Your guide to how each of the communications tasks works
- Increase understanding
- Explain How Your Values Provide a Point of Difference
- Educate if Necessary at Product/Service, Brand, Category or Industry Level
- Inform Discussions to Influence What People Say or Do
- Encourage an Experience with the Brand
- Develop Disruptive Communications That Are Likely to Be Shared
- Create Brand Experiences for Differentiation
- Encourage Brand Advocacy
- Encourage Comparisons between Brands
- Magnify the Prevailing Attitude
- Develop an Understanding
- Grow Love
- Promote Attributes
- Communicate Value Proposition
- Encourage a Trial
- Encourage a Review
- Encourage a Recommendation
- Arouse Curiosity
- Create Awareness
- Develop Interest
- Start to Create Love
- Develop One or More Calls to Action
- Grow Communities
- Get People to Talk about You
Fairly soon you will realise that you are either making sales, or not making sales for particular reasons that relate to understanding your product, service or brand.
Some messages may have got through easily while others may take more time to get across.
For instance, you may find that people say you are too expensive when not understanding all you have to offer.
Alternatively, they may be purchasing on the basis of benefits you do not offer and then post negative reviews.
You will need to address these issues so as to foster a better understanding of specific product, service or brand attributes.
You may also have to perform this exercise on this basis of specific segments that you are targeting.
Some segments may take longer to understand what you are trying to communicate.
Use this process to review how you communicate your value proposition in terms of it being easy to understand.
Also consider how to use different media channels to get a specific point across if prospective customers are having difficulty understanding your communications.
For instance, do you need a video to get your point across or does it require a detailed written explanation in the case of an industrial product?
It is becoming increasingly common to have very little that is different from what your competitors offer.
This can be the case across products and services.
Some marketers have realised that consumers are also becoming increasingly cynical about their suppliers operating practices or their value chain.
For instance, are they sourcing their products from ethical sources?
Do they behave with integrity?
To this end talking about your values may provide a viable way to differentiate your offering.
It also assists in justifying why you do not discount on the basis of price.
If you should pursue this route you have to be aware that you must deliver on your promises regularly.
If the values you promised to deliver our not delivered expect a rapid negative experience in social media channels that you are likely to regret.
At times you may find that prospective and current customers are just not getting it.
They may not understand what you are trying to achieve and why your category or industry is even relevant to them.
This goes way beyond trying to offer a better understanding of a specific product or service attribute.
For instance, prospective customers may not understand why a different distribution channel arrangement such as switching from an intermediary to going direct when buying a financial services product may make more sense.
At such times it may be beneficial to have communications that will benefit your emergent category or industry as a whole.
You may sometimes also find that a product or service is used incorrectly and may potentially cause harm or prevent repeat purchases.
Under such circumstances educational communications are important.
It also assists in associating your value proposition with your pricing strategy.
Educational components to communications are also becoming increasingly important at a time of communications clutter.
This advice provides valuable and relevant ways of connecting with prospective customers in a manner that is nonthreatening and not sales orientated.
This helps to build top of mind awareness with your brand and may also assist in identifying prospective customers at an earlier stage in the customer journey.
If you have ever wanted to purchase a product or service and stumbled upon a discussion thread through your Google search, you will know what this is about.
In addition to informing and influencing others, this process helps to identify prospective customers at various points in the decision-making process.
In certain categories and industries decisions may involve some degree of complexity.
Issues may range around product attributes service delivery and pricing.
Your brand reputation may be at stake.
Just remember to behave ethically when informing online discussion groups and make a point of disclosing your interest.
Increasingly, marketers are monitoring online conversations that relate to their category, industry or brand and may contribute to these discussions in ethical ways that are often to their benefit.
Always try to think about where someone may be in the customer journey when it comes to purchasing if you are providing advice. Sometimes your advice should be specific and at other times it should be general.
Examples of this may range from simply explaining product or service attributes that are clearly not well understood to explaining points that may be of value when purchasing within the specific category or industry.
Having a library of useful links at your disposal will save you much time and energy if you are working across multiple discussion groups at any point in time.
