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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett


How To Build Brands That Sell Themselves

You can develop "apostle brands," or brands that effectively sell themselves if you have in-depth knowledge of customers and their needs; if you offer compelling products; and if you engage employees. Rocket: Eight Lessons to Secure Infinite Growth Parts I and II by Michael J. Silverstein, Dylan Bolden, Rune Jacobsen, and Rohan Sajdeh offers practical tips on how to develop apostle brands.

An apostle brand is one in which customers act as "fanatical" ambassadors for the brand. Examples of such brands are Starbucks and Audi. The authors derived their "rules" from past experience with B2C customers, but their insights are also appropriate for B2B companies. Here are their rules, plus additional comments and suggestions.

Don't ask customers what new products or services they want. They can't imagine what they want "until you show them." Ask probing questions. "What do you do?" "How do you do it?" and "What factors make it harder/ easier to do it?" are three of my favorite introductory questions. Responses to these questions will help your product developers, salespeople, and customer support staff.

Solicit customer complaints and heed them. Ask "What else do you need?" Also ask, "When do you consume a product?" "Whom are you with?" and "How do you want to feel?" [see the next item below] Responses to these probing questions will give you additional insight into what is behind customers' real wants. Then, take corrective actions. Customers will broadcast their positive experiences with your company.

Provide products with curb appeal. Apple products are sleek and elegant. Customers feel special when they are the first to own the next great thing from Apple. Recommendations from early iPhone purchasers helped boost sales.

Inspire employees to be passionate about your products. Give them insight into how your products address known customer needs. Treat your employees well, and if possible, let them try new products or services. They, too, will become product evangelists.

Cultivate virtual relationships with customers and products as this will also encourage them to become digital ambassadors for your products. Another way to connect virtually is to offer online customer support.

Finally, develop and deploy metrics to track how your brand is doing. "Brands are fragile." If they are "not improving, [they are] declining." Gathering data will help you identify which strategies most successfully boost your brand and increase sales.

Court your most supportive fans as they will "propagate" other fans. Two percent of customers are apostles or advocates. They make up 20 percent of sales. Their friends make up another 60 percent of sales. The remaining 20 percent of sales come from "'strangers.'" Altogether, the apostles and their friends are responsible for most of a company's profits, say the authors of the article.

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