Archive for the ‘General’ Category
“We’re being commoditized. All customers care about right now is price.” This is a grim statement, tantamount to a curse. If your customers are scrambling, saving money is going to float to the top of the purchase criteria list.
Unless you’re a behemoth that can afford to discount and take it in the shorts for a while, or else the price leader who does everything on the cheap, you’ve got a big problem. Do you have to kiss your profits goodbye to compete?
Marketing and branding aren’t cure-alls but they can help. Take stock of all the things that you do to add value, the things that customers don’t get when they go with the cheap guys. Then, figure out how to package and sell your value-add in ways that make a difference to your customers.
Daylight Transport’s Strategic Saver program
Our client Daylight Transport has always been a value-added player in the nationwide LTL (less than truckload) business. They help customers address strategic issues like supply chain optimization. When discount mania hit, we repositioned these added benefits as different ways to save money in what we called Daylight’s Strategic Saver program. The main goal was to get more business from current and lapsed customers.
All of Daylight’s 70 account executives sold added value to different degrees. We made sure that everyone was on the same page with an integrated sales support program that included both materials and training in how to use the Strategic Saver concepts. The idea was to get customers into conversations that weren’t just about low rates.
The campaign included 9 emails, each with one Strategic Saver tactic, to a list of 16,000 current and lapsed customers. The emails clicked through to an interactive landing page with detail on each of 8 Strategic Saver tactics. There were also banners on the homepage, and inbound links in online press releases, all pointing to the landing page. A brochure leave-behind and a customizable PowerPoint presentation were used in sales calls.
The results? The sales people were energized by a program that differentiated Daylight, expressed the brand, and helped them get beyond commoditization in a price-sensitive market. In a year-to-year comparison, Daylight counted over $2 million in incremental revenue from lapsed customers who hadn’t shipped with them November thru January last year, but did this year during the 3 month program. We’re not saying that our program is solely responsible, but it contributed.
What has changed since you last evaluated your positioning, which is what your company stands for, to whom, and why?
Just about everything, most likely. In this global, connected multi-platform marketplace, the speed of change is enough to make your head spin. A lot has happened since you developed your current website, printed your brochures (or uploaded the PDFs) and put up your trade show booth. See if any of these common signs fit you.
1) You’ve changed
You’ve outgrown your message and image. You’re bigger, broader, more diversified, smarter, and/or more focused than you were. Your technology and products are better. Your service has improved.
2) Your target market has changed
Perhaps your prospects have different priorities. Or more choices. Price and cost savings may be a bigger issue than they were before, which means value-added selling is a key to differentiation. Or, your old market is shrinking. You’re shifting into new segments with a whole new set of needs.
3) Competition has changed
Your current value proposition isn’t quite so unique anymore. Maybe disruptive technologies have changed the game. Competitors are knocking you off even though their solution is inferior. Or, a big competitor is about to enter your niche and you need to pre-empt them.
4) The old model doesn’t work
It was an innovative concept with great potential, but didn’t pan out as expected. You’ve learned where the true opportunity is, and it’s time to make a shift. Fast.
5) People don’t “get” what you do
This issue is very common with technology companies. After a half-hour discussion or visit to your website, the question you get is, “What do you do, again?” It’s time to simplify.
6) The environment is different now
Disruptive technologies have changed the game, creating new options, platforms and purchasing patterns in both B2B and B2C business environments. Major events and trends also drive change and require a re-evaluation of marketing messages.
7) You’re ready to go to the next level
When you first started, you could get by with the home-grown approach. Now you’re ready for the next leap forward. You want to look like a mainstream player, not a garage startup.
If any of these factors are true for you, it’s time to reframe your message. We suggest not trying this at home. Bring in a professional branding and marketing company, address the new realities of your business, and revenue will follow. This is true whether you’re a business-to-business or consumer marketer.
I just wrote an e-book that came out of a conversation with a friend of mine who manages a government program to help U.S. manufacturers who are being slammed by competition from overseas.
