Expert: ‘Brand’ breaks through, persuades people to pick products, services

Lindsay Pedersen

Strategist Lindsay Pedersen says brand is what breaks through the millions of messages out there and persuades people to say, “Yes, out of all the products and services out there, I choose yours.” And she says there’s no time like now to focus on how you might deepen your customers’ love.

“Customers like brands because of the way they make them feel, not the way they message,” says Pedersen, author of “Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide.” The brands people love, she says, “are the ones that make us feel understood, that provide a solution to a deep problem, that help us transcend.”

Pedersen is a brand strategist, board advisor, coach, speaker and teacher known for her scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building while working with billion-dollar businesses like Starbucks, Clorox, Zulily, T-Mobile, and IMDb, as well as many burgeoning startups.

She suggests four tactics to embrace that will deepen customer love.

1. Be sure you’re letting everything matter. Brand makes a promise to customers. Make a point to check yourself from the customer’s vantage point and ask if you have earned the right to make this promise. If you’re a high-end coffee house, it’s as important to keep the restrooms sparkling clean as it is to deliver a high-quality latte. In other words, brand shouldn’t be just a marketing activity; it must be reflected in everything you do.

“Brand encompasses your customers’ total experience of your business,” says Pedersen. “Let it mold their experience. The more you imbue everything with your brand, the more it can deepen customer love.”

2. Make a gesture to “model” your brand. Pedersen points to when CEO Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks in 2008, and perceived a growing gap between what Starbucks promised and what they delivered — and customers were losing trust. Schultz sought to close that gap in a sweeping, expensive way: He closed all U.S. Starbucks stores for an afternoon to retrain baristas on the art of espresso.

“Closing the stores for training was a public demonstration of the brand’s sacredness,” says Pedersen. “Though expensive in the short-term — an estimated cost of $6 million that day — the move was invaluable in the long-term. Within the year, the brand was flourishing once again, despite the Great Recession.”

3. Ask yourself, “How can we ‘ladder up?’” Your brand’s “benefit ladder” depicts the levels at which your business benefits your customer, from the functional and grounded to the emotional and transcendent, says Pedersen. Bounce dryer sheets started out promising “wrinkle-free clothes” and after gaining consumer acceptance eventually “laddered up,” moving from offering wrinkle-free clothes to the higher-order benefit of “attractive clothes.” A few years later, they laddered up to the benefit of “feeling pretty.”

“The higher on the ladder you can deliver, the more value you provide to your customers,” says Pedersen. “The more value you deliver, the more delighted your customers will be, the more loyal they will be, the more willing they’ll be to pay handsomely for your benefit, and the more likely they will be to tell others.”

4. Figure out a way to “plus it.” As you grow, Pedersen advises that you always consider ways that you can increase the thing that
customers love about you. As Disney used to tell his Imagineers, “plus it.” To “plus it,” you iterate and build and take the promise from awesome to mind-blowing. Disney plussed the earlier Mickey Mouse cartoons by adding sound to them, says Pedersen. He plussed the movie “Bambi” by bringing live animals into the artists’ studio so the Imagineers could observe and copy their natural movements.

“Brand is the meaning you stand for, so really stand for it,” concludes Pedersen. “To make customers love you forever, strive to make that meaning ever more resonant.”