In the span of two days, I heard people in both my personal and professional life talk about the issue of how crowded the marketplace is with vendors and how hard it is to choose one vendor over another or, if you are a vendor, how hard it is to make headway in a market that already has one or more well-entrenched competitors.
To non-marketers, this is known as being just another pretty face in the crowd, as in “there are so many guys on Match.com that I can’t remember whether I clicked on a guy before or not.” In professional marketing-speak, vendors who are not the industry leader but want to stand out in a crowded marketplace of look-alikes are described as “challenger brands.” In either case, the challenge in getting noticed and getting taken seriously is huge.
Given the change in how strong the customer’s role has become in the marketing process, though, even industry leaders cannot afford to rest on their achievements, lest the buyer start to feel they are being complacent and look for a competitor that is more hungry and thus more likely to be responsive to buyer needs. Just think about how Apple has gone from upstart to the defining brand in its segment. That’s why these organizations and middle-of-the-pack firms that aspire to be industry leaders are the ones most likely to find themselves trying to transform their marketing to stand out from the crowd. As you undertake that effort, keep in mind the keys that make challenger brands successful.
Modern marketing seeks to make a connection with the buyer at an emotional level, since that is the basis of longer term relationships, which are much more profitable than single transactions, as we’ve discussed in several other posts. Somethings, the underlying product or service is so “disruptive” that it makes the brand unique. Most of the time, however, the brand needs to build unique positioning into its marketing (such as Virgin America’s positioning itself as the fun, upstart advocate for real people) that differentiates the brand from others in the market and resonates with the target audience. This basically amounts to creating a new persona for your brand.
The hard part of building a new persona is that it must uniformly appear in all areas of the organization and be equally genuine in each case. If not, it will not seem genuine to the buyer and backfire on the organization. Work with all areas within the organization to find positioning that both comes from the target audience and that will resonate with them (as we discussed in the recent storytelling post). Then find ways to apply that new persona into strategic missions as well as tactical behaviors and communications to the buyer from each area of the organization (i.e., customer support, implementation, etc.).
Consider Your Existing Customers
If you think about how the customer feels about your brand using that well-worn marriage analogy, consider how your change in positioning will go over with each segment. Make a concerted effort to get your most committed customers to come with you as your organization transforms its brand. Assuming the positioning is based on genuine truths, these committed customers can help generate the most effective marketing for you. Then, when the customer has advocated for you, make sure you reward them in a genuine way so that the customer is likely to do it again.
At the same time, consider the objections of segments who can be converted in a cost-effective manner and try to get ahead of those. Obviously, there will be some existing customers who consider their relationship with you too problematic to be valuable. Changing your brand mentality is not likely to change their minds so don’t pour budget and effort into those segments.
Change in Marketing Tactics
Turning customers into advocates as described above requires marketers make it easy to both love the brand and to share the love. This means there has to be a shift in resources and budget into a content generation machine that creates and utilizes customer advocate content in various marketing channels.
Of course, putting out content doesn’t guarantee it will be accepted. Changing your brand’s persona is one of the toughest selling propositions out there and it is not going to be convincing unless its performed with passion. Anyone can say they want to go to Mars but it’s not really believable if they just smile and nod their heads as they tell you that – unless its Elon Musk and he’s telling you how he’s put his fortune into reusable rockets that make spaceflight to Mars within economic reality. Think about what you need to show and tell an audience to make the brand’s passion for this new version of itself then make sure you are sharing that with the world. If you’re not sure, think about what Elon Musk or Steve Jobs would do.
Similarly, marketers need to have a mindset change about their tactics. They need to think like guerilla marketers and reconsider the reason for everything they do. Why? Because it’s too easy to be trapped in an old mindset. An article in Forbes, for example, points out that larger firms who want to change up their brands to feel more like challengers “tend to think of their online presence as merely an extension of their business, whereas challenger brands understand the value of content as a form of meaningful self-expression.”
Help marketers in your transformation start thinking differently. Encourage them to investigate what smaller competitors – who have no choice but to be more creative since they lack your budget – are up to and see if it inspires any ideas for your. Suggest they check out small firms not related to you in any way but who might have won some recent website or advertising or other award. The point is, they can’t just sit at their desks using the same sort of tactics that the organization has always used. Instead, they need to consider what the new, challenger persona’s marketing team would do.
Comments are welcome, especially examples of how your transformation made your brand stand out in the market.