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Do you remember the bit in Pretty Woman when Richard Gear asks Julia Roberts her name? Her response is start-up marketing gold dust: “whatever you want it to be”.
How many times have you heard a pitch from a start-up which goes along the lines of: “Our product is unique. No-one else does what we do.” This is especially common in business-to-business services. Ask the same start-up who their competitors are though and they often say: “We don’t have any competition as our proposition is unique.”
Really? I think not and here’s why: the customer.
The customer is king, and in their eyes you are not unique. Well you might be different but the customer still has to have some frame of reference to compare you against to make a purchasing decision. Given that they have to pay for the product/servi
ce they will have a very definitive say on how your product is positioned so you ignore their views at your peril.
Granted your product or service might be totally different to anything else out there but the customer has to position it against what they currently use. That way, they can then decide whether they want to purchase it or replace an existing solution. This is not a trivial decision — particularly in business-to-business.
As a founder of your business you see things very clearly. You know exactly what you do, how you are different, why you are better… The trouble is people outside your business don’t — if they do you are lucky and be, very, very nice to these advocates. But, for the most part, they have neither the time nor inclination to work it out. So you have to help them – big time!
In the IT space there is an old adage: “No-one gets fired for buying IBM”. The point is that we know what the company does and stands for. The challenge for start-ups then is doubly hard. First, you have to get to the decision maker and then you have to convince them to trust you and risk their money and reputation. If the product or solution is positioned in the customer’s mind in a way that reduces this risk, you are half to making a sale. Which brings me neatly to the final point — the pivot.
It’s a classic piece of re-positioning. There are times when start-ups create a product or service that ultimately no one needs or offers benefits that are of limited value. When this happens there are two options: quit or re-position.
I worked with a social networking start-up that was aimed at highly regulated industries. However, the offer of a social network was not particularly attractive to that audience. The start-up repositioned its product as a collaboration tool to reduce time to make decisions and support sales. Suddenly, it was much more attractive.
The product didn’t change but the positioning did.
Marc Duke is a marketing consultant and founder of Marc Duke Consulting.
Once set, you’ll need to ensure all of the things you can influence are glued together and working toward that unique brand positioning. If you're spending money on marketing materials with different straplines, changeable designs, copy that sounds different or doesn't match up to what you stand for, or products that don't match your brand promise then it's wasting the full potential of your marketing investment. People won’t recognise you, or understand what your brand is about.
Good strong brands do this well and are more stable because of it. Lets take Apple. They tirelessly work on creating innovative new products that work, that people love because of the way they work and because they are at the forefront of the latest technology. They just love making great stuff! So what do they do to back this up and support the positioning? Everything!
Their advertising, website and product brochures all fit together - you know it's Apple as soon as you see it. The products all look cool, even the accessories. Functionally people love to show the product off - look, it can do this! The shops, well they're cool too. And the people in them know their stuff, they help and reflect the brand. They run workshops in the shops on how to get the most out of the products, as well as the usual online support and video tutorials. You can even book time one on one with a ‘Genius' in their shops if you just want some help face-to-face. Everyone loves to show off the product because it's so good. It's just relentless pursuit of their brand positioning.
Apple have got their brand positioning and direction totally clear, and then they execute everything to support it ruthlessly and consistently. Take one area of the business and fail to deliver, or do something a bit different and things start to unravel. Done well, even knitting the simplest marketing activity together like a website, van, you and a business card, and you’ll see dividends.
A healthy and strong brand will stand above the competition, standing more chance of being chosen if it's not been tried before as well as having a loyal customer base once it's been purchased.
It all started with cows and making sure you could distinguish your cow from someone else's cow. That led to the most basic form of branding with a unique stamp on your cow's rear end region. With most businesses being a little more complicated than cows nowadays, branding and brand management have had to become more and more sophisticated.
Even now this rather more basic cow example of branding is what people think it's all about - the name and the logo. It's not that simple, and lots of different inputs from all around your business will work together to make up your brand. What is blissfully simple however is the benefit of a well managed, clearly thought through and strong brand. And that is the very catalyst behind the cow example above: being unique, standing out and being identifiable.
That's because a strong healthy brand can:
This is all fairly critical to us humans, especially when you account for the fact that your average person is exposed to over 5000 messages each day. That's huge. People process information very quickly, and so you have to be at the top of your game to ensure your brand can cut through quickly, be understood, resonate and then become part of a consideration choice. Notice we haven't got to purchased yet!