You’ve been running for a while now, grown organically, and let the quality of your work build your cred in the market. As a result, your client referrals and relationships have been driving your business growth, which is no bad thing. But you’ve just got to the pointy end of this phase. As you’ve grown and changed, your unique promise to market has become a bit old, addled and out of kilter with your audience. Action: brand positioning project.
2016 was the year of the new brand position and you’re determined to do it inhouse - why hire a brand strategist when you have the knowledge of the market, clients and your strengths to do it yourself?
Ummm … so, where is it?
Tell us the truth now – you’re no closer to that positioning statement than you were this time last year, right? And now, well, it’s the end of the year and everyone is exhausted, so let’s push it to 2017, OK?
We see it a lot, and let’s face it, it is just one strategic element in a sea of strategic initiatives that need to be taken care of on your growth trajectory. Alas, this one is very important. Unless you can clearly state and back up what you stand for and why you’re the best choice for your buyer, how will they ever choose you?
Looking after your brand positioning as a b2b firm is kind of like having a toddler who loves riding the stairs. It is all fun and games at first, but it also needs constant supervision.
No sooner have you started up and grown, than you’re adding new products and services, new benefits, new people, processes, offerings and front-people, all of which offer both an amazing ride but also some potential ass-over-elbow manoeuvres. You’ve likely developed some specialist areas that make you more attractive to certain niche audiences, and you’ll also have added some new services or features. But does your brand promise reflect how far you’ve come? Or does it crash and burn at the bottom of the stairs?
Today, we’re going to look at how you can review your b2b brand positioning, or ‘promise’, to market so you can stay relevant, authentic and secure through your next phase of growth (and still have a little fun!).
First thing’s first: It’s not all about you
Many business leaders make the mistake of thinking their brand positioning and creative should be something that appeals to them. Unfortunately, often your customers’ desires are very different to yours. Like a child and a parent, just because you’re related, doesn’t mean that their needs and wants are going to be the same as yours. As a responsible, healthy adult, for example, you may think that your child needs and wants their vegetables presented beautifully, when what they actually want is this:
Your business needs to put your customer at the centre when creating a brand. You need to think about what appeals to them, what values they hold dear when choosing b2b vendors, what language they use, what social media sites they visit, even what colours symbolise their values. Every interaction you have with them should reinforce the idea that you and them are a match made in heaven.
For b2b companies this process can be complicated because in many cases, it’s not just one person doing the buying. This is where a persona workshop comes in handy.
What’s involved in a persona workshop?
A persona workshop is a process where you get your businesses key stakeholders in the room and establish who the customers are that may be buying your product or system. It’s a very detailed operation that looks at qualities like:
- Career path
- Where they might live
- Goals - what they’re looking to achieve in their role
- Dreams - what would be the most exciting thing that could happen to them
- Fears - what would be their worst feared event
- Challenges - what hurdles are they trying to jump
- Real quotes - what they say about their challenges
...and tries to establish:
- How we can help them overcome their goals and challenges
- What their common objections are during the sales process - in their own words
- What their role in the buying decision is
- Communications preferences, and where they go for information
- Marketing message - what kind of messages do they need to hear from us
- Real quotes - what sales objections you hear from them
After the workshop, a designated party will follow up and validate these personas by conducting interviews. This is invaluable because you will get a very clear picture as to what makes you unique and valuable to your customers. Once you have a clear idea of who your buyers are, then you can think about who your brand persona might be.
Contrary to popular belief, a brand persona isn’t exactly the personification of your company. Rather it’s a representative of all the buyer types that will interact with your brand. Knowing who your buyer personas are will help you to establish that. Get your most important personas and pick out their common elements (it could be something like they are all university educated, or that they share some of the same work challenges). Once you have morphed this into your brand persona ask them:
- What would be the best thing that could happen to them in their business tomorrow?
- How would this make them feel?
- What would be the worst thing that could happen to them in their business tomorrow?
- How would this make them feel?
- What motivates them to get out of bed in the morning?
This all should all culminate in the most important question, based on the above information, how could your business best help this persona?
Finding your hotdog in a sea of princesses
So we have a solid understanding of our brand persona. Now, the hardest bit: figuring out what unique and special thing it is that your business does for them.
This is fun to workshop, but can still be tricky to nail down, so should be done as a group exercise.
Try to distill – in really simple language – what your business actually does for your brand persona. The language should be understandable to a six year-old, and should follow the conversational pattern of an adult-child chat. (Hint: just keep asking why and how?).
This is a really interesting exercise, as it brings up questions like:
- Do we educate our clients or do we do work for them or both?
- What are we trying to achieve for them?
- Why is it important?
- How do we achieve that for them?
And that all-important question: How does this make us special / unique / one-of-a-kind?
Hopefully, you’ll distill your advantages down into the one thing (or combo of things) that makes you stand out from the crowd.
How to bring the brand to life
Your positioning promise is a fairly simple little ditty, but also a raw statement of what makes you unique that should remain largely internal. Bringing it to life requires a little bit of creative prowess.
Here are some ideas:
- Think about the kind of brand personality that requires you to solve customer problems. Can you align it with an archetype? The Magician, the Sage, the Hero? Do some reading around these kinds of archetypal brands to understand what your marketing and creative opportunities might be, before you start the creative process.
- Start building a language bank – some language and copy that could represent your positioning to the outside world.
- Determine the kind of emotion that your work would inspire in your buyer: confidence, delight, relief, optimism, certainty, excitement? Whatever the key emotion is, try to create that response in your creative copy and imagery.
- Test creative! Test your creative in your next campaign. A/B test current words and imagery with your new words and imagery to see if it makes a difference. Look for better open rates, click-through rates, and engagement with brand-driven messaging on social.
Anyone can make a promise. The question is can you keep it? JP Morgan Chase lost a lot of brand trust recently. Hedging their business brand on principles of excellent client service and integrity while receiving record fines and some serious allegations that leadership denied, but then admitted, was not a value-generating exercise for them. This was coupled with a legendary fail of a Twitter campaign that gave their audience the chance to extend their hate reach beyond the realm of their own social networks (see my personal favourite tweet here).
So when creating a positioning statement, run it through the sanity mill. Sure, make sure it is unique and compelling. But more than anything, please ensure that it is a promise you can keep.
Spending some time educating your people on your brand promise, and creating processes and cultural programs that ensure they can deliver on it is essential to this. This is a topic all on its own – and luckily one we’ll be tackling very soon, so watch this space.
In the meantime, here are some simple, evidence-based ways you can communicate your brand promise to market:
- Case studies that demonstrate you’ve kept your brand promise and achieved amazing results
- Testimonials from clients, echoing your brand promise
- Blogs, PR articles and deeper content demonstrating your knowledge and value in the area you’re promising
- Helpful, consultative sales staff who are there to help clients solve problems in your promise area
Finding your unique position in the world is a really fun and informative exercise. When done properly, you’ll end up with some powerful, customer-relevant messaging that helps you market, sell and deliver your offerings in a unified and credible way. You’ll also collect some interesting customer insight along the way – an added benefit.
Brand chemistry is a strategic brand agency. With more than 10 years experience building brands, we know what it takes to stand out amongst your competitors. Take a look at our client case studies to find out more.