The Secret to Building a Brand Today

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Module 1: How to Position Your Brand to Sell
Section 1: How to Differentiate Your Brand
Post 4: The Secret to Building a Brand Today

Let’s review quickly – we’ve talked about you and your business. We’ve looked at your customers and competitors. Now you’re ready to learn the secret to branding today:


HIPOD is an acronym for High Impact Point of Differentiation.

Your brand will breakthrough much faster once you fully understand this concept. Today’s hyper-busy world rewards it!

We talked about a castle with a moat in the last post. If you remember, we said the width of the moat is based on your relationships with customers. Its depth is determined by your competitive advantages.

You accomplish both with HIPODs. So let’s talk about how you go about discovering them. We’ll start with benefits.

Most business owners sell the wrong thing

Most business owners sell the wrong thing. Sell the wrong thing and you’ll sell nothing!

Well, you may still sell something – as long as your competition sells the wrong thing too. But as soon as anyone realizes they’re selling the wrong thing (the first step is admitting it) and then corrects it, look out!

The market will change. Customers will vote with their dollars. They’ll go to the firm selling the right thing.

What’s the right thing? Benefits. What’s the wrong thing? Features.

Let’s think about a really simple example. It’s a product which you use every day: toothpaste.

You’ll often see “fluoride” on the packaging. But people don’t buy fluoride. They buy a beautiful smile.

They don’t buy the mint-flavoring. They buy a kissable mouth!

They don’t buy features. They buy benefits!

People don’t buy toothpaste. They buy what it does for them.

The same is true of your product or service. So it’s up to you to figure out what you really sell. We’ll talk more about this in the next section on Messaging.

For now, let’s prepare for that by diving deeper into benefits.

(NOTE: You’ll see the questions we ask throughout the rest of this post in Part 4 of the Differentiate Your Brand Guidebook.)

3 ways to rise above your competition

  • Functional benefits

Back in the day, the secret to success was to “build a better mousetrap.” The quality of your product alone could make you stand out.

But unless you have patent protection, your success may be short-lived.

Competitors are perfectly happy letting you improve the product. They’ll watch to see if it sells. If it does, they’ll respond quickly to close the gap.

Besides that, the best product doesn’t always win. Sometimes, customers don’t want the best. They often want the simplest. A few want the cheapest.

The key is to know your customers. What do they want and need? The better you know them, the more likely you are to give them exactly what they want from your products and/or services.

  • Experiential benefits

So differentiating by functionality can be quite difficult, especially if you’re not rich with resources. Plus, we live in a service economy – the space where most business owners and entrepreneurs thrive.

So think about the experience you can deliver. It’s still a great way to differentiate these days.

The key is to BOTH deliver AND make sure the customer knows!

This is a critical mistake we see so often business owners make. It’s understandable – you may feel that calling it to your customer’s attention is like “tooting your own horn.” You may think it’s expected so it’s “no big deal.”

But if your customer doesn’t know you’re doing it, you’ve wasted an opportunity to build your brand. Sure, you’re taking care of them and that’s important. But it’s equally crucial that they know you’re doing it!

[George] I learned this lesson the hard way. I owned a heating-and-cooling service company. We had a customer who called to cancel her service agreement, which called for preventive maintenance of her furnace and air-conditioning system. She said she didn’t need it – her equipment never broke down! My employee said, “That’s our goal!” Her service agreement was saving her lots of money. I’m happy to say she kept it.

This raises another important point about the experience – reinforce the buy decision every chance you get. Which reminds us…

Aren’t you glad you’re in this program? (We just couldn’t resist! :)) But seriously, most people never invest in themselves. You do. So we know you’re going to win. You’re going to build a brand that sells!

[George] Our customer knew we were servicing her equipment. But we failed to remind her why she was doing it, how wise she was and how much she was saving in money and inconvenience.

So think about how you can stand out from your competitors by giving your customers an experience they don’t forget.

Even better, what can you do to make the experience remarkable – in a good way? Figure that out and your customers will naturally spread the word!

  • Relational benefits

A little history – at one time, functional benefits were the only factor which business owners considered. As it became more difficult to sustain a competitive advantage, experiential benefits rose to the surface.

