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How to Sell Your Brand Experience (Not Your Product or Service)

Why is it better to sell your brand experience instead of your product or service?

The answer is simple: it’s because people see products and services as commodities. Brand experiences, on the other hand, can be much more differentiated – which makes them worth paying more for.

The thing about a Brand Experience is…you can’t just tell people what it is. You have to make the experience tell them. That takes much more than a sales plan or a marketing campaign or a really clever stunt. This is true for any brand, from healthcare to CPG; b2b to b2c (to DtC); products to services. And there are three essential elements to creating a meaningful Brand Experience.

The 3 Elements of a Meaningfully Differentiated Brand Experience:
What “A.R.E.” We?

  1. Authenticity. (The “A” in “A.R.E.” is the foundation of a strong Brand Experience.)
    The word “authentic” is bandied about with reckless abandon these days, to the point that it may feel almost passé. But please don’t think of authenticity as a fad. Having an authentic brand differentiation is critical to a meaningful Brand Experience that will have people choosing you over your competitors. So let’s define brand authenticity: this is something that is unabashedly true about your brand…and something that you can lean into to further emphasize as a point of differentiation. What insights do you have that drive your biggest fans to choose your brand? One of the best ways to find those “aha moments” is by gathering conversational intelligence: look at reviews, talk to your sales team, ask your customers directly. You may find more than one stand-out insight, which brings us to the “R”…
  2. Relevance. (The “R” in “A.R.E.” is a critical lens through which to view any meaningful Brand Experience.)
    Just because something is different about your brand doesn’t mean it is or will be relevant to your target audience. This is my beef with pure “disruptive” thinking: yes, I agree that disruption is differentiating, and it may put your brand in the spotlight. But differentiation without relevance is unlikely to have a long-lasting impact on a brand’s bottom line – whereas a brand differentiation that means something emotionally to the targeted audience can have lasting success. There is a loophole here: if a brand really believes in a specific authentic point of differentiation that does not resonate with its target audience, think about who that differentiation might be important (relevant) to. It may be your target audience that needs to change, not your point of authentic differentiation.
  3. Executable. (The “E” in “A.R.E” is where the Brand Experience rubber meets the road.) 
    Once you’ve drilled down into the authentic, relevant point of differentiation for your brand, it’s time to remind yourself that Brand Experience doesn’t start with marketing. What visceral experience can you create around this differentiation? How can you bring it to life – and not only for your customers, but for your internal team as well. (In fact, that’s where it needs to start.) Complete clarity and buy-in will help pave the way to a complete Brand Experience. Employees should be empowered with the ability to help dimensionalize the Brand Experience – such as renaming job titles, retooling processes, revamping delivery… If there’s a reasonable change to be made that can deepen the Brand Experience, it should be made. And then the marketing should come in to reflect that Brand Experience. What A.R.E. we? Our ads can’t be the only thing telling our story; a Brand Experience is created by a team.

How Eight O’Clock Coffee Embraces the Brand Experience

Here’s an example of how we helped Eight O’Clock Coffee, a legacy CPG brand, execute an insight-driven point of differentiation that is authentic and relevant. Eight O’Clock is an American-made grocery store coffee that has been the at-home coffee choice for many families since 1859.

Over the years, the competition in the coffee sector has increased – in the aisle, at coffee shops, and online. Brands in this situation have two strategic choices to help avoid the bottom-up and top-down squeeze:

  • either embrace commodity status and compete on price, which means you may be one of a set of choices that people consider for purchase – mostly when you are on deal, or…
  • compete on Brand Experience, which means emotionally connecting in a differentiated, relevant manner that people can buy into

Spoiler alert: the brand chose the latter option.

While I won’t go into all of the painstaking research, collaborative workshopping, and nights of brainstorming that went into the final result, I am happy to reveal that we are able to capture the Eight O’Clock Coffee Brand Experience in one word: Overdelivery. Now, this word may not exist in Webster’s or the OED, but it encapsulates what Eight O’Clock distinctly delivers, which is that their coffee that tastes like it delivers more. (Branding note: sometimes  you need to make up a word that reflects your uniqueness.)

Overdelivery isn’t based on speculation. This is a legitimate insight based on consumer reviews and experiences. It’s one of the main reasons that the brand has inspired loyalty for generations, despite the never-ending changes in their industry. And it’s what new customers will experience with their first cup (and every cup thereafter).

Overdelivery is also something the Eight O’Clock team can live into, making sure that every department – from customer service to sales to production to marketing to finance – is working toward a common goal. Eight O’Clock isn’t selling coffee. They’re selling Overdelivery. This commercial is one way we helped the brand promote its Brand Experience:

Is your Brand Experience clearly differentiated? Can everyone at the company articulate it? Most importantly, do your customers share this opinion? If not, give us a shout at The S3 Agency. And if you’re looking for a coffee brand that overdelivers in terms of taste and value, pick up a bag of Eight O’Clock online or at your local grocery store.


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