The Brand Is the Product

May 15, 2021

“We are not in the coffee business serving people. We are in the people business serving coffee.”

Starbucks’ CEO got it half right: A brand doesn’t sell a product.

A person buys a product for the function.

A person buys a brand for the feeling.

Ergo, every product must emote that feeling.

Zumba’s feeling was freeing, electrifying joy. We expanded into protein shakes. Even came up with the cute name “Shake Shake Shake.”

Does a protein shake emote freeing, electrifying joy?

We created a product that didn’t speak our brand’s truth. We failed miserably. And we deserved it.

When Nike released Air Force 1 VTF–an expensive Croc knock-off–it was laughed off the market. Nike forgot it doesn’t sell shoes.

It sells victory.

It’s impossible to deliver victory with Crocs.

While Steve Jobs was in exile, Apple released the Newton. The company set a one-year goal to sell one million. It sold 50,000. Apple forgot it doesn’t sell computer gadgets.

It sells delightful simplicity…something the clunky, complicated, and cantankerous Newton was definitely not.

A brand sells a feeling. Its products emote that feeling or fail.

Imagine Harley, the brand of irreverence, selling scooters. Imagine Ferrari, the brand of speed, selling minivans. Imagine McDonald’s, the brand of cheap fast food, selling health food. (They did. They failed.) In the boardroom, these ideas look like adjacent businesses. To the customer, these productions smell like a rat in a suit.

The brand belongs to the customer, not the business.

The customer gives you permission to go into new categories. And that permission is based on authenticity. Ignoring this is called logo slapping, and it is cancer to brands.

If your product doesn’t emote the brand, change the product.

If you change the brand to fit the product…then you didn’t have a real brand in the first place.