Sell the Brand First: How to Sell Your Brand and Create Lasting Customer Loyalty

Audhesh Paswan (Department of Marketing and Logistics, COBA, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA)

Journal of Product & Brand Management

ISSN: 1061-0421

Article publication date: 18 July 2008




Paswan, A. (2008), "Sell the Brand First: How to Sell Your Brand and Create Lasting Customer Loyalty", Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 287-288.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The basic premise of this book is that most sales personnel do not try to sell the brand. Instead, they try to sell the features or the benefits. Possible reasons given are that salespeople often are not cognizant of the language of or the semantics of the brand. Sales personnel know the language of selling, which is try to find what the customer wants, and then sell by emphasizing the benefits of the product or the service offer.

The book is divided into six broad sections. Part One emphasizes the importance of brand. Part Two details a model of brand selling called “buyer stair‐step”. Part Three discusses the dynamics of a buyer‐seller interaction, with an orientation towards brand mindset. Part Four focuses on the business‐to‐consumer setting, whereas Part Five is about the business‐to‐business setting. Finally, Part Six details the importance of culture internal to the organization for developing a brand‐selling mindset.

Stiff starts with an assertion that brands have become more important than the notion of quality in the internet‐driven world. Brands seem to have become intertwined in our culture and have strong emotions attached to them. Unfortunately, most salespeople are not very comfortable with the emotion‐laden language of brand‐prestige, aspiring, classy, timeless, craftsmanship, heritage, distinctiveness, peace of mind, exclusive, security, and discriminating (p. 14). Some of the barriers to salespeople using brand language include “It's marketing's job. Just give us the product or service to sell and let us go. We don't have a $XXX million dollars budget to ‘build a brand’. We are taught to sell logically, not emotionally” (p. 15). Salespeople should learn the brand language because it is:

  1. 1.

    the best defense against transactional buying and commoditization of the category;

  2. 2.

    the best defense against price objections/imports;

  3. 3.

    the best offense for negotiating key account programming/incentives; and

  4. 4.

    the best offense against competitors telling your brand story (p. 23).

The second section starts with an elaboration of the buyer stair‐step used for product purchase:
  • price (price point, budget, and stage of life);

  • style (function, fashion, and finish); and

  • quality (workmanship, materials, and warranties).

The author states that this model is flawed because it assumes that consumers have too much time and energy. This model also does not allow for a momentum to build; it eventually tapers off. What is missing is the brand, which consists of experience, connections, and affiliations. In comparison, Stiff offers the reverse brand staircase, where one starts with the brand, moves down to quality, then style, and finally the price. This reverse model overcomes the problems associated with the traditional buyer stair‐step model, builds loyalty among consumers, makes ambassadors within the sellers, and eventually becomes an effective leverage for the firm, because it starts with the experience, connections and affiliations of the brand. However, this seemingly wonderful process has its own challenges. For example, at the brand step, firms must avoid making hollow brand promises; at the quality step, firms must recognize the competitive assessment; at the style step, firms must avoid feature and benefit myopia, and, finally, at the price step, firms need to break the glass ceiling of the consumer's price.

The third section stresses the importance of understanding the seller's mindset (a mental attitude, fixed state of mind, or inclination) and motives. Three key mindsets are suggested by the author:

  1. 1.

    the buyer's wallet or resources in terms of time and money;

  2. 2.

    the main reasons buyers do not buy (including trust, care, and knowledge about the seller, the firm, or the product); and

  3. 3.

    the buyer's entry point on the brand staircase (buyers decide where they want to hop onto the staircase – price, style, quality, or the brand).

The counterbalancing is provided by three seller's mindsets, which include:
  1. 1.

    selling starts long before one first engages the buyer and is a function of ability (knowledge, skills, and experience) and attitude (willingness and confidence);

  2. 2.

    to be good at brand selling the author suggests that the second mindset for a seller includes heart or the emotions (it has to do with confidence without becoming arrogant); and

  3. 3.

    the last mindset includes the sales mindset of enthusiasm×experience×knowledge×growth. The author contends that a successful salesperson has to balance these two sometimes conflicting mindsets.

Motives, on the other hand, have a stronger influence on choice and prompt action or intention. Two kinds of motives are suggested as critical for brand selling:
  1. 1.

    motives that appeal to logic (savings – time, money and hassle; production – efficient, better results, and more output); and

  2. 2.

    motives that appeal to emotions (personal – easier job, look good, save face, more leisure time; power – control, recognition, and approval).

The author suggests that motives and mindsets do interact and that sales personnel must understand this interaction if they want to successfully help consumers migrate or move through the brand staircase and thus increase brand loyalty. Some of the key questions that salespeople must be cognizant of when helping customers migrate through the brand staircase include:
  • Where do buyers enter on the staircase?

  • Will they migrate towards the brand?

  • Will you or the competition help them migrate? (p. 123).

Towards the end of this section, the author offers several examples to illustrate this process of brand migration and enhance brand loyalty.

Section Four deals with the application of brand staircase model in a business‐to‐consumer setting. The concept of lifestyle is stressed as a critical component in this process: “People are not just purchasing a product, but rather supporting a chosen lifestyle” (p. 139). In order to establish a successful connection between the buyer's focus on lifestyle and the seller's focus on brand, the author offers four brand rules of engagement: asking, listening, observing, and talking (A LOT). Using several examples from his own industry experience, the author offers four key tips that should assist salespeople in helping their buyers migrate towards becoming loyal to the brand – testimonials, investigation, motives, and education – as against relying on the old selling techniques and product knowledge.

Section Five focuses on the business‐to‐business setting and suggests that trade buyers are different from end consumers (p. 190). The first three steps of the consumer brand staircase – labeled price (price point, budget, and stage of life), style (function, fashion, and finish), and quality (workmanship, materials, and warranties) – are collapsed into a single step called the product step (price, style, and quality), followed by the relationship step (trust, history, and integrity), the performance step (reliability, follow through, and problem solving), and then the final brand step (experience, connections, and affiliations). In addition, the notion of brand pillars is also proposed – “Brand pillars are your company's impenetrable advantage. They are mentioned by customers, are proven over time, and convey common sense” (p. 211). Generic brand pillars include commitment to service, technology solutions, strategic location, and innovation, and they have a synergistic effect on trade buyers' migration towards brand loyalty.

Finally, in the last section the author acknowledges that none of this brand culture centered selling orientation can be developed among the sales and the marketing personnel of a firm unless the culture of the organization is changed. In order to build the brand‐centered culture, there has to be a buy‐in at the top, a strong relationship between sales and marketing, an ambassador of this new thinking, a no‐nonsense approach, a determination to include the customer, a change in orientation towards seeing the brand as an asset, and finally a change in selling approach from the traditional uphill customer brand staircase to a downhill reversed brand staircase where one starts with the brand.

The book starts off in a very mundane manner, but quickly picks up the pace. It is rich in examples that are grounded in personal experience and hence carry the conviction behind the proposed alternate brand selling approach. As an ex‐manager of a consumer product company and account manager in an advertising agency, I found the book resonating with some of my own personal experiences. As an academician, I can see this book as a good resource for the personal selling as well as brand management classes.

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