I was reading the MarketingCharts newsletter today and saw a headline: “What Brings Website Visitors Back for More?” The data was based on a survey of 1000 people, and they found the top 4 reasons were, in order:
1) They find it valuable
2) It’s easy to use
3) There is no better alternative for the function it serves
4) They like it’s mission / vision
I thought about it for a second and had a realization – this is why people are loyal to ANYTHING! And achieving these 4 things should be precisely our goal as marketers:
1) Clearly demonstrate value
2) Make your offerings – and your marketing – accessible
3) Show why your particular thing is the best. (Hint: If it’s not the best you probably need to refine your positioning to find the market segment that it is the best for.)
4) Tell your audiences WHY. Get them to buy into it. Don’t just drone on about the what, but sell them on an idea. Captivate them with a belief!
Do those 4 things well, you win.
BTW, the MarketingCharts newsletter is a really good, easy to digest newsletter – mostly B2C focused but there’s some great stuff in there even for a B2B audience and you can get most of the key points in each day’s newsletter under a minute.
Being a “thought leader” has become cliché.
That’s what most brands and most content marketers aspire to be, however. They want to be visionaries; oracles of their respective fields. It seems like an attractive position to occupy, but is visionary, forward-looking content really what all content marketers should aspire for?
No. Quite frankly, not all companies’ positions justify thought leadership. So how can you tell if your company should be a thought leader?
Assess Your Brand on 3 Dimensions:
1) Nature of the Customer Relationship (Transactional vs. Collaborative) – This is the most important factor. Being an effective thought leader means that you need the market’s attention. If the attention that you have is fleeting, you likely don’t have time to position yourself as a thought leader. Transactional customer interactions are often brief, while collaborative interactions (where you act more as a partner to your customers) are far longer lasting and provide more attention. The same can often be said for the sales cycles for transactional vs. collaborative products and services. Note that transactional relationships may act more like collaborative ones if you have a high rate of repeat business and your products / services are of a high perceived value to the customer; it’s not just about how a single buying journey behaves.
Example: Contract research organizations have highly collaborative customer relationships and are well served by acting as thought leaders. It’s important that these companies demonstrate their knowledge. Companies selling general lab equipment are far more transactional and have less to gain from a thought leadership position.
2) Complexity of Your Products or Services – If your products / services are complex or technologically advanced, this provides a greater opportunity for thought leadership. Customers are more likely to want to take the time to understand the market, and you have more room to play the role of a visionary. To use an example we can all relate to: lots of people want to know about tomorrow’s smartphones. Few people are interested in tomorrow’s socks. You could make the same comparison between sequencers and old-school thermal cyclers.
3) Ambiguity Within Your Market – If the average customer knows very little about your market and / or the products / services within it, there is a greater opportunity to be a thought leader. Ambiguity generally leads to difficult purchasing decisions. Through thought leadership you can create clarity and understanding for your audience, and your audience will in turn reward you with its business.
What to Do If You’re Not a Thought Leader
If you’re not a thought leader, that doesn’t mean you should give up on content marketing. Thought leadership is only one approach to content marketing. Being one of the most popular approaches, there’s a lot of competition for the position of thought leader. Doing something else can actually be an easier way to achieve customer engagement (remember, your content is a product which must be differentiated as well). Some ideas include:
- Be better at formatting information. You don’t have to be the first to say something if you can say it better than others. Take some of the best ideas you can find and package them into more appealing formats, such as videos, infographics, or interactive content.
- Provide something other than knowledge. Not all content has to be about information. Share something else. Entertaining content is the default alternative, but get creative.
- Go past content and develop resources for your scientist-customers that deliver greater value and go further in helping them solve their problems. Get outside the box of “content” as we know it and think more about what problems they have and how your brand can help solve them.
- Be practical. Scientists may not want or expect you to be a thought leader, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need information. Offer simple, to-the-point content that helps them streamline their buying journey and reach a better outcome.
Don’t get caught into thinking you need to win some kind of information war to succeed at content marketing. While some brands may be best served by a thought leadership position, for many it’s easier and more productive to shoot for something else. There are certainly plenty of options.
“But our product performs better than the competitors! And it performs better for almost all applications!”
This is the cry of one too many life science companies (especially smaller companies) who thought that an incremental improvement – and a bit of advertising money – would be all that’s required to outcompete their competitors. This company probably has a few loyal customers, but they’re just not seeing the market penetration that they thought they should. After all, with a superior product you should be able to capture a leading share of the market so long as the market is aware of it, right? In theory, yes. The problem is that it’s not so simple, and the real world doesn’t work like it should in theory.
