May 10, 2023

What are you really selling?

By: Josh Dougherty



A few years ago — pre-pandemic (years are meaningless at this point)— I sat down with a new client as we embarked on a rebrand. This particular client had a long history of success but had just gone through an acquisition and wanted to think a bit more in depth about their brand.

In that first meeting, what they said caught me off guard. They said: “In our space it’s impossible to differentiate. Everyone does the same thing.”

This sentiment is common, especially in industries like technology (that are dominated by a few large companies who dictate the rules to everyone else) and healthcare (which is highly regulated and competitive). 

In fact, I hear this sentiment at the beginning of most brand conversations. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

What lies behind your product and services

It’s possible to stand out in a crowded space where everyone does versions of the same thing. Despite regulation. Despite the dominance of a few massive firms. 

It’s possible — if you can uncover the value that lies behind your products and services, the real thing your clients are buying. All you need to do is answer the question:

“What are you really selling?”

This “what,”  if you can uncover it, is what we call the brand essence. The connecting thread that ties everything you do together. It’s the real motivation for making a purchase. It could be an emotion, it could be a special benefit, it could even — in the best cases — be something that helps people look at themselves differently in the mirror when they get up in the morning. (Yes, I do think that B2B tech and healthcare can be this sexy!)

How to determine what you’re really selling

This is the million dollar question. It’s easy enough to say that you’re selling the best product, or the only product like it on the market. But these things are transient and they aren’t what you’re really selling. They’re just a product. 

To determine what you’re really selling I recommend thinking about the following questions:

  • What emotions have my customers expressed after doing business with me? 
  • What emotions do I want them to experience?
  • What unique benefits do they receive that connect them very solidly with me?
  • What is it that my buyer needs most from me?
  • How do people look at themselves differently when they use my product or service? Do they feel smarter? Do they feel more empowered?

Take some time to whiteboard these ideas. Mix and match your answers. Look for connections. Look for areas of disconnect. Walk away and let the ideas percolate. Come back and stare at your whiteboard some more (yes, branding is really this magical). Start building on the other concepts.

Keep going until you’ve begun to synthesize your ideas into a cohesive concept. Then test it out with a few people. See if it makes sense.

Now it’s your chance to test it out in the real world. Keep in mind that humans don’t respond to change in the best ways. Filing that away, ask for more qualitative responses about how the person you're speaking to feels when they hear the concept. This will be more helpful in understanding if your newly minted brand essence is right.


At A Brave New, our focus is two B2B industry niches: healthcare/healthtech & technology. My hope is that regardless of whether you are in one of these industries or not, you’ve found this post valuable so far. But that may not be true for the rest of the post. I’m now going to shift to speaking to the relevance and importance of understanding what you’re really selling in the context of each industry.

Read on if you like, or if not, come back for the next post.

Why B2B healthcare companies should care about this concept

B2B healthcare companies have a lot to contend with. They operate in an industry where there is a lot of regulation. They also work in a space where transactions can feel sterile and measurable outcomes are objective and…measurable.

This brings me to why understanding what you’re really selling is vital in healthcare. If everyone has to comply with the same rules and outcomes, it begs the question: “When everyone has the same measurable outcomes, who wins?”

The answer is the company with the best intangibles. And for us, the chief intangible is a solid brand essence that connects with your prospects on an emotional level, not just a logical one.

Why B2B tech companies should care about this concept

We work a lot in the cloud engineering space with our clients, and the truth is that with three big players (Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, and AWS) there isn’t a lot of freedom to do things differently. Everyone follows similar playbooks because these are expected (and necessary) to succeed in the cloud.

Alternatively, if you are a young tech startup with a breakthrough piece of tech, you need to reconcile with the fact that you will only maintain your first-movers advantage for a time. Then you will need to come up with another way to keep your customers.

Enter the magic question. If you can determine what you’re actually selling — whether it is peace of mind, a roadmap, or something else — understanding the core thing you’re selling allows you to be creative within the constraints of other big players in the market. What could be better?

To learn more about our branding approach, get our guide, the Secret to An Accelerated Branding Process

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