Tag Archives: Brand Positioning

Grown-up Marketing Strategy

14 Jan

My latest musical crush is Austin, TX singer-songwriter named Bruce Robison. I discovered him as the songwriter behind a heart-rending tune by the Dixie Chicks called “Travelin’ Solider“, and last year he put out an achingly awesome album of duets with his wife, the slightly better-known country artist Kelly Willis.

What’s cool about Bruce Robison is that he writes songs like a grown-up for grown-ups. In his song “Just Married“,  a travelogue from beginning to “now” of a thoroughly loving and real marriage, the “now” verse goes:

They say everything changes, and no one’s to blame
But the more things change the more I stay the same
And everything about me that she loved before
Are the same damn things she can’t stand no more.

Right? But just when you think he’s getting all cynical on you, he finishes with:

When my friends ask me how I am today
I just smile and say
It’s like when we were just married

There’s a tension in our lives — between wanting everything to be like it was — bein’ a kid for as long as you can — and adapting to the way life changes. While it seems like every other movie, song and self-help guide glorifies childhood that lasts forever, growing up is complicated, it’s messy and it’s hard. You know the world’s changing…and you may not want to change but you want to adapt, and at the same time hold onto what’s right, or in the song, to ‘a love so true’.

Marketing has this same tension over adaptation and change. Staying the same while everything changes in marketing isn’t just sad, they say, it’s contemptible. There’s a rush to the new, a drive to disrupt. Skim the marketing chatter and you’ll quickly discover that whatever you’ve been doing, you should be doing the new thing, and if you’re doing the new thing, you’re probably doing it wrong. Oh, and someone else is doing it in ways much more awesome than you could ever hope to do, unless you Innovate! Disrupt! Tear it all down and start over.

Here in the real world, the challenge of change isn’t just a matter of rushing to the latest fad. Everyone is busy. Swamped. Overworked. Underpaid. A lot of problems could be solved with one more new hire, and as soon as we finally get the [Marketo-Eloqua-Salesforce-new website-more technology-more budget] approved and finished. We need more leads in the top the funnel, more nurturing in the middle, more demand, more sales lit. The channel needs more attention, the blog needs more content, the media needs answers, we need more case studies, we should be doing more with LinkedIn and Twitter, and are our customers really on [insert hot new social network here], and who knows what else they are saying about us out there?

The reality of our changing media landscape is that it is more additive than disruptive. Every marketing communications channel has it’s place, and we need to drive them all. Web? Check. Solution sheet? Check. Case studies? Check. Daily social posts? Check. Blog? Check. PR? Check. Email marketing? Check. Webinars? Check. Ads? Check. Trade shows? Check. I’m sure we’re forgetting something…check check check.

Grown-up marketing is about more than checking boxes.  Grown-up marketing recognizes that you have to build a foundation from certain universal truths, forsake excuses and easy answers for hard choices about priorities, and adapt. Here are mine:

  • Customer insights drive the business. You’re in business because you understand something about what customers need, and have a unique ability to deliver. But customer needs have a habit of changing. There is a continual need for customer insights to drive strategy; it can come from frequent interaction with key customers, surveys, user councils, analyst reports, focus groups, insightful sales and service personnel, and directed, in-depth interviews.
  • Business objectives drive brand positioning. The brand strategy should flow organically and creatively out of who you are and — more importantly — who you want to be as a business. And the brand should be a platform to drive growth.
  • Brand positioning drives your marketing strategy. Brand positioning is more than a logo and a list of messages. It should express who you are and how you act with your customers. A good brand positioning platform will help you make choices and prioritize how you communicate to customers to drive awareness, preference, demand and sales.
  • Marketing strategy meets the customers where they are. Should you focus on getting into the media? Email? SEO?  Website? How about working with analysts? Facebook? User conferences? Trade shows? Super Bowl ads? The answer is: go where your customers are and give them a clear path to come to you.  It all comes back to those customer insights — how will the market know they need you? Where will they go to meet that need? Who will they ask for advice? This is where you need to be — with the right brand, positioning and message.  Oh, and if they have no place to go — create one!
  • Don’t take it on faith. Measure everything to know if it’s working. When I started out in communications, the most dreaded question you could get was, “how do you know if it worked?” You had to take it on faith that audience reach equaled minds changed and hope that sales or other action backed you up.  Today, we are in the golden age of analytics. If someone asks you if it’s working, you can answer. You can watch web visits rise and fall, and see what they saw and how long they stayed. It’s easier than ever to get direct feedback — through social networks or low-cost surveys or even phone calls and customer visits. Most importantly, use the data — know what’s important, know if it’s working, and adapt.
  • Invest in what’s working. Stop or streamline what doesn’t. Here’s where the hard decisions come in. Because at some point, if you’re checking all the boxes, something has to give.

