Jennifer Rice has a post suggesting that companies should Market using the "How" they do business:
So you build your brand not on what you do, but how you do it. There will always be somebody else doing what you do. If not today, then just wait a couple months. I disagree with Al and Laura Ries; you can't "own" a product category... but you can own a way of doing business.
It is a great post, but I'm not so sure I agree with it...
In the technology field (which Jennifer is talking about) IT managers do want to know "How", they're analytical (typically). If you've got a cool "how", then you should talk about it - but only when the customer asks.
Jennifer gives some examples in the computer field:
- Dell makes computers. Big deal; so do a lot of other companies. But they've built their brand on how they do it. Customized and mail-order. Now, do they have to stick with computers? Not if they leverage their "how."
- Apple makes computers. It's their "how" that's given them a cult following. It's their "how" that they extended to the iPod. There are a lot of other music players out there. It's iPod's "how" that sets it apart.
- Gateway makes computers. How? Hmm... like everybody else. Oh, and they have something to do with cows. Once you pull off the cow suit, their products and service are pretty generic. This is why branding is the executive team's job, not marketing. Marketing can work with customers to determine the opportunity in your space, but it's got to be translated into an operational "how" before it's turned into an ad campaign.
In the comments, however, David Foster suggests that Apple is known for Design.
I couldn't agree more David. Apple makes the coolest products - I'd bet that very few customers care about how they do it... except those companies trying to steal Apples creativity.
People don't care how apple makes things.... what is that old saying? There are two things you never want to see made - laws & sausages.
As a customer, almost every product is a sausage.
In the book How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, the author suggests that people only ever buy two things:
- Solutions to problems
- Good Feelings
He goes on to give some examples. One of my favorites - and one I've used it more times than I care to admit - is about drill bits:
People don't buy 3/4 inch drill bits. They buy 3/4 inch holes.
However, the more I think about that, the less I agree. My new take is:
People don't buy 3/4 inch drill bits. They don't buy 3/4 inch holes. They buy the respect and admiration of people commenting on the picture they've hung on the wall using the hole provided by the drill bit.
The drill bit is a tool put to use in service of some goal of the individual. Almost no one cares how the drill bit is made. The hole will be covered up by a picture or covered with paint.
The "How" a company does what it does comes after the "What it does for me" - as an individual.
Let me give you a real life example of this...
I had a great idea. CALM.
The Custom Application License Model.
A couple of years ago I left my job at a large regional consulting firm to help a friend start a consulting business. Before I did, I suggested that the market was already too crowded and before I'd agree to move we had to have some approach that made us stand out (urgh, if I only knew then what I know now)...
One night it hit me: what if we could remove the up front cost of custom development? What if we could remove the risk of custom development projects?
We'd have people lined up for miles!
Think about the benefits of applying a license model to custom developed software:
- No upfront costs - the customer pays only after the applicaiton is in production
- Faster ROI (return on investment) is achieved because you aren't paying for development
- No need to get capital budget approvals
- No need to have a staff to support the application - the license fee covers support & maintenance
- The license fees can be depreciated
So off we went. I joined my friends software company to start a consulting practice and we were going to change the way people paid for custom developed software.
You see where this is going, right?
People didn't care. Even in the midst of a recession, when IT managers at companies of every size were working with budget constraints, this seemingly obvious way of doing development didn't get their attention.
Now, keep in mind that my friends company had been around for 20 years. Lot's of big name customers... lots. Very recognizable names. So, it wasn't that we were some new kids on the block, we had credibility.
But... I was so stupidly focused on "How" we could help them and not What they needed help with, that I eventually failed.
I'm no longer there. The failure was a direct result of caring more about How we did business. I was so focused on that great idea that I forgot the single most important lesson in business: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Live and learn, huh? I sure did.
So, is the "How" a company does what it does important to you?