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Creating Tech Brand Credibility, Part 2

Product marketing involves creating an identity or a brand image for your services that separates what you do from what's available from the competition. One of the best ways for doing this, as I described in the first part of this blog, is to offer information that is not available from rivals. Companies are hungry for information that could help separate them from the pack, and if this is available through your company, this distinction becomes part of your brand identity and a competitive weapon. (See: Creating Tech Brand Credibility, Part 1.)

As promised, in this concluding part of the series, I discuss strategies for executing the best content marketing program, and suggest steps information technology companies can use to reach potential customers better.

  • Strategy first, then tactics:
  • Create a communications objective so there's agreement about what you want to be known for versus your key competitors, and develop clear direction for whatever range of tactics may be employed.

  • Start small:
  • Creating a tactical calendar on your internal site or offline will help drive a what-by-when plan. Also, research topics and typical customer problems that you can address. If you want to engage with customers at trade events, develop a speaking opportunities calendar and book relevant engagements locally, nationally, or internationally. Also learn where contributed articles that reach your market are accepted.

    Discovering and developing a team of subject matter experts is key. Having several program participants allows you to more rapidly complete tactics and more quickly become a recognized information resource in your specific technology sector. Content development can run parallel to straightforward, demand-generating product publicity. The difference is to have a more strategic objective of creating an overall brand reputation that can help the organization stand out versus the competition.

Here are some strategies for creating and successfully distributing content:

  • Repurpose content. Turn successful written content like whitepapers or technical papers into speeches, contributed articles, or shorten them into blog posts.
  • Share your viewpoint on a pressing industry issue.
  • Share written or video customer testimonials.
  • Express your viewpoint and inject fresh thinking into the debate. Don't be afraid of being somewhat controversial.
  • Explain the pain point that customers experience, and discuss the range of possible solutions, including what your product can do, without being overly promotional.
  • Discuss tips, tricks, and insights for using your product that customers have shared about your products.
  • Publish case studies demonstrating your customers' successes. Share information about how you've helped customers achieve their goals.
  • Collaborate on content development with another brand in your space to attract more attention and further boost brand credibility. Examples: article co-authorship or joint Webinars.
  • Use video content by: interviewing your employees who are the most passionate about your projects; shooting “behind the scenes” about what goes into making your product or service; educating people so they can use your product/service more effectively, or show how to help them with a particular problem.

Remember you're in the media business now. “Publish or perish” is even truer for tech marketers than for college professors. Being at least as innovative in content development as your company is in creating great products will help you earn customer attention, loyalty, and help drive sales successes.

17 comments on “Creating Tech Brand Credibility, Part 2

  1. Houngbo_Hospice
    August 9, 2011

    Content development and publication has become very important for the success of a company in this web era as many customers rely on the web to look for reliable information about the company and its credentials. My question is: Should potential employees' publishing capability be ONE of the factors that could determine whether they will be hired or not? 

  2. Ford Kanzler
    August 9, 2011

    Hospice – Interesting question and I suggest dependent on the hiring manager's needs, the the employee's potential role, the marketing campaign approach and company culture to name a few factors. Certainly the ability to effectively communicate on behalf of the organization can be part of the hiring criteria. It defininately is in most sales and marketing positions. Not that only people in those areas need those skills. As to whether specifically writing for publication would be a value, is a bit more narrow and job-dependent. Would being a good writer who can produce valuable content be an advantage for someone in certain organizational roles? You bet! Could it tip the scales in your favor in a certain hiring scenario? Probably so. However, remember, employment engagement very often is quite a subjective situation, couched in rather superficially-rational prospective employee attributes. If there's a checkbox for “ability to write and publish” then you'll need it. Otherwise, it's likely just “nice to have” and may not win you the job by itself.

  3. bolaji ojo
    August 9, 2011

    Hi Ford, Many industry executives, especially those in engineering, make what seems to be a smooth transition from the design desk to the executive suit. However, do they also understand and are they well equipped to take on the additional task of being spokespersons for all their corporate activities and products?

  4. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 9, 2011

    Ford–great pointers. I would underline the co-marketing and co-authorship strategy as a good one for folks with too much to do (in other words, most of us.) The content development work gets balanced but both parties benefit from the result.

