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Step 1: Realize that Your Brand is Critical to Your Success

Step 2: Follow These Critical Branding Principles

Step 3: Grab the High Ground
Step 4: Develop a Successful Positioning Strategy
Step 5: Select a Branding and Positioning Model
Step 6: Build Your Brand from the Inside Out
Step One: Realize that in B2B Marketing, Your Brand is Everything
I cannot overstate the importance of having a clear, compelling and differentiated
brand. In fact, it is a critical factor in the success of every market leader (company or
individual). So what do I mean by “brand?”  Simply this: Your brand (or positioning
if you prefer) is the place your company occupies in a prospect’s or customer’s
mind when he or she thinks about you. Note that I am not referring to how you
see yourself, or how you want others to see you, but rather how you are actually
perceived. You can argue until you are blue in the face about how you should be seen
by the marketplace but the fact is, perception often trumps reality.

So where is your starting point? You may be a totally blank canvas because your
prospect has never heard of your company. This can be a good thing because you
now have the opportunity to position your organization in a fresh way. Perhaps the
marketplace has a negative or misinformed image of you, in which case you have
some remedial work to do. And if you are very fortunate, you already occupy the
position you want, and your job is to propagate and reinforce your brand.

Whenever possible, I urge my clients to avoid the perception that they are a
commodity provider. A commodity provider is one where there is no real advantage
in terms of the product, service, etc., and where the
prospect tends to evaluate you primarily on pricing, “I cannot overstate the
terms, and so forth. The alternative to being positioned importance of having
on a commodity basis is to create a perception of
differentiation. a clear, compelling and
differentiated brand.”
I discuss a number of ways to accomplish a
differentiation strategy below. You will know that you have successfully branded your
organization and articulated your differentiation when you are not in bidding wars
for every piece of business. In fact, if you brand yourself successfully (and accurately),
you may find that you can generate business where there is no competition, or only
token competition. You will also find that you have less pricing pressure and are able
to maintain decent margins. But this is true only if you find ways to differentiate
yourself that are truly valued by your customers – enough so that they are willing to
pay a fair price for the privilege of doing business with you.
Step Two: Follow These Critical Branding Principles
Let’s jump from the “why to” discussion to the “how to.” Regardless of your current
scenario, you should follow these six branding principles:

 randing principle 1:  Your brand must differentiate you. I urge

my clients to do whatever it takes to avoid the perception they are
a commodity provider. A commodity provider is one where there
is no perceived advantage in terms of the product, service, etc.,
and where the prospect tends to evaluate you primarily on pricing,
terms, and so forth.  Unless you have massive economies of scale
(e.g. Wal-Mart), this is almost always a weak position to hold.

Branding principle 2:  Your brand must offer a clear and

compelling benefit.  In other words it has to pass the “who cares”
test. Your brand must convey a promise to prospects that matches
a need or desired benefit that they can readily identify with. Weak
benefit statements lead to weak brands. Weak brands lead to weak
sales numbers. The message: “Don’t be weak”.

  randing principle 3:  Your brand should be as specific as

possible. There is a tendency to go broad in branding by trying
to be all things to all people. Marketers do this because they don’t
want to pigeon-hole their company into an overly-narrow and
unprofitable niche. This is usually a mistake since you will often
be putting yourself in a tough competitive position.  The trick
is to own a space that is narrow enough to eliminate most or
all of your competition, yet large enough to meet your revenue
objectives.  This is not always easy but it is why you must spend
adequate time to craft the best possible branding strategy.    

  randing principle 4:  Your brand should be easily understood.

It must also be conveyed in as few words as possible without
requiring a bunch of backup explanation.  Do not rely on your
internal staff to determine brand clarity. They are usually too close
to what you are doing and tend to overestimate their knowledge of
the marketplace.   
Branding principle 5:  Your brand must be congruent. By this
I mean that who you say you are must match the reality of who
you actually are. This may sound simplistic but is a principle that
is often violated. For example, how many companies brag about
providing the best service while actually providing mediocre
service? You don’t have to be the best at everything, but whatever
you say you do better than anyone else, you had best be prepared
to prove it. Once you lose your credibility, it is hard to get it back.