Every one of us demonstrates this on a regular basis. Think about the last time you went to the grocery store. Are you absolutely certain that each brand which you’re buying is the best one? Maybe for a few kinds of items, but almost certainly not for all. The brands all claim to be the best, but not many people have sampled every brand of food which they eat, or compared them all for nutritional value and other important product attributes. Chances are you don’t even look at all the brands – you just get what you’re used to getting for many things. While it’s true that decisions for scientific purchases are more deliberate than picking up a gallon of milk, there’s still an emotional component to any purchase. Whether you know it or not, your customers are ascribing value to each brand they come in contact with (often subconsciously).
For the company in the scenario outlined at the beginning of this article, the unrecognized problem is that unrecognized, confounding brand effects may be holding them back. In other words, the company is getting “out-branded”. Even though their product is an improvement to competitors or alternatives, and from a strictly rational decision standpoint customers should be driven to their product, the benefits are not enough to overcome emotionally-based perceptions. This problem is especially prevalent for small companies and for products early in their life cycle when there may not be independent validation of the products’ value.
Causes of Brand Problems & Potential Solutions
As we’ve discussed previously, brand value is effectively the sum of all the experiences that stakeholders have had with your brand. For any given customer, it’s the sum of all of that person’s experiences. (Note that these experiences can be second hand as well; a discussion about a brand with a colleague is still a brand experience.) This value manifests itself as an emotional attachment and resulting brand preference, which may be conscious or subconscious. If the sum of the customers’ experiences with the competitors’ brands have been more positive than their experiences with your brand, they will show a preference (perhaps even an irrational preference!) for the other brand which will hurt your demand. If you’re a small company or working with a new brand, it may be that they simply don’t have enough experience with your brand. For larger companies, it is more likely to be that the customer experiences which you have provided have been poor. Each of these issues call for a slightly different approach…
For small companies / new brands, you need to give your market a reason to engage with you in the first place, and unless your product / service is truly revolutionary, the product alone won’t be a compelling enough reason due to the aforementioned brand effects. This is not a conundrum, however. Consider ways to deliver value that is not intrinsically linked to your product but still relevant to it; in other words, ways in which you can provide value to your target market that do not require buying anything from your company or using your product. Creating valuable content has become the default method of doing so, however many markets are suffering from content overload; there is simply too much content being produced considering the audience’s limited time. If that is the case, consider developing resources rather than content.
For more established companies with a larger existing reach and customer base, work on improving existing experiences. Note that “experiences” could mean anything from support to digital user experience to the actual quality of your products. Diagnosing poor customer experience within a large enterprise is well beyond the scope of this discussion, but improving customer experiences is critical for any life science company which is underperforming. While fixing the root cause of your poor experiences is critical, creating customer resources can be a helpful way of getting customers to re-engage with your company and create positive brand value.
You don’t have to do something wrong for your market to be biased against you and hurt the demand for your products. Brand value is not an absolute. It is an relative, emotional thing, and the most important aspect for your company’s performance is how well your brand value stacks up against your competitors’. By focusing on customer experience, you’ll help to grow that brand value over time and shift market preferences in your direction. Along with those preferences will come more sales.
Last week, we discussed solving the above equation which tells us what the most powerful brand positioning opportunities are. Now we must translate the results of that equation into tangible elements that will align with that desired position. This includes some basic elements of messaging (such as the brand name itself, slogans, and core messaging) includes visual elements (logos, typography, and other elements) and also includes voice & tone, which provides guidance as to the overall “feel” of customer interaction and customer-facing communications.
Special focus should be given to the core messaging, as that is where the capability to captivate the audience really lies – especially early on. In order for the brand positioning to be effective, you need the audience to go along with it, and the core messaging is what will deliver the most impact. To be effective, the core messaging needs to do three things. First, you need to make a compelling “why”-type statement. In other words, you need to tell the audience why you’re doing what you’re doing rather than just what it is that you do. Secondly, you need to frame it as a statement that the audience can agree with. You want them to buy into it. Lastly, you need to make it emotionally powerful, such that they become engaged with your brand’s story. The logos and imagery will be important carriers of your brand, in other words they will trigger the association in the minds of the customers, but they actually play a relatively small role in the positioning of the brand. That’s far more about what you have to say and how you say it. The most common error made in initial brand development is focusing too heavily on imagery and visual elements to the detriment of the other aspects.
