How building a strong brand can make you more than a commodity

A brand is the essence of a company and the reason people find it valuable to them or not. Too many companies forget this. They haven't made an effort to understand who they are, what they do, who they do it for and why those people should care.

Credit: Bernard Hermant/Unsplash

If you asked the customers, employees and shareholders of most brands today, they couldn’t articulate what the brand stands for and what value it provides. Don’t let that happen to your business

In his new monthly column for BCBusiness, branding expert Ben Baker shares his insights into how to communicate value effectively, so people want to listen and engage. In the end, it’s about creating influence through trust.

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room” –Jeff Bezos

A brand is the essence of a company and the reason people find it valuable to them or not. Too many companies forget this. They haven’t made an effort to understand who they are, what they do, who they do it for and why those people should care.

Instead, they focus on the process of what they do and the profits and losses from each transaction. This mentality leads brands to be devalued, by clients and staff alike. Customers are unclear about what differentiates one brand from another or why they should consider a factor besides price.

This is the essence of commoditization: not being able to show why your product or service is worth more than the competitor’s down the street or across the globe. It’s the inability to demonstrate value or provide experiences that develop loyalty that lead consumers to wonder why one product or service is any better than another. This commoditization leads to lower prices and poorer quality, and it’s why more than 30 percent of companies don’t last beyond five years.

What can be done to change this? Brands need to understand their value and communicate it to their audiences effectively. They need to recognize what problems they solve and for whom they solve them.

Creating a 12-slice toaster and trying to sell it to millennials just out of school is an uphill battle. What if you sold that same 12-slice toaster to care facilities, hotels, motels, boarding schools, cafeterias and the like? That is solving a problem that already exists by reaching out to an audience that needs the solution and has the ability to pay for it.

Brands need to think from the point of view of those they wish to serve. Think of the customer first. What do they need? What’s making them lose sleep at night? What’s keeping them from being profitable? What’s keeping them from solving their own clients’ problems? With those questions in mind, devise a communication strategy that shows those specific people how their solution solves their clients’ issues easily and effectively.

Retail brands need to understand what drives clients’ purchasing habits, too. Research firm Forrester dubbed 2018 the year of customer experience. Price isn’t the driving force in retail—what really matters is how customers relate to the end-to-end shopping experience. Retailers who don’t focus on the needs, wants and desires of their market will be usurped by those who do. 

It’s not enough to understand the brand’s relationship with the client; you must also grasp its competitors’ value proposition. No brand is the sole solution to a customer’s problems. Only by understanding how your rivals aim to set themselves apart can you devise communication that explains why your solution is better.

Decades ago, I worked for Xerox, selling into the midrange photocopier market. Xerox’s competition were always less expensive than Xerox, but we never sold on price. We took the time to understand what underlying issues the client had and what features were vital to them—and then communicated how our solution tackled those problems more effectively, with fewer steps than our competition. 

I brought clients’ staff into our showroom and demonstrated how easily our machines worked and how intuitive they were. I let them understand how this less-steep learning curve and simpler, more intuitive processes would save them time and money. Yes, our price was sometimes 8-to-10-percent higher than rivals’, but when customers saw how easily their problems were solved and understood the value of the Xerox service offering, which led to less downtime, they were sold.

What are you doing today to let people understand how you are valuable to them? What are you doing to add value and build brand champions? What are you doing to create brand loyalty, stop being viewed as a commodity and start being a brand worth loving?

When you’re solving problems, you’re no longer a commodity, but a loved brand that people will talk about, refer and pay more for.

Ben Baker is the author of Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-on Guide to Understanding Yours. He also provides workshops, keynotes and consulting on effective communication inside and outside the company, and brand strategy. Ben believes that every brand needs to stop acting like a commodity and instead be one worth loving. You can download a free book chapter at and contact him to help you or your organization communicate more effectively at You can also listen to Ben’s how on IHEART Radio every Wednesday at 10 a.m. PST.