Branding principle 6:  Your brand must be jealously guarded. 

Challenging the conventional wisdom often works. But never do
anything that creates so much controversy that it weakens your
brand. And don’t be too clever for your own good by launching
a campaign that is great at drawing attention to the creative
gimmick, but is contrary to your key positioning message. In other
words, all of your outbound communications must reinforce the
brand.  No exception.     

By the way, our brand at Fusion Marketing Partners is “Creating Unstoppable B2B
Marketing and Sales Machines.”  This is what we say and this is what we do.
Step Three: Grab the High Ground
Any competent military commander will tell you that it is usually better to be
positioned on higher ground than your enemy because it is much harder to attack
uphill and it is easier to inflict pain upon your enemy from a higher position. This
is just as true whether your competition is wearing combat fatigues or office attire.
In the world of B2B marketing and sales, failure to grab the high ground won’t lead
to your physical death but it can lead to the death of your company’s revenue plan,
profit margin and aspirations.

So, what does it mean to hold the high ground in a B2B marketing and sales
context?  From a big picture perspective, it means that
you hold the leadership position in the marketplace “Developing a brand
for whatever it is that you do. This does not mean that promise is a tough
you have to be the Microsoft of the computer software
industry or the Toyota of the automobile industry exercise…”
(sorry GM). Most of the time, your high ground will be
something a lot more specific and defensible. Every company has (or should have)
its unique value proposition that is expressed in terms of a brand promise that is
differentiated from every other company’s brand promise.

I sometimes refer to a company’s brand as its “brand promise” because a good brand
contains a promise of one or more major benefits. A successful brand promise is
not just a clever slogan that your marketing department dreams up but rather the
foundation upon which your business is built. It impacts each department and
every employee should know the brand promise and be able to explain it succinctly
and compellingly.  If your people don’t feel and accept the brand promise in their
guts and are not able to rationalize it logically, you will never sell it to the outside
world. The brand promise must have absolute believability and it must be based on a
genuine marketplace need that will drive profitable revenue. 

Developing a brand promise is a tough exercise and you may have several stops and
starts.  But once you are able to articulate the brand promise internally and externally,
and use it as the basis for every marketing initiative, selling becomes much easier and
you will be able to close a larger percentage of deals.

At Fusion Marketing Partners, we are occasionally asked to carry out programs that
are not based on a clearly defined and differentiated brand promise – in other words,
to fight the competition from a position of weakness (the low ground).  I urge our
clients to allow us to help them discover and articulate exactly how they are different
and superior to everyone else in the marketplace.  Then we are fighting from a
position of strength.  Then we are holding the high ground.
Step Four: Develop a Successful Branding/Positioning Strategy
The first step in developing a branding and positioning strategy is to determine your
starting point through a series of nine questions:

1. What is the scope of your branding problem—is it to position

an entire organization or simply to position a product or series
of products?

2. In an ideal world, where money, time, and competitors are

not a factor, what is the position you would like to hold in the
marketplace? What is your idealized brand?

3. What is the position that you currently hold? You must be

brutally honest with the answer to this question. If you
don’t know the answer, conduct research to find out. This
doesn’t mean internal research only; you must also ask
prospects and customers. In many cases, employees have
serious misconceptions about their company’s true
marketplace position.

4. What is the position of each of your competitors? How do you

fit with each competitor in terms of perceived quality (including
performance and functionality), service, and pricing?

5. Is the branding statement for the current product or service

compatible with your organization’s overall position?
Consistency between the organization, and its products/services
and personnel is very important.

6. Does your positioning strategy violate the true nature of the

organization, or is it congruent? In other words, does it ring
true in every aspect? Does the brand promise resonate with
every part of the organization? One caveat: I strongly believe
in positioning yourself ahead of the curve—not just in terms
of where you are now, but where you are going. But before
practicing this future-oriented positioning, make sure this is
where you are really going.

