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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sell Your Heart, Not Your Product

44th of 2nd 365: Me playing the violin outside the Churchill College Music Centre at the University of Cambridge
Photo by Tim Regan via Flickr

The first thing people forget when starting a business is that people flock to brands, while only reluctantly do they buy products.

Instead they sell products and forget about the brand.

For example I have a friend who is starting a line of branded clothing. The line comes from her heart. It evokes a certain time in history, it brings up a piece of her heritage. And a lot of people understand this slice of time - it's much bigger and broader than any one piece of cotton.

But the first thing she said when I asked what she was selling was "T-shirts."

Another person started what seemed like a straightforward commodity business. The business is not about supplies, although on the surface it seems like it is. When you look more closely it becomes clear that it's about a certain mindset toward life. About living an alternative lifestyle, off the grid, and putting together esoteric products all by yourself that normally others would need to build for you.

It is not about "plant-growing equipment" at all.

A third person is going into the food business, specifically a restaurant, more specifically ethnic food. There are a thousand ethnic restaurants in a five-mile range. Why open this one?

I have no idea. But if you limit yourself to the thing you are selling you are shortchanging your ability to make both current and future income.

Why do people buy things? Beyond survival, it's often about connecting with a place in the heart. You can't access or satisfy a certain emotional need directly, but you sense that a certain brand can offer you this ability. And you patronize it.

What's all the hype about The Hunger Games? The New York Times credits an incredible marketing machine.

Not at all.

My daughter was obsessed with this book before the movie ever got made. She yearns to be the character Jennifer Lawrence symbolizes: A girl who loves her family and has her values intact, but can survive in a very cruel world where protection is not at all guaranteed. (If you see her in Winter's Bone the connection becomes crystal clear.)

How about Starbucks' acquisition of Evolution Fresh?

This is a company that sells juice for $7.99 per 16 ounce cup. It's an unbelievably smart move for Starbucks to acquire this brand because it keys into exactly the core yearnings that the average person can neither have insight into nor satisfy on their own: elite status + good for the environment + taking care of yourself + relaxation, all at the same time.

Just pick up a cup and you've got a shortcut to all of that.

What about if you're not a business owner but a regular employee? How can you use this concept in a regular office setting?

The basic idea is to look beyond your technical skills (you better have them of course) and your emotional skills (this is also a given) to hone your personality as part of the team. The question is, what do you bring to the table that is both unique and wanted by the organization - what sets you apart in a way that nobody else can match?

Essentially you must isolate and celebrate the essence of your personality. Understand it and capture it and bring it forward to your employer in a consistent, repeatable way.

In the "olden days" it was enough to bring your hands to the farm or the factory. In the "knowledge economy days" you could progress to having computer literacy. But now we are in the "collaboration age," and so you must bring, every day, your heart to the table.

Anything less makes you vulnerable - to automation, demotion, and eventually downsizing.

Think about what you, and/or your business, bring to the table that is not repeatable by anybody else. Then, start milking it. The day you stop being valuable to the customer, take it upon yourself - as the CEO of your own life - to either find a different way to be essential, or move on somewhere else where they "get" you.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


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