Once the core brand elements have been determined, it is useful to collect some feedback on them. This can be done via a primary market research study, or even with real-world data collected via a phased rollout. Certain brand elements may be able to be A/B tested to determine which are optionally effective, although you need to be careful not to put too much weight on short-term behavior as the brand is concerned most with long-term impact and the two are not always in alignment.
At this point, you understand your desired position and have formed your core brand elements. It takes a lot of thoughtful effort to get to this point, but this is only the foundation. Brand positioning is the platform upon which the brand is developed and truly built. Ultimately, the brand is created by experiences, and crafting positive experiences for the customers which align with the brand position are the key to making the brand position a reality. What those experiences will vary from brand to brand, but one thing always remains true: helping your customers solve problems is the most likely way to evoke positive emotions. Focus on identifying and solving your customers’ problems, especially in a way which doesn’t require a purchase, and you’ll be on track to develop positive brand value. Do this better than your competitors and you’ll create a competitive brand advantage for your company. (More information on providing superior customer experiences can be found in our latest paper: “Superior Experiences.”)
Whether you are actively shaping it or not, your brand is being developed every day, with every stakeholder interaction. It’s up to you to develop your brand into something that provides positive value for your company. Competitive advantage isn’t all about products and operations – brand plays a very significant role in determining winners and losers. Shape your brand into something valuable, develop it through positive customer experiences, and you’ll position your company to be the winner.
As mentioned last week, the ideal brand position can be thought of in formulaic terms; it is all the “valid” brand positions, less the positions that are occupied strongly by competitors, less those that are unimportant to your target market(s).
So how does one go about solving that equation?
Start with determining all of your company’s valid brand positions. To do this, you need to answer the question: “What are all the positions which we could validly claim?” The answer is dependent on a multitude of internal factors – everything from company vision and mission, company culture, down to the details of how you do business. This process therefore requires a holistic internal investigation, usually gathered via internal documents and from team members. It should be structured like a market research project with a qualitative and quantitative component and both primary and secondary research. Qualitative secondary research is a good place to start, where you can assess things like mission and vision as well as company processes that might give insight to potential differentiators. Qualitative primary research is generally next, with interviews of influential employees to get their opinions of what the company or brand means to them. A quantitative survey of a larger set of internal participants (presuming the organization is large enough to merit it) is helpful to validate and clarify the results of the qualitative research.
Next, look to see how your competitors are positioned. Start with analyzing how they are attempting to position themselves. At most basic, this could be done with an attribute analysis using their publicly available brand messaging. (More details on how to perform an attribute analysis can be found here.) If you want to dig even deeper, put yourself in the customers’ shoes and try to interact with your competitors to determine how they present themselves. This is difficult to do impartially by yourself, so it’s best to have neutral participants interact with the competitors on your behalf and report their experiences to you. Ask yourself: how does it feel to interact with the competing companies? What kind of experiences are they providing and directing customers towards?
After determining the competitors’ projected position, you also need to determine their actual position. This asks the question: “How are our competitors perceived by the target market?” If your market is large enough there may be data on the competitors in published market studies, but generally this requires your own primary market research. Qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys will provide the data to analyze your competitors’ actual positions.
Lastly, you need to determine which of the valid brand positions are actually relevant and important to the target market. Similarly to determining the actual competing brand position, this requires speaking with the target markets. To save on cost and time, these two questions can be answered simultaneously. As with any market research project, what questions you ask and how you ask them is extremely important such that you obtain unbiased answers.
With all the values on the right of the equation known, you can now complete the equation and determine your ideal brand position.
The next step is to translate the results of this equation into tangible elements which will align with the desired position. We’ll discuss this in our next post.
Branding is an abstract concept, and a lot of marketers have different ideas of what the act of branding really means from both a strategic and tactical perspective. At BioBM, we have a very clear vision of the role of corporate branding efforts, and we want to share that vision with you so you can move towards improving your own brands.
One quick note: For the purposes of this discussion we’ll refer to corporate brands only, with the understanding that divisions or product lines can have their own brands as well, and that everything we mention here applies to any such brand.
First, we need to understand what brands and brand value really are. A brand is basically the abstract notion that is your company. It is all of the things which the perceptions of your company are effectively attributed to. Brand value (which is distinct from brand equity – how much your brand is worth in money) is the collective opinions of your brand. It is the resulting sum of all the experiences which customers and / or other stakeholders have had with your brand. Given these definitions, we can see that on an individual level, the brand and brand value can differ from person to person. There can be no singular thing that is the brand in its entirety. It is therefore also useful, in various situations, to consider the brand or brand value from the standpoints of different groups of stakeholders. For instance, your target market may have a different perception of your brand than do your employees or the public. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll assume that you, like most marketers, are primarily concerned with the perceptions of the target market.
