How should your brand support your sales team?

By Mark Di Somma

How should your brand support your sales team

While there has been plenty of discussion around how marketing and sales teams should play well together, the onus on brand owners to proactively support people in the field seems to have attracted less attention. Customers, of course, make no distinctions between which parts of the organisation they are dealing with at any one time. In that sense, brand is sales: a brand is only as good as its ability to attract, convert and retain fickle buyers.

So, could brand managers be doing more to help sales and frontline teams? Here are four ways that these historically distinct teams can get more done together.

Build a brand that people want to meet. Salespeople are going to struggle to get appointments if they represent a brand no-one wants to know. Likeability is absolutely a brand responsibility. By creating a brand that is insightful, honed, intriguing and trusted, brand teams can directly help open the door for sales. The more inclined buyers are to want to know more, the more likely they are, obviously, to take a call or a meeting, ask for a demo or search a site. The real power of perception lies in what it enables, and brand owners should be judging their effectiveness on that basis. The responsibility for brand people couldn’t be more clear-cut: build an interesting brand that is a pleasure to sell and represent.

Create environments where people come to you. So often, marketers expect sales teams to be the bridgers and closers. They expect them to take what has been prepared out into the world and to bring back new business. That’s a very one-sided view of marketing – because, in reality, brand owners should be intimately involved in the development of communications campaigns and branded environments, online and off-, that invite customers in and make them feel welcome. The role of sales is to drive and close decisions in favour of the brand. The role of brand is to help those decisions feel valuable.

Weave the brand through everything you do. The brand and what it represents should be the benchmark for all customer-facing behaviour, and sales teams are no exception to this. But if the things they are rewarded for are off-skew with the brand’s values and priorities, then brand and sales will continually be at odds. For that reason, be very careful that what you encourage, recognise and incentivise in your sales team is in keeping with who you say you are and what you say you prioritise. Compassionate brands don’t reward greed. Exciting brands don’t accept complacency. Innovative brands want more on their frontline than order takers. Too many companies have sales cultures, marketing cultures and corporate cultures that are conflicted. Each carries an impression of what the brand is and what the brand encourages into their work and out into the world. As a result, brand encounters can be confusing, even contradictory, for buyers making decisions across different channels. No brand should be confusing. It dissipates meaning and energy. Getting everyone to understand the brand and to apply it specifically to what is required of them takes investment, time and clarity. Money well spent.

Make the whole of the frontline the heroes. The sales teams are not servants of the brand, or the marketing team for that matter. So often brands see their frontline people in functional terms, rather than empowering them to be, and positioning them as, the implementers, the solution finders, the people who actually vitalise the brand. In not positioning their frontline teams – from sales to contact centres to technical support – as brand heroes, they open gaps between what the brand promises and what it can deliver and miss significant opportunities to test the alignment and effectiveness of theory and practice.

John Levasseur talks about the need for brands to be both orchestrated and organic: organised; and flexible. Frontline teams, he says, have a critical role to play in keeping brands real and connected with the true market. “When marketers spend time listening to customers or are out on the floor with sales staff, they always walk away with “aha” moments that connect the brand research and data with their experience with customers.” These experiences, he says, help connect the orchestrated brand that marketers oversee and curate with the organic brand that front-line teams work with.

Three thoughts to close:
1. Structures are less important than results – ultimately there is no frontline and back-office in a business. Brands live or die on their abilities to engage, interact and sell.
2. Your brand is only as good as what you deliver – if your frontline teams, including your sales teams, are selling without a clear understanding of why they should be proud, you have effectively reduced motivation and consistency to serendipity.
3. Insights close gaps – unless strategists and deliverers are in alignment and have feedback and insight mechanisms that enable continuous improvement, there is always the risk that the brand on paper and the brand in reality will be at odds.

Photo of “The Help”, taken by Marina del Castell, sourced from Flickr

Building the most likeable brand structure

By Mark Di Somma

Building the most likeable brand structure

Whilst much has been written about when you should revisit your brand architecture and the things you should consider in doing so, often the conversations around how to structure brands seem to centre on hierarchical concerns. “What do we have?” “How do we need to group it?” “How many levels?” “Is it consistent?”

