Ingredients Don’t Matter, Today’s Marketing Lesson

Think of the last time you were in a restaurant. Chances are, you’re deep into reviewing the menu, trying to decide between the pan seared scallops with lemon caper sauce or the chicken marsala when the server arrives and asks the much-anticipated question: “Would you like to hear about the specials this evening?”

It’s an exciting moment in the dining experience. What special concoctions has the chef whipped up that are so special they’re not even on the menu? Of course you want to hear about the specials! A good server will explain them in a way that makes your mouth water, and inevitably, you toss the idea of scallops versus chicken and opt for a special. Did you walk in with a pre-determined notion that you’d choose that exact special? Did you know what ingredients you wanted in your dinner that night, or bring in a recipe and ask the server to make it for you? Probably not.

Your marketing is no different, but if you’re like many businesses, you’re uber-focused on talking about the ingredients in your marketing messages. Here are the top reasons the ingredients don’t matter:

  1. Your audience doesn’t have the recipe for what you’re selling. How many times has a customer specified exactly what they wanted when doing business with you? There are those rare exceptions (like, if you have a food allergy), but by and large, your customer is looking to you for the answers. They have a need, a dream, a desire, but they don’t know how to fill it. You do. Ask what they want and provide the solution.
  2. Customers want an experience, not a list of ingredients. There are many items (and even services) that your audience can procure online without ever interacting with a human being. What makes them want to interact with you? The answer is in the experience you provide. Perhaps it’s the little things you do to make customers feel special and wanted. Maybe it’s because you make their lives better, easier and safer. It could be the ongoing communication and service you provide after-the-sale.
  3. Your customers want to know your why, not your what. There may be something about what you do that will deeply connect with your audience. Tell that story and tell it loudly. While the ingredients themselves don’t matter, perhaps you’ve sourced unique materials or are supporting women in an underdeveloped country by purchasing their goods to offer your customers. Your vision goes beyond your business itself, and many people will make an emotional connection because of it.

When brands do the above well, they build tribes of fans who are loyal, willing to pay more, and willing to go out of their way to patronize the brand and serve as vocal brand advocates. The ingredients are only worth so much money. But the tribe is buying into the vision that is expressed, and that vision has nothing to do with the ingredients. The value of the product or service increases exponentially, and $50 worth of materials could have a value of hundreds or tens of thousands of dollars. Achieving this starts with the steps above.

It’s very evident with successful brands. A great example of this is Patagonia. They charge a premium for their “list of ingredients” in a product like a down jacket. But they share and educate customers on how and why their sourcing of down is unique compared to other brands. A Patagonia jacket may retail for as much as 25% more than some other brands that are of similar quality and materials. But in the end consumers are spending more because of what the company stands for and the vision they want to be a part of. The reality is the jacket that may be half the price performs similarly but does not offer a story that emotionally a customer can relate to.

What should you be doing as a brand? Get clear on what you really offer your customer beyond a list of ingredients, materials or supplies and understand who you clearly are as an organization. What does your brand stand for and how can you communicate that consumers each step of the way, from how you design, how you behave, and how you source your ingredients to what makes your product unique and what that means to consumers. Realize this does not apply to every human being and some may mock or be turned off by that. But those who connect with your message and brand will pay for it.