Martha Stewart

What Are You Really Selling?

The air was filled with entrepreneurial enthusiasm.

I was sharing a coffee conversation with my friend Audrey, who had just realized a lifelong dream of opening her own candle boutique.  It was the kind of shop that Martha Stewart would rave about.

Entrepreneurial Excitement

Audrey bubbled with excitement as she described in alluring detail the enticing array of candles and accessories that graced her shiny new shelves.  Then her commentary took an astonishing twist when she stated casually, in a matter of fact tone “our merchandise is candles and candleholders, but that’s not what I’m really selling.”

Surprised by her remark I sought an explanation.  “Let’s get this straight.  Your customers come up to the till and give you money for candles and candleholders.  But you’re not really selling candles or candle holders?”

“Right,” she replied, apparently oblivious to the flagrant violation of elementary logic.

“What I’m really selling,” she continued, “is warmth.”

In that simple phrase Audrey demonstrated that she wasn’t just opening a store to hawk fancy candleware.  She was actually laying the foundation for a great brand.

Escaping the Commodity Zone

By deciding to sell warmth rather than simply candles and candleholders, Audrey immediately escaped the commodity zone.  If selling candles and candleholders, she would be competing with Wal-Mart, the Dollar Store and a host of other retailers.  But by focusing on warmth, Audrey elevated herself into a league all her own.  She gave her customers a compelling reason to choose her store rather than any of their other options.

A Mission of Warmth

The warmth idea also provided a clear mission to her boutique.  Everything about the shop had to convey warmth.  The products had to bestow the customers’ homes with great warmth.  The store colors and merchandising had to evoke warmth.  The employees had to make the customers feel warmth.  The entire boutique experience had to radiate warmth.

A Fundamental Principle

In her rookie entrepreneurial days Audrey had caught on to the fundamental principle that great brands always sell more than just their products or services.  Great brands surround their products or services with emotion.  Tantalizing, positive emotion.

A product on its own is a commodity.  A product surrounded by appealing emotion becomes a brand.

Nike, Harley & Michelin

Nike doesn’t really sell running shoes.  Harley Davidson doesn’t really sell motorcycles.  Michelin doesn’t really sell tires.  Do these statements feel like another flagrant violation of elementary logic?  Think about the babies.  The adorable, innocent-faced babies in the Michelin commercials.  And then ponder the tagline – because so much is riding on your tires.  Michelin doesn’t really sell tires.

Are You Selling Yourself Short?

What are you really selling?  If you’re only selling your product or your service, you’re selling yourself short.

Every business has the opportunity to sell more than just their product or service.  Yes I mean every business.  Every manufacturer, every retailer, every business-to-business enterprise, every real estate agent, even every accountant has the opportunity to sell more than just their product or service.  If a company wants to escape constantly having to compete on price, then it has to determine what it should be really selling.

How About Your Company?

At first glance it may not be obvious what kind of emotion can be wrapped around your product or service, especially if your company operates in a technical arena.  Many businesses that I’ve worked with originally thought that all they would ever sell was strictly their product or service.  But after interviewing their customers I convinced them that they had far greater potential.  It was just a matter of articulating what was their unique equivalent of the candle shop’s warmth.

Equipped with this new breakthrough insight they soon realized that by focusing on what they were really selling, they would increase customer loyalty and stand out from their competitors.  They caught the vision that they could become a commanding brand in their market segment.  And they have.

This same potential beckons your company.  Dare to be a brand