7. Where is the product/service in its life cycle? Is it a new,

pioneering product or service, or is it in the maturing or
declining phase? Do consumers ask, “What is this product?”
Or do they ask, “Why should I buy this particular model from
all the choices available?” Likewise, is this an opportunity to
reposition a mature product for a fresh new market?

8. Do you have the resources to compete with a price strategy, by

offering a product comparable to that of your competition at a
lower cost?

9. Given the competition, do you have the necessary resources to

reach and maintain the desired position in the marketplace?
If the answer is no, you need to know this before investing
marketing dollars on a failed cause.

You should answer each of these nine branding/positioning questions in the context
of overall corporate objectives, such as profit, return on investment (ROI), levels of
financial risk desired, new technologies, and so forth. Note also that the questions are
fairly general in nature and are intended to provide the framework in which you can
develop the best possible creative strategy.

The output of this process will be a branding and positioning statement, which can
be as short as one sentence or as long as a paragraph. Do not attempt to develop the
creative strategy until you have complete agreement on the branding and positioning
statement from all concerned individuals, including marketing, sales, research,
customer service, and finance and administration.
Step Five: Select a Branding and Positioning Model
Following are examples of the different ways that an organization can be positioned. I
am not suggesting that your brand will necessarily follow one of these models but the
list will give you a starting point for consideration.

 ot Company. To be considered a hot company, you must be

associated with an important and current issue. Hot companies
can often be found in industries such as software, health care, and
medicine. Google has been a hot company for some time. But
today’s hot company can be tomorrow’s also-ran.

 echnology Leader. This works if you can reach and maintain a

position of technology leadership. However, this is becoming
increasingly harder to do, since new technology improvements
are constantly being introduced and the life cycle for high-tech
products can be as short as nine to 12 months. So, if you wish to
be a technology leader, be prepared for the constant pressure to
reinvent yourself.

 arm and Fuzzy. A warm and fuzzy company builds a great deal
of trust with the public and can therefore command premium
prices. Examples in the consumer arena include Nordstrom and
Maytag. Warm and fuzzy companies must earn this designation
over time, and it can be reinforced, but not created, by

 ll-Knowing. This type of organization and its employees are

known as the industry experts. Knowledge is America’s most
valuable commodity and, in service industries such as law,
finance, and medicine, it is the chief differentiator among
organizations. All-knowing companies can also command
premium prices, particularly if they offer a strong ROI benefit to
their customers.

 irst to Market. The first company to market a certain type of

product can have a significant advantage because it can reach and
gain early sales among the innovator and early adopter segments.
A danger for a company positioned this way is that the second or
third company will leapfrog its introduction with products that
are considerably improved. For example, the iPod was not the
first MP3 player, nor the iPhone the first smart phone, but Apple
perfected these products and came to define the marketplace.
I ndustry Giant. The biggest company may not be the best, but
it is often perceived as such. However, because of technology
and re-structuring issues, the most successful organizations will
be those who possess, in the words of former General Electric
Chairman Jack Welch, “a big company body and a small
company soul.”

 ne and Only. If you can convince the marketplace that you

are the one and only company that does something specific,
particularly if that something is of significant value, your success
is assured. However, the more successful you are as a one and only
company, the more likely you are to attract competitors.

 astest. Even if you’re not the best, you can appeal to those who
need immediate service. Distribution will be a big factor in
marketing, as consumers shift dollars away from retail and toward
electronic media channels. Federal Express is probably the best
example of a company which was both first and fastest (with its
overnight delivery service).

 heapest. Organizations that adopt this strategy are practicing

cost differentiation. Price leaders will always have a good share
of the market, especially if they can combine low price with a
decent quality of service (notice that I did not say a high quality
of service). A good example of a company that does this well
is Wal-Mart.

 ost Personal. The ability to provide outstanding personal service

can be a real differentiator, but be very careful that you can prove
this over a period of time, because such a claim is always treated
with skepticism until it is proven.

 asiest to do Business With. Many companies succeed not because

of, but rather despite their selling models. A company that is easy
to do business with always looks for ways to minimize anything
that stands in the way of a pleasant and irritant-free experience
for the customer.

