What are customers really buying?

What are customers really buying?

I was presenting my program “Before you Sell Sell Sell, Market Market Market” to an audience eager to learn about personal and corporate branding, value propositions, and how to create customer loyalty. In an exercise to make the point about the importance of branding, I list big company names and ask the audience for thoughts on what the brand represents. For example, I say Disney and someone says Mickey Mouse or family fun; FedEx generates reliable overnight delivery; Nike easily gets “Just do it;” Volvo means safety and Lexus prompts luxury. Then I said Starbucks. What an array of passionate, across-the-board responses! Answers varied from “Great coffee, pastries, and caf’ food” to “A great place to hang out and meet friends” to “A very expensive cup of coffee” to “High-end gifts for customers” to “Convenience – there’s a Starbucks on every corner and in almost every airport and major office building” to “My Starbucks is like Cheers.”

While the other big corporate names mentioned generated matter-of-fact comments, the Starbucks brand generated powerful emotions and comments as to the experience of using the brand. In other words, Starbucks is not just selling coffee they are selling an experience.

Company founder and chairman Howard Shultz plans to keep the experience alive. Not only does Starbucks have a growing number of high-speed wireless Internet cafes, many stores will soon be in the music business as well, giving customers access to individual online music as part of the Starbucks’ experience. You can get a cup of coffee anywhere, but where can you add to your experience with music, Internet access, buying specialty items, or simply hanging out with friends?

Selling an experience is not a new concept. McDonald’s built the hamburger empire not on the taste of their hamburger, but the child-focused appeal of Happy Meals, playgrounds, and Ronald McDonald. Car manufacturer Saturn launched its entry into the auto market by appealing to the buyer who didn’t want cliche car salesman sales techniques used on them when purchasing a car.

What does offering a positive experience do for a business? Plenty.

It raises the price point. It’s widely known that people buy on emotion and then justify the purchase with their own reasons. A decade ago who would have thought that people would spend three or five dollars for a cup of coffee? Yet because of Starbucks, millions of people are doing it all the time all over the world.

It keeps people coming back. When buyers have a good experience, they want to duplicate it. Starbucks strong market share is built on satisfied, repeat customers.

People tell their friends. Good experiences are meant to be shared. Word of mouth sells more products than anything else.

Here are some simple examples of some positive occurrences in my consumer world. My dentist’s office has current, unusual magazines making the waiting time enjoyable. And sometimes, the wait is not long enough to read the magazines! The quick oil change garage I patronize is very clean, has fresh coffee, and the nicest people working there. The grocery store I frequent most has helpful, knowledgeable, and accommodating staff. In all cases my overall experience is great and I leave feeling valued and appreciated.

Now step back and look at your business. What do your customers experience? Do they feel welcome? Do you offer the highest value for the money they are spending? Do all your employees personalize their customer contact? Do you offer an experience unique when compared to your competitors?

Provide your customers an experience that is consistently positive and your business will thrive.

Emily Huling Selling Strategies, Inc. P.O. Box 200 Terrell, NC 28682
Phone: 888-309-8802 Fax: 888-309-7355

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