  5. Ford Kanzler
    August 9, 2011

    Bolaji – Thank you for the question. The many top management people I've met with engineering backgrounds run the full gamut from superb company spokespersons to completely withdrawn and unwilling to be the public face of the company. On average they exhibit moderate abilities and willingness. The ones that make great clients are those who understand the need for that role and take advice on how to become more effective. Typical errors are around providing too much information, rather than understanding that often “less is more” when speaking in public. Sometimes getting management to open up and publicly discuss trends and issues and take a stand on something of significance to the industry can be a challenge. A lot depends on whether they've received any management training along the way, their personalities and how long they've been in upper management. When I encounter someone who's less open to spokespersonship, I help them by creating small successes that build their comfort level and grow confidence before moving on to higher level opportunities. “Crawl, walk, run” is an effective approach. Preparation, pre-briefing before media interviews and mock interview coaching all work well to smooth the transition.

  6. Hawk
    August 9, 2011

    Ford, I appreciate the explanation and the suggestions. This is a follow-up to Bolaji's question, which I hope you'll be able and willing to tackle. Does it hurt when a company's management is unwilling to engage in the kind of activities you describe in your blog? I know one major company that has a culture of engaging minimally with the press. In fact, the CEO of the company has — to my knowledge — not had a single published interview with any member of the press. I first requested an interview with him in 1999 and it has not been granted. Yet the company continues to prosper. Does this mean there are numerous other ways of engaging with your publics and achieving the goals you outlined without meeting and chatting with journalists? There's, of course, the possibility that a company that refuses to tap all these outlets may be shortchanging itself.

  7. Ford Kanzler
    August 9, 2011

    Hawk – Companies can certainly prosper without top management involvement as spokespersons or even without an active PR program. I ask, how much MORE successful might they be if the value of an effective publicity campaign were brought to bear? How much faster could they have acquired important additional business? Such a company is leaving out a significant aspect of marketing by “running dark” as you describe.

    Yes. There are many other ways of engaging with the market aside from the CEO chatting with journalists or research analysts. Some of these include blogging, editorial contributions, white papers as well as the use of alternative management spokespersons (Managers, Directors, VPs, CFO, CTO, etc.) Progams can accomplish quite a bit without direct CEO involvement. I've often faced that challenge.

    If a company as a whole, “refuses to tap” ANY of these promotional or publicity possibilities, they're going to receive less awareness, credibility, resulting in lower percieved brand value. Perhaps “shortchanged” would be better stated as “under-marketed.” Worse yet, they also run the strong risk of having their competitors re-positioning their brand. If you don't speak for yourself, others, including and particularly your strongest competitors, quite likely will and you probably won't like the results!

    I get into this topic in greater depth in a few of the chapters of my forthcoming book, “Connecting the Mind and Voice of Business” which discusses the essential links between Marketing and Public Relations. More on this at: http://www.prsavvy.com/book.php – It's at the publisher now and hope having it within a month.

    Thanks so much for your questions.

  8. jbond
    August 10, 2011

    This was a great follow up to your previous article and shed light on many issues. I've noticed that many companies are taking advantage of social media also to communicate with the public. My husband’s company has used Youtube for a variety of things. They have videos explaining job openings and showing exactly what they are looking for while also giving a glimpse into what their job would be like. They have also produced videos following some employees in different areas of the company to give people a sense of what it's like to work for this company. I thought all of this was a great way to get some coverage with the media, especially for a large company looking to hire and expand business.

  9. Ford Kanzler
    August 10, 2011

    Thank you J – Some ideas on using video: Whether video is used in social media or on the company's site, its now within the reach of nearly any organization. Using moving images and sound can break through with fresh ways of telling your story such as demonstration or showing customers applying your products. What's important remembering in this medium, as with others, “less is more.” Give the audience their initial experience in small, susinct, informataive, even entertaining doses. If they want or need more, provide longer-form information in video or other formats. Doing a brain dump in video usually won't well. A 3-minute video is a very long initially. 30 seconds will often hold audience attention more effectively and forces the producer to immediately get to the point. The quality of the script makes all the difference

  10. Daniel
    August 11, 2011

    Ford, all companies wants to create their own space in industry.  For this, brand value matters very much, but how to create a brand value is very important. Nobody can create brand value within one or two days/months. First the product should be identical and unique from similar products. It has to maintain quality and the parent companies have to hold certain amount of credibility also. Otherwise it may be difficult to build a brand name. I think pricing and after sale service are also major factors.

