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strawberry-hat

From commodity to cult: details that can change your brand image

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This is my favorite hat. I love it with a passion usually not reserved for inanimate objects, such as hats. I would explain why, but I think that’s rather obvious from the picture:

It makes my head look like a strawberry.

Every single time I wear it, people ask me where I got it. And since it was  handmade by a friend of  mine, I have sent quite a few new customers her way.




A couple of days ago, I splurged on something that I normally choose to save on: a bar of soap.

Some of you may be familiar with the store that sells it. Their products are all natural, handmade with care, everything is recyclable and they really work.

That’s not why I bought it though. I bought it because it smells like fresh ground pistachios and walnuts blended with cream blended with something else I can’t quite identify, but that smells amazing.

The promise of a heavenly experience of being immersed in a divine smelling foam.

That’s the main reason.

It’s the same for everyone else I know who shops there. They may keep coming back because the products work. But the first purchase? It’s all about the scent.



Both products are commodities, by definition.

We all own hats. (Well, maybe except those of you living in the tropics.)

We all use soap, on a daily basis. At least, I hope so.

But these two rise above the mundane. By focusing on the details, and making them the center of their offering. The core message.

That hat isn’t really about keeping you warm (though it does that too); it’s about making your head look like a strawberry.

The bar of soap isn’t about making you squeaky clean (again, it does that and leaves you silky soft as well); it’s about its incomparable scent that makes you want to eat it.


Everyone has things they adore, for different reasons. Yours will vary. You may be completely indifferent to the scent of your soap, but your heart skips a beat when you look at your shiny sleek cell phone that has perfectly combined form and function. You might never want to wear a hat that makes you look like a strawberry, but you have a little black dress that completely transforms your shape in the way no other dress can ever hope to do.

The main message of favorites like these is never just about their everyday function. It’s about something more.

Often, a detail. Just a detail, that others choose to list among the bullet points. Yet these cult objects take this detail and perfect it, amplify it, exaggerate it even — until it becomes the very definition of their brand.

I know what you are thinking:

“Sure, it’s easy to do with products like that! Just make it brighter, more interesting, better smelling than others. This is much more difficult to do with MY product or service.”

I beg to differ.

It can work with anything. A service, a product, an experience.

The trick is making that special detail the core of your brand image.

How? By finding it first. I know there is something you do better than others. You just might be overlooking it. But once you figure it out, it’s easy to find ways to make it even more special.

By perfecting it, exaggerating it, but first of all, believing in it. And making it known. Saying it and showing it. Again and again. Clearly, blatantly, fearlessly.

It has to be strong, and loud, in order to be noticed. And yes, there will be people who won’t like it. Actually, some will probably hate it. That’s a good thing. It means the message is strong, loud and clear.

It also means others will love it. With a passion. And share it with their friends, and recommend it. Without you having to ask.

It means nobody will stay indifferent.

Many have some important detail they don’t emphasize enough, focusing on price, value, tradition instead. The same old, same old. Locking themselves in the role of a commodity.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

For example…

A Hotel

Instead of focusing on the usual room prices and location, what about providing a spa experience in the room?

I just happened upon this article that talks about luxury hotels installing soap dispensers. Now that’s an image that doesn’t exactly scream luxury to me.

What if there was a luxury hotel that stocked their bathrooms with full-size luxury bath products? Preferably environment-friendly. And encouraged their guests to take these home when they leave, by providing containers or a bag to put them in. It would certainly be worth a few more dollars to the customer.

Or how about focusing on the location even more, and providing exclusive guides and trips to some local places of interest? Becoming the hotel to stay at when visitng these places?

Or kicking it up a notch, and transforming a simple bed and breakfast into a theme party? A snow chalet, an 18th century castle, a disco party. With events and displays to fit the theme. Transforming the bed and breakfast itself into an attraction, as opposed to just a place to stay at.

There are plenty of other possibilities, but you get the idea. The change can be more subtle or a complete transformation — depending on how far away from the crowd you want to go.

A Life Coach

It’s one of those professions where it’s almost too easy to fall into the trap of being too generic. Instead of promising to help everybody who needs it with everything they need whenever they need it, how about being more exclusive?

What if you publicly announce that you will only take on two or three clients at a time? And then really dedicate yourself to helping them, by all means and media available to you, by going a step beyond and keeping an eye on their blog and twitter feed, by jumping in when you feel they might need you even if they haven’t asked for help?

A truly personalized service, that would justify a higher price.

A Hairdresser

Instead of offering a range of services, and letting your clients flip through a magazine choosing the style they think would look good on them, how about offering just one VIP package: you decide what works best for them. And do it.

Sure, this isn’t for everybody. But the ones that try it and love it will likely never go to another hairdresser again. And they will sing your praises to everyone that will listen. Without you having to ask.

An Event Photographer

Instead of specializing in events, how about specializing in moments that nobody would notice otherwise? Funny expressions, things that happen while everyone is looking at the stage… Captured moments that would make for a wedding album people actually want to see. Photographs that would tell a whole other story than the typical posed ones.




These examples are all just off the top of my head. It’s easier coming up with something based on a real situation. (And if you want some ideas for a specific industry, just leave a comment below. Or, if you want advice tailored to your individual situation, contact me.)

Once you have that bright little detail that sets you apart from the crowd, turn it into your core message. Everything else will fall into place around it.

(If you want some more information and inspiration for making your core message compelling, you might like this guide.)

Of course, there are still important things to consider, such as how you can present your core message effectively. But that’s a topic for a separate post. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you have specific questions or ideas on what I should include in the next post, leave me a comment below. And to get some extra tips and examples on this post (as well as many others), remember to sign up for Shine! magazine.

2 Comments on this Post.

  1. This is brilliant! It clarifies so much of what I think and talk about with my own clients, but didn’t have words for! Just one more reason to love you :)

    • Thank you Sandi! I have a feeling that many people who put this into action subconsciously can’t really define what they did or explain it to others. I have always been fascinated with that “something different” idea (which probably explains my unshakable faith in both myself and others), and I really, truly hope that this post helps spark some new ideas for more of those blatantly-NOT-commodity products and services.

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