Think of your favorite brands. How does using their products or services make you feel? Maybe it's safe or cool or smart or healthy, but whatever it is, if you're a loyal fan because you have an emotional connection to the brand. It's something every company should seek to evoke in a market before ever thinking of making a sale.
That's according to Libby Gill, CEO of the Los Angeles-based business coaching and brand strategy firm Libby Gill & Company, who recently published "Capture the Mindshare and the Market Share Will Follow: The Art and Science of Building Brands."
Here's what she told me are the keys to creating a brand people connect with emotionally.
How your end user will benefit from your products or services needs to be explicit across all your communications.
"It's very important to use very clear compelling language that leads with your customer's best interest," Gill says. "Not just your background, your specs, your pedigree, all your client testimonials but what's in it for them."
Every touch point with customers or prospects should provide them exceptional value.
"I'm a big proponent of giving things away for free, which is why I have tons of free resources on my site," she says. "If you really blow people's minds with great value for no reason other than you're willing take five minutes [on a] phone call or responding to an email question so that they [think] 'Wow, if I hire this person, if I bring them on, if I read their book, if I listen to their show, I can only imagine what I'll get. So it's that deeper engagement and value that you're providing at every opportunity."
Chances are, your workload is heavy. But being smart about who you share information with can give you a real competitive edge. Although partnering with people who will share timely data can help you make better decisions, it's also important to have helpful conversations with others regarding softer things, such as "emotional truths and nuances that you can't always quantify or back up with a spreadsheet or data," Gill says. "You knock on a door, you call somebody, you walk down the hall to their office and you've got a collaboration going. I think that's one of the best ways to combat this sense of overwhelm that we all deal with so often."
An Intentional Emotional Connection
When you walk into Starbucks you know exactly the experience you'll have, right? It's because the company has been intentional about how it interacts with customers at every level.
You need to think about who greets customers the minute they walk through the door, the experience they have when they call your company, or the tone of a newsletter or e-mail and what messages your website communicates. What kind of emotional connection do you want them to have with your brand?
Does your iPhone make you feel cool and smart? Does your alarm system make you feel safe?
"You've got to really sort of reverse engineer that by understanding 'Who am I?' and 'What are [consumers] looking at me for? What is the value and the emotional connection that I can provide?'" Gill says.
An Eye on the Competition
Keeping an eye on the competition is important for any company. But it's not just your obvious direct competition you need to watch. Sure, McDonald's has Burger King or Wendy's to worry about but it also can lose business to other restaurants that sell cheap food or because parents decide to stop feeding their kids fast food.
In addition to direct and indirect competition Gill says there's also the invisible competition resulting from customers who don't trust a brand enough to commit to it. To get at that you'll need to use the right kind of language, whether it's a guarantee, testimonials or some other tactic, to assure people you have what they need.
A fourth kind of competition, Gill says, involves impending challengers.
"If you've come to the market with something brand new or you're first out there, who's right behind you? You've got to look over your shoulder," she says.
The flip cam is a great product, but not really relevant anymore because of the HD video cameras most people now have on their phones. Who wants to carry around two devices?
It's the same with people. In addition to making sure your products or services are right for the times, you need to make sure you and your team continue to grow as people.
"I see a lot of people in mid-career transitions, people who are moving to new companies, lots of people who don't want to retire because their 401ks went away and they're going to keep working. They've got to really look at maintaining and evolving their brand and that's as simple as continuing to grow as a person and continuing to look at what is out there, what your customers, what your end users need. And if you can't stay a step ahead, at least stay in step with them by always adding to your own knowledge base," she says.
Gill points to studies that have shown confident people do better in life, regardless of their actual skill.
"I saw this in 20 years in the corporate world. It was he or she who spoke the loudest who often ruled the day," says the author and consultant who formerly held senior leadership positions with companies such as Universal, Sony, and Turner Broadcasting.
"Confidence, and as they called it, overconfidence, gave people a competitive advantage over their more introverted or less confident appearing peers even when the peers were more talented or more skilled. And it was people who participated more, who spoke more, who sat in the front of the room, who exuded this sense of power and knowledge even if they were inaccurate in their responses on a series of tests," Gill says.
While the researchers she cites came to the conclusion that hiring managers need to look beyond the exterior and not discount introverts, her take was a little different.
"What I think is more relevant for most people is that we've got to take a page from those confident players' playbooks and see that we've got to learn to kind of step up that level of confidence, particularly in those high intensity situations like interviewing, at networking events or conferences," she says. "We've got to really learn to put on that appearance of confidence [and] learn to work that muscle."
How can introverts do that? She suggests having conversation-starting questions at the ready, staying current on the headlines of the day and speaking up at a meeting within the first few minutes before someone else can capture the spotlight.
"It's very important as a professional and as a brand to exude that sense of absolute control and power until it's really organic and integral," she says.
"Get involved in a charity in a nonprofit, ideally something that makes sense in terms of what your business brand is," Gill says, holding up Target as a great example of a company that gives back to the communities in which it has stores.
Tide is another brand doing a good job at this with its rolling washing machine program called "Loads of Hope." After natural disasters it sends out a mobile unit that enables people to wash and dry their clothes.
You might also check out the philanthropy of billionaire Richard Branson, someone who has nailed branding throughout his Virgin Group conglomerate. In this Inc. interview he says "Your reputation is all you've got in life" and talks about integrity, positioning, stunts, hubris, and more.