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What Are You Actually Selling? Getting Your Brand Noticed in the Playground

Did you know that BP and Mobil don't consider themselves part of the fuel industry?

Instead, they focus messaging around being part of the energy industry. They sell the opportunity to get from A to B and don’t limit themselves to only selling fuel. They gave themselves the ‘energy’ label because it's an invigorating word with none of the stigma of “gas” or “petrol” or “fossil fuels”. They have distanced themselves from the dirty, polluting “fuels”and become a part of the clean, modern world of “energy”.

Mobil fuel card selling a lifestyle

Does the word "energy" make their company any greener or their product less harmful? Of course not. But they have diversified, distanced themselves and improved their public image hugely.

This game-plan is reflected in their advertising and promotions where they do not promote their main product directly. Their television ads do not rant and rave about how their petrol is better or cleaner or cheaper than anyone else's. They advertise a service. An experience. A quick and easy one-stop-shop for their road-tripping customers.

It isn't the product that they're marketing, but the lifestyle their product enables.

There are two important takeaways from this messaging. Firstly; it's a reminder that even the most harmful of products can be promoted in a way that makes them seem like the "good guys". Therefore, it's important to always take a second look at the marketing and advertising you consume and question the actual product & business (see Greenwashing). The second takeaway, which is the topic of this blog, is the impact repositioning your messaging can have. This comes from identifying what you are actually selling.

So what are you actually selling?

Chances are, you know your product or service inside and out. You could talk about it in your sleep. But what is it that your product/service brings to the table? What are you actually selling?

Are you providing status? Safety? Convenience? Are you saving someone time, money or energy? A coffee shop isn't necessarily in the market of hot water and ground beans. A coffee shop can be a place for people to eat, to meet, to work, to date or to start their day. A wedding venue or caterer isn't in the market of trestle tables and chicken roulades. They are selling the best day of someone’s life.

screenshot of an Instagram post from Tabula Rasa selling their personal service
This wedding venue talks about the atmosphere they provide rather than venue capacity or logistics.

Know what makes you special:

Once you've established what you're actually giving people, it's time to get clear on your Unique Selling Point (USP). For example, your gourmet pet treats might give people a healthy and convenient treat to use when training their dog, but your USP is that your treats are organic and hand-sorted. Find ways to communicate your USP in terms that are memorable and easily understood by your audience, and roll this out across your digital content, emails, social media, and printed collateral.

Don't be afraid to get a bit "needy":

A useful roadmap to follow when finding your USP is knowing what level of need you are addressing for your clients. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a pyramid that describes the order in which needs must be met in order for people to grow (McLeod, 2020). At the top is self-fulfilment, something we can all hope to strive for but is a little out of reach if you lack food, water and rest (three things that make up the base of the pyramid). You start at the bottom and as each level is obtained you can move up the pyramid, passing from basic needs to psychological needs, all the way to the top where one's self-fulfilment needs can be met. Ask yourself where your product fits into this process and how it is going to help people.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Source:

To really make an impact, hit 'em right in the feels:

Consider the emotion behind your brand. People tend to not remember what you say, but how you made them feel. It is similar to the way we all communicate with each other. Think of a conversation or a fight you’ve had or even a time someone has made you laugh. Can you remember what they said? The exact wording? Or can you just remember how they made you feel? This is a crucial point in branding.

People will remember your product vastly more often and more positively if they have an emotional response to link it to.

Every touch point a client has with your brand is an opportunity to make them feel something. Use them well. After they have interacted with your brand or staff they similarly are unlikely to remember the exact minutiae of the interaction. Instead, they will remember the emotional experience they had. How you, your staff and your brand made them feel. This is the X-Factor that will make a brand stand out in a world that is flooded with advertising and is crowded with brands vying for attention. Discover what emotional experience you are giving your clients. That is what you are selling.

If you as a company know exactly what you are offering your customers, your journey towards sales and success becomes easier. You will reach the right people more directly and people will see you as a company standing on its own two feet and owning its space in the marketplace. You will have a clear vision that will help guide your decisions and a brand that connects with people and makes their lives richer.

  1. McLeod,S. December 29 2020, Simply Psychology [Online]. https://www.simplypsychology. org/maslow.html, 19/01/2021.


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