Suckers!

Selling the Dream



The term "dream" is not easy to use, particularly when discussing business. Some could say it's clearly a cliché, both difficult to define and too vague to clearly express a business concept. Often people resent being associated with such an ethereal term, feeling that it belittles the seriousness of their business activities. Yet a dream is a catchy image that best describes what ignites our imagination and desires.

A company's creativity can transform common products into dreams. For example, today Levi's jeans are about as far from the coal miners' trousers as you can get, Nike sneakers are a lifestyle statement more than exercise shoes, the movie "Titanic" is far more than a well-documented story on the ship's tragic sinking, and Viagra represents much more than just an anti-impotence pill.

Connecting with the customer's imagination has become an obligatory path to business success. They are no longer content just satisfying their needs-they want to fulfill their dreams.

When attempting to create a product that you hope will fulfill your customers' dreams, keep the following points in mind:

  • Interpret the spirit of time to understand which dreams will capture the customer. Dreams are shaped by culture. It was the "flower-power" generation's love for the underdog that created a cultlike emotional following for the Volkswagen Beetle. The baby boomers' desire for independence and freedom cinched success for the Sony Walkman and Nike sneakers.

    Artists, people of culture, scientists and thinkers foresee and often provoke the changes that shape a culture. By integrating their intuition into an organization, a company can better tune into the times. Just as artists search endlessly and randomly for inspiration, a company should constantly explore unrelated fields and approach business eclectically in order to create dreams. It's hardly surprising that the companies with the most eclectic approach to business are ground-breakers when it comes to initiating trends and tastes.

  • Create products and services designed and engineered to convey intense emotions. Companies cannot survive merely satisfying consumer needs. Today, most companies can provide zero-defect products that perfectly perform their function. This is no longer a differentiating quality that, on its own, can sway the customer. Companies that rely strictly on marketing and discounts to promote otherwise common products will never win any emotional hold on their customers' minds. To achieve the type of commercial success that establishes a brand for years to come, a company has to infuse emotional qualities that connect with customers' strongest desires into its products and services.

  • Practice "dreamketing." No matter how fantastic a product is, it cannot stand alone to represent a dream. A Ferrari in the potholed hell of a city traffic jam is anything but a dream. A dream is not a product, it is an experience.

    Reaching the market is no longer enough: We have to touch (in an emotional sense) our customers' imagination. The first concern of the "dreamketer" should be to create an evocative and seductive brand, one that can spark desire and set the customer's mood. Since customers should never be awakened from their dreams, the dreamketer should ensure that the company's communication, distribution, special events and any type of customer relations consistently support the brand's mission to build that dream in customers' minds.

  • Choose the customer. There is a fundamental difference between a customer and a consumer. The consumer is a statistic, a hypothetical figure symbolizing millions of indistinct people who mechanically buy goods for their functional and utilitarian worth. A customer, on the other hand, is an identifiable individual, with a specific personality and highly selective and distinct tastes, who is emotionally bound to the company's creations. Being a consumer or a customer is a question of purchasing attitude. The same person could be both a customer and a consumer. After all, a company is only as worthy as its customers are.

  • Choose a creator. To surprise customers' imaginations, you must prophesy what they will want tomorrow. The inspiration must come from within the company. A company must develop, at all levels of the organization, a culture that actively promotes original experimentation and aesthetic research. For this to happen, it must hire creators who can lead the organization toward an original and recognizable company taste. Products and services cannot be revolutionary: Customers have to be ready for them. It's up to the creators to heed their aesthetic sensitivity in determining which dreams can become commercial successes.

  • Support creators with a creative organization. Creators alone cannot create dreams. They can provide the vision and the inspiration, but dreams are not made by a single person. Dreams are emotional experiences that require many ancillary activities performed by many gifted people. To create dreams, creators must be supported by a group of individuals with profound product knowledge who can crystallize the vision and the ideas into products and services that exalt the customers' desires. Creativity is the most important quality for achieving business success (or any type of success, for that matter), and companies selling dreams are key examples to which any type of industry should turn to learn how to enhance this most precious and scarce resource.

  • Seize any possible chance to magnify the customer's perceived added value. Art, which appeals mostly to our emotions, is the foremost example of the maximization of added value: Consider the astronomical prices paid for some colors on a cheap canvas painted by a famous artist. Since a company that sells a dream is actually selling an experience rather that simply a product, it has several chances to influence its customers' perception of added value.

    Chateau Rothschild is a perfect example of this concept. It is one of the best wines in the world, and its beautiful labels are nearly as prized as the outstanding contents of its bottles. To achieve long-lasting financial well-being, companies must welcome impulse and steer clear of typical short-term pressures form shareholders and analysts. A company must build a financial structure that allows risk-taking. The role of the financial manager should not be to help a company avoid risks, but rather to enable it to take the risks. With no risks, there are no dreams, since dreams, by definition, are never born of the norm.

    Excerpt from: Selling Dreams How To Make Any Product Irresistible by Gian Luigi Longinotti-Buitoni (Simon & Schuster)

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Suckers!.

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