When I arrived home from our client's annual dealer meeting, I had once again been invigorated by the connections we'd made at the event. We often look forward to these events because they offer such great opportunities to connect with both corporate personnel as well as their dealers.
Over the years, I've found myself in the middle of some pretty interesting conversations, especially with those on the front lines. In their quest to sell as many of our client's products as possible, we are sometimes cornered with questions like, "Why doesn't the website feature this?" or "Why didn't they show a photo of this in the brochure?" or "How do I know if my online marketing is actually working?" Of course, we strive to develop marketing programs and tools as strategically as possible, so we generally have good answers for those sometimes difficult questions. But I must admit one dealer's question this week really made me step back and think. Not because I didn't have the answer. But because I had to figure out on the spot HOW to explain it.
You see... this dealer wasn't based in the United States. They were from China.
His business card had no logo. His business name and title were in black Helvetica type. And as we talked, I quickly surmised this about his concept of brand-building: For him, it was all about utility. While he was certain that our client's brand was something he wanted to sell, there seemed to be a disconnect between this and what it takes to reach that preferred brand status. That's not a criticism. It was simply a reality check for me.
So when he asked,
"Why do they need you to do what you do?"
I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I explained that research has shown that consumers are generally very irrational people. They make decisions NOT based on utility, but on feelings and impressions. They base their thoughts about a brand according to their experiences, interactions, colors, images, words, and even smells. Sure, they rationalize their purchases with tangible reasons like, "Oh, it's better built than the others." But in the end, that's only part of the reason they buy. Brand preference is established by an array of influencers. And to the best of our ability, and as resources allow, it's our job with the marketing department to consistently, creatively, and strategically manage those influencers for optimum results.
I told him that with highly skilled and experienced people on staff, we can do things like research, programming, web analytics, digital and media strategy, and high-end design that often times aren't cost-effective for clients to tackle in-house.
I also likened it to being on the inside of a bottle and trying to explain what it looks like from the outside. Sometimes it's more effective for an "outsider" to get the job done.
So did I answer his question? The look on his face left me in doubt. But I do believe that as the east continues to do more and more business in the west, WHY people buy will become as increasingly important to them as WHAT they buy. And that's where the future opportunity lies for companies willing to invest in their brands today.