Helping US manufacturers confront new global competition
When low cost rivals from overseas steal business from established American tech companies and manufacturers, it can come as a shock. You’re doing fine for years and suddenly you’re getting hammered. My friend’s federally funded Western Trade Adjustment Center educates and supports affected companies to to become more competitive by making changes in all kinds of areas, from supply chains to IT to manufacturing processes.
I offered to create some content for her to use to educate her companies on the marketing and branding piece, and the idea for a series ebooks was born. The first one is about what not to do.
Technology- and sales-driven companies often go along fine for years without paying any attention to marketing and branding. Innovation and engineering rule. Then, the world changes and the marketing mistakes that didn’t matter come back to bite them. Fixing these mistakes can not only make a big difference, it’s a lot faster than easier than re-engineering a product or process.
The 7 mistakes I see most often
Over the past 30 years I’ve been involved in re-branding scores of innovative manufacturing, tech, agricultural and service companies to deal with new marketplace realities. For this ebook, I boiled down the most common mistakes I see along with tips on how to fix them:
- Not looking as good as you are
- Shooting before you aim
- Not being clear
- Talking to yourself
- Leaving Sales out in the cold
- Not leveraging the Web
- Fragmentation (multiple personality disorder)
For details, download the free ebook. Actually the principles in this ebook apply to any business faced with copycats and lower-cost competition.
The other day I was thumbing through a business magazine and was struck by how many print advertisers were missing a huge opportunity. In today’s digital world, print ads can be an entry point for a sustained online conversation that can convert mild interest into a sale. Instead, many of these B2B ads just sat there.
There was no reason to notice them, no compelling reason to read about the problem they solved, and worst yet, no reason to go beyond them to engage in a deeper conversation with the advertiser. For this, companies were paying over $35,000 a page!
Print advertising has actually become even more valuable in today’s cross platform digital environment. Done right, a print campaign can drive people to a wide array of online channels like customized landing pages, videos and social media. These digital channels are free for the most part, and allow for extended engagement with customers and prospects.
Now, when you develop a B2B print ad campaign, you increase your ROI exponentially by integrating it with interactive opportunities that reside in the digital space.
Here’s the catch though. It still has to be a good ad. It has to capture attention because it’s provocative and relevant, addressing an issue that’s meaningful to the audience. Even if it’s just a branding or “image” ad, it has to be interesting. If it’s about a technology, the value proposition needs to be expressed simply and clearly. It’s a brave new digital world, but the techniques for igniting a connection are the same as they have always been.
Video is hot, and YouTube isn’t just for consumers. B2B prospects who won’t take the time to read an email will often click on a video link. Then, despite being crazy busy, they’ll sit back and watch a video all the way through. It just has to present a problem they care about right upfront, and cut quickly to the chase with a compelling story about your solution.
What we call “Web InfoVideos®” are not only informative. They’re guilt-free and productive fun. They seem to generate immediate action too. People respond to take the next step in your sales process, like a free trial.
There’s a lot of neuroscience behind the structure of Web InfoVideos. You appeal to the emotional right brain (where, studies show, all choices are made) and deliver a left brain rationale. You engage all the learning channels: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic – with sound, text, pictures and motion.
The great thing about InfoVideos is that they have so many applications. You can use the same video in:
- Emails to prospect or customer lists. Include a link as the main topic of an email. Or, add a link to the salesperson’s signature
- Pepper your website with InfoVideo content. As an added bonus, video improves SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- At trade shows, play a “continuous loop” version of the video in your booth
- Create landing pages specific to a campaign, vertical market or product and include a video link
- Place InfoVideo links in online press releases and newsletters
- Social media marketing: include your latest videos on LinkedIn, in blogs, in “thought leader” content, on social video sites, etc.