As we said in the last post, we’re taking a huge forward leap backward. Social media is making a huge impact on the buying process. Now…

Differentiating in the relationship is an area ripe with opportunity!

Nine out of ten people say the #1 influencer of their buying decision is a recommendation from a friend. You create incredible leverage every time a customer becomes your ambassador.

Some of this comes from the experience. But in today’s communication-rich world, it pays to specifically look at how you can build relationships with customers to rise above the competition.

You do this by getting to know them better, without thinking about when they will place their next order. So you forge a relationship beyond provider-customer.

You do it by thinking about all of the challenges they face, not just the ones where you make money. If you can share a resource, great! You’ll do it willingly.

We’ll revisit relational benefits again and again throughout the rest of this program.

As you think about benefits for your customer, it’s important to realize an important change.

You used to build a brand on one compelling benefit. That was then.

This is now: Supercharge your brand by offering a bundle of benefits which make a significant impact with your customers.

What benefits are most important to your ideal customers? Look at each of the areas – functional, experiential and relational. Consider which benefits you can deliver uniquely well.

5 stages of customer connection

So benefits are one part of discovering your HIPODs. The second part is touchpoints.

Touchpoints are places of interaction. They’re “locations” where you meet the customer or the customer meets you.

A significant change has taken place, thanks to the social web. Research shows that…

Four out five of your customers will find you before you find them!

That’s why you need a brand that sells. Customers are generally further along in the process when they contact you.

They’ve already made some decisions. They’ve shopped the competition. They’ve already filtered firms out. They’ve gathered information. They’ve look at reviews. They’ve read blogs. They’ve checked with their friends. They’ve gone as far as they can without talking to a human being. Then finally, they contact you…if you’re lucky.

As you can see – not only will most of your customers find you before you find them, they also will avoid talking with you as long as possible. They’ll come to you later rather than sooner, like they used to.

Unless you’re smart enough to have a brand that sells. (And look – here you are!)

A brand like this sells for you in the early stages. It brings you more prospects. But not just any prospects – these are highly-qualified leads, because they match your customer persona.

But to make that all of this happen, you have to understand touchpoints. You do that by thinking about the journey from the point of no awareness to being an engaged customer.

The two of us decided to take a vacation.

[George] I asked Mary-Lynn where she wanted to go.

[Mary-Lynn] I said I wanted to go somewhere warm, with BIGG water. But I didn’t want to get on a plane.

It was mid-March when we had this conversation. We planned to go in early April. We live a couple hours south of Chicago. So a sunny beach is a long way away at that time of year!

We can’t remember what had happened, but there had been an issue on a plane. So airport security was going to be tighter than ever, which means even longer lines than usual. We just didn’t want the hassle.

So we looked at the map and decided on Panama City Beach.

On our previous vacation, we were supposed to have an ocean-front room. But they didn’t deliver.

So as we scoped out places to stay, we made sure the water would be front-and-center to our room.

We found a place with a website that sold us. (We’ll talk about this in Module 2.) Finally, we made a phone call. We asked a few questions. We booked our room.

We showed up on the appointed day. We got exactly what we wanted. It was a great trip!

Our trip is like your customer’s journey. We started out not knowing where we wanted to go. We just knew what we wanted out of it (warmth, water). We also knew what we didn’t want (no plane).

When the search starts, it’s broad. We could have decided on just about anywhere on the Gulf Coast of the U.S. or even Florida’s Atlantic side. Heck, we’ve could have gone all the way to Key West!

But we settled on Panama City Beach. Why? Well, a friend of ours recommended it. And it was the closest place which could give us what we wanted (least pain to get the desired benefits).

We’d had a bad experience with a travel company. It worked to the advantage of the place we stayed. They had photos which showed the view from their rooms. So we knew we would be right on the water.

If you understand the bad experiences your customers have had in the past (not from you, of course), you can make sure you speak to them.

So up to this point, we still hadn’t talked to anyone from the resort. We made one phone call. We had a few simple questions. But we were ready to book. And we did.

Now, your sales cycle may be a little longer than that. It doesn’t matter. The key is to map out your customer’s journey. If all goes well, it looks something like this…

The Buyer's Journey

Note the lines aren’t straight. Some are more squiggly than others. We did this to emphasize that buyers don’t usually take the direct path. It would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t.