Stay true to these principles and you won’t chase fads. Your strategy will have a foundation. When everything changes around you, and you find yourself staying the same, you’ll take a breath and remember what’s true, and adapt. Because grown-up marketing isn’t just about being a grown-up. It’s about growing.

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5 Principles for Creating a Great Brand Promise

14 Oct

I’ve been thinking brand promises of late. Here’s what I believe goes into a great brand promise:Handshake

  • Singular Expression of Value: A brand promise is a singular expression of what makes your organization — or its offerings — uniquely valuable to your customers.
  • How You Want to Change the World: The brand promise shouldn’t just describe what you do and how you deliver it. It should express how you want your customers’ lives or work to be improved as a result of what you do.  How do you want them to feel before, during and after they choose you?
  • Build from Customer Insights: As a result, the brand promise should grow organically from insights about your customers. This is a combination both of what you believe, and what people outside the organization believe about what you do.
  • Be Aspirational: A good brand promise should reflect both who you are, and who you aspire to be.  It’s OK if you’re not meeting every aspect of the promise today…as long as you’re committed to getting there.
  • Put it up on the Wall: Your brand promise may not be a company tagline, but it could well be your mantra — and that of everyone in the organization. Put it up on the wall — it’s what you’re trying to live up to each and every day.

These are my principles. Your thoughts?

Five Leadership Positioning Strategies: What Kind of “Leader” is Your Business?

30 Nov

Everyone wants to buy from a leader. You want to buy from companies that give you confidence that when you lay down your money, to know that you’re doing right by yourself, your family or your business.

So if everyone wants to buy from a leader, every business wants to be a leader. So what kind of leader is your company? What kind of leader should you be? The answer can go a long way toward focusing your public relations and marketing efforts in the right direction.

Consider these five leadership styles:

1. The Visionary Leader: The company that looks ahead. Keeps the customers at the state of the art, and guides them to the future. Visionary leaders think beyond their own product, shape industries, and tell us which way the world is headed.

2. The Market Leader: The one that dominates market share because they sell the most. They are the leader because they make good products, sell them well, and at some point “everyone else” buys their stuff, so it’s a safe choice. Not the flashiest or the coolest, but solid and reliable. Many Market Leaders  are content to continue as Market Leaders; others look to extend themselves into the role of visionary.

3. The Technology Leader: The geeks and the nerds.  The ones who get known for making the best products, with the most elegant feature sets or innovative designs. As leaders, the team’s experts explain technology and advocate for better solutions. They quickly integrate ‘what’s next’. They position their team as the smartest guys in the room who can solve their customers’ problems with their smart thinking.

4. The Best Practices Leader: These are the process experts. They know what’s going on in the customer’s world, and are always thinking about how to solve problems and make things better. They’re team has typically been there, done that, and can send you a whitepaper on how to implement best practices that enable customers to lower costs and improve speed and efficiency.  The Best Practices Leader wants to sell their solution, of course, but doesn’t mind sharing their broader knowledge of how to do things right.

5. The Customer Service Leader: These are the customer advocates. They are there for their customers. They differentiate on service – fast response, easy to reach, easy to do business. Go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction. It’s a positioning that works in industries where most products are largely the same – what the customer needs is to know that their vendor will take good care of them.

Every company uses different styles, often more than one at once.  Choosing a primary leadership positioning style focuses public relations and marketing strategy. The key is to choose a strategy that fits, that amplifies the existing products, brand, and company culture.

For further discussion:

• Agree or disagree with these leadership positioning types?

