Your company’s value proposition is what sets you apart from your competition, what makes you unique and provides that niche in which you cannot be rivaled. Yet, articulating this can be difficult for a small business just getting started or for an emerging entrepreneur.
by Rob Wolfe
At the core, a successful brand manager needs to know the product/service, know the target market, know the existing clients, and know your business and the client’s business. I have come across and learned from several valuable lists of the top product management mistakes. On the flip side, over the years I have compiled my own list of best practices for brand management through my own experience. I’ve asserted in the past that the key to brand management success is communication and transparency. Here, I’d like to reiterate that point and share what I consider the other 9 critical success factors for building a reputation as a trusted brand manager.
- Practice 365/360 communication (i.e., 365 days, 360 degrees). Communication is the key which drives all the other critical success factors for brand management. Only through effective communication can brand managers align with clients and business leaders to build and nurture trusting relationships with all stakeholders. Ramakrishna Arni, Product Manager at Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, recommends this approach for analyzing your communication network for your products: Create a diagram with each department/stakeholder (including clients) represented as a circle and connect them to show the existence, mode, frequency, direction, and audience of existing communication. Identify where the gaps are and modify communication channels and strategy as
- Ensure all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the business case for your brand or product changes/enhancements. This requires understanding of not just the client problem that needs to be solved, but why it’s important to the client, how solving the problem adds value to the client, and how it impacts (both operationally and financially) the client’s business.“ Getting buy-in at the earliest stage about the [offering and target market] is probably the biggest nut to crack,” says Leake Little, Marketing and Strategy executive at InfoMotion Partners, LLC. “Influence and personal power are at the heart of…success in any organization.” (A good lead-in to the next success factor.)
- Use your powers of influence, negotiation, leadership. Tony Lewis, Marketing Manager at The Caravan Club advises, you need to “hold a good sphere of influence internally.” I agree, and add that it’s important to know where in your business the control lies for each vital activity.You cannot relentlessly manage scope, schedule, and budget without knowing who holds the control among all your stakeholder groups. Huei-Wen (Alyssa) Yang, Business Development Manager at Redrover Distributing, believes leadership plays an important role. “The reason you communicate with others is to influence them to achieve your business goal,” she says. Amit Pawar, Power Product Manager at Eaton Corporation, adds, “The ability to influence others requires excellent relationships.” And, I say, relationships are forged through 365/360 communication.
- Provide everyone every opportunity to speak up and ask questions throughout the entire branding life cycle. If no one is asking questions, you can’t assume everything is perfect. Often, someone will hold out asking the important question until late in the game, and you’ll wish they had asked sooner. The brand manager must be a consistent presence both internally and externally, and must initiate frequent two-way communication. People feel more accountable if they are repeatedly publicly pronouncing how things are going, and the more often everyone is hearing it, the more likely someone is to ask the question that must be asked.
- Manage expectations of all stakeholders, from conception to development and through the product launch. Do everything possible to ensure everyone is on the same page, and get sign-off on all decisions. Ensure clients know what to expect before they interact with your brand, and address any expectations that won’t be met (out of scope product features) before the brand launches. The goal: No surprises.
- Prepare a contingency plan. Things will go wrong, so always have a backup plan from initial development through branding launch and beyond. Since the business case will likely involve some assumptions, be sure to tie contingencies to those assumptions. Douglas Hartung, Director, Financial Products at H&R Block recommends that the plan include “what we all agree to do about it” if something goes wrong. “This can be very helpful after launch when emotions can start driving decision making.”
- Be an advocate for both your clients and your brand. Michelle DeLalio, Product and Marketing Management at CalBizCentral suggests, “Talk to them, meet with them and listen. You can then work internally as their voice.” The brand manager is a liaison between the business (developers/engineers, marketing, finance, execs, etc.) and the client. In that role, you must ensure all stakeholders understand things from the client’s perspective, and also must enforce the brand image among all stakeholders. The words of professor Ralph Oliva, Executive Director, Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) resonate deeply with me: focus like a laser on the brand and don’t allow anyone to compromise the brand identity.
