Building a Brand – How or What?

There is an interesting debate shaping up between Jennifer Rice, who says you build your brand based on "how" you do something, and Jon Strande, who says that "what" you do is more important.

From Jennifer:
So you build your brand not on what you do, but how you do it. There will always be somebody else doing what you do. If not today, then just wait a couple months. I disagree with Al and Laura Ries; you can't "own" a product category… but you can own a way of doing business. The computer industry is a great example of this:

-Dell makes computers. Big deal; so do a lot of other companies. But they've built their brand on how they do it. Customized and mail-order. Now, do they have to stick with computers? Not if they leverage their "how."

-Apple makes computers. It's their "how" that's given them a cult following. It's their "how" that they extended to the iPod. There are a lot of other music players out there. It's iPod's "how" that sets it apart.

-Gateway makes computers. How? Hmm… like everybody else. Oh, and they have something to do with cows. Once you pull off the cow suit, their products and service are pretty generic. This is why branding is the executive team's job, not marketing. Marketing can work with customers to determine the opportunity in your space, but it's got to be translated into an operational "how" before it's turned into an ad campaign.

What is your "how?" Are you faster, better, cooler, more innovative? More connected with your customers? Or, asked another way, how do you inspire emotion in your customers? Do they feel liberated? Hip? Special? In control? Connected?

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Jon's take:
People don't care how apple makes things…. what is that old saying? There are two things you never want to see made – laws & sausages.

As a customer, almost every product is a sausage.

In the book How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, the author suggests that people only ever buy two things:

1. Solutions to problems
2. Good Feelings

He goes on to give some examples. One of my favorites – and one I've used it more times than I care to admit – is about drill bits:

People don't buy 3/4 inch drill bits. They buy 3/4 inch holes.

However, the more I think about that, the less I agree. My new take is:

People don't buy 3/4 inch drill bits. They don't buy 3/4 inch holes. They buy the respect and admiration of people commenting on the picture they've hung on the wall using the hole provided by the drill bit.

The drill bit is a tool put to use in service of some goal of the individual. Almost no one cares how the drill bit is made. The hole will be covered up by a picture or covered with paint.

The "How" a company does what it does comes after the "What it does for me" – as an individual.

What do I think? I'm going to take the easy way out and say they are both important.