Sit down. Brace yourself. According to a recent DemandGen report, 9 out of 10 business buyers say that when they’re ready to buy, they’ll find you. Now ask yourself, in all honesty, will they?
The fact is the b2b buy cycle is changing fundamentally – and vendors are on the back foot. The Internet has empowered buyers of business services and products with the ability to research, scope, specify, shortlist vendors, and even purchase, without us even getting a sniff of what they’re up to. It means that old chestnut, brand awareness is now firmly back on the agenda. Or if it’s not, it should be.
And we don’t mean brand awareness in the sense of simply pushing your brand out there for the world and his dog to see. It’s about building familiarity and favourability for your brand amongst the people who really matter – your employees, your customers, your prospects and their influencers. To do so that’s about being relevant, interesting and different – engaging hearts and minds.
Haven’t got a multi-million dollar ad budget? Working with one of those brands that’s more a ‘how do you spell that’ than a ‘we’ve already shortlisted you’? Well, here are a few tips from Earnest to help you along your way:
1. Get your own people on-side:
Call it employee engagement, call it internal communications, but if your own staff don’t get and believe in your brand, chances are the rest of the world never will. That’s why, it always pays to invest in building your brand on a fundamental truth, not hype or hyperbole. Do your utmost to ensure your staff understand your brand – and the role they play in being the living, breathing embodiment of that brand. One client of ours even dropped the brand word altogether – and instead call it reputation – to overcome cynicism and show this isn’t just about marketing speak. They run a reputation programme to help all staff better understand how what they say and do on a daily basis defines the way the company is seen out there in the real-world.
Use senior execs from across your business as visible sponsors. Bring your brand story to life using rich media. Hold regular internal events that encourage participation and dialogue with staff – and show why your brand matters. Encourage staff to share success stories. Even build brand experience rooms in your offices. Think of what a difference having all the people across your business, not just able to consistently articulate what your brand is about, but delivering a consistent experience to anyone who comes into contact with your business. If there’s only one thing you do as part of your brand awareness strategy, employee engagement is it.
2. Build a thought-leadership programme:
You don’t need to be the market leader to be the thought-leader in your space. It’s about carving out a position of authority on the issues that really matter to your customers and prospects – helping shape their strategy and ultimately, being part of the solution for addressing these issues. There’s so much buzz around ‘Content Marketing’ at the moment – and to be honest, whatever you want to call it, it should be a key pillar of your brand awareness strategy. Research your market. Know what the big pain-points are. Know what they are likely to be in the future (New legislation? New competition? Consumer trends?) Think about which issues your business can and should be owning.
So what could your thought-leadership programme look like? Fantastic content. Stimulating events (peer-to-peer, exclusive, face-to-face and online) – if your brand hasn’t got the pull yet, piggyback on the brands of others to attract the right audience. Rich media content (videos, infographics, e-books). Exploit social media. Make sure your SEO’d up to the hilt and PR the hell out of your content.
3. Be part of the conversation online:
According to research by the folk at Cone Inc, 85% of business buyers believe companies should not just present information via social media, but use it to interact and become more engaged with them. Yep, there’s undoubtedly hype surrounding social media but dismiss it at your peril. The biggest excuse we come across is – ‘well my target audience just doesn’t use social media’. Okay here are two good cases alone to overcome that argument: search and PR. Every blog or video posted, comment made, online conversation leaves a footprint – and can be used to link build. And those links are pretty damn important to your search engine performance. As for PR, get this – 56% of journalists said social media was important or somewhat important for reporting and producing stories according to recent research by Cision. The long or short of it is, social media effects how visible your brand is online. Finally, chances are your target audience is social networking – using it for research, engaging in peer-to-peer discussions, sharing their own opinions. Make sure you know where and how to be part of those conversations – otherwise you may as well just go and bury your head in the sand.
4. Build the right partnerships:
Few buyers are willing to stick their neck on the line – particularly when it comes to high value propositions – and opt for an unknown vendor. The stakes are just too high. So if mention of your company name is more likely to result in a blank stare than a ‘Wow, we’ve got to talk’ then that’s where leveraging the brands of more established partners can pay dividends. Unfortunately, most of those partnerships will need to be fostered through commercial arrangements – there’s got to be some: ‘What’s in it for me?’ for both parties, so in simple terms you may need to splash a degree of cash. If it’s a media partnership, make sure you select a well respected media owner who can not only give you access to your audience (ideally via multiple media properties – events, print, online, etc), but who also has kudos amongst that audience. If it’s a channel partner, spend time investing in the relationship – ensuring their staff are fully aware and bought into your brand – plus what you’re trying to achieve. Education and enablement are vital to them becoming real brand ambassadors and making sure the partnership works for them and you.
5. Never forget your customers are your best advocates:
We all create case studies. Unfortunately most are sanitised corporate drivel. Better that though than none at all. That said, a case study is one thing, but a proper customer engagement programme is a whole other matter. Don’t overlook the fact that what your customers say about your business speaks volumes and encouraging advocacy requires a well defined customer programme. Your customer marketing should never stop once the sale has been made. The focus should be on making every customer feel loved and valued. Don’t be afraid to build peer-to-peer forums for your customers to meet virtually or in person and share their experiences. Provide them with unique content, exclusive access to research, previews of new product releases and enable them to input into your roadmap. Better still ask them what information they need and provide it. All the time, think about the brand experience you’re delivering. And next time they’re asked for a recommendation, chances are it’ll be your brand that comes to mind.
The bottom line? Building a brand isn’t easy. But it’s also not as hard as many folk will have you believe. Even if you haven’t got the luxury of massive corporate coffers, get the basics right and before you know it the ripples will soon turn into waves.