- Don’t confuse yourself (or innovation) with your client (or value). This is a tough one. As branding experts, we like to think we know what’s best for our clients, what we ourselves want or expect as a client, or which cool marketing innovation will make our product stand out from the competition. However, we must always remember that we are not the clients. Our clients have unique and evolving needs and they don’t necessarily match our own. According to Scott Draeger, Product Manager for Dialogue at HP, “Reality is the silent stakeholder. The world changes quickly and in subtle ways. We have to always check to make sure the plan for the [brand] matches.”
- Understand the financial drivers of the brand. Make sure you know what effect each brand management activity has on profits. “You can have every tool that is possibly out there, but if you can’t leverage them smartly to increase revenues or reduce expenses you’ll be just another run of the mill [brand] manager,” says Sudhir Narayana, Senior Product Manager at CPA2Biz Inc. “You should be able to map every activity of yours to one of the 2 buckets: revenue increasing tasks or expense reducing tasks.”
- Always deliver on your promises. This is how you inspire trust, and trust is the basis of long-term relationships. If there’s a chance you can’t deliver it, then don’t promise it. As Leslie Miranda, Product Marketing Manager at Sungard, points out, “The market has a very long memory.” Yes, and so does every stakeholder tied to your brand and to you.
Do you feel there are any critical pieces of advice missing from this list to manage a trusted brand? Do you have any stories to share about lessons learned from not following any of these guidelines?
by Rob Wolfe
“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”
What is your reaction to this Warren Buffett quote about trust as it relates to a company’s relationship with its clients? I think Buffet’s quote is thought provoking and goes a long way in defining the importance of trust, BUT I also think part of its message is debatable.
As consistently suggested by brand loyalty surveys of consumers and customers’/clients’ ever-growing reliance on social media to connect with companies and provide feedback & recommendations for others, I believe customers DO notice the businesses that inspire trust. In fact, they reward those businesses that emit an aire of trust with brand loyalty in their purchase decisions, and brand advocacy in their social networking interactions. Not so for the not-so-trusted brands.
I’ve stated before that trust is the basis of long-term relationships (with clients, colleagues, employees, and friends), and the best way to inspire trust is to always deliver on your promises.
When it comes to your business, the market has a very long memory and so does every stakeholder tied to your company and your brand. According to Mike Weisman of The Values Institute, “”The stronger the corporate culture of values, with employees who understand those values, the more likely the company will have strong connections with customers.”
For more insight into companies that build and maintain trusting relationships and strong customer loyalty, and the engagement approaches they use to do it, see the April 2012 article “10 of the Most Trusted Brands in America.”
What do you think is the best way to establish trust with a customer/client?
by Rob Wolfe
Is Content Marketing just the latest bandwagon passing through or the next maglev that’s moving faster than ever?
Adapted from the definition provided by the Content Marketing Institute (an excellent resource for content marketing, by the way), I consider “Content Marketing” a marketing technique of educating your target market so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you. It is achieved primarily by creating and freely distributing relevant and valuable content (ebooks, whitepapers, video, webinars, podcasts, etc.) to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable client action and building client loyalty.
In their book, Managing Content Marketing: The Real-World Guide for Creating Passionate Subscribers to Your Brand, authors Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi devote a chapter to measurement of the value of content marketing. They say, “It’s impractical to think you’re going to maintain perfect ROI [with content marketing]. You have to look at a content marketing investment as a long-term strategy to engage audiences. You must be able to experiment with new tactics…You need to be able to look at the lifetime value of your customers; yes, you will try things that fail, but you’re also doing things to help retain long-term, high-value customers. Remember, content marketing is an asset that can live for a very, very long time (unlike most advertising).”
I engaged a diverse panel of marketing executives/experts in a discussion on content marketing. I posed several questions and asked the panelists to provide their personal insight based on their experience. Their responses provide varying perspectives.
Meet the panelists:
Michele Miller, Director, Content Strategy, EPAM Empathy Lab
John Coupland, Author of ACCELerate™ Your Social Media, London, England
Ivana Taylor, CEO of Third Force Marketing and Publisher of DIYMarketers.com
Lance Baird, SVP, Global Business Development, Godfrey
Q: How do you define Content Marketing in your business?
