Posted by bridget.randolph
As a marketer, if your product is the obvious solution to an obvious problem, your job is relatively straightforward. You simply need to show the customer why your product is the best one out there. Often the easiest way to do this is by demonstrating your USP; sometimes you can also compete on price. Either way, if your customer is already looking for the product or service you offer, and not attached to any particular brand, all you have to do is convince them that your brand does it best.
This is where the old saying comes from: “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”
But the reality is, a lot of us don’t sell products that fill an obvious need. Even if your product or service does fill a genuine need or solve a real problem… do people actually realise that they have that problem? And do they know that a solution exists?
The three stages of consumer awareness
A lot of marketers today are facing this conundrum: “How do I sell the benefits of my brand over those of my competitors when my customer doesn’t even know they need my product?” There’s no point shouting about how you are the best at ‘whatever-it-is’ if people don’t know they need it. The harsh truth is: no one cares.
How do we make them care?
This is where it gets a bit tricky. The immediate response you are likely to get when you ask this question is a fun one: “we need to increase brand awareness!!” After all, marketing blogs are full of posts about how digital marketing is all about brand loyalty, warm fuzzy feelings towards brands, brands as people, and so on. But
for this type of situation, brand awareness actually isn’t the right answer.
When people don’t know they need something, you don’t need increased
brand awareness… you need increased need/want awareness, followed by solution/product awareness, and only then should you be looking to raise brand awareness.
This leads to a 3-stage customer journey:
- Creating awareness of the need/problem. At this stage the customer is both product and brand agnostic; they don’t realise they have a problem or need which requires a solution. Your job at this stage is to show them that they have a problem or need. They may not be aware that this is a problem at all; or they may perceive it as an annoyance but not a problem they care enough about fixing. Raising awareness of this need or problem can be done through either an emotive or a logical message but either way the focus should be on the customer, not on you.
- Demonstrating the basic solution to that need/problem. At this stage the customer is still brand agnostic; they are now aware of the problem but not yet sure what the solution is. Your job at this stage is to present your solution as the best way to solve their problem or meet their need. However, the first step is simply to show them that this type of product or service is a good solution to their problem or need. Again, at this stage, you are focusing on the customer and his or her need. Don’t try to sell them on “you” just yet.
- Selling your solution and your brand as the best version. At this stage, the customer knows they have a problem, and they know their preferred approach to solving the problem is through using the product or service that you provide. Your job now is to show that they should choose to buy that solution from you, and to link that solution with your brand in the customer’s mind. This is the point at which talking about yourself is allowed.
Take one step at a time
The temptation which a lot of brands face is to try and create brand messaging and content which can do all three of these things at once. This can be due to a fear of inadvertently promoting their competitors, or sometimes a directive from above which dictates that we ‘push the brand’ regardless of the stage of the customer journey you are currently targeting, or any number of other reasons. Sometimes it happens because the marketers themselves are keen brand advocates and love talking about how great the brand is and what they do. But this is a mistake.
Don’t try to make your brand messaging do all the things all the time. You will not succeed, and you will simply end up diluting the message and failing to speak to anyone’s needs. Instead, focus on one stage of the customer journey only for each piece of content or marketing activity that you do.
But wait. Am I saying we should avoid branded content in the first two stages of this customer journey?
Please don’t think that shifting the focus away from heavy brand messaging, or focusing on a different type of awareness, means that you have to avoid all branding completely! Of course any advertising, social, and website content which you produce should always incorporate your brand guidelines and include logos, straplines, etc.
What I’m talking about here is simply the
focus of the messaging.
How does this work in practice?
Let’s take an example, Dyson vacuum cleaners, and look at how their product messaging fits into this 3 stage framework:
Dyson has a starting point – people do know they need vacuum cleaners. But Dyson still needs to identify a problem that they solve that the other vacuum cleaner brands don’t. In this case, their vacuum cleaners have a USP of extra strong suction that doesn’t clog – but the average consumer may not realise that this is a feature that they should care about.
Stage 1: Creating awareness of the need/problem
At this stage the potential customer is happy with their current situation.
With the Dyson example: if the messaging is simply ‘buy Dyson’, that’s not enough to convert Hoover or Oreck customers. Once you’ve chosen a brand for appliance purchases, the easiest thing when you need a new one is to replace the old one with a new version of the same thing. So the average person is happy just going back and buying another Hoover or Oreck.
Instead of shouting about the Dyson brand, your job at this stage is to show them that they have a problem or need which isn’t currently being met. In this example, a problem which a lot of people have is that their vacuum cleaner gets clogged easily and loses suction over time. So our messaging for people at this stage focuses on that problem and how our product is differentiated: “others clog; ours don’t”.
(Note that this ad is still branded but the focus is on the potential customers’ problem.)
Stage 2: Demonstrating the basic solution to that need/problem
At this stage the customer is still brand agnostic; they are now aware of the problem (clogged vacuum cleaner –> “I wish I had a vacuum cleaner that didn’t get clogged all the time”) but not yet sure what the solution is.
Your job at this stage is to present your solution (“our vacuum cleaner doesn’t clog because our cleaner has special patented technology which keeps it unclogged and maintain suction over time”) as the best way to solve their problem or meet their need. The messaging in this ad focuses on the technology as a solution to a problem: If you want a vacuum that doesn’t clog or lose suction, you need a vacuum with no bags and this special ‘Cyclone’ technology.
Again, at this stage, you are focusing on the customer and his or her need and why your solution is best.
Stage 3: Selling your brand as the best version
In the third stage, the customer knows they have a problem, and they know their preferred approach to solving the problem is through using the product or service that you provide. In the Dyson example, they know that they want a vacuum cleaner with this special technology that keeps it unclogged and maintains suction over time.
Your job now is to show that your brand is synonymous with that solution. For Dyson, this is the type of messaging that ties the brand explicitly to the ‘solution':
When people don’t already know they need your product, you can’t just sell them on your brand right away, because your brand is meaningless to them. You create meaning and an emotional feeling about your brand by guiding people through these three stages of awareness:
need/want awareness, solution/product awareness, and finally brand awareness.
Each of these stages requires a distinct message for a different audience of people, so you can’t try to make your messaging one size fits all. Instead, tailor the messaging on different sections of your website, your social media and other digital content, and your advertising campaigns to speak to one group of people at a time. It may feel very counter-intuitive to sell your audience on why they need X product rather than why they need to buy from Y company. But you need to allow them to experience the need before selling your brand, they will care about the answer to that need.
And never try to do all the things at once.
…Unless you sell the best mousetraps ever, in which case I guess you can sit back and relax while the world comes to you.
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