Commodity VS Brand

Jack Prot

The dictionary says that a commodity is “anything bought or sold.” That’s way too wide a definition for our use. In business, a commodity is a product or service over which the buyers have most of the influence when it comes to price. Mainly, this is because they see little or no difference between versions of this product or service as it’s offered for sale.

On the business side, if you’re selling something that consumers see as a commodity, you have little chance of taking business away from your competitor because the only difference the consumer can see is price. Lack of other differentiation almost invariably drives down the selling price. That means you can’t make a profit selling (what appears to be) the same damned thing as everyone else.

The easiest differentiation is name. That’s why you have Joe’s Diner, Rita’s Diner, Mel’s Diner, etc. As long as the named person is some kind of celebrity, or is known by the intended customer in some capacity, then they have a chance at getting some of the business in that industry. But as soon as an “outsider” wants to purchase what you and your neighbors are selling, the name difference is negated.

So calling your business “Joe’s Web Hosting” will, by itself, get you no customers.

We are programmed to look for differences. In a crowded field of competitors, setting yourself apart in some way is necessary. Ultimately, you are looking to create and direct your brand.

Most people can’t accurately define what a “brand” is. Most assume that a company’s logo, or the proprietary typeface with which it’s name is spelled is the “brand.” Here’s a concept most business owners don’t seem to want to understand:

A brand exists only in the minds of your consumers, potential consumers, competitors, peers and the public at large. You can try to create and influence your brand, but that’s all.

A brand is a shortcut in a person’s mind. If I mention the name of a national burger chain (let’s call it JesterBurger) to you, all the thoughts, memories and feelings you have about that particular place is the brand. Huge corporations try to influence your thoughts and feelings via advertising campaigns, store layout, customer service, and a million other interactions. If you are a hard-core vegan, your perception of any burger chain is likely to be negative, regardless of how positively they promote themselves, and how great your friends feel about eating there.

There are essentially three levels of information gathering. For our purposes, we’ll talk about Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary.

Primary information source gathering consists of actually experiencing something (a product or service, in our case).

Secondary information source gathering is hearing about other peoples’ Primary experiences.

Tertiary is – well, everything else.

You walk into a branch of our fictional JesterBurger. You see that the place is clean, the colors are bright, and the people behind the counter are smiling. You order a complete meal, and are happy to receive most of your $10 bill back as change. The food appears quickly and the temperature is hot enough that you can assume it was freshly made. You sit in one of the comfortable booths, bite into your JesterBurger Deluxe and decide you enjoy the taste and texture. After finishing your meal, you throw your garbage into the conveniently located can, and head for the restroom to wash your hands. You notice that the restroom is well maintained, and looks and smells clean. The water is quickly hot enough to wash with soap from the dispenser above the sink, and you air dry your hands with the air jet.

The thoughts and feelings you have about JesterBurger after your visit are from a Primary source – you actually went there and had an experience.

Your friend asks you where you had lunch, and you tell her it was JesterBurger. She’s never been there and asks whether you’d recommend it for lunch.

No, you tell her, there was a screaming kid next to you all during lunch. Don’t go.

Although JesterBurger has done everything they possibly can to positively influence your experience during your visit, your perception can be influenced by anything and everything during your Primary experience.

Your bad review to your friend is an example of a Secondary source. It’s called anecdotal evidence, or Word Of Mouth. When marketing professionals try to create and manage it, they call it Buzz Marketing.

Tertiary information comes from things like media stories, advertisements, marketing materials, and other sources. These are usually created, or at least placed, by the subject company trying to influence your thoughts. Similarly the person running has probably loaded their site with negative information, and is also trying to influence your opinion.

What does this have to do with defining your brand? You are trying to make certain that your potential client understands what it is that you do, what services you offer, and how you’re unique as compared to all your potential competition, all in an instant. You need to focus on a few key things about you and your company that would appeal to potential clients. A simple, representative list might be:

* Location (local vs exotic)
* Services (broad vs narrow)
* Time in businesses (new vs established)
* Ownership (small vs large)
* Design philosophy (simple vs fancy)
* Attitude (funny vs serious)
* Education (6th grader vs PhD.)
* Experience (big shop vs entrepreneur)
* Price (low vs high)

If you’re in business, you have a brand whether you want one or not. It’s your choice to attempt to manipulate it or not. If you do try, what image are you trying to project, and how will you go about it? Again, your choice. If you don’t attempt to control your brand and make the best impression possible, you are letting your business be seen as totally interchangeable with all the other look-alike web hosts out there.

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