Do You Know What You're Selling?

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On a recent shopping trip with my 14-year-old nephew, he launched into a lengthy monologue about why he "needed" a particularly expensive pair of "official" athletic shoes. "If I want to play basketball, I hafta have good sneakers…and I know these are the best because the best player ever says so!"

"You do realize that Mr. Superstar Basketball Player is getting paid to say that, don't you?" I pointed out.

"Well, duh…but he still wears them. And he's the best. So the sneakers must be, too."

It was hard to argue with his logic. I'd heard the commercials for these sneakers, and the underlying message was persuasive: Wear these sneakers and you might one day become a Super Famous Basketball Star, too. My nephew got it; he wanted what they were selling – never mind that he barely tops five feet and is as likely to play pro basketball as I am to be the next American Idol.

I didn't even bother to mention that he already has several pairs of perfectly good sneakers. After all, it was clear that the company wasn't selling sneakers. It was selling a dream of greatness, and from the long line at the store, my nephew wasn't the only one buying.

As anyone in the kitchen and bath industry knows, selling products and services is rarely just about FABs. It's about perceptions, dreams, fantasies – things that may have nothing to do with reality. It is why Americans buy soft drinks from rock stars who only drink water, diet aids from celebrities who lose weight through surgical procedures…and sometimes home design products from whatever company sells the best fantasy.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a culture of celebrity, where perception frequently trumps reality, and 15 minutes of fame can give you more marketing clout that a lifetime of skills. All of which impacts consumer purchasing decisions about everything from candy bars to kitchens and baths.

Like most industries, we've learned to use this to our advantage. We recognize that bringing a celebrity chef to our open house can increase attendance 10-fold, and having our name in the news makes potential clients want to know us.

We understand that being known has value, whether it's being known for our famous celebrity visitors, products that are advertised on TV or designs that gained "fame" in a magazine. On a smaller but still significant scale, we may gain value in being "known" for our cleverly themed showroom, community involvement or unusual specialty such as green design or Universal Design.

It's all part of a greater trend of "branding" that is increasingly prevalent in the kitchen and bath industry (see related story). And dealers and designers are continually branding themselves in everything they do, whether they realize it or not. We all have a tagline – what our clients say about us, what we're known for – and that's true whether we know what that tagline is or not.

Unfortunately, what many kitchen and bath dealers don't realize is that whatever image their firm projects is what they're selling – even if they'd like to be selling something entirely different.

All of which begs the question: Do you know what you're selling? Perhaps more importantly, do you know what your clients are buying?

You might be selling clever storage and organizational solutions. You might be selling convenience. You might be selling your natural warmth and serenity that make you best known among former clients as the "designer/shrink who kept me sane when I was going through all that remodeling craziness."

You might be selling the prestige of your one-of-a-kind designs, or those terrific free seminars you give at area home shows that brand you as the neighborhood expert.

Or you may not be selling any of these…yet they may be precisely what your clients are buying. How often have you thought your greatest strength was your fabulously unique designs, which you were sure would earn you a referral…only to find out later that your referral client came to you because your former client loved the way you were able to take charge of things and relieve her stress?

The thing is, if your clients are buying something other than what you're selling, you may have a problem with your branding strategy.

Don't be afraid to ask your clients why they chose you…and if it's not the reason you thought, take a closer look at how you sell yourself.