- To kick off a one-on-one meeting, a video can provide a dynamic capsule summary of your value proposition
Videos deliver an excellent return on investment. Just make sure they are strategically focused, clear, relevant and interesting. Be careful about length too. The optimum time seems to be around 2 minutes for an introduction to a concept.
The most entertaining and sophisticated videos make use of the layering capabilities of Flash programming (HTML5 isn’t “there” yet). So, you need to do a version that lives online on your server with live links, and a version for YouTube that works on mobile devices. For a few examples of Reality2 Web InfoVideos, click here.
Turns out a guiding principle of online consumer marketing works for B2B as well. Instead of sending respondents to a general corporate website, send them to an interactive landing page or “mini site” developed specifically for the campaign or vertical market.
Here’s the secret formula we’ve refined over the past 12 months to create engagement:
- Give information in bite-sized pieces on the interactive mini site, so visitors can control the process of revelation. The interactivity of the tabs (with short copy) makes it fun. People end up reading more, painlessly.
- Provide multiple calls to action. Give people attractive choices and promotional offers whenever possible. Keep the calls to action always visible as people move through the mini site.
- Let people escalate their level of interest and commitment without barriers. No registration required for informative material. It’s fine to offer a white paper upon registration, but we’ve found that we increase direct sales inquiries by removing this barrier.
- Offer a cool personal item as an incentive for registering or signing up for a demo – including the chance to enter a drawing.
- Offer a downloadable brochure PDF as well as a way to instantly “drill down” after reading each tab.
- Make the design clean, the headlines clear, the look simple and the navigation easy. Give the mini site a theme that ties in with the rest of the campaign (emails, online and print ads, social media, online press releases).
- Sales contact information (both phone and email) should be prominent and always visible. And of course, provide a link to the corporate site too.
We developed and tested tabbed landing pages/mini sites for our client SNL over a year ago. They were so effective that now we do a landing page as part of every campaign, for each division and product line. In the example above, when SNL Energy expanded its web-based energy information service we positioned it as the “smartest energy source” and created this landing page as the multi-media campaign “hub”.
Wouldn’t it be nice if a product could sell just on the strength of its benefit to the environment? Whether you reduce waste, greenhouse gas emissions or dependence on foreign oil, a reality is that nobody’s going to buy your product just because it’s green, particularly in the B2B space.
Sustainability is great, but what’s important is a sustainable business advantage. Purchasers want to know what the ROI is on your process, technology or material. And if your product costs more, you need to do your value-added selling to demonstrate better overall payback. The public sector can be more environmentally conscious than private business, but when it comes to deciding how to spend beleaguered budgets, cost is still a driving factor.
This is common sense, but we’ve found that most of our cleantech clients still need a lot of help shaping and telling the business story in a way that resonates with each of their vertical markets. We always say that inventing a technology and communicating about it require two entirely different skill sets.
Case in point: Pavement Recycling Systems (PRS), $35 million infrastructure company in Southern California, came to Reality2 Marketing for assistance in growing its business. PRS had developed a number of innovative technologies including a system that rebuilds deteriorated roads by pulverizing, remixing and reapplying in-place asphalt.
The first order of the day was repositioning and rebranding of the foundational elements: the company’s website (the marketing hub – where everyone goes to check out a company), sales support materials (nothing beats a good brochure to reinforce a face-to-face meeting) and sales presentations (PowerPoints that tell a compelling story). Reality2 applied our “Reality-based” analytical process to identify the key business drivers and developed PRS’s positioning and marketing strategy. Then, we brought it to life in a new website, sales kit and presentation.
Outreach marketing programs such as email and advertising were launched only after the foundational elements (such as the website) were upgraded – a sequence Reality2 enforces wherever possible to optimize return on marketing investment.
The most recent marketing success is a lead-generating email campaign to city governments, with targeted messages to different decision-makers from mayors to city engineers, linking to interactive landing pages with videos, testimonials, cost/performance comparisons, and calls to action.