Three things fall under Content Marketing in my mind that should be clearly delineated. One is Content Strategy. Without going through the exercise of mapping business objectives to user needs, the effort of creating content will fail. A strong foundation needs to be set in order to move forward into the planning and execution phase. In step one you get to the “Why does this matter?”, and in step two you figure out how to effectively communicate those messages to your audience. The third point I’ll make is probably the most critical, and that is designing your content model so that the content, not the business owners, performs the bulk of the work. This means a strong meta model, content structure and the right content management system to support publishing workflow.
Content Marketing is about creating and adding value to others. We share content irrespective of whether our audience consists of our given target market or our competitors. The content can be either our own or by sharing what we feel is great content created by others – by sharing across the social networks, for example.
To ME, content marketing occurs as a strategy. Since about 2008, my strategy has been to get my DIYMarketers content and brand to appear on high-traffic, high-influence sites such as AMEX and SmallBizTrends. The idea was to have MY by-line and brand be seen along with other influential brands and then have that drive traffic to my site and build my brand.
Given that context, content marketing is more of a PR, brand building activity. But that is not going to be true for long.
You can actually convert your content to training and educational products. In some industries, I’ve seen these kinds of content programs (not campaigns – but actual products) gain brand recognition that is hard to beat. So not only does the content generate cash, but it serves as it’s own brand builder. Much like Apple products.
Content marketing is the creation and sharing of items that tell your story to facilitate and expedite the buying process.
Q: What do you feel is the most critical trend in Content Marketing to focus on right now? Do you think this focus will shift over the next couple years?
I think the most important thing companies need to consider when it comes to content marketing is whether or not they are organizationally structured to manage content. In most cases, the answer is a resounding “no.” Content should be treated the same as any other initiative or product. And to be honest, it’s even more important, because it’s how you’re going to win the trust and loyalty of your customer. I see operational budgets continuing to shift in the coming years to adapt to the growing demand for good content.
As part of that shift, there is ongoing effort to separate content from the presentation layer. Responsive web design has been a hot topic in the last couple of years. Large companies found that as they continued to grow and expand their digital ecosystem, they were essentially building disparate experiences that often contained similar or identical content, creating a content management nightmare. I’ve had clients tell me they have identical content in more than 30 instances across platforms, websites, applications, intranet, etc. I’m very focused on helping clients move towards a “COPE” model, or Create Once Publish Everywhere. It’s often a gradual process, but moving towards a responsive, adaptable content structure will essentially future-proof content for the form factors that have not yet been defined. Technology is moving far faster than business infrastructure, so planning ahead will ultimately reduce the need for future investment.
Time efficient strategies to deliver the most optimised results. We live in a world full of constant change. Our world is becoming more crowded and noisy, where businesses want to be remembered for the right reasons, thus impacting positively on their profits in competing markets. One thing that does not and will not change is that there’s only 24 hours in each day. The shift will be that focus in adopting the right strategies will be even more vital, especially when more entrepreneurs enter these markets, claiming their ‘slice of the pie’. Technology will have to continue to adapt and serve business people who work in ever more faced-paced environments.
“Content to cash” — is the trend I was talking about. While there is lots of content out there, there isn’t much GOOD content out there. And good, useful, time-saving and money-making content will convert to cash.
“Content as product” — this has been laughed at in the general small business market and labeled as “info-marketing” and scam — but I see this business model transforming itself and displacing more expensive and less practical university programs. (for entrepreneurs and small business owners with no time to go to school and theorize)
I think the most critical elements to focus on within content marketing haven’t changed much and likely won’t for some time – establishing a clear voice and a sound strategy to make things work. The digital landscape is only going to grow, of course, which makes the management of these elements harder and thus require greater attention.
Q: How have you integrated Content Marketing into your own marketing strategy and how have you benefited from it?
We’ve definitely made strides in the last few years to improve how we present ourselves as a company, and in how we educate prospects about our services before they even engage. Putting together a messaging hierarchy, and determining the key messages you want someone to know about you is a great exercise, both professionally and personally. Individuals at the top of any company should make the effort to be creating their own content as well. It’s about representing yourself as a thought leader, and proving there is substance behind the marketing. It’s not just a smart copy. It’s a way of business. Consumers have become very savvy. The seller-buyer relationship no longer exists and what stands in its place is information asymmetry. Businesses must adapt to address user needs. In short, it’s not about you, it’s about them.
