Welcome to 2009. We brought in the New Year watching the explosion of the fireworks reflect off the snow of Pike’s Peak. They were beautiful but didn’t last that long; maybe the people who had to summit the 14,000 foot peak in December were just super cold. Someone told me they had cut back due to the economy.
The “economy” (i.e. “the ‘bad’ economy”) is a useful reason for just about anything these days. And, who knows exactly how it will affect us this year. Will it be the downer everyone says it is? When times are tight or even predicted to be tight, it’s tempting to entrench and cut back on new projects and activities that don’t yield an obvious and immediate return. Brand research and marketing is a great example. Recently, however, I’ve had several conversations with business professionals that clarified the relationship between sales and brand marketing.
The conversations started when I was approached by professionals whose job it was to sell something. They were accountable to someone else for their results and had made great efforts but were finding that the efforts weren’t paying off as they’d hoped. We had our conversation before they had to go back to their higher-ups and explain why hard work wasn’t working.
Was the problem the sales approach? The marketing materials? Maybe they weren’t “flashy” or “fresh” or colorful enough? Was the product sub-standard? Nope, not at all; as it turned out, they’d accepted the challenge of trying to sell something from a company no one had heard of. As a result, they were finding it hard to get in the door. I saw the same thing emerge in higher educational marketing research. When asked which of the 40-50 informative and colorful college brochures, college freshman open and read, they said they only opened the ones from schools they’d already heard of. “Fresh” falls flat if it’s thrown away before it’s opened.
Just think of how you react when you’re approached by a vendor from a company you’ve never heard of? Are you delighted to receive their call? Do you make the time? Sit down and read their brochures cover to cover? I don’t. If I respond at all, it’s with a cagey wariness that’s difficult to penetrate. That new company might be the greatest and “best kept secret” in the world, but they and their fabulous solutions to my problems aren’t getting through simply because I’ve never heard of them. On the other hand, I routinely buy (or take) crap from organizations I’ve heard of because they’re familiar. It’s the old case of the “known evil over the unknown good.”
This is where the relationship between brand marketing and sales comes in. Well, actually brand marketing should come in long before sales. The progression should look like this:
Your first task is brand awareness. The primary goals for the brand awareness stage are these: Do they know your name? Do they readily associate your name with attributes they value? At the brand awareness stage, you’re not asking potential customers for the sale, you’re just laying the “have I heard of you” groundwork.
The second stage of brand credibility is when you begin layering the brand attributes they value with what we in the biz would call “proof points.” Prove to them that you are worth listening to by giving them evidence of your claims. And, remember, showing them is better than telling them.
Finally, after the groundwork has been laid (and the ground-prep stages can take WAY longer than you think it should), you’ll have a good shot of getting a reaction when you approach your different customer segments and ask them for a decision.
That’s a very simplified version of the process. It’s not magic, but it does take a good knowledge of your target customer bases, time, focus, and a plan.
Happy New Year. Just because we might be in an economically fallow season doesn’t mean solid, substantive work can’t happen underground. If this year is to be a bit of an economic downer, it’s the right time to backtrack if you need to and start building the brand so that when the economy picks up, you’re known and trusted.
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
Seasoned Marketing Strategist