Let’s look deeper into the five stages of customer connection:

  • Aware

People are busy. They’re distracted.

They don’t know about you. And they probably don’t care. It’s not personal. It’s just the way it is.

Until they need you. Or they want a benefit which you’re uniquely capable of delivering. Then they will actively search for you.

But you’ll rise above your competition if you don’t wait until then. You can create initiatives to reach them now. Then you’ll be the one they think about when they’re ready to buy.

So think about the initial touchpoints with your customers. Where will they occur? How will they find out about you? How can you help them at that point?

  • Interested

So a potential customer is now aware of you. Now is your time to shine!

If you do it well, they’ll become more interested. So think about your early conversations with customers.

Most of the time, these conversations won’t take place in the real world. They’ll be digital in some way, shape or form.

It’s at this point where we see a lot of business owners make a costly mistake – especially those with a sales background. They think interest is raised from face-to-face meetings.

It can be. But it’s a tremendous drain on resources, most specifically time. Plus, it’s not where most buyers are today. Remember – four out of five future customers will find you before you find them.

So just hope all your competitors think like the business owners we’re describing here. You’ll snap up customers way before they ever find them.

Sure, they’ll get a new one here and there. But you’ll attract many more!

How? By helping them where they are!

Step outside your role and think about the people you serve. What are they thinking at this point? What do they need to know?

More importantly, what are they feeling? What benefits do they want? What would help move along?

But also think about what can derail a buyer. What might cause them to lose interest? How can you build trust?

What are the touchpoints at this stage? Think about where they occur and how important they are to total customer satisfaction.

  • Persuaded

You’ve done your job well. You have a person jumping up and down ready to do business with you.

What happens next? How do you move them from “persuaded” to “sold?”
What could give them pause? How can you prevent it?

  • Sold

You got what you wanted – a sale! It’s a wonderful thing.

But many business owners (and they have plenty of company in the business world) think this is the end goal.

You won’t make that mistake. Because you know (or soon will), there’s still a tremendous amount of opportunity.

“Sold” means you have a customer using your product or service. This is the real test!

What promises have you made? How do you deliver them?

Think about a first-time user. What do they need to know? How can you make it simpler, easier, more comfortable, etc.?

What might cause them to be unhappy? What might cause surprise? Confusion? Contempt?

It pays to think about all these things in advance. They’re the potential touchpoints. Get these right and the best is yet to come…

  • Thrilled

Many business owners don’t fully grasp an important concept: It’s better to be consistently mediocre, than occasionally excellent.

We’ll talk about this more in the last section of this Module. But for now, think about how you can deliver a consistent experience. Then you can consider how to improve so you make the biggest impact.

How can you tell if a customer is thrilled? Ask them!

Survey your customers (or a random sampling of them if your transactions are frequent and small). Consider giving them some reward for participating – it could be as simple as a discount on their next purchase or a drawing for a gift certificate. Ask them:

How satisfied were you with your most recent experience with us?
(please circle one)

1-Very unsatisfied
3-No opinion
5-Very Satisfied

Obviously, you would hope for a rating of “5” from everyone. These are your “thrilled” customers.

But what’s the second best answer?


That’s right – it’s better to get a 1 than a 2, 3 or 4.

As Ken Blanchard taught us in Raving Fans, you can turn a 1 into a 5 faster than the others. In other words…

It’s much easier to take a person from “enraged” to “engaged” than it is to turn someone from “apathetic” to “ambassador.”

This is such an important point to understand, let’s belabor it just a little. You see…

1s are mad enough to tell you!

The 2s, 3s and 4s won’t. Sure, they may do business with you again because it’s too much trouble to switch.

But don’t fool yourself – they consider alternatives almost every time they buy. At some point, one of your competitors will hit their hot button.

And they’ll be gone. They also won’t talk about your business – at least not in a good way.

Since you can make a bigger impact with a 1, think about how you respond to them. It’s an important touchpoint.

What didn’t they like? How can you remedy it proactively, so future customers don’t experience it?

Also think about your 5s. What thrilled them? Do you have a system to replicate the experience over and over, so you can thrill future customers?

And what would thrill them even more? Your 5s will help you improve. You just have to ask!

