(And why do we have such a hard time talking about it?)
Today I had wanted both to read about and then share some information and experiences that people have had about how customers discovered a business or a brand.
I found hundreds of “helpful” articles on knowing your customers (i.e., use our agency, please!) and about marketing in general. Knowing your customer is, of course, extremely important, and knowing what they want is equally crucial. But that’s not what I wanted to know.
Here’s why my question matters.
Imagine yourself in downtown Mesopotamia in 4,000 BC. Late afternoon. You ask your pal Atrahasis if he wants to look at this new thing you invented. It’s called a wheel. Atrahasis is very wise, of course, but he has never heard of it and does not know what in the name of Utu you are talking about. He declines the offer. You go back to your new wheel and ask yourself the same question: “How will customers find me?”
The secret is that they first have to know who you are. Customers have to know what you are all about and what makes you tick. They need to know if it will be good for them to know you. They have to have some experience or exposure to you. In short: you needed a brand before you tried to get Atrahasis on board.
If the answer to my original question is branding (and it is, by the by, in case you skipped my prehistoric anecdote), then why is it so difficult to find anyone sharing insights on it?
And now we come to the next and most baffling secret. This secret is 1) already known to everyone, 2) fervently denied by almost everyone, and 3) a great help to almost no one. It is the reason that when you google anything like BRANDING and MARKETING and ADVERTISING you get pages of self-serving listicles and pseudo-articles claiming to provide you with information but mostly just refer you to a link to click and a shopping basket to fill.
This deeply cloaked secret is that none of us in the various professions linked to sales, marketing, branding, public relations, advertising, or anything else related to these five forbidden planets seem to trust anyone else!
We don’t trust each other.
We think that if we collaborate or share that we will diminish our profit margins and lower the bottom line to the sub-basement. There is no one in particular to blame for this state of affairs. The real issue is that we are all selling a fairly limited amount of knowledge and that no one can really hold secrets about brands and marketing that the others don’t know. We are, in other words, five used-car salespeople trying to hock the same 1977 Pontiac Bonneville.
Putting my money where my typing fingers are, let me declare myself: I am a brand coach. This is true. Writing this article is a way of drawing attention to that business. Also quite true. The difference is that I am happy to write and publish anything about brands and branding that could be helpful to brand owners, to my fellow brand professionals, to marketeers, and to anyone who regards me as a competitor. Why? Because the more people know, customers and competitors alike, the better we have to become. And it is there, in this space of shared understanding, where the chance for real insight lies.
The high level of specialization in our rarified fields is as useless to the customer as it is expensive. Expensive because every new level of specialization leads to an even greater level of commercialization. In saying this, I do not feel that I am working against my own interests. On the contrary, people need to know – YOU need to know – how brands work and why they do. You need to know what you can do and what you cannot do with a brand. Knowing these things will be a benefit to all parts of this chain of commerce. From the initial idea to the last-mile delivery bike, customers and manufacturers and service providers all benefit from knowing the brand and what it stands for.
So how do customers find you?
They find you by seeing and reading about and hearing about your brand. They find you because what they see in your brand interests them, draws them in, hooks them, and attracts them. Clearly, without this, they could not choose you. This is not arcane knowledge, it is readily available from any of us brand professionals who wish to share. We should not be afraid of competition. We should welcome it. It makes us better and benefits the customer more.
And isn’t keeping the customer happy the last big secret?