Episode 65

8 strategies that will turn a product or service into a brand

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

Show Notes (click to expand)

So let’s turn to today’s topic: 8 strategies that will turn a product or service into a brand.


If you’re an entrepreneur trying to craft a long-term winning brand, then this episode is for you! 


To begin, there are two things to remember:

  • We SELL products or services


  • We ENGAGE with brands


If I’ve learned one thing throughout my 25 years as a brand marketing executive in the corporate world, it’s this: 

  • If you ENGAGE first and SELL second, you will sell a helluva lot more in the end.


And the best way to achieve this is to execute the following 8 strategies to turn your product or service into a brand.


Here goes:


Strategy #1: Go from delivering a functional product or service to delivering an emotional connection. 


The goal of selling a product or service is to make money. However, the goal of developing a brand is to create the emotional connection that drives long-term relationships with your consumers. Consumers want to experience humanity in branding. 


A brand with a compelling story can connect with consumers in a way that draws them in and wins their loyalty. If you, as the entrepreneur, want to stand-out, then you must make your brand come alive through your story, the key to success. 


The power of emotional connection is best exemplified by the brand Spanx. Spanx would NOT be a billion dollar brand today if it were not for Sara Blakely’s story. She didn’t like the way her backside looked in a pair of white Crane pants, so they sat in her closet for months. Wanting to change how she looked in those pants, one evening she cut the legs off her control top panty hose, felt great wearing them, and in doing so, gave birth to an undergarment company. This spontaneous action ultimately disrupted the traditionally male-dominated undergarment industry. 


However, her story of wanting to help other women (& now men) feel CONFIDENT in their clothes is what drew customers in…NOT the undergarment itself. No one rationally pays $80 for an undergarment others can’t see. What customers are really purchasing is CONFIDENCE and Sara Blakely’s story is the credibility that makes them believe that they too can be CONDFIENT in their clothes.


As I like to say: Sara is SPANX and SPANX is Sara. So take a page from her playbook by bringing yourself to your business venture, through your story, for the emotional win!


AND just for the record, I wear a SPANX compression t-shirt on every stage I speak on…and I do feel CONFIDENT, thanks to Sara!


Strategy #2 Go from something you “touch” to something you “feel”


Selling something tangible is the goal of a product or a service.

However, how a consumer feels about a brand IS the brand and those feelings are what I call the “intangibles” – the things you cannot see, touch, taste, smell or hear. A brand is as successful as its ability to trigger a consistent feeling in its customer’s heart. 


Let’s look at the Oreo brand. 


I’m sure you’ve been asked the question, how do you eat an Oreo? Are you a twister, licker, or dunker? Just for the record, I’m a dunker. The success of this multi-billion dollar brand does NOT lie solely in its blue packaging and tasty cookie. It’s successful because when you eat your Oreo, you feel connected to the person who taught you how to eat it.


So engage your audience, evoke those intangible feelings, and watch your customers come back for more!


Strategy #3: Go from a product or service that overcomes a problem to a brand that takes down the enemy!


Products and services solve functional problems. However, brands that uncover their consumer’s biggest pain point, what I call the “enemy”, win the long-term game by showing how their brand overcomes that enemy.


Let’s take Blackberry as an example. 


Blackberry’s hand-held device solved a functional problem people were having – gaining access to their emails when they weren’t at work! While this made many people’s lives easier, it wasn’t enough to create a long term winning brand. In fact, Blackberry’s hand-held device died its final death on January, 4th 2022.


Now enter Apple! 


They clearly understood the frustration that consumers had when it came to technology. So how did they beat down their consumer’s enemy of “frustration with technology?” They developed a simple device, the iPhone, that combined an increasingly popular portable phone concept with access to technology, including internet and emails. They made this access so SIMPLE that everyone, whether 18 or 85 years old, could feel a part of the future. In doing so, they contributed to Blackberry‘s demise.



Problems are functional; enemies are emotional. Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes to overcome the enemy!


Strategy #4: Go from a product or service that is centered around rational decision making to a brand that is centered around subconscious decision making!


So much of what drives consumers to make a purchase is way beyond the features of that product or service.  In fact, according to Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious. All the research I’ve done throughout my brand marketing career validates this stat, making it clear to me that emotion is what really drives purchasing decisions!


Let’s play this out with Starbucks!


  • A rational decision is this: I want a cup of coffee!


  • However a subconscious decision is this: I want a cup of Starbucks coffee, that happens to cost $7. 


Think about it. No one rationally spends $7 on a solo-venti-non-fat-with-whip-white-mocha that has 85% milk and 15% coffee (that’s my drink by the way). It’s a subconscious decision because people want to feel a part of the Starbucks COMMUNITY… which goes way beyond the cup of coffee.


Subconsciously, you’re paying $7 for the Starbucks café lifestyle, not just for the cup of coffee. 


As a former boss used to say to me all the time, early in my career, “Sell the sizzle Rich, not the steak!” That has always stuck with me!


Strategy #5: Go from consuming the product or service to experiencing the brand!


