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April 13, 2022

Sabir x Lindsay Pedersen

TL; DR

Every business is a brand, and every brand has the potential to achieve the heights of Coca-Cola, Apple, Google, and other giants of the B2C world.

In the latest This Week With Sabir podcast episode, I sat down with Lindsay Pedersen, an expert in business branding, to discuss what it takes to become one of these brands.

Whether you’re running a small company from your garage or a 7-figure startup, this video and accompanying guide will help you with your business branding.

You will learn about all of the following and more:

  • What is Business Branding? There are many facets to business branding, but it’s all about how you present yourself to your consumers. What do they think of when they see your brand, how do you market yourself and present yourself? That’s your business brand, and it’s a very important part of growing your company.
  • What is the Goal of Business Branding? The ultimate goal of business branding is to create a recognizable and respectable brand that people can respect, trust, and rely upon. You don’t need to be the next Apple or Coca-Cola (although that would certainly be a welcome goal), you just need to shape your reputation in a way that promotes long-term reliability and gives you a head-start on your competitors.
  • Using the Benefit Ladder: During our discussion, Pedersen talked about something that she dubbed the “Benefit Ladder”. It’s a three-step thought process that all brands should follow when creating and launching new products and services, and it’s discussed in full below.
  • Building on a Budget: You don’t need to have a multi-million dollar marketing budget to utilize product branding and business branding. If your budget is small, you just need to be a little more creative and a lot smarter. You will find more tips in this guide.  

As always, my discussion with Lindsay Pedersen ended with the best advice of all, a valuable piece of information that could generate over 6-figures in income for businesses of all sizes. If you’re building your brand, make sure you read/watch to the end.

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The Power Of Branding With Lindsay Pedersen

If you search for “business branding” or “product branding” on Fiverr, you’ll see a long list of logo-making gigs.

Ask the average person what the term means, and they’ll probably talk about logos, typefaces, and general product design.

But business branding goes much deeper than that.

Lindsay Pedersen describes it as “the thing that you own inside the heads of your audience”. It’s the consumer’s experience with your brand and the associations (both tangible and intangible) that they have with it.

A brand is essentially your reputation. To borrow a phrase from PR expert Bianca Bucaram, it’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Business branding is all about shaping that reputation and changing how the public perceives you.

In that sense, it’s not too dissimilar from how you live your life.

The way that you dress, speak, and act will change what people think of you. Your actions will shape their opinions and every time you put yourself out there—whether you’re posting pictures on Instagram, shooting videos on YouTube, filming yourself live on Facebook, or just attending a party—there are opportunities to positively and negatively affect your reputation.

The Ultimate Goal Of Business Branding

You’re having a few drinks with friends and an argument erupts about the capital of England.

“It’s Scotland”, one ill-formed friend argues.

“It’s London,” another rebuts.

In the 1990s, that argument would probably continue for the rest of the night, or at least until someone stumbled across a map. Today, you just “Google it”.

You don’t “Bing it”. You don’t even “search it”. You reference the use of a specific company for a specific service, even if you end up using a different search engine to confirm that your first friend is an idiot.

It feels completely natural to say “I’m going to Google it” just as it feels natural to order a “Coca-Cola” when you really just want a Coke-based beverage. But in reality, you’re using a brand name either as a verb or to reference an entire category of products.

Technically, you’re doing something known as anthimeria, which comes from two Greek words meaning something like “one part for another”. It refers to when nouns/verbs/adjectives are swapped around.

In reference to brands, it’s also called a generic trademark or a proprietary eponym.

In Google’s case, it’s a massive success story. Google has the lion’s share of the search engine market and pretty much helped to shape the internet. It has lodged itself in the consumer consciousness and will forever be associated with online searches.

Google was not the first search engine. It did not invent the medium and the internet was around long before Google. But it accounts for over 90% of all searches that take place online, and so it has dominated its industry.

I’m sure that Bing would love to have that sort of recognition.

Ultimately, this sort of recognition is the end goal of all business branding experts.

After all, what could be better than having your brand name become synonymous with the thing that you sell or the service that you provide?

Of course, it doesn’t always work in the brand’s favor.

Some brands have had their trademarks revoked by law because they fell into common usage (Escalator, Yo-Yo, and Laundromat are all examples of former trademarks revoked due to their commonality) and it pretty much killed the brand.

When you think of “Thermos”, you likely think of a receptacle that keeps drinks and soups warm, but do you think of an actual brand? Probably not. The lines have blurred, competitors have muscled their way into the industry, and the trademark lost its power.

But a proprietary eponym is not a poisoned chalice. For every brand that becomes a trademark and is destroyed as a result, there are many others that thrive.

As noted already, when you go to a restaurant, you order a “Coke”, which is a reference to Coca-Cola. Sometimes you will be told “we don’t have Coke, but we have Pepsi, is that okay?”, other times, you’ll just get the alternative and won’t know any different.

