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Stop Marketing Your Products and Services. There’s a Better Approach

The best companies in the world market themselves from the inside out. They don’t focus on external elements like products and services, and they certainly don’t lead with benefits and features. Many don’t even mention what they do. The most successful companies thrive on one single mindset: why they exist.

Stop Marketing Your Products and Services. There’s a Better Approach.

By Joe Mosbrook

See the story as it appeared in Crain’s Cleveland Business.

I ask company leaders this question all the time. Invariably, their response is to make money or please shareholders. But from the buyer’s perspective, none of that matters. So, I ask again: why do you really exist?

What customers care most about — whether they realize it or not — is why companies exist, what motivates their employees and more important, why customers should care. Ask Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson what drives his coffee chain, and he’ll say, “to inspire and nurture the human spirit.” That’s pretty aspirational for a cup of Joe, and let’s face it, people can buy coffee anywhere.

Starbucks took an overpriced commodity and gave it a mission — a cause most people don’t realize unless they go looking for it. What consumers do see and feel, however, is a brand voice and personality steeped in an existential mission. Everything Starbucks does — like many alpha brands such as BMW, Apple and Nike — is pursue a higher purpose.

At the end of the day, all these companies really do is make cars, computers and gym clothes. But what they do differently is wrap everyday products around a higher purpose. Internally, Nike works to inspire the athlete in everyone, while Apple strives to make life better. Period. And by the way, they sell computers too.

Small and medium businesses that aren’t as sexy and lack the deep pockets can still follow suit. They don’t need to aim as high, but the principle remains the same. An accounting firm, for instance, will often claim to have great results, high-quality professionals and years of experience. But that’s what their competitors all say too.

Instead, the firm can promise to make its clients more successful in everything they do. The deliverables are the same, but the internal mindset is larger. When companies embrace a greater mission, employees become more motivated, customers take notice, and marketing can grow organically from the inside out.

The approach is based on the idea that customers buy on emotion more often than they like to admit. Yes, many people shop price, quality and value, but even rational decisions are unknowingly influenced by the right side of the brain. And when rational thinking doesn’t quite add up, like a $5 cup of coffee, the emotional synapses kick into high gear and take over the process. Most people don’t know the missions of Starbucks and Apple, but they sense them through multiple indicators.

While major brands often have millions of dollars to project their higher missions, smaller companies can work within their own scope, including email marketing, social media and web site content. Many professional service firms market heavily on networking and word of mouth. But that, too, is an opportunity to sell your mission, not your services.

I can’t count the number of times when someone at a networking event introduced themselves and their company. When asked what they do, they often give some general descriptor like accounting, law or finance. Then they drill deeper into specialties. Instead, they need an elevator speech centered on why they exist. Law firms, for instance, have a great opportunity to explain how their practice benefits their clients well beyond individual legal matters.

This type of response often triggers the question: “how do you do that?” Attorneys then can detail different ways that a true business partner in law can have a larger effect on the success of their clients’ business. This takes the conversation from what do you do, to why you do it. The “why” in the answer is why most people will buy your services or goods.

Once your company nails down the “why” into a compelling elevator speech, marketing messages in all other forms fall into place. Any organization, large or small, should take a step back and ask why you wake up Monday mornings. Why do you exist? Why do your customers care about you and why did they choose you in the first place? When you answer these questions honestly, then your marketing message will take on a life of its own.