Stop talking product features and start talking customer needs

A few years ago, I was walking the aisles of a home center, on a secret shopper expedition for a prospective client. Surveying the product options, I wanted to see how the sales associate might suggest navigating the wide range of choices. I stopped and asked him, “Do you have any recommendations on which product is best?”

He paused and looked at me, then the products, slightly perplexed by the question. “All these products are the same,” he said. “Just pick the cheaper one.”

The scenario is every brand manager’s worst nightmare, right? To be so forgettable as to become interchangeable, with customers choosing only by price point.

Those who build their brand story solely around functional features will find themselves in a race to the bottom that’s about price and nothing else. So it’s imperative to find your “why” story—to understand end users’ needs and how your product solves their problems.

Throughout your brand positioning, stop talking about your product’s attributes and get to the heart of how that product will make a difference in someone’s life, work, business or routine. Then watch as affinity for your brand climbs.

The preference for emotional connection has only deepened with time: in a recent analysis by Brand Keys, 80% of consumers showed they favor emotional over rational appeals. That’s a 20 percent rise since 1997.

So how do you get that conversation started with your customers through your advertising, web presence, social media content, and more? There are three simple but important things to keep in mind.

1. Product features are the more clinical, rational facts. Customers might “need” those, but what they want (and crave) is emotional connection.

You don’t have to hide the nutritious, “fact-y” product feature stuff. But you can’t let it consume the entire message. You’ve got limited space and time, and to use it judiciously, you need to make sure you’re hooking customers with a story that means something to them and makes them feel good about themselves for using the product.

2. How does your product make life easier? You should know the answer to that question.

Explain how life will change for the better when customers adopt your product or service, not just why. In the case of our client Allied Air Enterprises, that meant helping developers, architects and multifamily building owners understand what they could do with all the additional space that MagicPak® HVAC units open up—and the aesthetic and financial benefits that come along with that. Product features became secondary to understanding that making this one choice not only provides a comfortable environment, but enables them to add desirable (and rent-boosting) rooftop amenities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

3. Tell the story that stirs people to feel something.

I don’t feel the whirring of emotion when I learn that my kitchen mixer has more speed settings than any other appliance on the market. But my heart bursts with nostalgia when I remember the joy on my daughter’s face when we used it to make chocolate chip cookies together. The emotions need to have a connection to something meaningful, beyond entertainment, in order to build a connection with your customer.

If it’s made well, you’re likely eager (and justifiably so!) to share all the reasons your product is the best. If you want your customers to really believe it’s the best, those features will need to take a back seat to feelings. Uncover how your products’ advantages are meaningful to your audience, and tell them so in a memorable, emotionally connected way—then watch your brand take the lead.

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