• What other categories would you add?

• What style does your company use?

• What well-known companies would you attach to each of these leadership positioning styles?

Work With Me, People – Part 1

23 Oct

Kadet Communications helps clients move people through communications strategy, brand positioning and storytelling.  It also is a one-man-show, which means that when I want to have an all-employee meeting on strategic communications, it helps to have a vivid imagination…

President: Alright, let’s call this meeting of the Kadet Communications team to order.  At the last meeting, we wanted to see how we’re doing, so we asked the Chief Strategist to get some feedback from clients and colleagues.  Tell me what you found.

Chief Strategist: Let’s step back for a minute.  What we agreed is that we should treat Kadet Communications like we would a client, review our positioning and make adjustments where necessary. If we’re going to talk about this, we need start with objectives.

President: Hmmph.  OK, the main objective is the same as that of our clients: “sell more stuff.” Or in our case, get more clients. I’d also add that we want more opportunities to earn in-depth projects and long-term relationships.

Happy now?

Chief Strategist: Quite! So, as you noted, I was sent off to get some feedback on how we’re doing. I talked to clients and colleagues because our Strategic Communications process always begins with reflection on the inside and input from the outside. You see, it’s only by…

President: Yes, yes, we understand. Get on with it.

Chief Strategist: Right then.  We talked to about a half dozen people. Let me put them up on the screen:

You’re always getting us to think differently…to consider more than just this one project.

When I think of you, I think of technology. You have big time technology experience that translates from big companies to small ones.

You’re strategy really comes from experience. Strategy comes easy because you’ve been there before, but you always considered not just what we should do, but what would work for our company.

You get to the heart of the story—understand clients’ needs and goals, and communicate them perfectly… the balance of classical marketing and PR to online social networks.

President: I love it.  That sounds great!

Chief Strategist: Well, yes, but there’s a gap.

President: A gap? What gap? I see no gaps…

Chief Strategist: Here’s the thing: When you ask people to describe you, and each one responds with a different answer, you may have a brand positioning problem.

President: Maybe you’re over-thinking it.  Each of these responses fits into our core message of Strategy. Positioning. Storytelling.

Chief Strategist: But ideally, we’d hear that back from people. Let’s ask the team…how do we describe ourselves?

PR Manager: Smart PR and marketing strategies that work!

Writer/Storyteller: Compelling writing that moves people!

President: I tell people that we do communications that moves people depending on what they want.

Chief Strategist: See?

President: Hmmph. Don’t we have work to do?

Chief Strategist: Of course. But positioning and storytelling are critical — this is what we tell our clients — everything starts with the story. What is our story?

President: You know, my favorite story since we set up shop two years ago is our client where we did the whole thing. When we started, they had two businesses — one in data storage, the other in business process optimization — and they could talk about one, or the other, but never together. No one knew what they did, they were losing cross sales opportunities right and left. The employees were all over the map.  Their prospects heard a lot about technology, but little about what it would do for them.

Chief Strategist: Right. So we interviewed their people… executives, sales… consultants.  And we interviewed and surveyed customers. We analyzed competitors’ positioning….

President: And we found gaps!

Chief Strategist: Indeed we did. So we showed them the responses. We found out that customers indeed didn’t know about the two sides of the business. And the customers viewed them as tech experts with deep knowledge of whatever our client did for them.

President: So if they wanted to be a strategic partner who could solve an array of problems, the customers didn’t see it. We  held a  workshop to get everyone together on this…

Writer: If I might move this along a bit…we repositioned them as making critical business processes like the stuff they do work better and smarter…so that their customers would have high performance solutions. We laid out a brand promise around delivering high performance solutions and the confidence that they’d be right for the customer.

Chief Strategist: And it worked — now their marketing and sales are coherent, their message is consistent, and they get more chances to cross-sell to existing customers.

President: Then we worked with them on a new website, new marketing materials, new whitepapers, and a communications strategy.  I love that story.

Chief Strategist: So what have we learned from this?

President: We’re pretty good at this stuff!  But…that was a long story.

Chief  Strategist: Right.  And what makes us the best?

President: Well, we have the experience to handle just about anything in public relations.

