When you want your brand to sell, consider first what branding will not do for you
Branding is not about selling.
Branding is about attraction, about creating affinities, and about earning a place in the hearts of your consumer. At best, we want people to feel very personally about their brands. We want them to feel like their Pumas, their Alfa Romeos, their Crest toothpastes, and their Lavazza coffees are integral parts not only of their lives but an expression of their personalities.
Branding is first your consumer’s identity, then the product’s.
This having been said, a brand is also a product and has to be sold. If no one is out there buying your brand, it means that you do not have a brand that people like. Easy. People do not like it (or worse still – people do not even know about it) and therefore they buy something else. And therefore, you start working on your CV and thinking about a career in waiting tables.
The title of this chapter, I will now tell you, is therefore based on a wrong premise. It should not be How to Sell a Brand but rather How People will Buy a Brand. It is a subtle difference but the difference is everything.
I will also tell you, while we are on the subject that you should never try to sell your brand.
The Art of Selling
In a sense, everything must be sold.
Manufacturers sell products to wholesalers. Wholesalers sell products to distributors. Distributors sell products to consumers. But we also sell ideas and opinions. We sell plans and strategies. In each case, one person is expounding more or less eloquently on the price, features and benefits of something and attempting to convert the listener. The conversion is a transactional process, at the end of which the buyer either shells out his money, changes his mind, or commits his time and effort. One person sells. One person buys.
Marketing spends a lot of time to understand as much as they can about what leads up to sales. They specifically target a certain group of potential clients as being the most likely to buy, based in most cases on mind-numbing rows and columns of numbers and statistics. They will check the age, gender, jobs, incomes, locations, marital status, ethnicity, nationality, religious affiliations, and many other demographic details. They will look at buying patterns, money spent on what kind of products in what retail outlets and when. They will check on lifestyles, hobbies, interests. The marketing people will examine the consumer to death by demographic, psychographic, behavioral, and geographic information until ideal consumers drip out of the small end of the funnels and a target group is formed.
They then work on how to make people in that target group decide to buy their product. The group may spend up to $3.50 on toothpaste, but may balk at paying more than $10.00 for a bottle of wine. They may like to shop in supermarkets better than corner shops. They may be willing to travel up to 10 miles to get to a mall every week but never travel 12 to get to a bigger one. Marketers will hone consumer profiles to a very fine point. Their job is to ensure that all the conditions are perfect for pushing a sale.
Then comes the critical moment. This is the moment when the consumer is faced with a pair of tube socks at the exact right price, in the exact place where they love to shop, and even at the right height on the shelf so as to be in their fields of vision – and they walk on by. They will not even look. They fail to react according to the numbers.
This happens all the time and that is also why marketing-driven companies like Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, and Mondelēz play the game of large numbers and volumes. With many products available in many places and at many price points, they still manage to rope in a massively large number of consumers who will hand over their money for Tide, Rexona, and Ritz crackers every day. The names are familiar, the prices are familiar, and the consumer – by eliminating other choices in a heuristic process – gravitates to them.
The whole process of sales and marketing is a push, pushing the consumer into the decision to buy. It is posited on the idea that if you know enough and act on the information, the consumer will decide to buy your product without thinking too much about it. It is a process of manipulating needs and desires while constantly pushing your product to the front of the line so that it will be chosen.
But none of this is branding.
The Power of Attraction
Branding is the opposite effect. It is not a push, but rather it is a pull. The brand will pull people toward it, attract people to it because it corresponds with who they are and how they see themselves in the world. Branding does not seek to sell – it seeks to have meaning and significance to consumers. Of course, once we identify with a brand as being the one for us, we will buy it – but that is just a natural movement and secondary consideration. The primary consideration for any brand is to mean something to the consumer as an individual and to acquire a place in his or her life.
The brand buys people.
Before you take this sentence into a board meeting and watch all of the finance, sales, and marketing people roll their eyes in disbelief, a little more explanation is required. We are in business to make money, right? We invest in manufacturing our Doo-Dads so that people will buy them, right? And now you are saying that we need to spend money to buy customers for our Doo-Dads?
