The Brand Gap: Shifting your Marketing Appeals

More from Marty Neumeier’s great book The Brand Gap: Marketing appeals have shifted over time from the early part of the century. He walks through a timeline in the book:

1900 – Features – What it has?
1925 – Benefits – What it does?
1950 – Experience – What you’ll feel?
2000 – Identification – Who you are?

While many products and services still focus on their offerings and differentiators, there has been a shift to brand as personal identity. What does owning or being seen with this product or service say about me? This all goes back to the concept of customers as “tribe.” We as humans all want to belong to a tribe that meshes with our authentic self and also speaks to the person we want to be. You can call it a coolness factor, but it’s more than that. Marty talks about focusing on the UBS rather than the USP, as traditional marketing dictates. USP is the Unique Selling Proposition of the product itself; UBS refers to the Unique Buying State of your customers. This means tapping into their current and desired state of mind/being. You can see this is much more of a customer-centric view about what they are thinking and feeling than what you want to tell them about your product or service. This is also why you absolutely must flesh out your audience intimately (their likes, dislikes, pains, aspitations), and not just as a demographic.

I once proposed to a software company I worked for that we focus on making our customers (the buyers in the company’s IT department) “heroes.” While our product had lots of fancy features and capabilities, it was more about the basic human need people have to provide the right answer at the right time while at work.. They are in a tense meeting and they are asked by the higher-ups about specific stats or performance analytics. At that moment in time, they want to provide answers; they don’t want to look stupid. Our product helped them be “in the know.” I proposed building a whole campaign around “Do you know…?Yes, I know…” and tailor the example information to different audiences and industries. Fundamentally, that was the state of mind we should have been speaking to from a brand perspective. The company did indeed adapt a variation of this for their branding and advertising strategy,which really focused on how people FEEL in their jobs, vs. what the product could DO.

Yes, eventually you do need to talk about the actual product or service – you can’t get around that. But creating a higher level, aspirational brand message that speaks to the customer’s condition and state of mind will really help you differentiate from feature-filled product checklists. This is especially important in B2B marketing, as we often forget there are people – real, live human beings – making the buying decision, even if you are selling to a company and not consumers.

What companies – besides Apple, Virgin, etc – do you feel do this well? Any examples from local businesses or smaller companies?

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