Sometimes all the talking you do cannot replace a simple experience with the brand.
You should therefore find ways that are low-risk and practical for prospective customers to experience your brand.
This process helps to clarify what your offering is really like in ways that are believable to prospective customers.
It also helps prospective customers to self identify who they are and where they are in the decision-making process that is permission-based. This is one way to avoid being perceived as a spammer.
In certain industries such as the service industry you may find ways to create experiences on a low-cost, digital basis.
Alternatively you may create create the opportunity for relatively low-cost pilot projects to showcase what you can do.
Besides trialing, you are building experiences and relationships in this process.
In the case of products use this opportunity through a call to action to identify who you are dealing with, the prospective value to you and how you plan to extend the conversation beyond one experience with your brand.
Shared communications help to grow your reach so that you are able to get to more prospective customers and influencers.
However, a key part of having your communication shared is that the recommendation to consider the communication comes from someone in your network rather than the organisation that created the communication.
This makes people more likely to pay attention to the communication.
Disruption is key to understand why people share communications such as social media posts.
Remember that being disruptive may range across several points on the spectrum from being radically different, with a groundbreaking concept, to being slightly different, such as simply providing a form of amusement that is shareable.
The reason for distinguishing between the two is that groundbreaking concepts are hard to come by and implement.
Therefore you need to understand what level of disruption you will want to introduce and how often you will want to do it.
Do not be too scarce so you do not vanish from someone’s newsfeed!
Think about how you might tier your communications on the basis of level of disruption and the ease of creating this disruption.
Also consider how disruptive communications play a role in sheer ability and developing a brand Halo amongst people that may never be prospective customers.
This approach is common among luxury brands that want to create a level of desirability through being visible but unavailable to most consumers.
It is one thing to experience a brand and an entirely different thing to create a brand experience.
Experiencing a brand, as described previously is a tool used for product or service trial and relationship development.
Creating a brand experience is about understanding the various contact points that prospective and current customers will go through whether it be from a communications or product/service experience perspective.
Brand experiences when managed properly are a massive opportunity for brand differentiation.
This is especially the case in many categories and industries where commoditisation has resulted in it being remarkably difficult to offer something different from competitors.
Under such circumstances brand experiences help you offer something that is unique.
Brand experiences offer the opportunity for tailoring of the product and service experience in a manner that is unique to current and prospective customers.
This is important to understand as brand experiences are not just about getting new customers.
It could be argued that brand experiences potentially even more important to retaining your existing customers.
Do not ignore the benefits of technology automation when developing brand experiences.
A key element of this is understanding how unique communications tailored on a one-to-one basis, and based on a current or prospective customers unique circumstances provide the opportunity to make them feel special.
If you’ve ever had a friend or colleague keeps going on about why you absolutely have to buy a specific brand, you have probably seen brand advocacy in action.
The idea behind encouraging brand advocacy is to try to formalize the process of getting those people who are deeply enthusiastic about your brand to talk about it regularly.
Not all brand advocates are created equal though. Positive word-of-mouth from people who are rabid supporters of your brand is often welcome.
Research has indicated that if someone is to be playing an influencing role on others, they will be more effective if they are recognized by other people as having a strong degree of expertise in the category or industry where the brand operates.
Therefore, using a celebrity as a brand advocate is not necessarily the best idea in all cases.
Encouraging brand advocacy is an interesting process as brand advocates are not necessarily always easy to identify.
It is therefore worth having processes in place to identify them (for instance in online discussion groups).
Remember not to be forceful when trying to develop brand advocates as some people will justifiably not want to be dictated to.
Try to think about how you might encourage brand advocacy along a continuum of approaches with some approaches are direct whilst many of the others will be far more subtle.
An example of a more subtle approach to developing brand advocacy may, for instance, involve developing a list of brand advocates who may get advance previews of your new product and services.
Certain categories and industries sometimes have brands with strong equity that make life very difficult for new entrants and existing competitors.
These customers may display very strong levels of loyalty that are sometimes based on emotional reasons and in other cases may be based on practical reasons.
It therefore becomes necessary to find ways to get past this situation.
