Square Social on Without A Brand, You Are A Commodity

James Thomas, Square Social

Square Social on:
Without A Brand, You Are A Commodity

“A commodity has full or partial fungibility; that is, the market treats its instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them ”.

So that’s what a commodity is. But how does that affect you? Well, if you sell a product or service, it affects everything that you do.

First of all, let’s define with a brand is. ‘Brand’ is a word that gets thrown about a lot. In reality, a brand constitutes anything you can see, hear, touch, or feel. Let’s use Coke as an example. Interbrand estimated Coke had a brand equity value of $78 billion in 2011 . What does this mean in laymen’s terms? Basically, anything Coke touch will turn to gold. And if it doesn’t turn to gold, somebody else will buy it and sell it as gold.

Having a strong brand means that when you release a new product or service, you aren’t starting from scratch each time. If Coke releases a new product, everybody already knows and loves Coke. If your local butchers release a new range of organic pork chops, they are going to be competing with every other butcher in a 10 mile radius, as well as the supermarkets and chain stores. When it comes time to buy a can of Coke or a fizzy drink, the battle is usually already won before you walk into the store.

This is what it means to have a strong brand. Let’s use thought leadership to illustrate this further. When I say mobile phone, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? IPhone, right?
Well, that’s because Apple know a thing or two about building a brand.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of branding, let’s define ‘What Isn’t Branding’.

What Isn’t Branding

Having a generic out of the box website, is not branding. No matter what product or service you sell, every single one of your competitors probably has a web presence in some form. If they don’t, well as the quote goes: “If the external changes in your industry are moving quicker than the internal ones within your business, then the end is near”.  Having a good website, that reflects your brand values and visual identity, that’s branding.

Creating a Facebook page, is not branding. Many businesses think that simply setting up a Facebook or Twitter profile means – “We’ve got our social media sorted”. No, no you haven’t. There are 13 year old girls with active Facebook pages, creating one proves nothing. To create a social profile and invest no time in it says to potential customers that you are a commodity.

If you are a commodity, then you’ll be familiar with this line – “What’s the best price you can do?”.
Posting a blog article, is not branding. Blogs have been around for years. Posting a blog article telling the world that you’ve just won ‘Generic Award Of The Year’ doesn’t deliver any value to your customers, and it doesn’t differentiate you from your competitors. The harsh truth is, we are all very selfish. We aren’t altruistic, this isn’t a Disney film. If this is the extent of your blogging, then you might be viewed as a commodity.

If You Stand Out, You Aren’t a Commodity

Remember the definition of a commodity? “The market treats its instances as equivalent or nearly so with no regard to who produced them”.

There’s this assumption that a lot of small businesses have, that branding, social media, or content marketing won’t work for them because they are in a boring industry, or because ‘everybody does it that way’ or because ‘it just won’t work’.
This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Your business or industry is as boring as you make it. If you can’t even get excited about your product or service, how can you expect your customers and prospects to? Surviving on a small amount of word of mouth referrals will only sustain you for so long.

The most important benefit of having a strong brand is that you aren’t selling on price. If your low prices are the only value you can bring to the table, then you’re in trouble. This is why you’re a commodity, because that’s the same view held by the majority of your competitors. What happens when one of your competitors builds a strong brand, sells the same service you do and still manages to charge double your fee? (Ahem, Salesforce.com). They’ll capture market share, and your company will slowly die out.

Having a strong brand also means you’re likely to be a thought leader in your industry , whether this is locally, nationally or internationally. Not everybody is looking for global domination of the smart phone or fizzy drinks industry.

You want people in your local area to want to use your business over all other competitors, not chose the provider with the lowest price.

How To Build A Brand

Building a brand is easy. There will be consultants or companies out there who will come at with you with reams of data, pie charts, graphs and dissertations. As Einstein famously quoted: “If you can’t explain it simply, you probably don’t understand it well enough”.

If a brand constitutes everything that you see, hear, feel, touch, then that basically covers any point of contact somebody has with your business.
So, logically, to build a brand you need to first of all figure out what your brand stands for. Again, keep it simple.

You might think a lengthy mission statement or convoluted piece on professional standards constitutes a brand value, it doesn’t. A brand value is tangible. Take Virgin for example, a brand built on doing things differently and superb customer service.

If your closest competitors ‘brand value’ is “Unbeatably low prices”, why not make yours “The most expensive graphic designer in town”. If the market treats commodity instances as if they are nearly identical, then it’s logical to assume that this will help nudge you out of the commodity zone and into the profitable business zone. Hell, you might even be the first business in your local area to redefine the service you provide as something other than a commodity by adding a new twist to it, or providing it in a unique way. Far from turning away from business, you’ll actually attract better customers.

You get what you pay for in this world. If somebody is serious about your product or service, they aren’t going to want the cheapest provider; they are going to want the best, or the best that they can feasibly afford. If they do want the lowest possible price, they probably aren’t somebody you want to be doing business with anyway.

Some tips to start building your brand:

- Figure out what it is that you stand for. Focus on tangible values that will set you apart and appeal to your customers

- Look at ways you can reflect these values to the outside world. Your website, your social media platforms, and the content and marketing material you create. All of these points of contact will affect how your customers view you and whether they decide to use your service. If you don’t invest anything into your website, social media platforms or content, you will be viewed as a commodity. Essentially, if you don’t show your prospects you are prepared to invest to win their business, don’t expect them to invest anything but the lowest fees into your business.

- Look at your industry leaders. “If you want to be successful, emulate successful people”. If you’re stuck for ideas and motivation, look at the companies who are really doing well in your local area, your country and internationally.

Key takeaways – if you don’t take the time to build a brand, you are a commodity. If you’re a commodity, future customers won’t think twice about choosing one of your competitors over you if they have a stronger brand.

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