They’re great questions. There is certainly a case for seeing brand architectures in functional and logical terms. I contend though that a brand’s architecture really exists to make sense for customers, not the brand owner. And that sense is not just rational. Here’s a nice observation: “your brand architecture should uncover the specific emotions around which you might build your brand.” In other words, your brand should be collected and organised in ways that appeal to your buyers’ emotive needs and how they want to feel about you. So what are you doing, as you remodel how your brands co-exist, to ensure that the structure is working to maximise relationships?

Here are three things to consider:

Who do customers want to interact with? As I said earlier, brand owners often arrange their brands in ways that work for them and that suit their organisational resourcing. If they think about what the consumer wants at all, they do so in the context of what the brand itself feels comfortable delivering or who it feels comfortable being.

Different brand structures put the emphasis of the relationship in very different places for consumers. A power brand, for example, pivots its appeal around a star and all the heritage, reassurance, familiarity, one point of call and/or kudos that such a single point of light delivers. A house of brands is made up of many brands but, ironically, is often just as singular in its approach to relationships – with consumers dealing with a brand in that house for a reason. Endorsement brands bring quality and standing to a brand for which consumers can need that level of reassurance.

In each case, brand managers must think through very carefully why they are choosing to position each brand as they do and how that will positively and competitively influence the perceptions of buyers. Not every brand can be the brightest star in its sector galaxy. Sometimes consumers want to work with a brand that feels very specific and/or a little less exhibitionist. In placing a brand in an architecture, does it make it as appealing as possible?

Is this as convenient as it should be? Brand architecture is often discussed in the context of access to market. By structuring their brand portfolios in different ways, brand owners can pursue distribution systems that mirror their architectures. Power brands, for example, can be offered within proprietary digital and physical environments; a house of brands enables brands to be offered in many different places at different price points, maximizing reach and perceived options.

But if a brand structure is to really work to its potential, then brand owners need to approach their architecture from the point of view of access for market – and that access may be different depending on where that market is and how consumers feel comfortable shopping. I’m not convinced that the one-system-fits-all approach of organising brand architectures globally is always right. Instead, brand owners may want to organise their brands around the habits of shoppers rather than vice versa – meaning they may want to present brands in ways that align with specific habits and cultural mores in some markets and in different ways in others.

The key consideration here is whether the brands have been structured and distributed in ways that those buying feel most comfortable with. In a digital environment, for example, consumers may not want to have to choose between lots of different brands in one place – preferring to have a focused platform with a single offer. Or they may want to see the brand in a context like Amazon. Or even a combination of the two. As distribution systems diversify and become more flexible and mobile, brands will need to be much more open-minded about how their offerings are structured.

What’s the strongest context? Different brand structures place individual brands in different contexts – from hero all the way through to contributor. Often brand owners structure their architectures simply to accommodate all their offerings but overlook the potential for value gain/loss in having the brands together in that structure.

I suggest you give careful consideration to this. What is the cumulative effect of structuring those brands in that way, and why is that an effective strategy in the light of what competitors are doing and consumers are demanding? Is your structure the clearest and strongest explanation overall that you can give of your presence in the market? Is that arrangement how you will achieve the greatest levels of likeability for all the brands?

Photo of “Scaffolding supports”, taken by Chris RubberDragon, sourced from Flickr

6 sure signs of a truly trusted brand

By Mark Di Somma

6 sure signs of a truly trusted brand

It’s the thing that every brand craves – to be an unquestioned part of its customers’ lives. But how do you know you’ve become a truly trusted brand? Here are six ways to evaluate whether your brand is winning over today’s highly aware and cynical consumers:

You’re believed: Obvious, right? Absolutely – but rare. Consumers continue to look sideways at most of the stuff that is marketed to them. By contrast, trusted brands are seen as genuine, sincere, “one of us”. As a result, they effectively act as an ally in someone’s life and the part they play is not questioned – or at least it hasn’t been until recently. According to Prof. Steven Van Belleghem, “top brands are no longer able to retain their status as market leaders for such long periods … consumers are prepared to commit to up to five brands as long as they believe the brand adds value to their lives or society in general … a certain brand paradox exists in the world today where people will wholeheartedly buy into specific brands, while putting less trust in brands in general at the same time.”