As a starting point, you need to recognise that some of their customers will never leave no matter what you do.
You therefore need to identify approaches that may work on the rest of the market that is not supporting the brand.
Three approaches to achieving this could include developing your own brand equity, competing on price or changing the game by introducing different ways of comparing brands.
Developing your own brand equity or competing on price are self-explanatory and won’t be discussed further. However, changing the game and then encouraging brand comparison is a viable approach.
How is this done? Identify aspects of the brand experience and determine where there are gaps to do things differently such as distribution, service levels, guarantees, financing deals, etc.
Then focus a part of your communications exploiting weaknesses in strong competitors approaches to gain a foothold.
Monitor online discussion groups, use product/service trials, develop white papers and use other calls to action to identify where and who to influence to change evaluation criteria.
Equally importantly find opportunities to simply get existing and new prospects to compare brands on a rational rather than an emotional basis.
If you find that the prevailing sentiment favours your product, service or brand, you will want to amplify it.
How do you go about doing this?
As a starting point think about the communications channels you use as being either Paid, Owned or Earned.
Then think about how each one could be used, using its own inherent strengths, to magnify the prevailing sentiment.
What is the difference between them?
Paid – these channels you pay to use, such as Google PPC.
Owned – these are channels where you can post your desired communication such as email or your website and do not pay in proportion to the volume of your messaging.
Earned – these are channels where you a positive sentiment towards your product, service or brand such as a Facebook -like or share.
Owned channels are the easiest to use to spread the word.
If you have good reviews or if you have had some major news that current and prospective customers would value knowing, then talk about it since you have control over the communication in the channel and can do this at relatively low cost if not for free.
This can be picked up and magnified once again on owned channels where your followers can spread the word on your behalf.
Do not ignore the potential of using paid channels to magnify a positive prevailing sentiment.
One particular strategy that has been used is to pay to communicate news that is positive in the hope that this news will be shared by your followers.
What are the attributes you wish to communicate about your product, service or brand?
Once you know what these are, and how they are unique, it becomes necessary to have a sense of where gaps exist in terms of what your target market understands about your offering versus reality.
The objective behind developing an understanding is to fill in those gaps.
Attributes pertaining to your product, service or brand may sometimes be complex to explain.
Under such circumstances it may be worth considering which type of creative execution and media channel would be best for the job.
For instance do you require a video for a product demonstration so that people can see what you’re talking about?
When you’re dealing with more complex, abstract concepts, copy intensive communications may do the job best. A White Paper or email communications may be the way to go. It is often not appreciated that doing this is strongly linked to a pricing strategy that does not rely on discounting. Put simply, if you don’t wish to discount, help your prospects and customers understand why they are receiving true value relative to what they are paying you.
This is especially relevant for complex, costly decisions whether they be B2B or B2C purchases. Remember that it is key to develop an understanding of what you are offering. If this does not take place you will have a challenge in justifying the prices you charge should prospective customers not understand your value proposition.
Remember that this process can take time. Also remember to use the best media channel for the job at hand so that your communication isn’t hamstrung by your media channel, and vice versa.
You may have started to grow love for your particular brand or offering.
Remember though that the job is never complete.
You need to be thinking about how to improve your processes whilst growing brand advocacy and related positive word-of-mouth towards your offerings.
Try to understand what makes your current and prospective customers emotional about you in a positive way.
Then try to reinforce that.
It may seem like hard work but remember that it is something that is quite difficult for your competitors to replicate.
When growing love for your brand think about how intangibles will affect that perception.
For instance, how do you tailor the service experience around your product offering so that people love it and talk about it positively?
A good way to think about this process is to develop a brand experience map in addition to the traditional brand building tools emphasizing brand love.
Also don’t forget to consider how commonly available cloud-based tools can automate the customisation process of one-to-one communications that help you treat customers as individuals.
Promoting attributes is the key to explaining why you are better and different to your competitors.
This helps to explain your value proposition and justify your pricing.
Promoting attributes need not be a boring or expensive exercise when you realize that you can use different media channels to promote different attributes.
Don’t fall into the trap of trying to promote all of your product, service or brand attributes simultaneously.
