Value and Utility: Solving the Paradox of Brand Promises

by Vince Skolny via @GrowDemand

My friend and fellow marketer Elizabeth Paige (whom you should follow) snatched and tweeted out something from my Five Keys for Building a Brand Promise article on July 27:


When it showed up in my notification column, it struck me as a possible apparent incongruity: If we don’t define value, but our customer does, how do we create a brand promise?

I intimated at the answer in that article and in last week’s, How to Compete on Preference, not Price, but thought it would be a good idea to explain it explicitly this week.

Value and Utility

This is the vital distinction. Value is the worth of your product (and ultimately, per the principles of #GrowDemand, your brand) as determined by your customer’s preference and willingness to buy it. Utility is your customer’s personal and subjective sense of happiness and well-being.

It is your job as a marketer to build value for our customers, but not to define it for them. It is their job to define it for you by being your paying customer.

That means it is very risky to launch on — or to launch a — brand promise: If that promise isn’t something your customers value, your marketing cannot possibly succeed.

The solution is to market with value propositions and let your customers tell you what they think.

The Marketing Process

Marketing’s objective is to sell as much as possible at the highest possible price by creating legitimate value for which customers willingly pay. That objective is met by focusing on customers, not products.

Specifically, it is met by facilitating the marketing process, the four non-discreet steps of: 1) locating potential customers; 2) converting those potential customers into paying customers; 3) transforming those paying customers into repeat customers; all the while: 4) nurturing each customer into a loyal community of brand advocates — those hardcore customers who will consider tattooing your brand on their asses.

Building a Brand Promise Together

A certain way — or, at least, as certain as marketing can possibly be — of nurturing your loyal community of brand advocates is by involving them directly in building, rather than discovering (much less “being educated about”) your brand and its brand promise.

Not only does it infuse your brand with what customers actually do value, people tend to value what they have a hand in and you are actually giving ownership, or at least a sense of ownership to your customers.

That’s how marketing research is done correctly, by marketing to real customers and learning from them.

Five Steps to Building a Brand Promise with Your Customers

  1. Define the shape of your brand. You cannot let your customers define your brand from the ground up, lest there is no way to locate prospective customers for your brand. It’s a chicken and egg thing.
  2. Create a category you can be first in. Resist the urge to mimic existing businesses and particularly market leaders and attempt to “be better.” It’s far better to distinguish yourself as different. (If you haven’t you need to read The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing on this point.)
  3. Focus on potential loyal customers. Essential to defining your brand’s shape and creating a category is knowing what your potential loyal customers look like, by lifestyle, not demographic.
  4. Launch value propositions for your potential loyal customers to evaluate. Based upon steps one to three, craft value propositions rooted in one of The Three Things Customers Actually Pay For. This is the only way to be certain that you are creating value propositions that will create utility and, thus, value.
  5. Listen to and allow your customers to self-select into your marketing process. Give your customer every chance to communicate with you about the experience (their experiences build their expectations which drive their preferences) of being your customer. Listen to them. Listen to what your employees tell you about dealing with them. Listen to them through surveys and on social media.

But most importantly, listen to what they tell you through their preferences for being your customer, as evidenced by spending, returning to spend again, and referring friends to spend money on your brand.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Feel free to leave a note, or, even better, tweet at me.

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I publish a #GrowDemand article each week at noon PST. Let me know if you’d like me to tweet you the link each week. I’m happy to.

Next week’s topic: How to Craft a Value Proposition

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