In 2012, I asked myself the following: “How can I move from an immensely crowded space to less crowded one, where I may be able to ‘cut through the hype and noise’ in the market I’m active in?” The answer was to become a published author by producing content, sharing a proven methodology I have developed to help busy business owners and entrepreneurs achieve return on investment in their social media marketing in a time efficient way. So I wrote and published.
So far, it has opened new business opportunities and a better conversion rate and I have been invited to speak at higher quality events. This is supported with a PR campaign, where I have written articles for third party magazines and blogs, including appearing as a guest on podcasts to support the marketing of my book – my content. See: http://www.accelerateyoursocialmedia.com/pr
I addressed this earlier in my response to how I define content marketing in my business.
Content marketing is a core focus of Godfrey’s marketing, one of many reasons we’ve enjoyed considerable business success this year and is only expected to grow. What’s most relevant for our target customers? How can we persuade them to check us out? We can’t ask these questions of ourselves enough.
Q: Can you give an example of a model Content Marketing strategy or tactical approach that you’ve seen used by a company or brand recently?
I’m completely and consistently in awe of Unilever and their Dove “Real Beauty” campaign. Primarily because it has very little to do with selling their products, and everything to do with how women ultimately feel about themselves. They’ve successfully created a foothold in a fundamental women’s topic – self-esteem and self-image. Most recently they released a video where they enlisted an FBI forensic artist to draw women based on their own descriptions of themselves, and then again based on their description from a stranger whom they had just met. The payoff? You’re more beautiful than you think.
Again, they’re not focusing on pushing products, but they are effectively endearing consumers to their brand.
Mercedes-Benz ‘Escape the Map’ campaign: This was original, it involved the viewers, it integrated social media and mobile marketing and delivered tangible results.
AMEX has a hard sell. They love small business, but their credit card model doesn’t work well for small business (At least that’s how I see it) To make themselves more appealing, they’ve really thrown themselves into the content marketing side of marketing strategy. They sponsor all kinds of small business events and programs. They are at the front and center of small business – for sure.
Recently, they’ve changed up their web site and blog and really looked to build a small business community based on community interactions and the advice they provide on the site — as content. I know it’s not necessarily articles – but it’s still content.
I think they’ve really struggled with ways to get good content on the site without paying for it.
Many are raving about Coca-Cola’s content marketing strategy and for good reason, too. It’s outstanding.
Q: What price do you think businesses will pay (consequences) if they’re not using a Content Marketing approach as part of their integrated Marketing?
I touched on this in the first 2 questions. Jumping in without a plan or alignment on what you’re trying to say, combined with an organizational structure that is configured to sell, not create content is destined for failure. Getting a grip on your content channels, platforms and formats is critical. Too many businesses are still operating in silos, and attempting to mirror their internal organizational structure out to the public. This ultimately results in confusion, inconsistent messaging and voice, and a watered down brand presence. Any and all departments who are creating, planning for, and managing content should have visibility into each other’s activities. This means your social media team should be talking to your marketing team…should be talking to your communications team…your customer service…your brand teams, etc.
Content Marketing is no small initiative. It should be part of your company’s culture. And it must be supported with the proper strategy, budget, staff, technology and measurement. There’s still this misconception where content is overlooked for more “measureable” tactics. Goals, KPIs and metrics should be a part of any content strategy. Because content is, indeed, measureable.
They risk not being seen as industry leaders and, effectively, handing the mantle to their competitors.
I don’t think that content marketing is a silver bullet for any business. It’s a strategy that has to be leveraged – like any other. It might be an “obvious” strategy — as it is for me as an online publisher. But it can also be used in industries where it isn’t as obvious — such as in industrial or manufacturing spaces.
One thing I have learned recently — is that the old sales and marketing maxim of being where your customers are buying is very true with content. It doesn’t work to be alone in a space — your content has to appear where your customers will read it. Pushing content doesn’t work – they have to find it and return to it every time.