The half-life of brand trust is in decline overall. The brands that have consumers’ trust need to fight harder than ever to keep it.

You’re included: Trusted brands are supported as much for what they stand for as what they sell. Whilst I have consistently questioned the commercial conversion of Likes for brands, it is interesting to look at why people follow brands on Facebook in the first place: According to MediaPost, “Fans choose to Like brands in key consumer categories predominantly to fulfill emotional, expression and relationship desires … the single biggest reason (49%) brand Fans in our study report becoming a Fan is “to support the brand I like … Other key reasons for becoming a Fan of a brand include: “to share my personal good experiences” (31%); “to share my interests / lifestyle with others” (27%); and “seeing my friends are already a Fan or Liked” (20%)”

People trust brands that feel most like them. The “us=them” relationship adds to the perceptions of empathy, like-mindedness and shared beliefs and ideals.

You’re pursued: When you have customers beating down the door to know what you’re going to release next, as a brand like Jordan does, then you know your brand is absolutely trusted for its taste and currency. What you offer has become far more to people than something they buy. It has become something that they are proud to own.

People trust and seek out a perspective that excites them – aesthetic or philosophical.

You’re forgiven: With today’s long and complicated supply lines, brands are susceptible to scandals around contamination, lax standards or traceability. From fashion houses not looking after the welfare of workers to accusations of horse meat in food products, the days of getting away with it can largely be seen as over. Faced with a crisis of confidence, trusted brands retain the loyalty of consumers when they act swiftly, decisively and sincerely to address not just the reality but also the perception of the mistake. Back in 1990, when several bottles of Perrier were discovered to have traces of a carcinogenic, the company made a voluntary global recall. That response, and Perrier’s good name, reassured consumers that they could continue to rely on the water brand to do the right thing.

People are more inclined to trust brands that are disarmingly open.

You’re valued: My own theory is that price becomes a talking point for brands that aren’t fully trusted. If your brand is no longer accepted as delivering exceptional value, then consumers will in time relegate it to commodity status and value it accordingly. The sign that you are truly trusted in my view is when price is not a key part of the conversation.

People are more inclined to pay the asking price for brands they don’t have to ask about.

You’re copied: This may seem a strange inclusion – but it’s a sign that your brand is seen as go-to and/or that your ideas are highly attractive when your competitors seek to emulate what you are doing. If your brand is beset by imitators take it as a sign that they, and others, clearly trust your judgment. The advantage you have, and the most powerful counter-strategy you can draw on, is that they can’t read your mind. Samsung has gained huge market share in the smartphone market, but, in a strange way, their doing so has also reinforced Apple’s desirability and pre-eminence in the category and that’s clear in the resurgence of sales following the release of the iPhone 6.

People trust leaders.

If your brand enjoys high-trust status with customers, congratulations. But, as Van Belleghem reminds us, there is no opportunity here to rest on your laurels. With that in mind, 9 questions to keep asking to stay truly trusted:

  1. What are your retention rates showing? Are your earnings-per-customer rising or falling?
  2. What’s the tone of the media coverage you get? Admiring or concerned?
  3. What’s the mood in social media? How do your customers and others talk about you?
  4. What’s the take-up on your new product releases? Unquestioning or reluctant?
  5. How often do people cite you as a positive example to others? How often do they compare you, in good ways, to your competitors?
  6. What are the review sites saying about you?
  7. How well and how quickly did you recover from your last crisis?
  8. Are you getting the price you want for what you do?
  9. What do others see in you that they try to copy? How are you continuing to capitalise on that advantage to reassure your customers?

