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A Branding Primer for Sales Professionals
on August 3, 2005
Branding and selling must live in peace. They seldom do - and that's not good for anyone.
One reason there is confusion regarding brand/sales harmony is due to the over complicated nature of most books on branding. Branding has turned into a high concept domain of intellectuals and creative types that leaves the sales force feeling like strangers in a strange land.
The good news is that Marty Neumeier has taken the time to write with clarity. He brings brand into clear focus with a direct and easy to read book entitled The Brand Gap.
Here are seven branding truths from The Brand Gap that just may create sales-brand peace in our time!
1. Neumeier posits a simple, to the point, definition of brand, "A brand is a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company." Sales professionals understand gut feelings and ought never to forget this definition. Too often a sales process will treat the customer as a logical, rational being that will make the best choice based on the evidence. That kind of left-brained approach to selling ignores what people are really like. Yes, reason plays a part, but not nearly as dominate a part as sales people would like. It might be comforting to think that all you need is a well-reasoned argument for your product or service, but sales and brands are more complex than that. Too often brand managers have worked hard at creating that "gut feeling" only to have it undone by a "nothing but the facts" sales process.
2. The Brand Gap says - "The foundation of brand is trust". This is THE common ground of branding and selling. Trust is always the first goal. No product, service or company will ever communicate value without first establishing trust. Without trust, customers cannot assign value to you or what you are selling. Great brands create a context of trust. The sales person still needs to build individual trust, but without a brand addressing the fears and establishing a safe context - sales will continue to be at a disadvantage. Great salespeople will understand how the brand seeks to create trust while making sure their sales process builds on it.
3. This book establishes the value of a brand in a way with which every salesperson can fully agree. "The value of your brand grows in direct proportion to how quickly and easily customers can say "yes" to your offering." I think I can hear an "amen" in the sales department. But I would add one bit of caution: Very few sales are ever a matter of simply "taking the order". No matter how strong the brand is, salespeople must never hurry past the need to get what I call "the second yes". The first "yes" is the client's positive response to creative branding. The second "yes" is the client's positive response to a sales process that uncovers their individual needs.
4. Neumeier challenges salespeople to get beyond features and benefits. The lazy will resist this - the wise will agree. Brands these days are about "symbolic attributes". Product features can be quickly copied in a marketplace where mass customization techniques are available to all. But symbolic attributes get inside the heart of the client with a series of branded answers to key questions.
- What does the product look like?
- Where is it being sold?
- What kind of people buy it?
- Which "tribe" will I be joining if I buy it?
- What does the cost say about the desirability?
- What are other people saying about it?
- Who makes it?
This is all good for salespeople hear. When branding folks insist on a list of standards that salespeople find needless; salespeople would do well to remember there are very valid reasons for managing the "symbolic attributes"!
5. Our brains filter out irrelevant information; letting in only what is different and useful. It's good to see brand managers being told to get "different" and be "useful". So much that passes as advertising is neither. But salespeople need the same lesson! In branding it's called market research. In sales it's called listening and interviewing. The day has come when brands and sales must be creatively relevant. Fail here and everyone should plan to be ignored.
6. Neumeier says design ignites passion in people. He's right. But traditional adversarial and manipulative sales processes are certain to put the fire out! I know from personal experience that, in its heyday, Saturn's brand fire burned all the more because of a sales process that was as distinctive and relevant as the brand. Well-designed products and services deserve well-designed sales processes. Keep the fire burning brand builders and sales makers!
7. Finally, The Brand Gap introduces the "brandometer" - a durable set of ideas about what the brand is and what makes it tick. Sales is not excluded from using the "brandometer"! No one is excluded! Everyone must ask the million-dollar question: "Will it help or hurt the brand?" This is the discipline question. I know sales people might want to fudge here. They live with the pressure of making their numbers. But don't give in to the temptation. Ask that question often enough and sincerely - and, you will be making millions by selling millions.