August 17, 2010

Branding Starts With The Customer

Having difficulty knowing where to start when it comes to branding? 

Here's my take on it from an article I wrote for The Hub on

My customers sometimes tell me that the thing they find most difficult about branding is knowing where to start. And I know exactly what they mean.

When we look at the big brands, the celebrity brands, the ones that make the headlines, it seems that they ooze a power and charisma that’s way beyond the reach of a mere mortal brand. Our own efforts can appear grey and mundane by comparison and we can despair of ever finding something remarkable to say about what it is we do for our customer.

But for most of us, life isn’t a glamorous whirl of parties and high society, and just as I don’t look to the celebrities of cinema and sport for clues on how to lead my own life, I don’t recommend that you look to celebrity brands for guidance on how to build your own brand.

Instead, I suggest that you start with your customer and the problems they face and work from there. All business begins when somebody has something to sell that solves a problem for someone else. This is the basis of your brand, the reason why a customer will choose what you have to offer over what’s for sale elsewhere. The purpose of a brand is to make this obvious to your customer, so that they naturally and easily choose you as their favourite supplier.

So the first question we must ask when we brand is: What problem does my product (or service) solve for someone else?

Too often, we don’t even get that far. We’re so proud of what we have to offer that we don’t bother to ask why that should matter enough to someone else that they would be prompted to pay for it. If we don’t make it obvious to our prospective customer that we will help them to fix something in their lives that’s broken, or replace something that’s missing, then our product won’t attract their attention or win them over.

When we make it clear what problem we fix for our customers, then we can go on to say how we do it in a way that’s better than how our competitors do it.

So how does this work in practice?

Say, for example, that you’re an accountant offering the usual mix of financial services. You’re surrounded by other accountants, most of whom have studied at the same institute as you and have the same qualifications. Now look at the situation from the point of view of the difficulty facing your prospective customer. Their problem is not in finding a suitably qualified accountant. They’re spoiled for choice. You’re going to have to work a little harder if you’re going to stand out from the crowd.

Say that you get talking to that prospective customer and you learn that they find meeting their accountant to review annual accounts a frustrating and demoralising experience. They tell you that this has nothing to do with the actual accounts, just the whole experience of looking at numbers that they don’t really understand.

For them, this is the real problem. It’s also an opportunity for you. You might determine that you will be an accountant who helps your customer get on top of the numbers. Now you have a real problem to fix for your customer and a real basis for branding, a reason why prospective customers might choose you over other accountants.

So when my customers tell me that they don’t know where to start when it comes to branding, I tell them to start at the very beginning. Start with your customer and ask them what problems they face in their lives. When you’ve identified a problem that you can help them fix, you have the basis for your brand.

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