Simplify. And simplify again. This is a good exercise for any tech company trying to come up with a value proposition in a nutshell. We just got a new client in the data communications field, with a highly complex product, and our biggest contribution has been to make it simpler to understand just exactly what they do. Reminds me of the talk I gave in Washington DC to a group of cleantech companies as part of Larta’s USDA program (Check out http://www.larta.org). I asked for a volunteer to role-play with me on the question, “Can you explain your technology to a six-year-old?”
The brave man who stepped up to the plate was Keith Lewis, the CEO of a sensor company (SSS Technologies, soon to be Sarkitel Sensors) out of Alabama. The company description in the program guide says that they make an “ammonia sensor which, when used to control ventilation, can improve performance in poultry, hog and dairy operations.”
Keith, however, was on to me and skipped the usual tech jargon right away. I played the 6-year-old. “So, what do you do, Daddy?” I asked.
“You know when you pee and it smells bad sometimes?” was what Keith opened with.
Yes folks, marketing can be really fun, and funny, sometimes! A dialogue ensued that had everyone including the participants in stitches. Turns out, the bad smell is ammonia, and when 10,000 chickens are all peeing in a chicken farm, too much of that smell is really bad for both people and chickens. So when it gets too bad Daddy’s sensor turns on the fans. But why can’t the fans be on all the time? Because too much wind makes chickens catch cold or get sick.
Aha, an insight. The sensor activates extra ventilation only when ammonia levels require it, eliminating two health hazards for poultry and the people who work with them: toxicity and excess wind. Happy chickens get fatter and lay more eggs. Plus you save on energy costs.
If you have a technology company, try this “dialogue with a six-year-old” exercise yourselves. The act of simplifying can lead to startling insights about how to move from a technical description to a clear, understandable and distinctive value proposition.
What do you do when one of the pillars of your business and marketing plan suddenly disintegrates? Not because of anything you did, either. Just a function of how fast things can change in our revved-up world.
The Aurica Motors plan
Aurica Motors was originally going to convert the enormous NUMMI plant in Fremont to the manufacturing of its electric cars, proprietary components and charging stations. Toyota’s planned shutdown of NUMMI would put 4,700 employees out on the street, along with 50,000 people who worked for suppliers. Not fortuitous for the Bay Area economy. But fear not, Aurica Motors would save the day.
You’re going to what?
We were a little skeptical at first when the startup came to us. Pretty ambitious plan, we said. But they won us over with their vigor, ideas and a strong portfolio of inventions that solved key problems in the electric car space.
Aurica’s technologies create efficiencies that allow an electric car to go farther on one battery charge than possible before. Range is probably the single biggest obstacle to electric car adoption, so farther is good. Then there’s the issue of charging with “grid” energy, which is mainly generated by coal. Kind of defeats the green purpose, doesn’t it. Aurica’s option: in 3 minutes, you can exchange your spent battery for one recharged with off-peak renewable solar or wind power.
Putting Aurica on the map
Once we were on board, our first move was to put Aurica Motors on the map with a strategically positioned branding website and campaign that generated something like 2,800 Google search results in the first week (from blogs to TV and newspaper coverage). We used PRTechConnect a division my friend Tracy Williams’ PR firm Olmstead Williams. Their News Release Package for startup companies goes out to a customized list of editors and bloggers for only $999/month. It really works.
Quick, an infrastructure
Next mission: get our tech entrepreneurs some infrastructure support. They’d need help in many different areas, from business structure to securing government funding. I introduced them to a group I knew had what it takes: Morrison & Foerster San Francisco. Known affectionately as Mofo.
Susan MacCormack, known affectionately as Suz, is the head of Mofo’s cleantech practice. She and partner David Gold presented us with a world-beating team in every arena from Environmental to Transactions.
A new reality breaks in
One of the first steps was to line up NUMMI. A week before the plant was to be shut down, David Gold at Mofo found out for us that NUMMI in fact was not interested in pursuing a relationship with Aurica. Meanwhile the rumors buzzed: NUMMI would become a gigantic mall. Or a ballpark. Yikes.
