In a perfect world, companies that have the best technology, the most innovative business models, and the best leadership teams would have the most success. The reality, however, is far different. That’s because developing a leadership position in any industry takes more than good ideas: it also requires customers to make purchases, partners to see the value in a relationship, and investors to perceive long-term value. That’s where a well-executed marketing plan can make the difference between just showing up and being a market leader.
When most people think of brands, they think of visual elements such as logos, websites, and printed collateral. While those things are important, they are the 10% of the iceberg above the waterline. What is far more important are some of the hundreds of intangible elements that make up a brand, ranging from customer service to product innovation to geographic customization. But no matter what a company’s “secret sauce” may be, it’s up to the leadership team to figure it out and make it an integral part of their story, not just an afterthought. Think about it this way – people like their Dell computers but they LOVE their Apple devices. How do you get people to love your company, not just use your products and services?
It all comes back to “resonance,” which comes from having an emotional connection with customers rather than just a transactional relationship. The best way to think about this is by envisioning the “how does it make you feel” story rather than just “how it works” narrative. When you see an advertisement for a car, it’s always about how people are enjoying their lives – it’s never about the bore of the cylinder or the technology behind the brakes. This is a principle that all companies need to embrace. Unfortunately, technology companies are often unable to separate the “how” from the “why.” And while that might resonate with engineers and coders, it’s not a great way to build up a large-scale consumer brand.
This is one of the biggest challenges that technology companies face, because most visionaries in the software and hardware industries think in terms of functionality being their main selling point when that is surprisingly irrelevant when it comes to branding. Having a quality product that works properly is important, of course, but that’s just the starting point for building a brand. So how can forward thinking organizations get past this mindset and develop real emotional connections that will drive adoption and brand loyalty? The answer, surprisingly, may lie in approaches that are incredibly low-tech in nature.
Let’s look at this in the context of a trade show. Companies spend millions of dollars on flashy exhibits, “booth babes,” and other things to attract attendees into their exhibits, but those things are incredibly transitory because after a few hours on the show floor, all of the companies began to look the same. That’s why just about every company gives out small gifts (commonly called “swag”) for people to take home with them. In many cases, people are more likely to remember a dollar-piece of swag than a million-dollar booth.
At first glance, this doesn’t make any sense. How can a small giveaway item build more of a connection than a massive three-tier booth on the floor of a Las Vegas conference hall? It all comes back to resonance. One of the most popular giveaway items is the sticker. If you’re wondering how a sticker could possibly make a difference from a branding standpoint, think about it this way: people regularly put stickers on their laptop computers because it gives them a way to express their individuality and show their love for interesting and creative ideas. Stickers are a great way to make a statement without having to spend millions of dollars on a Super Bowl television ad or sponsoring a blimp to fly over a city to get attention.
In fact, stickers are such a powerful marketing tool that Apple – one of the most beloved companies in the world – actually includes extra Apple logo stickers when people order iPhones, iPads, or computers. That’s because Apple knows that their customers are proud to own their products and want to promote them to their friends into their communities. And they know that stickers are an extremely effective way to make that happen. Apple is known as having one of the best brands in the world, and if stickers work for them, they may be worth considering for your company, as well.
Andrew Witkin is CEO of StickerYou, a Canada-based company that manufactures branded items ranging from stickers to signs to magnets for businesses around the world.