A brand is a mix of different elements that are combined together to form a specific identity. This is not the identity of the product but of the consumer. And when the consumer is evaluating a purchase, he or she is not really looking at all of the manipulative tricks that marketing has prepared for them. They will be looking to see if it is a brand that resonates with them, that they would be proud to buy, that they would happily display or talk about or recommend. Contrary to popular belief, price is not dispositive in these decisions. People simply do not always buy the cheapest product in every category just because it is cheap.
We have to feel a kind of attraction to a brand, an attraction that is not dissimilar from that which we feel for certain people in friendships or in romances. Part of this attraction – and this is equally true with people, unfortunately – is the judgment on appearances. We swipe left or right based on a quick visual of the brand or person. In this way, brands must pay close attention to the colors they use, the fonts they employ, the packaging they choose, and the slogans they repeat. The attractiveness of the visuals, in fact, is a function of how well they conform to our expectations.
Imagine if you will a bright orange package with garish circus-like lettering across the front. In the top right is a big red star showing the price emblazoned in giant numbers. On the bottom left is a cartoon figure of a man with a preternaturally large smile pasted across his cartoon face. We can see it on the shelf from nearly 300 feet. It calls attention to itself. We can hardly avoid going to check it out just because it is so loud as not be ignored. So we approach the shelf with confidence to see what the fuss is all about. And it is a package of condoms.
Even the most permissive of societies and most open-minded of consumers consider the purchase of condoms as a kind of intimate act. Packaging that cries out for us to see it is at odds with our expectations. We expect to see a smaller, more discrete package. We also expect to see more subdued colors, such as blues, burgundies, or violets. Such colors evoke romantic settings and moods. Bright oranges and reds are more public colors. An illustration of an ecstatically happy man, while potentially having the virtue of being a true reflection of using the product (one hopes!), is not how we see ourselves buying the product. Some people may still feel somewhat sheepish about buying condoms, others more comfortable with it, but in the majority of cases, it is not something that we want to announce to our fellow shoppers or the check-out clerk.
We just want to buy them. We do not really need to tell the people in line behind us, “Hey, I am planning to have sex!”
In this somewhat extreme case, the brand has fully mismanaged the consumer’s expectations for the visuals. Many people may laugh and move past the circus-brand condoms, but some may still buy them out of a sense of fun. Surprise or irreverence or shock may be values that this company wants to get across. One of the brand’s underlying values may be to demystify sex and to promote safe and healthy attitudes toward it. The slogans that we read could be all about making the purchase of condoms a reflex – like the 1980s American Express advertising campaign: “Don’t leave home without it.”
Suddenly, the garish orange pack of condoms has a sense and a reason. There is more behind the surprising packaging than a need to call attention and try to sell more. This company is making a statement about social responsibility and public health.
In the next days and weeks, we start seeing banner ads and billboards – in the same loud colors and big print – for the condom brand. We see it on television and as an advertisement on dating apps and then nightclub sites and then on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We start to read articles talking about how brave this company is to take on a social taboo and make it their own. We read blogs that praise them.
Later, the brand launches a campaign for smart behavior concerning sex and distributes little orange pins that say “SAFE” in stenciled red letters. Celebrities are seen with the pins at award ceremonies.
The condom brand that startled us a few weeks ago in the shop is now the biggest selling brand in the nation. Other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon and try to lighten the tone of their brand communications. The messages we are getting from all side – that sex should be both fun and safe – all originated with one brand that dared to be different.
That is the power of attraction. This brand presented an entire personality to consumers, not just an unexpected visual, and the result was that consumers began to rally behind a brand that represented both themselves and the way they wanted to be perceived. Buying the condom brand showed that they were not just thinking of themselves, that sex was not a dirty thing not to talk about and to be overly discrete about.
That one need not whisper about buying condoms.
Branding is a process and takes time. In the same way as people do not become our best friends from the first handshakes and hellos, so it is with getting to know a brand. It is important to realize that this is a long game. We need to get to know about a brand, to test it, to hear about it from people we know, and to see it around. The more this happens, the more the brand’s personality gets showcased and the more it can become attractive.
It does not happen overnight, but when it does, sales surely follow.