I’m in the middle of selling a home and recently found myself at the center of a bidding war. With every stipulation I made, all three buyers showed immediately willingness to oblige. The result was three essentially identical (and fantastic!) offers. I could have posted their signature sheets to the wall and thrown a dart to make my choice. Instead, I turned to my gut feelings, emotions, and other subjective intangibles. Which buyer was the most likeable? Which seemed the most trustworthy? Who appeared most likely to fall apart at each impasse? Basically, I was deferring to their personal brands.
For businesses, branding is about shaping the message of who you are and how you’re different. It tells customers what they can expect from your products and services. It’s especially useful where product offerings and prices among competing businesses seem nearly identical. Bottled water comes to mind. So do things like lithium batteries and cotton balls. Seriously, a cotton ball is a cotton ball is a cotton ball. The companies that offer such products need branding if they want to win. They need to give customers the sense that there is something different, something better about the way they do things.
Back to my home sale: From the anxious buyers expecting a baby in two months, to the gregarious parents dying to get into our school district, to the young family whose children fell in love with our backyard chickens—each of our home-buyers had a compelling story. And they all courted us with so much more than numbers on legal documents, such as their thoughts on being a good neighbor or their flexibility when faced with sticky situations. They worked heart strings like nobody’s business. The quality of each interaction I had with them helped to shape what I saw as their personal brands. And with all else being equal in their offers, it was those brands that became the deciding factor.
The buyers who are getting my home are the ones who consciously shaped their brand from the get-go. Early in the game, they penned a lovely letter detailing their visions of their future life in our home, a letter that managed to appeal to my emotions without making me feel like I was responsible for their welfare. I know they were just as eager as the others to get our home, but they maintained composure and patience that stood out from the other buyers. As a result, I perceived them as being more stable and a lower flight-risk—the kind of people I’d prefer to go through the rigmarole of a home sale with.
The other two couples shaped brands of their own, too, but these were simply weaker brands, fraught with anxiety, desperation, and a sense of reckless hastiness. The whole experience really demonstrated just how important branding really is. Sometimes it’s the very thing that will dictate your success or failure in the face of stiff competition. This was true for these homebuyers, and it’s true for your business, too! Pay attention to the image you’re putting out there, to the message you’re shaping each time you interact with customers, and you’re more likely to beat the competition.