Regardless of which of these positioning models you choose, or if you adopt one
that is not on the list, you must present it to the consumer in a very clear and simple
manner. It should also be focused and consistent, since it is difficult to sell more than
one concept at a time.
Step Six: Build Your Brand from the Inside Out
Lon Hendrickson, President of AlphaBrands, is a noted expert on branding and
positioning. The following section is excerpted from his excellent white paper titled
Successful Brand Development. I think you will find that this reinforces what I said
about the brand promise earlier in this paper.
As we have learned, a brand is more than just a catchy logo chosen on a whim. Your
brand represents your company, product, or service on multiple levels—emotional,
cultural, and rational. A brand no longer represents just your product or service. Now
it is also linked to your labor practices, environmental policies, business alliances,
customer service and quality.

Your brand encompasses the entire spectrum of your company, from its outward
appearance to its internal structure. This reality points out two distinctly different
areas of brand impact on your business: outward, market-facing impact and inward,
internal impact. Market leaders know that great brands are built from the inside
out—let’s take a look at what that means for you.

Internally, when you align your organization, operations, and culture around
your brand it becomes a powerful performance driver. Living up to your brand
values internally brings your brand to life for the marketplace. Effective internal
branding will:

Focus your organization on a specific value to a specific customer.

Building a strong brand is similar to establishing a company
vision or mission. It acts like a turbocharger for internal
performance, providing everyone with a common vision and
clarity of purpose.

Direct alignment of the various aspects of your business

operations so that you can fulfill your brand promise to the
market. If your brand stands for quality, alignment
prevents you from spending resources in misguided attempts to
beat competitors to the market with an untested or
under-tested offering.

Provide a sense of pride and motivation for employees to live up

to the promises of your brand.
For a brand to come to life with customers, the organization must be internally
aligned to deliver the brand promise through the organization’s culture, reward
systems, key success measurements and structure. And, as a business owner or
manager you must demonstrate your commitment
to these values through everyday behavior. An “The only way to create and
average brand becomes a great brand by living its
values internally. It’s an unspoken rule that applies
sustain a great brand is to
to all companies—large and small—who strive to work from the inside out…”
be market leaders.

When employees understand and accept that the values are genuine, they can align
their attitudes and behavior to the brand values. Here are several ways you can bring
the power of internal branding to your organization:

Invest time in creating effective internal communications to build

employee morale and commitment through the shared beliefs
and vision.

Give your managers and staff a deeper understanding of your

brand promise and the behaviors and values the promise
demands—even provide training if necessary.

Demonstrate to your employees how their activity and output

contributes to delivering the brand promise to customers.
Review your company policies and programs to insure the
organization is operating in line with your brand’s promise.

The only way to create and sustain a great brand is to work from the inside out,
with everyone across the organization pulling together to reach a common goal and
make your brand promises real. Branding makes a difference in the success of your
business—inside and out!

Even when you are not in a position to out-spend or out-market your competitors,
you can still reap the benefits delivered by creating and sustaining internal focus,
clarity of purpose and alignment of goals.
Summary:  hen it comes to branding, you can’t spend too much time or
attention. Take the process seriously and involve key constituents
such as your employees, customers, and partners. Find a unique
niche that is based on your genuine strengths. Make sure that
your brand promise is compelling, differentiated and sustainable.
Make sure that all your outbound communications reflect your
branding statement. And finally, good brands will stand the test
of time, so resist the urge to change your branding unless it is
absolutely necessary.

For more information and tips on marketing your business,

visit www.fusionmarketingpartners.com

About the Author

Christopher Ryan is a noted expert in B2B marketing and author of the recently
released How to Create an Unstoppable Marketing and Sales Machine. Chris is founder
and President of Fusion Marketing Partners and was formerly a senior marketing
executive at companies including Stellent, Sybase, PeopleSoft, SpringCM
and Group 1 Software.

Copyright 2009/2010 © Christopher J. Ryan All Rights Reserved

Fusion Marketing Partners, LLC – 719-387-1711