PR Manager: And we do smart strategy based on what works, not the media of the moment. And, our goals are the business goals, not PR goals.

Writer: And write good…heh…I mean, well. And we really shine when we bring deep client insight into our client stories.

Chief Strategist: So what we really need to do is bring all of this together…

President: Hmmm.

PR Manager: I’ll get the coffee.

Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Idea 2

4 Aug

We’re talking about measurable social engagement strategies for corporate communications — reasons to get started for public relations professionals who haven’t made engaging in online networks a part of their day-to-day business.  I’ll be sharing an idea-a-day this week.  I’m suggesting ideas that can become part of your daily routine, and part of strategic programs, along with ideas for how to measure their success.  Here’s idea #2:

Idea #2: Getting in front of…or catching up to your competitors.

You might do a few searches and find that no one is talking about your brand and think, “My customers aren’t using social media — I don’t have to worry about this yet.” But…are you sure about that? Maybe they just aren’t talking about you… The first, most important step is to make sure you’re watching — that you’re monitoring the forums, topics and keywords that are important to your reputation and sales.

If your competitors are being discussed without you, there’s an issue to address — how can you become part of the conversation?

If customers are complaining about competitors’ products, is there an opportunity?

If no one talks about what you do…there may be an opportunity to start something new — a web portal, blog or partnership — or an indication that online resources need to better support offline interactions.

The remedy is to actively monitor, evaluate and plot a strategy that delivers for your company.

Measure by links back to your website from social networks, tone of key messages visible online, search engine positioning.

See also:

Monday — Intro and Idea#1

Contact me to talk about communications strategy, positioning and messaging for your organization.

Re-thinking the News, Part 3

7 Jan

Adam Singer left an excellent response on my previous post.  He wrote, in part:

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it random. Take FriendFeed, for instance. If you follow smart people, you’ll get smart links. Follow people who are into LOLcats and you’ll get a bunch of randomness that may or may not add value.

“Not saying there is anything wrong with LOLcats, but you see what I’m saying. You can piece together your own editorial team made up of everyone from scientists to marketing people to botanists. In essence, as professionals we are defining the information we find valuable. That’s the future.”

Which all sounds very cool. But (if I’m warping the Meatball Sundae metaphor correctly) isn’t this “editorial team”, however carefully chosen, serving up the whip topping on the much more expensive and time-consuming work of professional reporters writing stories, and the editors and organizations who confer credibility on what these reporters report?

Here’s the thing:  We need high-quality professional news organizations. We need journalists. We need the news organizations that, till recently, resided most resolutely at daily newspapers.  

The problem is that they believe we need them.

The daily newspaper is a public service masquerading as a business masquerading as a public service. As a service, daily news reporters take it as their duty to define and report and agenda set and comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and maybe educate, inform and entertain while they’re doing so. As a business, the news is an enticement that fills the spaces between the ads.  As a service, daily newspapers provide a vital service to democracy, challenging government excess and empowering the public with knowledge.  As a business, the newspaper delivers potential customers with folks who have something to sell. 

Back in journalism school, we talked about the business and journalism sides of a news organization as like church and state — separated by something as powerful as the Constitution, no less. But when the proliferation of media challenges whether the daily newspaper is necessary in its current form, it brings the business side back into the news room. 

And when business looks closely today, you see that the service of journalism in a daily newspaper is completely separate from what it sells. For newspapers, this is no longer a viable business model.  For anyone else, it’s questionable.  

I’m far more interested in saving news organizations and jouralism than I am newspapers. The question is, how can you maintain — fund — vital, vibrant local news organizations?  I don’t know the answer — plenty of smart folks have spent far more time on this issue … But, if I were trying to market a newspaper today, I’d start rethinking the newspaper like this: 

First, I’d embrace the idea of “The News Paper.” Call it “rebranding” if you must.  Pitch the paper as representing the unique point of view of a smart, dedicated, team of professional journalists focused on delivering “The News” in our community.  It’s not about expressing opinions — it’s about expressing a point of view.  The News Paper offers a unique perspective on what’s important today for our community — whether that’s local or around the world — and the people, trends and institutions who shape that community — for good or ill.  Stop pretending to be objective, stop acting like reading the newspaper is the right thing for responsible citizens to do, and stop apologizing for printing it on paper by chasing every new technology for reading the news.  Embrace the idea that you, as a team of journalists, are in the business of creating a news product that people want.

