Contrary to what many entrepreneurs may think, a product is not a brand. Many companies just starting out launch products -- a new innovation or new way replacing the old way, assuming there is an old way. Here is where they've gone wrong before they've even left the gates: They should have launched a brand.
Imagine that you're at the supermarket, looking to buy some salt. Do you pick Morton, or a lower-priced store brand? After all, salt is salt. Right?
Wrong. When it comes to consumer choices, brands matter.
Consumers pay a premium for Morton because, over time, the brand has created a perception of quality, consistency and trust. Leading brands like Morton are more than just products or services -- they evoke memories and emotions associated with quality. When consumers trust a brand, it makes them loyal, and when they are loyal, they buy more.
Companies that launch "original" products, not brands, eventually realize their rocket-science innovation can be quickly commoditized by a competitor with a better-faster-cheaper version of their original product. And so the blood bath begins.
Take, for example, the point-of-view video camera category. Both Contour and GoPro launched their companies in 2004, and a new market category for POV cameras was born. However, one company launched an amazing product and the other had the foresight to launch a brand that now defines the category. Contour launched a first-of-its-kind POV camera for action sports. It launched a product. GoPro, on the other hand, launched an aspiration for athletes to "Go Pro" and capture their limelight moment with the brand. The company launched a brand by laser-focusing their brand value on providing a single aspirational emotion of feeling like a "pro." The GoPro brand first became an emotion athletes sought after and aspired to feel. Today, the GoPro brand name is a verb. "GoPro it" is synonymous with adventure and capturing POV footage of great moments.
Don't get hung up on features and functionality. Instead, focus on your messaging and story, keeping in mind these five reasons why you should launch a brand, not a product:
1. Brands provide peace of mind.
People, by nature, generally avoid risk and seek safety. If the brands they use consistently deliver a positive experience, consumers form an opinion that the brand is trustworthy, which gives them peace of mind when buying.
2. Brands create difference and save decision-making time.
Any grocery store aisle has more product options than anyone can reasonably consider purchasing. What allows us to select one peanut butter brand over another, or over a generic product? Use branding to define -- in an instant, with a minimum of thought -- what makes your product different and more desirable than comparable products.
3. Brands add value.
Why do consumers pay higher prices for brands compared to unbranded or generic products? Is it better quality, the look and feel, or is it the brand's stature in society? It's probably a combination of each. Successfully branded products make more money for their companies by commanding premium prices.
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4. Brands express who we are.
What smartphone do you own? What car do you drive? What shoes do you wear? The brands we use make a statement about who we are and who we want to be. People become emotionally attached to the brands they use and view them as part of their self-image. Apple's classic "I'm a PC / I'm a Mac" campaign shows how brands can reflect the personalities and self-perceptions of their users.
5. Brands give consumers a reason to share.
We all have opinions about the things we experience, and we like to share them with others. Whether it's a good book, a good movie or a great meal, we become brand advocates when we share positive brand experiences. In our increasingly social world, we have more opportunities than ever to spread the benefit of our experiences. Strong brands give consumers a reason to share their experiences.
Over time, product patents expire, features hit diminishing returns and competitors move into the marketplace. Companies that launch products have little, if anything, to stand on when this happens, while companies that launched a differentiated brand have a sustainable value that cannot be replicated. Remember, a brand is an idea inside a consumer's mind. Define yours.
This story originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.