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Articles filed in: Brand Strategy

The Empathy Advantage

On the face of it, the bus driver is paid by the hour to get passengers safely from point A to point B. But most of the value he creates for the bus company, not to mention the city, has nothing to do with his driving ability. It’s in the empathetic work of reassuring passengers and tourists, taking care to make sure they have a pleasant journey. How he does his job changes everything about the passenger experience.

For most of us, our job description rarely encompasses the extent of the real work we do, or how we create meaning and value.

Just as there are several possible routes to a destination, there are many ways to leverage the power of empathy to differentiate a brand or business.

How you do what you do is your competitive advantage.

Invest in Second Contact

How many times have you bought something once from a business, and never returned?

How much time, energy and money did that business owner, or any company, devote to getting that first point of contact with a customer? The doughnut shop that attracts a passer-by with its signage, the hotel that pays for placement in the travel magazine, the artist who spends hours grooming her Instagram account.

Having done the hard work of attracting people, how much do we invest in ensuring we get another chance to serve that customer tomorrow?

We have come to believe that attention and awareness are the currency of success. They’re not. What matters more than getting someone’s attention is what you do to change how they feel once you’ve got it. Successful businesses are built on earning the second interaction, and the one after that.

Both the business and the customer win when we prioritise affinity over attention.

Image by Garry Knight

Begin With Wants and Needs

All successful businesses do two things.
They fulfil the unmet needs and unspoken desires of their ideal customer.

The businesses that find it challenging to market their products and services are the ones that fail to begin with this end in mind. They start with their needs, instead of a clear insight about what the customer wants.

So the artisan lamp maker who loves working with wood fails to find enough customers to keep his dream alive, because he makes a product that not enough people want. The business coach’s pitch falls flat, or the yoga studio opens in the wrong part of town.

When we see our customers, it shows. When we understand them, they know.

Image by Michael Prewett

What’s Your Promise To Your Customers?

It’s easy to revert to long-winded descriptions about what differentiates your products and services from those of your competitors, as you market your business.

A better place to start is by clearly stating your promise to your customers.

Are you the dentist who listens or that marketing agency the cares? The cafe that sources local ingredients or the gelato maker that’s on a mission to impact employment and business practices and consumer happiness.

There are a thousand ways to stand out with a better story. And you get to pick one.

What are you promising your customers?

Image by Patricia Prudente

When Subjectivity Wins

Does Nike make the best running shoes in the world?
Does Starbucks serve the best coffee?
Does Warby Parker design the best reading glasses?
Does Dollar Shave Club sell the best razors?
Does IKEA sell the best furniture?

Objectively, the answer is no. But ‘best’ is rarely objective.

Successful brands craft and tell stories for their ideal customers—the people who are ready to hear and believe them.

The more subjective we can be in our sales and marketing, the better.

Image by Banter Snaps

Get Specific To Get More Customers

When your idea fails to resonate, it’s easy to assume that the product or service, the pitch or the pricing are flawed. Before you go back to the drawing board, you must challenge those assumptions. The first assumption to test is if you’re reaching the right people.

One of the biggest marketing challenges we face is understanding our audience. It’s hard to know where to start. Begin by describing your ideal customer, just one person your product has helped or can help.

Who is that person?
What’s her backstory?
What does she want or need?
Who will she become in the presence of your product?

If you were opening a vegan tattoo studio, you’d know exactly where to open it, what inks to stock and what story to tell, because you’d be crystal clear about the worldview of the specific customer you’re serving.

Successful ideas gain traction because they draw on the existing values and beliefs of people they’re designed to serve. The more specific you can be about who your work is for and who it’s not for, the better your chances of gaining traction with more people.

Act like a vegan tattooist. The Story Strategy Course can help.

Image by DeMorris Byrd

Persuade On Purpose, With Purpose

When you were three years old, you knew exactly what to say, and how to say it, to get what you wanted. But somewhere along the line, you became reluctant to use these skills. We all did.

Stories of con men and unscrupulous marketers, manipulating people into doing things that were not in their best interests coloured our judgement about what it meant to be persuasive. Our culture taught us that persuasion was a trick used by people with dishonourable intentions.

But manipulation isn’t a necessary by-product of persuasion. Being persuasive can be a valuable skill used to impact the people we serve. Like any tool or skill, its effect depends on how it’s used. Our intentions matter. An axe can either build something or destroy it, and persuasion can be as much a force for good, as for bad.

If we’re in the business of making things that change people’s lives for the better, we must master the art of persuasion to help people make decisions they’re glad about.

Instead of wondering how we can convince people to buy our product or support our idea, we could ask ourselves what’s at stake for them if they don’t. Then we can be more persuasive on purpose, with purpose and our heads held high.

Image by Annie Sprat

Values, Choices And Strategy

When they opened their cafe, Shannon and Mo couldn’t afford $400 dining chairs, and besides, they wanted the food to do the talking. So, they bought second-hand chairs, then stayed up until midnight colouring in all the scratches on them with permanent markers. They served the food on IKEA boards with the logo scrubbed off, because they decided from day one to invest more in ingredients—the thing that was most important to them.

What we prioritise is an indication of what we care about, and conversely what we care about should be what we prioritise. Our values can be the foundation of a winning strategy because what we believe determines what we do.

Values are the beginnings of the signals we send and the stories we tell to the world. What we choose to do or not to do is a sign of what matters to us and in turn, helps people to decide if they want to align with our brands or ideas.

Sharing your values, and better, demonstrating them to your customers is a smart strategy. How are you doing that in your business?

Image by Roman Kraft

The Value Conversation

Value is our subjective judgement about the utility, worth or desirability of goods, services or experiences.

It’s the story we each believe about the significance of something.

The value conversation is how we prioritise the allocation of finite resources.

The story we tell ourselves about the cost of gains over losses.

What’s the value conversation your customer is having?

Image by Mark Zamora

Do The Unnecessary

The proficient doctor does the necessary. She greets the patient without shaking his hand. Examines him from head to toe without looking him in the eye. She’s alert to the slightest abnormal physical sign but doesn’t notice her patient shivering because the room is cold.

She taps information into the system and prints consent forms for the patient to sign. But she doesn’t acknowledge the fear in his eyes. She’s competent, efficient and some would say, good at her job. But if the patient comes away feeling like a collection of signs and symptoms instead of a human being, is she good enough?

A great deal of our work is about doing the necessary, meeting spec and making sure the client got what they paid for. But much of the skill and all of the joy in our work comes from doing the unnecessary—the things we’re not required to do. The acts that make our work meaningful to those we serve and to ourselves.

Image by Eugene Chystiakov

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