If you want a gelatin dessert, you look for Jell-o. If you’re buying tissues, it’s Kleenex. Q-Tips, Post-It Notes, Saltines, Sharpie, Scotch Tape, and even Tylenol all fall into the same category.

When you have that power as a brand, you can charge more for the same product. You can control a competitive industry and stay dominant for years.

You’re at the top of the food chain and don’t need to worry about the companies at the bottom snapping at your ankles.

That is why it’s so important to attain those lofty heights.

There are lots of great soft drinks on the market that are just as good as brands owned by Coca-Cola. They are also cheaper. But you don’t know them, you don’t trust them, and so you don’t buy them.

It has been argued that Google is not the most accurate search engine, and there is some merit to those arguments, but it’s Google…you’re still going to use it.

It’s not easy to maintain that level of dominance, of course, but when compared to achieving it in the first place, it’s a walk in the park!

Branding Is About Building Trust

Ultimately, business and product branding are about building trust.

To return to what I mentioned above, you use Google because you trust it to provide the right answers quickly and without fuss. You order Coca-Cola because you know it tastes good and won’t disappoint.

People have a better association with that product and so they trust it more. As a result, the brand can charge more.

Medication is a great example of this.

Generic medications are often up to 85% cheaper than their brand-name alternatives, even though it’s the same formula. Sure, it’s medication. It’s something that’s designed to treat and cure and something that alters your body chemistry, so you need a certain level of trust.

But generic and branded is not apples and oranges. It’s apples and apples, and oftentimes, those fruits are plucked from the same trees.

A lot of the medication sold over the counter in the developed world is produced in the same international factories and to the same high standards. It just gets packaged differently and then priced accordingly.

Consumers are always happy to pay extra for a product if it’s something that they know and trust. It might not be the best, safest, tastiest, or even healthiest—it might be exactly the same as a cheaper product—but once it has been branded with that familiar name, it automatically becomes all of those things and more in the eyes of the consumer.

If you ever need proof of just how powerful the relationship between big brands and consumers can be, think about this:

Consumers are more likely to purchase from well-known—and more expensive—brands during times of recession.

You’d think that people would be more inclined to shop around and buy cheaper products. They don’t have the cash; they can’t afford luxuries—beggars can’t be choosers. But data actually suggests that the opposite is true and that consumers lean more toward big-name brands in difficult times.

Lindsay Pedersen states that this phenomenon occurs because brands “reduce consumer risk”.

Buying from a well-known brand reduces the risk that your husband, wife, or kids will be mad at you because you bought the wrong product. It also prevents wasted time or money, as you know what to expect from that brand.

It’s familiar, it’s trustworthy, and these traits are key when times are tough.

As a brand, you are a consumer’s safe haven. You’re the familiar, the nostalgic, the reliable. You’re the favorite album they turn to when they need music for a party and don’t have time to review the playlist. You’re the favorite meal that they cook for a dinner party, the fast-food restaurant that has everything they like.

Humans are great at adapting and we have an innate curiosity that means we’re always ready to try new things. But deep down, we’re drawn to the familiar and the reliable. These things are safe, and that safety is what we all crave.

As a brand, you need to tap into that need for reliability and familiarity.

Differentiation In Product Branding

One of the points that Lindsay Pedersen addressed is the need to be unique as a brand.

She used a pancake brand as an example and noted that most pancake brands would describe their product as “delicious”. Their product branding may focus on this aspect and push the point that their products are great tasting.

But it’s a pancake. That should go without saying. Nobody sets out to make a disgusting pancake.

Also, there are other businesses in that space that are emphasizing the same thing. You wouldn’t launch a type of cola on the notion that your product is “great tasting”, because that’s simply not enough to beat established brands like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, and the same is true for all industries.

In the case of a pancake brand, it would make more sense to highlight a specific recipe, ingredient, or method. Maybe it uses a traditional method from the old country. Maybe it’s a classic Swedish family recipe that your grandmother used to make, in which case it’s a special kind of delicious pancake made in a traditional Swedish way.

The point is that “delicious” is a given and it’s not enough to set your brand apart from your competitors.

Advice For Business Branding And Consumer Product Marketing On A Budget

Pedersen noted that big budgets can make you lazy as a brand. You can afford to throw money at problems. You can afford to make mistakes and then pave the cracks with cash. As a small brand operating with limited cash flow, you don’t have the same luxuries.

You need to plan every minute of your time and every dollar of your budget. You can’t afford to make mistakes.

It’s difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible.

Pedersen recommends looking at the long-term picture and always planning ahead, noting the importance of a holistic approach and not getting too fixated on a single strategy or goal.

Rather than focusing on a single metric or platform, spread yourself out and cover all bases. Branding is not just about driving instant results right now, but at the same time, your business won’t succeed if all of your efforts are invested in increasing consumer awareness and not driving sales.

