At the start of every semester, I tell each new class that marketing is more than advertising and sales. Never has that statement been truer than now — with the increasing prominence of social media. Advertising and sales gain their glory from the ability to link them to profitability. But, it’s really these other elements of marketing that really allow advertising and sales to work. So it makes sense to explore how businesses can use these other elements of marketing to grow their business.
Increasingly, businesses recognize the importance of branding for marketing their products and services. What is branding?
We all have this vision of who we are and we buy brands that fit our image of who we are. We aren’t always the same person — even to ourselves and certainly not in every social setting. A big part of branding is giving products a personality that helps consumers decide if the product is “for them” or not.
I like to use the analogy of a hologram in describing a brand — it’s the sum of all the beliefs and attitudes about a product or service. These beliefs make a product seem real to consumers just like a good hologram makes an image seem like its right there with you. Consumers then buy brands that they see fitting into their vision of who they are.
Think about Starbucks. The coffee isn’t that great so if you think you can take their market share by creating a better coffee — you’ll lose. Same if you think you can sell a coffee for less than Starbucks — consumers don’t really care that Starbucks is seriously overpriced. In fact, consumers don’t go to Starbucks to buy coffee, even if that’s what shows up in the recipe. They buy Starbucks to reinforce their image of themselves as stylish, hip, urban, successful, and socially responsable (because Starbucks only buys fair trade coffee made by Baristas who receive reasonable wages and benefits). Sure, $5 is a lot for a cup of coffee, but very little to create an image of who you are. It’s also important that you consume Starbucks in pubic, so you’re not only creating an image for yourself, but one you project to those around you. I’ve even heard stories of folks washing out their Starbucks’ cups to reuse them — allowing them to reinforce the image of themselves for minimal cost.
Branding may fool consumers into buying a product, good customer service keeps them coming back. The most important part of good customer service is keeping your promises — if you promise consumers your brand will give them a bright smile, it better brighten their smile. As a matter of fact, if you can give consumers a little more than they bargained for, they’ll be thrilled with your products.
A couple of years ago I bought a jacket from Chico’s. They didn’t have my size in my local store, so they had it shipped from another store. Imagine how thrilled I was when the jacket arrived (with free shipping) to find a handwritten note from the employee who packed the jacket. Such a little think, but it made me even more committed to the store.
In Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” he chronicles the decline in community — no more block parties, massive community clubs, even scouting has dropped off a lot. Yet, as humans, we need that social connection. As smart marketers we know this and strive to create community — whether it’s a real community like the HOGs (Harley Owner’s Group) or online community such as a Facebook FanPage.
Community involves a different, more customer-focused form of communication than that employed in advertising. In fact, the self-serving nature of advertising is the antithesis of community building, which should be about them, not you.
A company doing a good job of community building is California Tortilla. The community manager does this by being real, involving customers, sharing the latest news and providing specials to community members.
And, Don’t Forget to Market to Internal Customers
What are internal customers, you ask? They are the employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders who help make the business a success. Without the active support of these folks, you’ll see lower returns. So, marketing should keep them happy, informed, engaged, and actively involved in the success of your firm.
I’m Sure I’m Forgetting A Few
But, that’s why I have my community. I’m sure some of you will quickly add to my list. Happy to have you folks on board.