High flying business founders excel at brand building and wisely connect their products to customers' hearts and minds. Grateful shoppers love a company's emotional offerings and happily make repeat purchases. Such a connection yields sustainability and profits.
The key to an entrepreneur's success is his or her ability to establish a strong bridge of understanding between what he or she has to sell and what interested consumers want to buy that will satisfy their emotional wishes.
There are two equally solid structural pillars that support each end of the buying experience bridge. One pillar is anchored by consumers and how they see themselves and how they want to be seen by others. The other pillar is secured by a business owner and the products that match, with perfection, the emotional perceptions of the target audience.
Many shoppers, both male and female, want to be seen by their peers as smart, popular, in style, envied, admired, free, attractive, acceptable or interesting. Leaders of great brands understand these emotional wishes of unique buyers and build products and messages that resonate with them. When this connection is well done, both parties are pleased and tend to continue a lasting relationship.
Over the course of my forty years in business and an undergraduate degree in psychology (in addition to my MBA), I have learned the power of this special and sometimes unappreciated arrangement. Business owners sell to people (not inanimate objects) and people have feelings, attitudes, and deep emotions that affect and determine why and what they buy. In short, every product, even a loaf of bread, can have an emotional link.
With this thought in mind, please consider a few examples of this powerful concept.
Harley Davidson sells motorcycles and communicates to both men and women that its product helps them escape their dreary and mundane lives and for moments, hours or a few days, to embrace the “outlaw” culture. Hop on one of their “hogs” and you are no longer a CPA, or a teacher or dentist. You are liberated, unfettered with the wind blowing through your hair and the sun shining on your happy face. The roar of the engine sets you free to fly. It grants you independence and the power to pursue your dreams of freedom. The Harley Davidson motorcycle transcends rubber and steel; it becomes a magic carpet ride.
As a boy, TV ads proclaimed smoking would make me a Greek god--a hero. Do you remember Marlboro cigarettes? Brand managers built a bridge to young men who wanted to see themselves and be seen by others as rugged and masculine. I can see in my mind's eye a rancher--tall, handsome and stately--high in the saddle on his majestic horse. His image beckoned all males to join him, to ride the range, to be "real men.” The subliminal message was compelling and strong. The link was extraordinary but unrealistic. If I smoked this brand, I would be tough, envied, admired and appealing, just like him. My status among my peers would rise. With a Marlboro between my fingers and smoke flowing from my nostrils, I would be someone special. For a few of my high school friends, the appeal worked, and tobacco became an unwelcome addiction and later the cause of their early deaths. Fortunately, the connection didn't work for me and I chose another path.
Lastly, I asked a son-in-law why he buys high-end Canon cameras and not less expensive brands. As I dug deeply to understand his feelings, it became clear to both of us that he is emotionally attached to high tech. It is part of his persona. He is a "techie." Canon camera products and their branding match his needs perfectly. He is seen by his peers and family as very computer literate; can fix any device; knows every cool app. He owns everything Apple makes, iPhone 4S, iPad 3, etc. Curtis and his genre are known by Apple. Apple brand managers make sure engineers build the best devices and then promote them perfectly to adoring fans. The emotional bridge is exceptional between Apple and its loyal buyers .
Apple's commercial in 1997, following Steve Jobs return to power as CEO, addresses the emotional reason people use Apple. "Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. Apple is more than clever devices. It's a way of life.
Keep in mind that thoughtful entrepreneurs have found it's hard work, challenging and time consuming to build brilliant brands. Savvy leaders start with research and a concept, followed by a plan, a design and lastly superb execution. They begin with a clear understanding of the customer and what drives their purchasing behavior.
However, I have also observed that many companies miss the mark and unfortunately do a poor job of clearly declaring their emotional connection to customers. With this in mind, let me share six key steps to building a superior bridge to shoppers.
1. Know your customers well. Spend plenty of time becoming acquainted.
2. Learn what their emotional needs are. Dig deeply. Learn the feelings that influence their behaviors, attitudes and actions.
3. Understand your product's features and clearly recognize the emotional benefits your product can deliver to your buyers.
4. Is there a perfect alignment between your product's benefits and the consumer's emotional wishes?
5. Does your brand messaging clearly communicate the connection?
6. Survey customers to learn if the link is working. Is the value real? Is the consumer satisfied?
Customers tend to know what they want: listen to them. Customers like surprises: delight them. Customers have deeply felt emotions: appeal to them. Customers have individual needs and motivations: cater to them. Customers want fulfillment: provide it.
What are the brand bridges that are currently speaking to you? And how do you build these bridges in the products you develop for others? I welcome your thoughts. You can reach me at www.AlanEHall.com or connect to me at @AskAlanEHall.
Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is the Chairman of the Utah Technology Council.