The brands I work with are not like WalMart. They don’t spend a half a billion dollars a year flooding the airwaves with traditional advertising. They don’t have enough money to sway public opinion in their favor. And all of them face stiff competition from bigger businesses.
“You can’t compete on price,” I said.
“But they’re not really cheaper, not in this business,” he said.
“Doesn’t matter. That’s the perception,” I replied. “Everyone believes they’re cheaper because the big box stores can buy in bulk. They have special deals with manufacturers.”
“No they don’t.”
“I know they don’t, and you know they don’t, but it doesn’t matter. The public believes they do. And you can’t fight that perception. It’s like City Hall. Even if we advertised lower prices week-in and week-out for years, consumers won’t believe that you can match the big chains on price. You have to hang your hat on something else.”
In that case, it was service that became the centerpiece of their marketing. That’s a credible message! The little guys can always compete on service, because the public perception is that big chains suck at it.
But it’s not enough to just start running commercials that say you have great service. You have to prove it, demonstrate it, and actually deliver it every day.
Here’s the challenge: Consumers begin every brand relationship in a state of total DISbelief. They don’t have enough information about your business to like or dislike it, but their neutrality is negated by their inherent skepticism.
They don’t believe anything you say.
So if they have no experience with your brand, and no point of reference, you have to do something that will allow prospects to suspend their DISbelief of the unknown.
It’s a far cry from believing your pitch, but it’s a start.
The best story tellers — novelists, screenwriters, movie makers, comedians, preachers — know how to get audiences to suspend disbelief and go along with plots that are a bit far-fetched.
By using vivid, believable details and dialog they draw us into their stories and “sell” us on characters that are bigger than life and settings that are out of this world. Think The Matrix, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
J.R.R. Tolkien commented on the suspension of disbelief in an essay, “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien says that, in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.
In marketing, there’s a secondary reality in every market segment. If you want people to suspend their disbelief long enough to “hear” your business pitch, you need to tell stories and use details that fit the context of that secondary reality. Like the retail reality that says little guys can’t compete with the big box stores on price. You have to work within that secondary reality, not against it.
In fictional works lively, realistic details that fit within that secondary reality make the story more believable, more engrossing. The same holds true for marketing communications of all sorts. Details, details, details help you sell your story and sway skepitcs. Not dry, hard-selling facts, but character details that reveal the personality of your brand and demonstrate your understanding of the consumer and his or her problem.
Instead of shoving your solution down their throats, try for a more empathetic approach.
Start by listening. Suspend your own disbelief, and really listen to what customer, prospects, and non-customers have to say about your brand and your business category. Every little nugget of insight can be turned into a new detail that will help you build credibility, if you use them right.
Here’s a good, practical example: Choosing the right photos for your website. Every images should help tell the story and support the secondary reality you’re working within. If you load up lousy, stock images from your industry, no one’s going to believe the story that goes with the photos.
That retail client of ours needed images that would support our story of superior customer service. So we didn’t use stock photos of smiling, happy customers. We created a whole new guarantee program that the big box store could never duplicate. Then we branded that with attention-getting graphics for the website, the ads, and in the store.
Headlines are equally important. You want to keep your claims consistent with the secondary reality of your target audience. If you keep all those little executional details in line, and keep it up over time, disbelief turns to reluctance acceptance, acceptance to approval, and for a lucky few brands, approval to love.
As movie goers and book readers, humans love to suspend disbelief. It’s an easy, welcome reprieve from the reality of everyday life. We jump on every opportunity we get… that’s why great commercials become part of the pop culture. The Mayhem guy for AllState or the Old Spice campaign requires a bit of a leap. But we’re happy to do it, and go along with that reality, 30-seconds at a time.
We don’t want to be sold, we want to be entertained. If you do things right we’re willing to suspend our disbelief long enough for you to establish a dialog with us. And then a relationship. And that’s what branding’s all about.
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