How to do brand marketing
Repetition builds reputation
As the Cannes Festival looms large on the calendar, the world’s leading marketers, media companies and martech companies are gearing up to do boatloads of business (literally, on actual yachts) down on the Côte D’Azur.
But before the rosé and big ideas start flowing, it’s worth reminding ourselves what we are trying to accomplish when we do brand marketing.
Put simply, brand marketing is the job of telling your future customers about the positive impact your existing customers get from using your product.
If you are doing this job successfully, you should be able to answer “yes” to the following questions:
Have the buyers in your target market heard of you?
Do the buyers in your target market know what you do?
Do the buyers in your target market think you are good at what you do?
The cheat code to answering yes to all 3 of these questions is to make your target market as small as possible. Unfortunately this is where most brand marketing campaigns go wrong, as marketers tend to be drawn to large audiences and low prices, which in turn creates a need for media companies to relax their targeting algorithms in order to compete on scale. However, the wider you cast your net, the further you will drift from your sweet spot and the worse your results will be.
(For a deeper dive on tightly defining your target market, check out my post on how to build your ideal customer profile by using the data on your current customers).
In addition to making your target market as small as possible, you need to get the following marketing disciplines humming before you start doing brand marketing:
Product Marketing — where you reduce the friction in your sales process so that you have a predictable win rate on incremental leads.
Content Marketing — where you solve the needs of buyers who are actively shopping to ensure they enter your sales process ready to buy.
Performance Marketing — where you maximize your coverage of buyers who are actively shopping.
(For a deeper dive into each of these competencies, check out my post on how to introduce marketing into your startup and make it successful)
With the above disciplines in place, standing up brand marketing involves a measured approach in 3 stages:
Listen to how customers describe the impact of using your product.
Amplify your impact message through your marketing channels.
Measure the impact on your business.
1. Listen to how customers describe the impact of using your product
As you talk to your customers, listen for 3 things:
Positive Sentiment — kind of obvious, but it goes without saying that you can’t build a brand if your existing customers aren’t happy. You can try to paper over the cracks with a big ad spend but at the end of the day there is too much information easily available online to refute your bogus claims. This is why movies with limited fan buzz on Reddit and Fandom often get their marketing budgets cut right before release.
Homogeneity — if you have 500 customers achieving 50 different outcomes it’s very hard to find the common thread that ties them together. A lack of homogeneity is a brand marketing show stopper because without it you cannot distill it into a single, repeatable message. At best you’ll end up with a bland, generic message that tries to be all things to all people, like the Accenture ad that reads, “creating value for people and businesses”.
Simplicity — if you can’t describe your impact succinctly, your target buyers aren’t going to remember it and therefore aren’t going to remember what you do. If you can’t describe your impact in the constraints of a 140-character tweet, don’t bother building a brand marketing program.
The most common mistake at this stage is creating messaging in a vacuum. This usually happens when the marketing team (or CEO) projects their own feelings, opinions or agenda into the messaging based on the one customer they are personally close to or on how they talk about the product internally. You’ll end up with something that makes no sense to anyone in the real world, like the comically bad “Chairs are like Facebook” ad from 10 years ago.
2. Amplify your impact message through your marketing channels.
While there is a myriad of marketing channels to choose from, there are two simple keys to using them successfully:
Start with your organic channels — email and social are natural starting points because of the relatively low investment required and the strong signal you have that recipients and followers are in your target market. After all, if they aren’t interested in you they won’t follow you or sign up to your email newsletter.
The other key organic channel is the media. The most important thing to remember when pitching to writers is that it is very similar to pitching your buyers; to be successful you need to focus on what is important to the writer and work backwards into your pitch. Most writers are measured on the traffic their stories generate, so they are always looking for stories that will make good headlines. If you show how you are part of a bigger market trend and share insights from your business (like customer stories, revenue growth, valuation), or provide a human interest story with a compelling angle, you are more likely to get coverage than if you just want to talk about your latest set of new features.
Limit your number of paid channels — every paid channel has its idiosyncrasies, from how you translate your ideal customer profile into targeting criteria, to how you translate your messaging into creative formats, to how you build your media plan. Do your research to figure out the one paid channel your target market spends the most time in and stick with it until its working. If you spread yourself across too many channels you will just end up optimizing for the lowest common denominator across channels which is usually price. As we heard earlier, this is where brand marketing campaigns usually fall down.
The most common mistake at this stage is chasing shiny objects, such as doing a campaign with an influencer because your kids tell you they are cool, or creating custom content because a vendor pitched it, or creating a one-off stunt to win an award to pad your resume. Yes there is an endless number of cool creative ideas in marketing but most of them make no sense for your business. Trust me, I sold advertising for 15 years.
3. Measure the impact on your business
Be consistent with your metrics — don’t fall into the trap of cherry picking stats to make your programs seem more effective than they are. Instead pick a set that you are willing to live with for at least a year. Some simple metrics for measuring brand marketing are:
Volume of Google searches on your brand name and volume of direct traffic to your website. Both are good signals that buyers have heard of you.
Click through rate on non-branded search terms and positive response rate to outbound emails. Both are good signals that buyers are aware of what you do.
Mentions of your brand in social channels. This is a signal that buyers are recommending you because they think you are good at what you do.
Be patient. Brand marketing isn’t performance marketing, where you can figure out the direct ROI in a month. The most common mistake at this stage is giving up too early. Set realistic expectations, take a measured approach and stick with it for at least a year to give yourself time to do the necessary repetitions to build your reputation.
Thanks for reading! If you found this post useful, please share it! And if you haven’t already, please subscribe! I write weekly about the common sales, marketing and leadership issues that hold back startups from growing faster.