Remember that promoting attributes is not just an exercise for attracting new customers.
Research shows that your existing customers also tend to consume your communications as a justification for why they continue to do business with you.
Don’t forget that online discussion groups can also be an area where attributes are discussed and compared.
Identifying prospective customers on the basis of their product knowledge and funneling them to the appropriate location based on the stage in the decision-making process also presents an opportunity.
Communicating your value proposition effectively creates a foundation for two key buying decisions.
The first relates to whether you are perceived to provide sufficient value to make a purchase viable.
The second relates to the price at which a purchase is regarded as being fair value.
The concept behind a value proposition is a basic one. Yet it is often implemented poorly.
Poor, excessively wordy communications can often be a sign of not understanding what your value proposition is.
Understand how to communicate your value proposition succinctly.
Then understand how your value proposition may vary across customer segments so that expectations being created can be adequately met.
Also consider how customer defections are affected by value proposition is being misunderstood, even after people sign up as your customer.
A product or service trial provides at least two key opportunities.
The first relates to allowing a prospective customer to experience your offering in ways that no communication could ever do.
The second relates to identifying prospective customers and managing ongoing communications with them before and during the decision-making process.
Product trials help prospective customers to manage their perceived fears relating to product nonperformance.
They also help customers to better assess whether the product will in fact meet their needs adequately.
Some product trials are developed in a way whereby prospective customers spend their time customising that product to meet their needs.
Service trials are more difficult to implement but can take place.
Examples include pilot projects and limited online services that help to display expertise.
If a sale is not immediately made, a relationship may have been developed that will make it easier for you to have a dialogue with that prospective customer in the future.
Even though a product or service trial may be the basis for a future sale, never ignore the fact that this provides a valuable opportunity to create an experience with your brand that people will share with others.
This can create exit barriers when considering the attractiveness of alternative offerings.
A review can be a tremendously powerful form of unpaid communications that are credible.
It can also give you a timely sense of what is going wrong in your business in a manner that traditional market research methods may not do successfully.
A series of reviews from more than one reviewer helps prospective customers establish your performance over a period of time.
This assists in showing that you perform consistently on an ongoing basis and can be relied upon.
Do not ignore the opportunity to get reviews, especially at a time when customers are particularly happy with your delivery and wish to talk about it.
This is key to managing the identification and development of brand advocates.
Should you receive a negative review, use this as an opportunity to do two things:
-Fix the problem, so that the stain does not impact on your perceived credibility.
– Use the opportunity provided for fixing the problem as a showcase to demonstrate that you are eager to help customers should any unfortunate situation arise. This helps to build some degree of trust.
Getting recommendations is an incredibly powerful tool to build your product, service or brand credibility.
The process takes time so do not leave it until you desperately need recommendations to grow sales.
Rather develop established processes that keep this activity going in the background so that it can be automated as much as possible.
Also try to ensure that you look for trends regarding who recommends you. Sometimes you may find that a particular segment of the overall market has developed a very strong affinity for your offering. If this is the case think about how this may affect your future targeting approach.
It helps to make people curious if they are to pay any attention to your communications.
Curiosity can be aroused by discussing how you can add value to businesses and individuals in ways that are different and relevant.
Typically, it will use empathy to solve a problem based on a need.
Alternatively, it may introduce new information, or a way of thinking, to develop a want.
Curiosity is often developed by good imagery in a communication.
A picture can express what words cannot in a limited creative space.
You can’t expect someone to be your customer if they do not know about you.
Therefore creating awareness of your brand, product or service is essential.
This facilitates the early stages of a sufficiently large pool of prospective customers who you can talk to for purposes of a sale, a consideration of your offer or a referral.
Even though awareness building is only the start of the sales process, studies show a strong correlation between awareness and sales.
You should have some idea as to whether your target market buys your product or services regularly, or on a very occasional basis. Knowing this will shape the frequency and nature of your communications when building awareness. This is because you sometimes may not know when someone is in the market to make a purchase from your category, but still need to balance awareness building with a limited communications budget.