This upended a cornerstone of Aurica’s business plan. To be honest we’d all suspected this outcome. There were rumors in the press, and the NUMMI people wouldn’t return calls. Now we knew for sure.
The good news: it was better to find out early than to waste time.
A 180 and a peel-out
The Aurica founders wasted no time at all on “if only” lamentations. They were able to switch gears overnight. This is what I mean by marketing (and business) maneuverability. We put our heads together on strategy and roughed out a new direction.
Suddenly on May 20, 2010 came a surprise announcement: Toyota would invest $50 million in Tesla Motors to help them buy NUMMI and build electric cars there. So that’s why NUMMI wouldn’t return our calls! Aurica was already moving forward with a new plan, but part of the marketing message had to shift, overnight, since Tesla planned to hire 1,000 of the 4,700 displaced NUMMI workers. The next day, the website was up to date.
Could you turn this fast?
More often than not taglines are like white elephants. You don’t need them, there’s no good place to put them, and they’re tough to get rid of.
I was reminded of this once again yesterday when a client of ours, a smart and savvy VP of Marketing we’ve worked with for almost 10 years, was faced with an awkward political dilemma. A divisional VP who was trying to make his mark demanded a tagline and worse yet, came up with it. It is “Exceptional service. Better value.”
It’s so nice to have an outlet. Now instead of grinding my teeth in my sleep I can just blog about this. Here, fellow marketers, are some of the problems with taglines.
Generic taglines can actually hurt you
“Exceptional service. Better value” is a classic in the annals of apple pie and motherhood, which is what the majority of taglines are. You could say this about any product or company, whether it was true or not. It doesn’t differentiate and it’s not believable. People want to know what makes your product better, which is about content and conversation. A generic line undermines credibility and brings your message down. Makes it sound like everything you just said is “marketing BS”.
Taglines are so 20th Century
So how about good taglines? Apple Computer has had a few. “The computer for the rest of us” was their revolutionary statement when they launched the Mac in the 1980’s. Notice that they don’t have a tagline in their current TV commercials? They’ve chosen to focus on the message itself, allowing you to draw your own conclusions.
How come? What’s changed? 21st Century audiences don’t want to be talked at. They’re as skeptical as you can get. Engage them instead. If you stick a tagline at the end of your communication, you’re commercializing what was starting to be a nice relationship.
For example, my partner recently saw a helpful home improvement TV spot which had him involved until an annoying voice and animated logo ended with “That’s the Power of the Home Depot.” Ugh.
You can’t afford a tagline
The mass market monoliths put millions of dollars in advertising and promotion behind taglines, which are part of enormous branding campaigns. Example: McDonalds “I’m Lovin’ it”. The idea is to engrave the line and its associations into your audience’s memory. The average marketer doesn’t have this kind of budget.
Taglines are about you, not the customer
It goes like this. The CEO gets a far away look in his or her eye and says, “You know I just thought of a great tagline for our company.” I smile tactfully. Compliment the creativity. And explain the reality: this line is meaningful internally to the company, but customers and prospects won’t care. It doesn’t buy you anything.
Do a descriptive line instead
By “tagline” I’m referring to those short lines under a company name and logo that try to be cute and clever or else tritely aspirational. In contrast, a descriptive line is a great thing to have. It defines in a concise sentence or phrase what your company does and the benefit it provides. It goes at the top of your website or somewhere on your brochure or LinkedIn page.
A concise descriptive line is particularly important for technology companies who are inventing new ways of doing things. These are not supposed to be memorable or clever, they are descriptive. Examples: For a navigation systems client: “We take over where GPS leaves off.” A cleantech client: “Pavement solutions that increase performance, lower costs and improve the environment.” A publishing client: “The business magazine for executives who are integrating workforce management with corporate goals.”
Whew. I feel better now. Gotta go and tell my team we have to put “Exceptional service. Better value” on that divisional brochure.