Photo of “consumer confidence” taken by Chris and Karen Highland, sourced from Flickr

Rethinking brand reach in a watching world

By Mark Di Somma

Rethinking brand reach
We need to move on. That’s my take-out from a piece by Tara Walpert Levy – spotted and brought to my attention by the ever-observant Jeremy Dean. We need to move on from a mind-set based on reach and drop-off, and replace it with one centred on engagement and accumulation. “Historically, our media plans have focused more on exposure and broadcasting than engagement and response …,” writes Levy. “We focused on reaching as large an audience as we could and hoped or planned that of that 100%, we would eventually whittle down to the, call it 5%, of people who actually cared and mattered for our brand. We focused on reach because our ability to measure engagement … was lousy.”

Not any more. Instead of opening the jaws of the sales funnel as far as they will go, Levy calls for an engagement pyramid that flips the funnel on its head. Start with what has always been seen as the end of the filter – the 5% who will be most interested – she says, engage them, get them talking and let the growth begin. Her thinking directly echoes that of Joseph Jaffe whose book of that name some years back first drew my attention to the need to pay attention to the “right” end of the funnel and use commitment as the multiplier.

The thing all brands with a social presence need to be paying attention to, Levy says, are the dynamics of Gen C (the content generation). For this tribe, content is the basis of conversation. It’s the prompt everyone in this generation is looking for in order to have something to share. Gen C are using social networks and content platforms to define their sense of self. They are what they see, what they make and what they distribute. Here’s a great insight: “When they share a video or an image, they’re not just sharing the object, they’re sharing the emotional response it creates.”

And they don’t just define their lives this way, they record them as well. This is the selfie generation. One in four upload a video every week and nearly half upload a photo every week. The way I see it that makes almost every Gen C participant a potential media company because so many people are now documentary makers. They are documenting their lives in words, pics, tweets, opinions and shares.

So the future for technology brands, at least in a content world, seems to lie very much in helping that happen or in being a product placement in everyone’s own movie. The future lies in catering to the Gen C question, “What can I tell the world now?”

Levy cites GoPro as a classic example of a brand that has drawn directly on Gen C’s proclivity for content. At first glance, the success of the little sports camera is an enigma. In a world where phones are ubiquitous and Flip failed, how did GoPro go public? The answer, according to this article in Wired, is that GoPro didn’t try to sell technology. Rather, they sold the memories and emotions that GoPro literally captured, and they have flourished because the thrill of capturing those memories talks to everything that Gen-C is about. “GoPro has sold consumers not on the camera, itself, but on something the smartphone can’t easily replace: the experience of using the camera.”

Once captured, of course, experiences must be shared – content – and through sharing, the brand’s reputation has literally been spread. In 2013 alone, according to Wired, GoPro customers uploaded 2.8-years worth of video featuring GoPro in the title and in the first quarter of 2014, people watched over 50 million hours of videos with GoPro somewhere in the title, filename, tag, or description.

My take-out. Scaling is no longer just about expansion, in the sense of adding more and being in more places to reach more people. Scaling, at least for lifestyle brands, is about acquiring a greater and greater sense of identity. But not the identity that brands talk about and know how to do. Rather the identity that consumers have – the sense of self that they gain in seeing progress and achievement for themselves and that they are then motivated to share. GoPro works not so much because of what it does but because of how well it enables people to put more of themselves in the world. They enhance their footprint through the brand; the brand doesn’t enhance its footprint through them. Jawbone Up’s done something similar. Redefined how people document the lives they have and want, using their screens and social media buttons as the playback and sharing mechanisms.

Roll camera. Life … Flipping the funnel is about building brands through granularity, not reach. Start with personal experiences as the critical beach-head. Build small communities. Encourage each of them to grow. Look for ways to knit them together. Rinse and repeat.