Receptiveness to a communication can depend on whether the person you’re communicating with is in the market for what you are offering. Typically, people are more likely to pay attention to a communication when they have a need for your product or service.
Search based media strategies help you to be found by consumers when they need to buy from your category. Search engines help to address this issue. This partially helps manage the issue of being able to afford awareness building on an ongoing basis for new category buyers or potential brand switchers.
There will however be circumstances when it pays you to have ongoing communications with prospective customers so that your brand will be top-of-mind when they do decide to buy something in your category. This is where lead nurturing communications come into the picture.
Understanding how to use paid media (such as Google Pay-Per-Click ads, or Facebook ads) versus unpaid media (such as Google SEO or Facebook posts) will affect how successfully you achieve awareness and translate this into a communication that is regarded as being credible.
An interesting communication does not necessarily mean that it needs to have shock value, or be of a sensational nature.
Linking your value proposition to needs and wants helps make you relevant and therefore possibly more interesting.
Interest can also be created by being different to your competitors offerings.
A strategy of differentiation can be extremely powerful when creating interesting and memorable communications.
In certain categories interest can be served simply by communicating functional benefits, such as product features.
It often tends to help if you can relate to benefits rather than features to create and maintain interest.
Understanding whether your value proposition relates to functional benefits or emotional benefits is important.
Emotional benefits tend to be more difficult to copy and helps you develop interest in a manner that is difficult for your competitors to replicate.
If your products and services are very similar in nature to those of your competitors you face the risk of competing on price.
To avoid this, a brand that is loved helps to attract new customers, and retain existing customers without having to resort to discounting.
Building brand love is often not a quick process. Therefore you need to start somewhere to have a foundation to build on in the future.
Once done successfully is difficult for your competitors to imitate.
Typically, brand love is developed on an emotional platform rather than having a product or service that is better.
To this end attributes of your brand that assist with this process need to be identified, developed and communicated.
Social media can play a huge role in developing brand love.
This is due to the ability to have repeated communications around particular attributes at low or no cost.
Good brand imagery can also play an invaluable role here.
A call to action or CTA can play a variety of roles in developing your brand and business.
Marketers often only see a sale as an indicator of success. This however neglects the fact that potential customers may not be ready to buy from your category, or have not yet decided on which to brand to buy.
A call to action may be an attempt to create a sale or simply to identify a person for future communications.
It pays to identify those people who have shown some sort of interest in your category or brand as they may either be prospective customers or influencers that will play a role in your future success.
Identifying these people helps us to communicate with them directly and on an ongoing basis.
Therefore the structure and role of a call to action needs to be carefully considered.
A call to action can take the form of a direct response communication, such as a Google PPC approach that attempts to create a sale once a person clicks on the ad.
It can however also take a less obvious form such as asking a person to provide an email address to receive future communications relating to the brand.
Social media provides many opportunities for calls to action as well.
For instance, liking and sharing helps along with the influencer process.
It also assists to create a database of followers that has a permission basis.
Communities can play a variety of roles. Whilst reaching physical communities through traditional marketing routes is understood, the growth of digital communications helps grow brand reach dramatically.
Online communities can be places where one-on-one communications can take place. This provides the opportunity to influence through dialogue before or during the decision-making process.
Online communities also assist in managing multiple sub segments of the market that may be difficult to reach or to address individually through traditional paid media channels.
Online communities can be used strategically to manage how the influencing process operates if you are in the position of creating that online community from the start.
Getting people to talk about you obviously assist with the awareness building process.
Usually, it will take a positive form. However there are circumstances where negative conversations will take place and need to be understood and managed appropriately.
Besides being an awareness development tool, getting people to talk about your brand tends to assist from a credibility perspective if it comes from those who are respected influencers in that particular category.
This is one of the benefits of using word-of-mouth as unpaid communications can help grow your credibility and your budget.
In addition to building awareness, beliefs and attitudes can also be affected through word-of-mouth.
Reviews and verbal recommendations need to be carefully observed and promoted where necessary.
The relevance of word-of-mouth communications is that they can spread very quickly.
Hence under ideal circumstances brands can be positively affected by this practice.
Understanding how brand advocates are identified and nurtured is key.