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Stand Up and Stand Out!
Disrupt conventional branding patterns to differentiate your business
How do we stand out? How do we get heard? How do we differentiate ourselves in a marketplace that is being bombarded with boundless choices and marketing messages screaming the same features and benefits, the same value propositions, and the same “better price” promise?
The dental laboratory industry is trending toward product commoditization. While many fear the inevitable result is a “race to the bottom,” the opposite is actually true. If you study market dynamics, you will find that the commoditization of any industry will always share a common thread: diminished perception of value. Over time, the marketing communication and customer experience becomes so entrenched in the status quo that the market invariably finds itself in a trap of oneness. The lack of product differentiation firmly lowers the customer’s expectation bar by creating the perception that there is no tangible difference between products and companies. This situation is called a market convention, and should be the target of every brand differentiation strategy.
The goal of brand differentiation is to remove your brand from the competitive set by disrupting the conventional pattern of communication, thus forcing your customers to take notice. While the term “disrupting” may sound negative, it’s not. It’s all about creativity. It is introducing customers to a refreshing experience to replace the lifeless one. Disruption is finding new visionary avenues to reinvent the customer experience.
The Power of Brand
Before diving into brand disruption, the power of the brand must first be addressed. Branding is the opportunity to fully express yourself in the marketplace: your purpose, your personality, and the reason why you exist. Humanizing a brand dictates how you relate to customers, and how customers relate to your brand. Just as your personality is the only unique trait that separates you from others in the world, your brand personality should be equally unique to separate your company in the marketplace. Your brand is a reflection of you, and the function of branding is to flesh out the purpose of your business by clearly communicating the attributes and core values for which you stand. It’s more than a promise to deliver the functional benefits of your products (ie, esthetics and fit). It is a promise of an experience that has inspirational, emotional, relational, and experiential benefits; an experience that is communicated through every touch point you have with your customer.
Make no mistake: Each dentist experiences your brand every time he or she connects to your company. We must ask, “Is that experience conventional?” If it is, how can we make it disruptive? The goal of a branding is never to get the quick sale or account, but rather to build a meaningful, emotional connection based on repetitive positive experiences aimed at building loyalty and trust. Once that loyalty link is established, it is very difficult for your competitor to break the relationship chain. The relationship is so strong that when the average price of a crown continues to slide due to commoditization, your pricing can remain stable because your customers will pay for the privilege to work with you. Why? Because something tells them they can’t afford not to.
We must understand that companies themselves are lifeless. They’re just legal entities, stone and wood. Branding is the process of humanizing your company. The brand then looks for conventional experiences that have become cerebral, and leads to create opportunities to make them emotional.
The Convention of What
With marketing, there are really only two ways to get customers to do business with you. You can either manipulate them, or you can inspire them. We are all well aware of the manipulation technique; we’ve been doing it since we were kids: “If you give me your piece of chocolate, I’ll be your best friend.” Manipulation can include dropping your price. If you drop it low enough, someone will buy from you. It can take the form of promotions—two-for-one or buy-one-get-one—where you are giving something away for free in order to lower your risk and increase the chance that customers will buy from you. The fear of losing an account is a manipulator. Your dentist is asking for a better price, so you need to provide it. That’s not to say manipulation doesn’t drive sales transactions. It absolutely does, and that’s why we use it. The problem with the manipulation game is that it doesn’t breed trust or loyalty.
We live in a world where most products are sold via a manipulative transaction. It’s a follower model that focuses on following the competition, not leading the customer. Customers are bombarded on all sides with these types of sales pitches and brand experiences, which are extremely stressful for both the buyer and the seller. And, it is a market convention that inherently results in customer relationships characterized by feelings of stress and built on transactions, not on trust. It is the complete opposite of the brand experience you want to build.
Now that the brand convention you don’t want to adopt has been identified, it is time to think outside of this box, and formulate the vision for executing a brand experience disruption.
The Disruption of Why
We come in contact with thousands of brands each day. With all of these people and organizations, what is it about those very few brands that carry a disproportionate level of influence in our lives? The reason is that they have inspired us with their message, which was endorsed by our experience. Consider the way they communicate: They think, act, and communicate completely opposite from everybody else. They disrupt the convention of what with the disruption of why. You see this pattern tangibly in loyalty brands such as Apple, Mont Blanc, and Harley Davidson.
Conventional marketing communication focuses on what the company does. Disruptive marketing communication focuses on why they do it. The disciplined strategy of disruption calls for you to develop your own disruption, making the shift from trying to sell to people who need what you have, to clearly communicating why you exist in order to the find the customers who want what you have. There is a big difference.
Every company knows what it does. This is the restoration catalog that you offer. Some know how they do it, whether it’s called a unique selling point or value-added proposition. Very few companies, though, know why they do it. (That does not mean making a profit; that’s a result of the process.) Why means your purpose, your cause, and your belief. Human nature is to communicate our confidence level, the clearest thing we know about ourselves, resulting in most companies thinking, acting, and communicating exclusively what they do. Those who communicate why they exist create communities—groups of people with common sets of values and beliefs. Their customers don’t buy what they do; they buy why they do it. These companies have successfully exchanged a stressful purchase decision for one that gifts the purchaser with a self-expressive benefit and a great emotional feeling.
Analyze the standardized behavior at every customer communication touch point in the business cycle to see and identify the universal patterns of doing business amongst your peers. Whether it’s the order-taking process, the actual product experience, or even the handling of a customer complaint, the opportunities to disrupt convention are everywhere; you just need to be on a mission to find them. Remember, there is not another person like you in this world. Be passionate and be bold. Express yourself fully. You have the power to disrupt convention and change someone’s day in a positive way. Laboratory life is a good life.
High-Quality work often is not enough to differentiate yourself in a competitive market. Having a clear message and making sure it reaches the right target audience can be just as important.
Sasha Der Avanessian is President and CEO of Harvest Dental Products, a product resource for dental technicians in more than 30 countries. In addition to leading Harvest's integrated branding strategy across all communication platforms, he consults and lectures on the subjects of business and branding.