We are all buyers. And we all consider ourselves smart, well-informed, effective buyers, right?
Well, think about that one time that, while having equivalent and cheaper alternatives available, you made the irrational decision of indulging yourself in spending a lot more for something you really wanted. Or even better? Remember that time an amazingly smooth sales representative managed to entice you in such a way that before you knew it, you’d bought something hadn’t even thought twice about buying? Let he/she without sin cast the first stone…
We are all about giving ourselves all sorts of justifications to choose this versus that. Sometimes it’s price, sometimes it’s value, but more often than not it’s the opposite of both, if you know what I mean.
This is what makes us all at times unpredictable buyers, whether we’re rational economists or irrational big spenders. If we go beyond the transactional exchange of the value received from the products or services we are procuring, the underlying culprit behind our behavior is how that product or services matches and aligns with our experiential, situational, and existential state of mind.
While we might think this is self-liberating act of freedom that we own as decision-makers, the reality is that more often than not, we’re obeying certain behavioral patterns that have been planted in our consumer subconscious by deliberate brand campaigns and marketing efforts.
What About When Things Go Wrong?
Up to here, all is marketing 1:1, good and rosy, but what happens then when the product or service fails to deliver what we expected and we end up being disappointed, upset, guilty, and sadly unhappy? Some might say that our buying behavior as consumers is completely different than when we are operating in a B2B setup (and they are right). While I agree that, in the latter, the different motivational aspects and circumstances for buying are predominantly transactional, there is also an emotional component distilled from the brand values of the product-service provider. In summary, all of these factors function within this ever-evolving multi-dimensional framework conformed by judgment, need, fulfillment, offering, justification, and emotions.
In an ever-changing market, subscription-based or outcome-based models continue to proliferate. The best of these will enable the marketer to engage with the customers at the emotional level by ensuring seamlessly top-notch experiences while delivering tangible benefits, while also optimally managing (and extending) customer life cycles. This will ultimately become the lifeblood of any company’s survival.
If buying can be based on both rational and irrational decisions, the same applies to selling. In a prior blogpost about improving sales effectiveness, I talked extensively about the need for organizations to be programmatic and intelligent about how they go to market and deliver tangibles to both stakeholders and customers. On the other hand, these emotional connectivity components are often overlooked or considered as a lesser priority when engaging/selling in B2B environments.
But in reality? It’s an advantage to understand how you can win the heart and souls of your customer for different (irrational) reasons beyond those contained within your next proposal document. Organizations that invest heavily in living up to their brand values have a much higher chance of effectively managing customer relationships and optimizing customer lifetime value and retention in the long term.
Connecting Your Brand Perception with the Value You Deliver
I’m not going to talk about value-based selling here. The term irrational or emotional buying might have some negative connotations, but I want to focus on the intangible motivations that can tip the scale in your favor. I am referring to the brand values that your company represents and aspire to, or at a minimum the ones your customers can perceive and experience during each interaction with you.
We all know the saying, “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” Or as my grandmother used to say, “the poor man always pays twice.”
In a highly transparent society, today’s companies must differentiate themselves if they want to remain competitive. However, it’s not enough to have the best prices, or even the most innovative products. To stand out, they must be accompanied by the appropriate brand values, a strong company culture, and rock-solid employee demeanor. If we have agreed that brand values matter by allowing you to connect at the emotional level with the customer, the things that differentiate your brand cannot just be tangible concepts like price and product features.
If this is true, it implies that pricing can be secondary, so if you want to convey value first in your negotiations with your customers (and for pricing to be secondary), then you need to prioritize deliberately investing in clearly defining and executing on what your brand values are. That will drive positive brand perceptions. So how can you do that? To point out a few examples:
- Understand the role you play in your stakeholder’s motivations. Today’s companies need to connect to their customers at the emotional level. Buyers identify with the companies with which they choose to associate, and with the people they like. This means that you really need to understand different customer personas, and think about the role you will play in their lives. Stakeholders are stewards of their businesses, and they want to make sure their companies get the value they pay for, but also will pay attention to what might be the stakeholder’s particular benefits. Companies need to be authentic and need to focus on selling to humans. I see so many brands forgetting that people like you and me buy and consume their products and services.
- Stay relevant, innovate, and be transparent. Today’s customers are more discerning and demanding than ever. This means that offering the lowest price will not increase your chances for growth in the long term. Instead, companies need to find a more appealing way to build bonds with their audience. The essence of a brand is what inspires customers to fall in love with it. People will begin to attribute human characteristics to your company, and that’s where feelings of commitment and loyalty come from. Be transparent and honest with your core beliefs and make sure you walk the talk. Now that all information is public, businesses need to tread very carefully in this new environment of social media activism against offending corporations (I.e. Robinhood).
- Realize you cannot always win or control everything but as provider of gold standards, you should try. Ask yourself what makes you special, and whether customers will be able to see it when choosing between you and competitors. Consider how customers and prospects view you: How you describe yourself and how others perceive you don’t always align. While you should not necessarily allow your clients and competitors to define you, it’s helpful to listen to their brand perception, so you can get a better idea of how you come across in the current marketplace. And remember, we are irrational and make decisions based on emotions more often than we would like to admit.
- Be authentic and consistent, always. In today’s competitive world, it can be difficult to remain aware of the current trends and maintain a consistent identity at the same time. When you understand the elements that define the soul of your company, it is much easier to make cohesive decisions for your business. it is also a way to set yourself apart from the competitors in your space. Secondly, building out corporate values is important and can be very beneficial. However, sharing and acting the brand values consistently is critical. Do not be inconsistent with your brand value messages or actions, as this will foster negative brand perceptions of dishonesty and unreliability. Most key PR mistakes occur as a consequence of serving two different (quite opposite) objectives. It takes years to build a brand – and only seconds to destroy it.
- Be honest and appeal to higher expectations. We all know how well connected we all are. As consumers or buyers, we know that the next opportunity is around the corner; we’re confident at making decisions with measured risk, which makes us very empowered. As a solution provider, this means we are continuously needing to meet escalated expectations, so it’s important to employ common sense, show integrity, and pay attention to doing good. These are the traits that continuously shape your brand and hence the value your customers perceive. If your brand mission includes a collection of all the tangible benefits you deliver to your customers, the thoughts and feelings associated with your brand must also be central to it.
“Nothing is forgotten slower than an insult and nothing faster than a good deed – Martin Luther King, Jr
Your brand essence should act as your moral compass in decision-making. By consistently displaying integrity in everything you do and say, you will give depth to the way you engage with your customers, elevating the discussion going beyond price and product features, educating them, and also helping you to develop an honorable reputation. Over time, you will find that building an effective brand essence and good brand perceptions will help you to attract the right audiences by creating strong advocates and brand ambassadors and, more importantly, by creating true differentiation between you and the competitors in your space.
Once you use brand essence to build your business strategy, you will have gained a valuable asset you can use to direct and support your growth for years to come.