Exploring Gusto: How to Be Better Than a Commodity

When a company is called “Gusto,” you know they’re passionate about something.

For the actual company named Gusto, it turns out that something is building brand.

On the very first episode of Seeking Wisdom’s new show, #Exceptions, host Jay Acunzo explores Gusto, a SaaS platform that helps automate and improve your payroll, benefits, and HR processes. Gusto launched in 2012, and employs over 500 people across San Francisco and Denver offices. They’re valued at over $1 billion.

In 2018, Gusto was named to the Fintech 50 by Forbes. They’ve also made the list for best places to work in both of their office locations.

The point: They’re an interesting company to dissect in order to learn about the difference a brand can make.

Highlights from the episode are below, but I highly recommend you check out the series in its entirety today.

Today’s Big Idea: Be Better Than a Commodity

Despite what they claim, many B2B companies don’t actively set out to build a brand.

This isn’t because they dislike great brands. After all, we’re all consumers regardless of where we work during the day. And we can certainly all appreciate amazing consumer brands, no matter what they’re selling — food, shoes, technology.

The problem isn’t that we don’t know what a great brand is. The problem is that in B2B, we don’t sell commodities.

Take Nike, for example.

If you’re Nike, you’re used to competing against a ton of other shoe brands.

Or think about consumer-packaged goods. Why buy Dove soap or Gillette razors when you can get the generic versions of those and basically get the same product? Because of the brand.

For years, name brands competed not on product but on story and emotion. That was the differentiating factor.

Today, in B2B, we need to realize we sell commodities, too. There’s more competition in almost every niche than ever before.

Perhaps before we could get by saying we were “the best so-and-so product in our niche”, but those days are over. Does Nike say they’re the “number one shoe”? Does Red Bull claim to be the “number one energy drink”?

No. Instead, they connect with people in those ways I mentioned earlier — story and emotion.

B2B is obsessed with beating the competition on pure competency. In reality, we should be beating them on experience and on emotional pull between us and the customer. Because today, the customer has all the power.

3 Questions You Should Ask to Build Your B2B Brand

1) Are you broad-specific?

Do you have a mission big enough to start a movement, but relevant enough to add value right now?

In the episode, Jay interviewed Tomer London and Micah Panama, Co-Founder and Head of Brand Design at Gusto, respectively. Tomer talked a lot about making people’s lives better, and Gusto’s mission internally is to create a world where people’s work creates a better life. That’s a broad mission.

On top of that huge foundation, they could have built any number of things. At the moment, they’re building tools to help small businesses execute their payroll, benefits, and HR. They tell the world that that’s what they do: but they have a far bigger reason for existing.

So, do you have a broad-specific mission?

2) Are you building your brand internally?

Both Tomer and Micah in the episode talked about internal interactions across departments, largely led by the brand studio but spilling across functions. Tomer also discussed his obsession with repeating the phrase “customer love” and the word “craft” to his team.

Whatever your words and themes are, are you constantly and obsessively repeating the beliefs you have internally to your employees? Brand can’t be an external facade. It’s not the extra layer of paint on something. It is the something.

As Micah said, “In the B2B space, it’s changing where if you offered a service and it was affordable and it worked, that was enough. We’re moving beyond that now where the buyers of these products are looking for something that’s meaningful and that resonates with them,” he says.

“People don’t want to pay for services from companies that they don’t believe in.”

3) Do teammates whose jobs benefit from brand understand the value of it?

Micah talked about how they have a great marketing team that understands growth and optimization but also understands that every touchpoint is an experience with the brand.

Brand is something that’s hot right now, but to Micah, Gusto as a company of 500 people isn’t huge. So the signal for him that he was interviewing for the right company was the fact that having one person in charge of brand design, even at that size, was so important to them.

Why Don’t Most B2B Companies Value the Power of Brand?

Customers have been taken for granted.

It was assumed forever in B2B that it didn’t matter if your website experience was sub-par, or if you pushed people to fill out the worst forms ever. The buyer didn’t have  power.

But obviously, times have changed. Customers can’t be taken for granted. Rather, they should be taken on a journey.

The idea of customer love is embedded in every part of Gusto. It starts internally. If you go to their office, you’ll see a pile of shoes at the door. That’s because Gusto workers take their shoes off at the door and work in socks or slippers to make it feel like home. It’s little things like that that add up to make a big difference.

Do you want to be a commodity, or will you find and follow what makes your brand the exception?

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