We consume products and services and then they’re done!


However, we experience brands!!


Let’s continue talking about Apple. Their stores specifically. 


This brand provides a world-class in-store experience and according to bestselling author, Carmine Gallo, it’s because every employee is trained to walk a customer through five steps that spell out the acronym A-P-P-L-E!


Here they are:


A: Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.

P: Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs.

P: Present a solution for the customer to take home today.

L: Listen for and resolve issues or concerns.

E: End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

APPLES’ secret? Their experience is NOT focused on selling products, but rather on building relationships. This laser focus on the Apple experience has made their Apple Stores the most profitable retailer per square foot on the planet.


Strategy #6: Go from a product or service that is part of a daily routine to a brand that becomes a ritual.


Let me uncover this strategy with a personal story.


When I worked in the corporate world, my morning routine was to stop for coffee before I got on the train. I needed that caffeine to start my day. However, this routine changed when Starbucks sent me a “Gold Card” as part of its loyalty program. 


The next morning, after I handed the Barista this Gold Card to pay for my latte, she handed it back to me and said, “Have a great day Rich.” And I said, “How do you know my name?” She replied, “It’s on your Gold Card”. As crazy as this sounds, hearing my name called out made me feel valued.


So thereafter, I chose Starbucks every morning for my Latte and each morning as I ran in, the Baristas would shout out, “Hey Rich”, as I grabbed the cup labelled with my name and ran happily out the door to catch my train. 


I believe using a person’s name throughout the Starbucks experience was intentional; to create a more meaningful interaction, in other words, a ritual.  The difference between a routine and a ritual is the ATTITUDE behind the actions. 


For me, this personal treatment made my morning ritual special and further deepened my loyalty to the Starbucks brand!


Strategy #7: Go from a product or service that is an after-thought to a brand that lingers on!


If the only thing going for your product or service is a great price point, then good luck staying top-of-mind! However, brands that have long-lasting impact become ingrained in consumers’ minds. 


There are many multi-billion dollar brands that have successfully left their mark on consumer’s minds long after their product or service is purchased. 


Some of my favorites are the following:

  • #1: The Nike Live concept, which designs each store to make customers feel like VIPs.
  • #2: Virgin Experience Gifts that create unforgettable out-of-the-box experiences.
  • #3: Warby Parker’s Home Try-on Glasses Program.
  • #4 The Peloton Studio where you can experience a live exercise class in action.
  • AND
  • #5 The Lush sensory exploration experience – yes, even the smell of soap can linger on long after it is finished.

So how do brands achieve lingering? By creating meaningful experiences that connect with their purpose, align with their customers’ values, and create positive memories that linger on long after the consumer’s experience has ended.


Strategy #8: Go from deciding whether or not you like a product or service to defending your passion for the brand.


When we don’t have an emotional connection to the products or services we purchase, it’s merely a rational transaction and one of two things happen. We either like the product and therefore repeat the purchase, or we dislike it and never purchase it again.


However, brands that create an emotional bond with consumers have an irrational fan base that will defend tooth and nail their passion for these brands. Why? Because fans incorporate these brands into their lives in such a way that they embody the values and beliefs of these brands.


I want to highlight two examples that bring this powerful last strategy to life.


The first is Apple: 


Why do Apple fans sleep outside a store when the latest and greatest device is launched? I can tell you it goes way beyond the product. It’s because Apple is a lifestyle brand that represents consistently great taste, sleek design and an ease-of-use aesthetic. This aura is so powerful that diehard fans sleep outside the stores to be identified with these values and beliefs.  They want everyone to know that they are one and the same with the Apple brand.


The second is Beyonce. 


She may be the most-nominated female artist in Grammy history, with 28 wins, but her iconic status goes way beyond her music.


This diva has built an intensely loyal fanbase called the ‘BeyHive’ and they have proven themselves to be truly formidable, especially when the Queen Bee is criticized. For example, in 2015, Kid Rock chose to diss the superstar’s looks and music in a Rolling Stone interview, saying “Beyoncé, to me, doesn’t have a f–king ‘Purple Rain,’ but she’s the biggest thing on Earth.” The hive immediately flocked to his social media channels and flooded his comments with over 40,000 bee emojis. Beyonce critics are cautioned with a “don’t anger the BeyHive” warning, because if you come for Beyoncé, you come for the Beyhive too!


So there you have it. The ONE consistent theme throughout these 8-strategies is connecting with your consumers on an emotional level to become a long-term winning brand.


To summarize, if you want a brand that stands the test of time, then you must:

  • Deliver an emotional connection
  • That your consumer’s feel
  • Because you can take down their enemy
  • So their decision making is subconscious
  • Creating an experience
  • That becomes a ritual
  • And lingers on
  • Allowing your fans to defend their passion for you consistently


AND it starts with discovering the ‘One Word’ that will help you Stand-out, Conquer Obstacles, Reach Excellence and SCORE.

Connect with me at info@therichkeller.com if you want to learn more!


I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect.

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