How To Build A Brand

How To Build A BrandI’m sitting in a very comfortable reclining chair somewhere between Beaumont and Houston Texas, somewhere around 35,000 feet. I’m in a brand new American Airlines 777-300 in business class seat 13D. I’ve got in-air Internet access, a bottomless glass of good red zin, and I’m about three hours away from LA.

Boz Scaggs’ Memphis is coming through the Bose noise-cancelling headphones and a selection of almost as many movies as I can find on Netflix are just a finger’s reach away. Since we left Miami I’ve already sent emails, chatted with my wife and kids on iMessage (apparently we might get a new dog named Cheyenne – that’s her on the left), charged my phone, downloaded Kendrick Lamar’s new release Untitled Unmastered (Don’t worry, I’m not that hip. My son Danny recommended I listen to it). I paid my Citicard bill, uploaded some images to my office, and went on Twitter to turn people on to Chris Boeskool’s brilliant article on the Huffington Post, When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression. (kudos to my friend Rick Lawrence who turned me on to it).

I had salmon carpaccio and a delicious vegetable paneer curry for dinner (in case it hasn’t yet dawned on you yet, good vegetable paneer beats the living crap out of the old granola bar and bag of stale nuts I usually eat on airplanes). I even had my choice of an ice cream sundae or cheese plate for dessert. Which, I gotta add, is not actually a choice. I mean, ice cream with hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts, and strawberries or cheese? Clearly I’m not French and I’m must not have a very sophisticated palette but ice cream or cheese? Really? I think that choice is kinda like deciding between a good back scratch or an anesthesia-free colonoscopy, but that’s just me.

I fly a lot and I get upgrades a lot but this is the first time that I’m sitting on a plane for more that two and a half hours and not constantly looking at my watch and not eager for the flight to end. For once I’m actually enjoying the journey itself, grasshopper.

Of course, as you’re already probably asking yourself, what’s not to like? Or, as Louis CK says, “did it ever dawn on you that you’re sitting in an easy chair IN THE SKY??!!”

Funny thing is I’m enjoying all these sybaritic pleasures that I’m not actually paying for. I mean I did charge them on my credit card but they’re not what I meant to buy. Because what I bought from American Airlines is transportation from Miami to Los Angeles.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that the cost of these wonderful services are in the ticket price I paid and I’m enjoying every bit of them. It’s only that all this good stuff is not what I bought when I went online and purchased my ticket. I didn’t ask what wine they were pouring, I didn’t ask what the dinner selection was, I didn’t ask what movies were available in the in-seat entertainment system. In other words, as much as I like the food and the surroundings, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been invited to speak at a conference in LA and didn’t need to get there.

Quite simply, that’s the difference between what I bought and what American Airlines trades for money. Which is a really good concept to understand if you want to know how to build your brand.

• Starbucks trades coffee for money but what we buy is a meeting place, a gathering place, a sense of neighborhood.
• Porsche trades getting from point A to point B for money but what we buy is performance, aesthetics, history, and attention to detail.
• The Miami Dolphins (or the Miami Heat, or the University of Florida Gators or whichever team you follow) trades entertainment for money but what we buy is a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a sense of self.
• Progressive or Geico or Allstate trades insurance coverage for money but what we buy is peace of mind, the knowledge that we’re protecting our families or even compliance with governmental regulations.

So what do you or what does your company sell? Yes it’s your product or service that you trade for money but what do your customers or clients or patients actually buy? You might think it’s the function of what you provide but let’s face it, unless you have a patented process or a trademarked recipe, what you trade for money is relatively generic. Sure no one does it as well as you do but do your clients actually know – and appreciate – that? I’d be willing to bet they don’t. After all, a clapped out Ford Maverick can get you to your office about as well as the legendary Porsche 911 can.

Instead it’s not what you trade for money, but what they buy, that is the real secret to your success. And if you want more of that success, all you need to do is figure out what your customers are buying and give them some more of it.

And guess what? Here comes the flight attendant with some more zin. While I enjoy the refill you should go figure out how to build a brand. Go ahead, I’ll wait.