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Building brands that last

In just the past two months, I have spoken to 2 entrepreneurs in the food industry. Both have created amazing, innovative products in the food industry, but struggled to get their businesses off the ground.

These entrepreneurs were passionate about their products, spotted a gap in the market, and created products that have the potential to disrupt the fields they operate in. Both had followed every protocol in product development, food safety and checked all the boxes. So why is it so hard for them to get out of the starting blocks and build brands that last?

Speaking to them, it became clear that they had spent all their time and effort in the development of their products, but neglected to develop clear marketing strategies that will establish them in the market and to cut through all the clutter.

“A product is only as good as the problem it helps to solves.”

As entrepreneurs and business owners, we need to realise that the products we make and what our clients buy from us, are two different things entirely. Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the former chairman of Ferrari said it like this: “We don’t sell a car; we sell a dream.”

We need to learn to think and act more like marketers by tapping into the mindset of our potential customers. Who are they, what are their needs, their pain points, what problems can we help solve for them? By understanding the world of my customer, I would know that I can approach them with a reputation management solution, rather than a list of PR services.

I had the privilege to work on one of SA’s iconic battery brands, a category where everyone competes for better, longer-lasting batteries. The struggle with his approach is that the slightest innovation on a competitor’s side means that we lose our claim. We set out on a consumer research campaign and found some interesting insights that shaped our future marketing efforts. We discovered that consumers hate buying batteries, it is a grudge purchase at best, having to pay to make things they love work. So, we restructured our campaign around just that, “For moments that last!” We further quantified the campaign by showing consumers how many pictures they can take or how many hours they can play online games for, using our batteries.

“Customers are not buying our products and services; they are buying the things our products and services allow them to achieve.”

Here are three tips to help you think and act like a marketer:

  1. Look at your competitors.

I have heard so many customers say these words: “We are not concerned about what our competitors are doing.” The problem with that thinking is that you might not be concerned about your competitors, but one thing is for sure, your customers are. They will do their due diligence and call a couple of providers to find the best solution to their problems, and often at the best price. Look at your competition; what do they offer, what don’t they offer, what do you do better and why should your customer buy from you rather than them. Perhaps a better service offering? A longer-lasting product? Or perhaps your expertise in the field makes you a business partner and not another product distributor.

2. Get to know your customer.

Talk to them, find out about their industries, read the news, take interest in the things that interest them.

In the old days, we used to take our customers golfing. As a non-golfer, I have often wondered why this was (and in some cases, still is) such a great business tactic. I have come to two conclusions: 1) You are showing interest in something important to them, and 2) You have time to talk, you have time to listen to them speak about the issues and challenges they face every day. Now I am not suggesting we all go play golf, but rather to learn from the principle: GET TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS.

3. Learn to speak their language.

My wife and I went out for dinner a while back. Across from us sat a young couple, it seemed like it was their first date. The entire evening, the young man sat there and spoke endlessly about himself; his car, what he is studying, his family beach house, his career plans. He went on and on. I looked at the lady and as the evening progressed, it became clear she was becoming rather bored with the conversation. I felt like going over to him and whisper in his ear: “Stop talking and just ask her to tell you something about her.” I cannot help but relate this to us as marketers. If we go on and on, talking about how wonderful our products are and all the services we offer, are we not a little like the young man? If we stopped and listened for a while, we would know what they love, and we can start shaping the narrative around mutual interests.

Early on, while still dating, I learned my wife loved horses and adventure, so I shaped our dates around just that. Horse riding on the beach, bridge swinging and walking the high ropes. I learnt to speak her language.

We build brands that last by continually developing the market in which we operate. You need to commit to spending as much time in your marketing as you do in any other key area of your business –  continue to develop great products that solve real problems and package them in a way that your customer can understand its value.