For more information, take a look at my guide to succeeding with Google Ads, and well as my piece with Neil Patel on growing your brand with SEO.

The Benefit Ladder

All brands must think about the Benefit Ladder when getting their message across to consumers.

It looks something like this:

  1. Functional Benefits: What does the product do, what are its most important functions?
  2. Emotional Benefits: What emotional reaction do these functions serve, and how can they help the consumer?
  3. Transcendent Benefits: How will the product improve the individual’s life and lead to greater benefits?

Functional leads to emotional and then to transcendent.

Take batteries as an example. A functional benefit is that the battery lasts longer. It leads to the emotional benefit that you don’t have to worry about your device running out, and then to the transcendent benefit that you will have more time to do the things that matter.

As Pederson notes, customers don’t care about battery life directly. What they care about is not needing to recharge their devices as often. It means that they value the functional, but only because of the emotional and the transcendent.

There’s no issue with delivering functional benefits. That’s part of the process. But you shouldn’t stop there.

Don’t get lost in the functional benefits of your product because your customers will stop caring much sooner than you think.

You might be impressed by the fact that your pillow is softer, your coat is thicker, or your sauce has no sugar, but what does that mean to the average consumer?

What you should be emphasizing is that a softer pillow will aid a more restful sleep; a thicker jacket will keep them warm in the cold winter months; a sugar-free sauce is diabetic and—potentially—keto-friendly.

A brand needs to connect the functional to the emotional because in the eyes of a consumer, the former is useless without the latter.

It’s something that many brands struggle with. They understand the function and they know how to get the message across about those benefits. But they don’t always understand how that relates to a customer’s journey.

As another example, let’s look back at Magic Spoon cereal, a product that seems to be blowing up right now (if you’re a fan, make sure you check out my 2020 episode with one of the Magic Spoon founders).

Magic Spoon is a low-calorie, low-sugar, high-protein, keto-friendly cereal. Those are the functional benefits, and they sound great, but that’s not what the brand focuses on.

Instead, they push the point that Magic Spoon allows you to enjoy all the sugary cereals you enjoyed as a child without worrying about empty carbs.

You can still eat delicious cereal every morning if you’re on a low-sugar diet. You can still get your fix of Fruit Loops if you’re focusing on muscle growth and high-protein foods.

Those are the emotional benefits, and they stem from the functional benefits. They also lead to the transcendent benefits of, “If I buy this cereal, I can have the sweet breakfast that I crave while still losing weight and building muscle”.

How you balance functional, emotional, and transcendent really depends on where you are in your product cycle.

If your audience doesn’t know who you are or what you do, it’s more about the functional benefits than anything else.

The early days of smartphones were a great example of this.

These days, smartphones are sold with style and lifestyle benefits. It’s about snapping pictures on vacation without taking an expensive camera. It’s about chatting with friends, being more social and connected, and enjoying more freedom.

In the early days, it was all about the functionality—the battery life, the internet access.

Imagine if a company tried to sell you on a smartphone that could make calls, connect to the internet, send emails, and take pictures. Those things are standard, and so you don’t care about any of them. But in the early to mid-2000s, that’s essentially how they were sold.

The Apple iPod is a prime case. It began by pushing the point that you could have “1,000 songs in your pocket” at a time when all other MP3 players were pitching better battery life, more space, and sleeker designs.

With that tagline, the iPod positioned itself as something that wasn’t just functional but also had an emotional connection. Within a couple of years, we began seeing the stylish ads that Apple is now famous for and that’s when Apple’s consumer product marketing moved to the transcendent stage.

The $100,000 Question

At the end of my discussion with Lindsay Pedersen, I asked for her $100,000 advice on product branding and business branding.

Her advice was:

Don’t conflate your brand with your name, logo, performance metrics, and other outward expressions.

Your brand is your largest source of economic value and to unlock that value, it must be seen as a holistic thing—not a single entity but the sum of its parts.

Your brand, and not your products or CEO, is the thing that will provide the most value and last for the longest time.

Never lose sight of that.

For more information, check out the other guides and videos on This Week With Sabir and Growth By Sabir.

I’ve addressed many elements of personal branding in the past, including a guide to building an executive brand and a guide to celebrity branding, and there are dozens of helpful guides to read and videos to watch.

About Lindsay Pedersen

Lindsay Pedersen is a brand strategist and author of the best-selling book “Forging an Ironclad Brand.” Known for her methodical, framework-driven approach to brand building, Lindsay has advised companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, both B2C and B2B, including Zulily, Starbucks, IMDb, and Duolingo.

Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered in Lindsay a deep appreciation for using the brand as the North Star for increasing the company’s value. Lindsay arms leaders with an empowering understanding of brand, and an ironclad brand strategy, so they can grow their business with intention, clarity, and focus.

Author of Forging an Iron Clad Brand, available on Amazon.

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