the fact that she isn’t too sure who to choose, or indeed whether the product or service she thinks she’s going to buy is going to give her exactly what she needs. She can’t relate particularly strongly to any of the organisations and brands that she’s come across and she’s too busy to research it any longer. To win in this situation, your brand needs to reach and connect with her in different ways:
Get your communications where she will be exposed to them
Demonstrate that you understand her need; the circumstances that cause it and what’s at stake
Provide the reasons why your offering fulfils that need
Explain what you will do to make sure that it does
Describe what is distinctive about the approach you take
Provide ways in which she can relate to your organisation and brand as if she were dealing with a person (which she is really – so it shouldn’t be hard)
Have opinions, beliefs and a personality and above all, integrity and authenticity
Put all those elements together and you have the building blocks of a narrative. Tell your brand story powerfully and loudly and you will be heard by and attractive to customers with a similar “need” story.
Get together and live happily ever after!