Brandwashed

You might wonder why I asked you to tell me your favorite brands a couple weeks ago. The reason I did this was to prove a point: brands are powerful.

In a world of information overload, brands are even more important. They give us a decision shortcut — a way to side-step all the choices we’re faced with every day.

We don’t evaluate dozens of different brands every time we go to buy a certain type of product. We do our evaluation once, maybe twice, then we default to our “brand of choice” for months, years, and possibly decades.

This is the power of a brand.

In a way, we are brainwashed… or brandwashed… to make certain buying decisions.

Does this mean that brand-name “image” advertising is good advertising? No. In fact, most image advertising is terrible. Yet brands thrive in spite of their advertising. The question is Why?

If you look at all the brands people listed as brands they love, you’ll find that most of them deliver more than just a product or service; they deliver a positive memorable experience.

For instance, Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks were all listed more than once. And all of them deliver an experience.

  • Apple offers a fun, low-stress environment where you can demo all their computers and ask as many questions as you want before you buy. (Of course, they have an amazing product, which doesn’t hurt either.)
  • Amazon offers a fast, convenient buying experience that is customized to you and your buying habits. Ordering is easy, prices are hard to beat, and Amazon’s personalized recommendations often lead you to new musicians and authors you would have otherwise never discovered.
  • Starbucks offers more than just coffee — they offer a pleasant environment where you can relax, read, study, visit with friends, or check your email. When you buy a cup of Starbucks coffee, you’re also buying ambiance.

Starbucks also showed up on my list. That’s because my wife and I used to go on dates at Starbucks. It was our favorite hang-out both before and after we got married. We’ve been going to the same Starbucks/Barnes & Noble combo for more than a decade now. That’s a lot of talks and a lot of memories.

So each time I support Starbucks, I’m buying not just the coffee (which I happen to like), I’m also buying my memories and all those good feelings I’ve associated with Starbucks.

In my view, people love brands that:

  • Create a (positive) memorable experience.
  • Stand for a certain value system or world view.

I believe a “memorable experience” is created primarily through one of two ways.

First, there is the experience that is designed to be extraordinary from the get-go. Take Disney, for instance. There’s nothing like it. And you’ll always remember the time you spend there because of that.

Second, there is the unexpected experience, usually in the form of outstanding customer service. This is why USAA showed up on my list. They’ve repeatedly given me excellent customer service. I haven’t experienced that anywhere else. So USAA stands out big time.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting because people hate brands for the same reasons they love them. We hate brands that…

  • Create a (negative) memorable experience.
  • Stand for a certain value system or world view.

Two examples…

Example #1: I hate Borders because I’ve repeatedly had bad experiences at their stores. And not just at one location — multiple locations. I was so upset by how I was treated at these stores that I literally “black-listed” them for years and refused to even step foot in one. Even today, years later, I will go out of my way to support their competitors.

Example #2: I strongly dislike Wal-Mart because of the values that run the company. Their approach to business is to save money at any cost — costs to the environment, costs to third-world countries, even costs to taxpayers. This is not what I believe in, so I intentionally avoid shopping at Wal-Mart.

So you see, we love and hate brands for essentially the same reasons. Interesting, eh?

Glenn Livingston dropped by and left an insightful comment. I’ve reproduced some of it here:

When I was a Fortune 500 consultant, we were involved with an advertising agency which wanted to promote the belief that people could define themselves by the three brands they absolutely couldn’t live without. They’d ask people what a typical day would be without those three brands. […] Is your brand one of the 3 your customers couldn’t live without?

What a powerful question that is!

This is not to say we can all create “indespinsable brands” — but it’s certainly something worth striving for.

Remember: The more choices there are, the more important your brand is. Because a brand is how we shortcut the decision-making process. So, believe it or not, having a strong brand is important even for information marketers.

Case in point: How many blogs do you read on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?

I bet your daily blog list is short indeed. Maybe 3-7 blogs, max.

Taking a cue from Glenn, a good question to ask if you’re an information marketer might be, “Do I write one of the three blogs my customers couldn’t live without?”

Keep this in mind whenever you write blog posts… create information products… or do anything that defines (or refines) your brand.

-Ryan M. Healy

P.S. If you participated in my brand question from the previous post, thank you. It made this “thought experiment” much more interesting.

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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