Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A balloon is more than a piece of plastic - why we should sell why instead of what

The other day I was out shopping for a doona and was once again stunned by how product centric sales people are. They go on and on about WHAT they are selling, telling me about the features of the different doonas, what fibres they are built of etcetera. But no where in the monologue was the information about what the fibres did to ME. WHY would I want one fibre instead of another? How would it affect my sleep...? Whether selling doonas, tv sets or computers, most sales staff forget about the most important thing. The customer.

Imagine selling a balloon as "an inflatable piece of plastic" and not mentioning joy, fun, laughs, party, freedom... 

Steve Jobs philosophy was to sell dreams, not products; for example he introduced the iPod in 2001 by saying: "In our own small way, we’re going to make the world a better place." Jobs wanted to serve the world, not just give us consumers what we think we want. He strived to be useful, not just cash in on market research identified demands.

Apple is today number 1 on Millward Brown´s list of most valuable global brands and number 8 on Interbrand´s list of best global brands, and no doubt one many people rave about. Brands like Apple - that are built around something stronger than simply making profit – are also financially outperforming brands that focus on money making alone.

According to research from Millward Brown, presented in Jim Stengel’s book “Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies” there is a huge difference in performance between ideals driven brands and others. Stengel identified the 50 brands that ranked highest on both consumer bonding and value creation over the past decade, and came to the conclusion that the best businesses indeed are ideals-driven. They actually outperformed the market over the past ten years!

Stengel describes the ideal as “the brand’s inspirational reason for being. It explains why the brand exists and the impact it seeks to make in the world”. Examples are Pampers that does not just sell diapers; but cares for the happy, healthy development of babies. IBM’s purpose is to make a smarter planet. Google exists to organize and give access to the information of the world, and Discovery Channel’s ideal is to satisfy curiosity.

Many brands have much more ego-centric brand statements, saying for example “we want to be the most innovative hair styling brand” or “we have the best interest rate”, but when shifting from what you do to why you do it, the brand will become ideals driven – and apparently more successful.

Author Simon Sinek and TED lecturer has in his studies found that brands that start with a “why” instead of a “what” will be more effective, since messages that tell the customers about the deep purpose of the brand will connect with the part of the brain – the limbic system – that handles emotions, and is in charge of decision making. When a brand just tries to attract the market with telling us “what” it offers, the message will only speak to the neocortex – the part of the brain that handles rational thinking. This part is less powerful than the limbic system, which is why “why” messages are so powerful; they connect with our hearts and feelings rather than our calculating mind. 

Brands that know how they change our lives to the better, and see themselves in a broader perspective – less like a product in a category, and more as a tool for life – will get closer to its consumers and become a friend, rather than a thing, which most likely will lead to a long term bond, making people come back for more.

Actually, brands that have become more than a brand, and more a part of life, are seen by the brain as a family member. When brand strategist Martin Lindstrom used fMRI brain scans to analyse people exposed to iPhone sounds, there was a flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. People´s brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.

This research has been criticised, but it´s still interesting. What if we can humanise the relationship between brand and consumer, and see how the same factors that attracts people to people can attract people to brands? What if brands can treat its target audience as an equal? Many products use hearts and the word love, but few really woo people like they would woo a lover. Close, respectful, listening.

The Millward Brown study and Simon Sinek´s research show that “love” is not just nice to have, but also very lucrative, and that a brand needs to have a strong core to get love; a good product is not enough and self-obsession is definitely not hot. What is needed is a purpose. An ideal. A dream. Only then, it will find true customer love.

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