The following is the seventh in the series "Marketing Like the Big Brands," running every other week in which marketing expert Jim Joseph shows entrepreneurs on a small-business budget how to apply marketing strategies used by big brands.
A very important element to marketing that too many entrepreneurs overlook is finding your emotional benefit.
We tend to focus all our energies on our business features -- from pricing to product claims to timetables. But it's not the facts that set you apart. The rational elements of your business do little to differentiate you from your competition. They also don't help you form a relationship with your customers. It's the emotional benefits you offer that make your company special, turning your business into a brand.
Take the laundry detergent category -- something we're all familiar with. Virtually every product on the market offers the same core benefits: cleaning, whitening, brightening and stain removing. A lot of them have the same basic ingredients. For these reasons, it's hard to tell one product apart from another on a rational basis. They all compete with the same core features.
Think for a minute about how you choose one of those products. I'm sure you are picking out features, but it's really the brands you are choosing. You choose one brand over another because you trust it, you're familiar with it, you've relied on it for years or it's been highly recommended by someone you trust.
These are all emotional benefits. It's the emotional benefits that have turned those products into brands. You have relationships with brands, not with products.
As an entrepreneur, you can do the same with your small business. While you'll certainly need to sort through your product features and benefits, if you want to create a brand people trust and recommend, you'll need to offer an emotional benefit.
In the last article in this series, "Marketing Like the Big Brands: Think You Know Your Customer? Think Again", I discussed targeting your customer, which is where you begin to find emotional benefits. You have to discover what they are looking for from you, beyond just your product features. You need to find what will satisfy their emotional wants, beyond what they need from the product.
Say you run a restaurant. Your customers know they can get daily specials and good tasting food from you. But what can you offer them that they can't get elsewhere? Is it a feeling of being at home, part of the neighborhood, and being comforted and nurtured?
For Olive Garden, for example, that emotional differentiator is offering customers a place where they can gather with family for a real family meal. Take a look at their brand experience, from the advertising to the website to the promotions, it's entirely built around this emotional benefit.
Every business has to get at customers' emotions differently, in whatever way best suites them. If you are a business consultant, you may think all you offer are functional benefits like reports and analysis. While your clients may need these things day-to-day, there's an underlying emotional benefit that you can offer them as well: building their reputation among their colleagues, helping get them promoted or allowing them to balance their work and family pressures. You also offer them trust and reliability -- factors that create an emotional appeal.
These are the emotional benefits that will build a lasting relationship with clients, so that they want to work with you rather than the competition.
The emotional benefit for your brand may not be intuitively obvious to you. Talking with loyal customers is a good place to start searching for that emotional appeal. Also take a look at what your competition is saying to their customers. This may give you ideas about how to create your own messaging. Simply thinking about why your customers need to come back to you time and time again could be enough to reveal the answer.
Customers don't necessarily remember what you do for them as much as they remember how you made them feel. There's where you can uncover your emotional benefit.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Jim Joseph is the North American president of New York-based communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, part of the media company WPP Group PLC. He is the author of three books, including the latest, The Personal Experience Effect (Happy About 2013). Joseph also teaches marketing at New York University and blogs at JimJosephExp.com.