A number of years ago I tried to figure out why our ad agency wasn't quite as successful as I would have liked. It finally dawned on me that we had been trying to sell something our clients might not have been interested in buying.
Quite simply, we were trying to sell better design work and they wanted to buy better sales. Sure it was more complicated than that but when you boil it down that was the gist of the disconnect.
What I understand so clearly now is that none of our clients are patrons of the arts. Instead they look at what we do as a means to an end. We're perfectly welcome to get our jollies by crafting our branding creations anyway we'd like but in the end we need to solve our clients' problems and sell their products.
The most interesting thing is that as we evolve our business and look for continuous ways to reinvent what we do — using more and more sophisticated technology, more and more talented practitioners, more and more complicated programs — the core service we provide gets simpler and simpler.
One of the biggest challenges technology presents all of us is the abundance of products and services it facilitates and the commoditization it creates.
Products and services that used to be exclusive to developed countries and sophisticated companies and professionals now glut the market because computers make it easy for them to be produced and distributed quickly and cheaply all around the globe. And where there used to be significant differences in quality between the goods produced by these different companies and countries, once again computers have shortened those gaps and reduced the differences.
So while being in a business where people buy products based on NEEDS used to be a strong market position, it isn't anymore. If I live up north where it's cold and I need to be warm, for example, many tropical beach destinations can solve my dilemma. But that creates a competitive situation amongst tropical destinations that drives costs steadily downward. Good for the traveler perhaps, but not so good for the hotels and amusements that service them.
If I'm going to an event and need a new pair of silver pumps to match my gown (yes, I am embracing my feminine side here), most any shoe brand that sells formal shoes can solve my problem. Again, this invites competition and drives prices down.
And if I want a pair of Jimmy Choo or Louboutin pumps, then their absolutely outrageous prices will seem utterly acceptable and reasonable. After all, if I WANT those shoes I won't be satisfied with anything else. In fact, the high prices might even add to my desire.
What causes this? Brand value. It's the perception of brand value that makes an Apple iPad worth more than a no-name Korean tablet and a cup of Starbucks coffee worth more than the same drink poured at the corner diner. Are the iPad and venti half-caf cappuccino actually better? That depends on what you what you need and how sophisticated your palette is. But it's ultimately irrelevant; the desire for the brand — the WANT — is what makes the product more valuable.
If you build a successful brand, not only do you move your consumer from NEEDS to WANTS, you can also go from WHYS to HOWS. You no longer have to spend your time, effort, and hard-earned marketing dollars convincing your potential customer WHY they should use you. Instead your efforts can be spent showing them HOW – how they can hire you. Do this properly and it reduces the need for competitive pricing, filling out mind-numbing RFPs, and putting on dog and pony shows for prospects. When clients want to hire YOU, not just someone who does what you do, you'll find that the entire sales cycle changes and the HOWS become the meaningful explanations that will get you hired.
NEEDS to WANTS and WHYS to HOWS. It took me a lot of years of hard work to realize it couldn't be much easier than that.