  11. Ford Kanzler
    August 11, 2011

    Jacob – Agree that brand value cannot be created instantly or quickly. We're dealing with human nature here, so trust must be earned through experiences and word-of-mouth references. Howevr, there are cases where brands have substantially increased their percieved value in a relatively short period resulting increased credibility among customers, which is the subject of this column. That may be accomplished by fixing something that needed attetion or adding something new and of value to customers…which could include becoming a notably greater informational resource than competitors.

    Suggest products in the tech sector must fulfill precise requirements and be plug-compatible. If a differentiating product benefit can be included, that's a competitive advantage. Quality is essential to just being in business. Every brand must at least have parity in the quality area. That's required just to play the game. Howerver, at the end of the day, its not about the products as about brand perceptions. That's where the difference truly occurs, in the mind of the market. There are cases where products offering less held higher percieved value.

    If the product is from a corporate subsidiary brand, certainly the parent company's reputation (brand perception) plays into how that product is viewed. There's cascade effect which must align to result in positive brand value perceptions. Pricing and service are also determinants of perceptions. Brands with higher percieved value typically command higher selling prices, even when the products may be nearly identical. Service can be a brand differentiator but only if that brand's competitors allow it to become one. Any competitor can match or exceed another brand's level of service if they want to make that investment. While it's an important factor, service is usually not a sustainable brand differentiator.

  12. Tim Votapka
    August 11, 2011

    All good, logical and certainly pro-surivival points to keep in mind. I'd add one major tactic that should be the cornerstone in any branding strategy. SURVEY your audience. Don't assume your best creative minds will hit the right buttons with their concepts. They may be close, but when you're in an airliner at 30,000 feet, 5 degrees off course on the beginning of the trip will lead you way off course before you reach your destination.

  13. Ford Kanzler
    August 11, 2011

    Tvotapka – Good point! All strategically-effective campaigns begin and end with research, including audience and competitors. Assumptions about correct direction can put the program way off course from the start. Too often planning goes immediately to tactics, worse yet copying what competitors are doing, right down to the same language, including all the same buzzwords. In addition to not knowing your target market's values and perceptions, sounding like your competition is another great way of wasting marketing time and investment.

  14. Tim Votapka
    August 15, 2011

    Indeed! I was once involved in creating a positioning strategy for a medical equipment manufacturer here in the U.S. Their challenge: get the target audience to understand the fact that this company was a viable enough player in the diagnostic market to be considered. Their problem: too many different creative themes in a short period of time; none of which really hit the buttons that would make the targets notice. The solution: We suveyed a several decision makers in the market. Each of them said they'd pay attention to any supplier who could – with confidence – say they had a product that would truly save time and be standardized from one product to the next. Guess what the campaign pitched – It's About Time, Your Time and there was very little emphasis on the mechanics of the devices.

    The results were tremendous. The reps had an easier time getting conversations and the sales increased. Point being – just ask. People will tell you what they want. Don't think you know.

  15. Ford Kanzler
    August 15, 2011

    Yes. Avoidng assumptions or ancient company history (what was once true) are essential. The excellent example given below has likely often been repeated. Then what's important is to KEEP ON on asking. Staying close to customers and listening are two challenges often forgotten as companies grow and prosper. Up to a point, customers can certainly help a business decide where opportunities lie and how they must change.

     

  16. Tim Votapka
    August 15, 2011

    Good point to add there re; “keep asking.” We recommend that all the time – periodic surveying. You reinforce WHY you have the business and ensure your actions are in alignment with what's needed or wanted.

  17. Anand
    August 20, 2011

    Good point to add there re; “keep asking.” We recommend that all the time – periodic surveying.

    @Tvotapka,

      I agree with you periodic surveying is necessary infact social networking sites have made this task pretty easy. Companies take use of FB/twitter to get feedback from users which gives the company live feedback.

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