What Are You Giving?

“Factories rust away, packages become obsolete, products lose their relevance. But great brands live forever.” Edward Tufte, Backer Spielvogel Bates

Products lose their relevance. But great brands live forever. How can that be? That’s because your brand is not your product: your brand is what you promise and offer the customer.

Previously in this series we addressed Position. We asked and answered, “who are you?” Now the question is “what is your brand offer?”

It’s not as simple as it sounds. You need to get to a final and ultimate definition—and it’s not about your current product.

Look Beyond

Theodore Levitt, author of “Marketing Myopia” revealed decades ago why believing that your product is your brand is a risky line of thinking. “The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined” he stated. “That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones) but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away …”

What industry believes that it makes great products today, but could be the next to follow the railroad industry? The potential list is long. Could the same thing happen to auto manufacturers? What place does “the ultimate driving machine” have in a world with self-driving cars? Do people want and buy laundry detergent—or do they really just want clean clothes?

According to Levitt, “In every case, the reason growth is threatened, slowed, or stopped is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management.” Identifying where and why your offer is failing is the next step. Following are five reasons that the market might reject your current offer.

Five Offer Missteps of Mature Brands

1. Inadequate Promise of Satisfaction.

What satisfied customers in days past might not be adequate to satisfy them now. Different offers by competitors or even other industries can change the point where a customer deems themselves satisfied and what they are willing to pay for. The hotel industry is a great example. It used to be that clean sheets, a tidy room and maybe a pool would suffice. Now guests demand everything from free wifi, breakfast, and personal attention on a first-name basis to have what they’ll call “great stay.”

2. Innovation or R&D Falling Behind.

In many industries, if you’re not first, you’re last when it comes to technology and your offer. This applies to even the strongest brands. Mercedes, for example, must lead in both technology and quality to maintain their position. One or the other will not suffice.

3. Obsolete Production Methods

The length of time people are willing to wait for your promise and their quality expectations change over time. In manufacturing, the introduction of CNC manufacturing has dramatically changed both the time to delivery and quality expectations of customers—and they’re not going to rewind.

4. Tone-Deaf Customer Experience

Make no mistake: every interaction a customer has with your brand is part of your brand. Through technology, the possible touch points for customers to interact with your brand have increased dramatically and the experience is part of the offer, especially for online companies. Consider a company like Zappos. Their customers expect to be recognized personally at each interaction and would be disappointed if they are not. Why? Because that’s the expectation that Zappos has set and it puts the same pressure on all of their competitors.

5. Dated Designs and Imagery

Visual impressions can mean a lot. In some categories, they mean everything. Some customers that perceive themselves or have a desire to be on the forefront of trends need the brand to reassure and reinforce that they are on the edge. They won’t associate with brands that appear dated. Additionally, when seen next to other brands that appear more current, the perceived value of the dated brand can seem diminished.


Unlocking the Brand Offer Gate

We know that brands must move forward. That doesn’t always mean your offer has to change—but that might well be the case. The critical point is that you must know exactly what your offer is to unlock the remaining gates in the branding process: Audience, Message, and Delivery.

You should review the five common missteps listed above carefully with your brand offer in mind. Where does your offer fit? Is it consistent with the sweet spot of your position where you deliver better than your competitors with something meaningful to your customers? Most critically, remember this: look beyond your current products to your ultimate promise. That is your lasting offer to customers and what actually warrants longevity.

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