Companies who fail to embrace “content marketing” as part of an overall communications platform will be sorely left behind, failing to achieve the kinds of business and marketing goals they wish. Content marketing isn’t some fad. It’s not going away. Embrace it.
What comments do you have on this discussion about Content Marketing, or would you like to pose any follow-up questions to the panelists? Also, if you have anything to share on your own experience with Content Marketing and its benefits or challenges, I’d like to hear about it.
by Rob Wolfe
A brand is a promise–the emotional and psychological deal you make with your clients. To inspire others with your brand, you must believe in everything it represents. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, so it must be with your brand.
What your brand promises to your target market(s) must be evident in every marketing message, providing brand stories and giving power to your sales team.
Your Brand Promise:
- Is NOT slogan or a tagline, but rather an internal mantra.
- Is at the heart of an effective strategy to differentiate your business from your competition.
According to Verne Harnish, your devotion to delivering on the promise must be maniacal. You must choose the right brand promise—the one your customers respond to, the one you can track and execute day after day.
- Must be relevant to and resonate with your target market.
In its Brand Promise Breakdown, University of Michigan-Flint suggests that you consider how your brand promise sounds to your target market(s). To craft it’s brand promise, UM-Flint asked target audiences which potential positive brand messages they most preferred—those they viewed as most important, believable, and differentiating.
- Must be evaluated against these three criteria: unique, compelling, believable.
Brad VanAuken (The Blake Project) says the “winning” promise must deliver at a high level against all three criteria or it won’t work. He suggests you have your target audience rate each potential “promise” on each of these three criteria.
- Must be delivered to clients consistently, every time by every employee in every action taken and in every marketing channel.
If your business—including all employees—can’t deliver on the brand promise, it will severely stunt brand success. When you promise to empower your employees [to deliver on your brand promise], you have to actually do it, says the Young Entrepreneur Council.
- Impacts your credibility and trajectory of your brand’s perceived value. If it’s not in harmony with the brand proof, the speed of social media communication can erode credibility.
As Thomson Dawson (Branding Strategy Insider) puts it: If you don’t deliver what you promise to people, in time, you won’t matter to them. He suggests that you consider if your marketing messaging and imagery could be breeding mistrust and degrading your brand’s value. Check out the examples of images from fast food advertisements versus the actual products that he attributes the blog Alphaila. Broken brand promises? You bet.
- Is manifested in the delivery of the overall brand experience.
According to Hinge Marketing, expectations are communicated by the brand itself. The brand promise is the expected tangible benefit that creates desire for a product or service. It allows a business to set up customer expectations and generate excitement.
Only when you prove you are different and trustworthy will people talk about you, show their loyalty, and recommend you to their friends. That’s a true measure of success for your brand promise.
Are you maniacal about substantiating and delivering on your brand promise? What other factors are vital to your brand promise?
by Rob Wolfe
iMedia Communications, Inc. is a trade publisher and event producer serving interactive media and marketing industries. Their mission is to advance the business of interactive media and marketing by serving as the primary conduit between buyers and sellers. And, to inspire marketers of all types to explore and embrace interactive marketing strategies.
Adhere thinks of themselves as problem-solvers that have a knack for creating ideas and solutions for your speciﬁc marketing situations. Their team’s experience in brand development, web design, and inbound marketing gives them a full arsenal to create an action plan that produces the results you require.
Simply a small business blog with articles written by contributing small business branding authors.
The Blake Project’s sole focus is helping organizations create brands that build and sustain trust. Branding Strategy Insider is an extension of their efforts as brand consultants to help marketing oriented leaders and professionals build strong brands.
Blog author Kirk Phillips has this to say about brandSTOKE: “I hope you will engage me in conversation about all things branding and marketing. The old and the new, the good and the bad. I will share things I’ve learned during my 30-plus year career and you will set me straight. Maybe I’ll learn something.”
Blog author and Professional Certified Marketer Michael Baicoianu explains: BrandUniq is about the things that should be done before launching your brand’s Facebook and Twitter pages: differentiating your brand from competition, choosing a unique slogan that reflects the your brand’s points of differentiation, and managing the 4 components of the Marketing Mix: product, packaging, placement and promotion.
Do you follow any other insightful blogs devoted to the topics of branding and brand management? If so, please share them.