By focusing on thrilling your 5s even more, you’ll pull up the others. That’s great, but it’s not the real reason to do it.

The real reason is that your 5s will engage. They will tell others. They will build your business. All you have to do is keep thrilling them!

So think about every touchpoint in your customer’s journey. What are they thinking and feeling? What obstacles do they see? What questions do they have?

Are there related decisions? What are they?

For example, people with kids may place a high priority on the school system. If you’re a realtor, it’s part of the buying decision.

You can move them along by helping them find the right school, not just the right home!

This goes beyond show and tell if you want to thrill them. It means providing resources and opening up your network so they feel confident in their decisions.

You know the path to purchase isn’t a straight line. But you can make it straighter by thinking about your touchpoints.

In just a moment, you can thrill a customer

So we’ve talked about benefits and touchpoints. Now it’s time to put them together to find your HIPODs.

We’re looking for moments. You can win a customer over in just a moment.

You can also lose them. Research shows two out of three customers leave because of a single moment.

So out of all of your touchpoints, we’re looking for a few vital moments.

Many business owners try to be good at everything. But you won’t thrill customers that way. You won’t be remarkable.

So you’ll have to spend more money on marketing to gain more customers who aren’t happy with you. Fortunately, there’s a better way…

Focus on the unique benefits you can deliver
in the few most vital moments of the buyer’s journey.

How can you exceed your customer’s expectations at the most critical times? This is the question we’ve been leading up to.

We’ve helped you think about the whole journey so you didn’t accidentally leave anything out. But now, we want you to…

Filter out all the points where you only need to be good,
so you can focus on the few moments where you need to be great!

That’s a HIPOD – a vital moment where you can showcase benefits your competition can’t touch!

Find those and you’ll have a wide and deep moat!

Sample HIPOD

Let’s say you’re a builder. What’s a vital moment for a builder? Picture this:

Sam and Sally bought a new home a few months ago. It took them a couple of month to get settled. Then they invited a bunch of their friends over for a cookout.

Their friends arrived one by one. The hosts took turns giving their friends a tour. They commented about the shower in the master bath, the view, the large patio. What a great place!

People mingled. The tours continued. Everybody raved about the house. Finally, dinner is ready and they all sit down to eat.

Another couple brought up their new home buying experience. They moved into their new house at about the same time as Sam and Sally.

The wife started, “We love our house, but we’re not happy with our builder.”

The husband piped in, “Yeah, he won’t return our phone calls. We have a few things which should be fixed, but we can’t get in touch with him. He seems to be avoiding us. Have you had that problem?”

“Oh no,” Sally replied, “I guess we’re lucky…but our experience couldn’t be more different. Our builder set up an appointment with us when we closed. He said a home is a complex system. There are always some little things which need some attention. So he told us to make a list and then we’d go over it when we met.”

Sam added, “He came at the time we scheduled. We discussed our list. He took a look at everything on it. He made some notes and called his office. We scheduled the follow-up right then and there. The crews arrived as promised and fixed everything. We couldn’t be happier.”

If you were at this cookout, and you were considering having a new home built – which builder would you want? Would you call anyone else?

Many people probably wouldn’t.

This is probably the biggest complaint customers have about their builders – after the sale, when they’re using the product – but still early.

We like this example because builders aren’t likely to get customers who buy from them every year. But you can see quickly how they can get new customers from a customer who just bought.

People show off their houses. They talk about their builder – good or bad.

The builders don’t hear these conversations. But rest assured, they do take place. And business is won or lost because of them.

So Sam and Sally found a hero. Their builder created a system to follow up and follow through at a vital moment.

It sounds easy, but most builders won’t do it. They see it as a cost.

But it’s actually one of the most significant opportunities a builder has to make an impact. It pays BIGG dividends!

Where in the buyer’s journey can you make the biggest impact?

Next Step

Congratulations! You’ve completed the reading for Module 1. Here’s what to do to complete it:

  • Go to the Differentiate Your Brand Guidebook. Complete Part 4 (if you’ve been doing each part as you go) or Parts 1 – 4 (if you read straight through).
  • Then you’ll be ready to move on to Section 2 of this first module – How to Create Messages That Sell.

Of course – if you have any questions in the meantime, send them to us at with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.

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