Then, raise prices. If it’s worth producing, people can pay for it. Think about increasing prices for corporate subscriptions as well, or making deals for businesses in to pay increased but reasonable prices to share the newspaper in public places. Yeah, you’d lose some readers, but you’re running a business here. If businesses don’t see you as a customer deliver vehicle, they are not advertising. If they aren’t advertising and they’re not buying the product you’re producing, where does that leave you? Exactly where you are today…

Open up the news process in a big way.  Online, share transcripts and post audio of interviews. Let readers in on the decision-making process of what becomes the news — not just by writing articles about it, but by, say, streaming the editorial meeting in video, or running a daily morning chat with interested readers.  

Bring in more voices.  Take advantage of infinite space online to offer a forum to a wide range of community voices — not just the unmoderated rabble of news article forums but articles and blogs and vlogs chosen by the smart folks who run the paper. 

Rethink format and frequency. What would readers choose if the the newspaper embraced high-speed on-demand digital printing? Could we print the paper we want at a local kiosk?  Would some StarTribune readers, for example, cut out Variety and International news, because they get their entertainment and international news elsewhere? Or would they appreciate the local editors’ choices as part of their chosen editorial team?  

I wouldn’t offer “just the news we want” … I’d offer the the chance to read our great product on a variety of topics.

And, maybe just start over.  What if, as a local newspaper business executive, you seeded a brand new news organization.  One that could restart the business of covering the community from the ground up. Give them a year to create their own business model, one that embraced the web and its economies as well as journalism and its professional traditions. What would they create? Could they sell it?

The result, I think, would be more investigative journalism, an organization more engaged with its community … and, as a result, one that is more valuable to its community.

Your turn!

Next up:  A few links to what I’ve been reading on the subject of late…

Toward Better Workshops

6 Aug

I conducted a nearly all-day brand positioning workshop in the Philadelphia area yesterday … the first I’ve done of this scope since I went independent from the Big Agency.  We unearthed more than a few insights about their target customers, and new ways of thinking about positioning the company, “de-positioning” the competition and expressing who they are in more compelling ways.  The client seems pleased — and they’re looking forward to how we follow it up.

Workshops are beloved by consultants, but often dreaded by participants, who believe — often not without merit — that they have more productive ways to spend their day.  But executives also rightly believe that there is merit to detaching fingers from keyboards and ears from phones to talk together about strategy and focus on the long term with someone from the outside.  The key:  How to ensure not just that everyone’s getting something out of the Workshop, but that everyone feels that it was valuable.  I’ve conducted and attended more than a few Workshops, good and bad… when I’m foisting myself on a client for the day, here are my guiding principles:

  • Is this trip necessary? Before planning a day-long workshop, I ask the client whether there’s another way.  Can we get the consensus we need over email, or a shorter call? Is this the best way to deliver the training?  Do we all need to do strategic planning, or would we be more productive reviewing and revising the strategic plan? Make sure there’s real value to gathering the participants in one room.
  • Make your goals have value. Everyone knows you need objectives. The key is to be sure that the objectives are ones that you can accomplish, and that your participants will feel that the accomplishments were worth accomplishing.
  • Avoid ‘death by PowerPoint.’ I keep the slideshow simple.  When I reported research results yesterday, I handed out the charts on paper and kept them off the slideshow. I think it made for less staring and more discussion.
  • What happens in the workshop does NOT stay in the workshop. There is something about bringing a consultant in to facilitate a workshop — especially if its off-site — that separates the discussion from business reality… so that what happens in the workshop is consigned to the ashheap of business history.

It takes timely follow up and a committed champion in the business to ensure that ideas, inspiration and decisions make it back to the office. How about you?  What works and doesn’t work in your workshops?

And finally… I was going to conclude this post by recalling a funny story about some big internal planning workshop I participated in at my old company.  But I can’t remember any of the details, which is probably telling.

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