Considering that the brand value is held externally, and that it is a matter of perceptions, marketers cannot create brands in the way that they create other marketing assets (a brochure, for example) or the way that your company might create a product. What we CAN do is try to influence those perceptions, and corporate branding efforts should be seen as an effort to do just that.
When marketers think about “creating” a brand, what they really need to do is think about brand positioning – aligning the brand for the maximum probability of success. Successful brand positioning requires two things. The first is differentiation. If your brand is not differentiated from competitors, then it will have a difficult time demonstrating comparative value and, therefore, outcompeting the competition. The second is alignment. Your brand needs to be aligned with your vision and values, and it also needs to be aligned with the customers’ values and goals. If your brand is not aligned with your own values, then you will have a difficult time staying true to the brand positioning and providing experiences that reinforce it. If it is not aligned with the customers’ values, then your claimed position will not contribute any perceived value to your brand.
To understand what your brand’s ideal position is, you need to understand three things. First you need to understand what brand position you would like to claim and could validly claim independent of any external considerations. This requires an understanding of your vision, your goals, your core competencies, and other company-centric factors. We then need to understand competitors’ brands: both their desired brand positions and ACTUAL brands. In other words, we want to understand both how they want their brand to be perceived and how it actually is perceived by the markets in question. Lastly, we want to understand the customers within your target markets. What are their goals and values? What do they value in a company?
Where your potential brand positions overlap with the customer values with minimum competition from other brands, you can identify your most opportune brand position!
Your brand, therefore, isn’t something that should simply be conjured up by locking a few creative types in a room for a few days. Your ideal brand positioning can be expressed as a [non-quantitative] mathematical equation! It’s a rational endeavor in addition to a creative one, but the rational elements of positioning are arguably more important, as they’ll inform you how you need to be positioned in the first place.
Next week, we’ll discuss how to determine the three necessary “variables” in order to to solve this equation.
Captivating your audience should be priority #1 for high-level marketing communications. Before you get into the details of whatever it is you want to say, you need to make sure that you have the audience’s attention, will maintain it for as long as possible, and that they’re in a mindframe that’s most conducive to a positive outcome. Unfortunately, very few life science brands actually do so.
The most common statement type of introductory statement made is a “what” statement. Companies explain what they, their brands, or their product lines do, then get into how they do these things. That makes for a very drab and uncompelling introductory statement. Instead of initially focusing on what you do, focus on why you’re doing it. (You can find some examples of “what” statements and “why” statements pertaining to brand messaging in a previous post here.) It’s far easier for people to psychologically buy into a reason than it is for them to buy into a thing.
Frame your reason – your “why” – as a statement which the audience can agree with. You want them to think – consciously or otherwise – “I agree with this.” That will start the audience off on a positive note which will make them more receptive to subsequent messages. Presenting a statement which indicates that your goals or values are aligned with those of the audience can be a good method of doing so, but it is certainly not the only method.
For that additional kick which will really make your message powerful, frame your message in a way that can draw sincere emotion from the audience. This can be a difficult task and one that requires considerable creative talent. It’s more of an art than a science, but understanding the underlying motivations of your target audience is an important starting point. You need to frame the message around something that they care about.
Off the top of my head, I can recall one good example within the life sciences – certainly in no small part because it was in the Boston metro stations for a while, but also because it was a genuinely powerful message. It was an Ion Torrent advertisement and it read “Everyone Deserves a Chance to Break Through.” This meets the three criteria explained above. It is a “why” statement; it tells you that Ion Torrent is doing what they’re doing to provide people with the opportunity to make scientific breakthroughs. It prompts agreement; If you agree that everyone does deserve that chance (a fair assumption on Ion’s part) then you can get behind the idea. Lastly, it is emotionally powerful. It might invoke slightly different things for different people, but the underlying idea is one of scientific success – the empowerment to make groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Unfortunately, I don’t think Ion used this much beyond their initial ad campaign. Their current slogan – “Sequencing for All” – doesn’t have the same power to captivate (largely because it lacks that critical third factor – emotion).
By making a compelling “why” statement, making it something the audience can agree with, and making it emotionally powerful, you’ll be able to heighten your audience’s receptiveness to your forthcoming messages, increase their effective attention span, and begin to create brand value right from step one. Use these statements as centerpieces of your high-level marketing communications and watch your marketing effectiveness improve.