Photo of “GoPro Hawaii”, taken by Steven Worster, sourced from Flickr


Brands and the power of joy

By Mark Di Somma

Brands and the power of joyFrom a marketer’s point of view, numbers don’t drive recessions. They may start them. They may justify them. But they don’t actually make them happen. What drives recession in a consumer economy is very much the same thing that drives boom: emotion. When enough people believe in it, it will happen – and that’s because there will be enough people acting in a recessive way for the mindset to become embedded, and for the behaviours to seem logical, sensible, responsible, unavoidable.

Commoditisation works in much the same way. As something becomes more commonplace, as the standards rise and the costs of production fall, the expectations that all the products are the same also increases and people become more motivated to look for the cheapest option. It makes sense. It’s the obvious thing to do.

As consumers, the less we enjoy something, the less it surprises us or motivates us, the less that it elates us, the less we are happy to pay. The more people who feel less, the greater the loss of value (because then the effect shifts from being individually-sensed to being collectively endorsed)

We can monitor that fall-off in value now to a high degree of granularity. Data and algorithms drive so much of how brands do business today. Businesses take comfort in that because it delivers patterns and predictability. But it also brings with it a shift in emphasis. More and more brands find themselves focusing on what the numbers are doing. And that’s a dangerous reference point for a marketer – because the focus moves away from the human drivers of why people buy (and what generates value) towards the non-human drivers of what is being bought (and what most companies value themselves). In time, customers become an expression of the numbers, not the other way round.

That atmosphere can soon foster critical assumptions. One is that the emphasis must be on driving down cost in order to bolster the balance sheet and feed the numbers. That’s not a bad thing. But then, in response to calls for even greater returns and greater efficiencies, the numbers people can look to drive every ounce of delight out of the brand experience (because it can’t be quantified). They justify doing so as cutting costs, acting responsibly, doing the right thing, sweating the assets. At the same time, they’ll often look to drop prices in an effort to appear more attractive, be more “competitive”, boost the top line and the volume data. From a brand standpoint, such decisions go to a bad place: more companies peddling more vigorously in greater misery for lower returns and less loyal customers.

Marketers need to be able to advocate and quantify the effect of joy. And I suspect that the way to be doing that is to keep asking “What do we need to be introducing into our product range for our prices to stay stable or even increase?” The resurgence of Lego is a classic example of what can happen when a company focuses on the ‘emotional profit’ of its customers.

Ironically, cost cutting wasn’t the problem at Lego – in fact, quite the opposite – but the effect had been equally telling. Lego had basically let the designers run wild, according to this article in Businessweek, and the brand had stopped resonating with its constituency – in a market where buyers are beseiged with options.

Designers had indulged their creative streaks with increasingly complex models that required more and more new components. By 2004 the number of components had exploded, climbing from about 7,000 to 12,400, and supply costs had done the same. And while adults and the designers themselves loved what was being created, kids hated it. Their Lego wasn’t a joy to play with anymore. It was frustrating and complex.

Lego fought its way back, not by cutting costs directly but by holding its designers to account. By making its customers its priority and focusing on what worked for them, the company was able to slash the number of components to those that were most used, most loved – and to scrap the rest. It then brought creative and noncreative people together and used their combined insights to produce products that the market loves, that were practical to make and that were realistically costed. By celebrating creativity, but focusing it within agreed parameters, the company was able to restore profitability and retake hearts.

The key learning for marketers from Lego’s success is to focus on the buyer’s delight and make the money work, don’t compromise the joy to get the equations to work. And the second learning is equally salient – don’t expect that equation to be figured out by one group. Instead, bring people with different mindsets and emphases together, put the customer at the centre of the problem, and start talking.

If your products are struggling right now, slashing the delight to make the numbers work may temporarily alleviate the economic pain but it won’t address the key brand need. Find a way to inject joy into what you offer. Make your customers smile … and the money will follow.

Photo of “joy flights” taken by Mark Roy, sourced from Flickr

Brand response: how does your brand respond to parody?

By Mark Di Somma

Responding to parody

Talk by Starbucks this week of “next steps” following a Comedy Central prank that parodied their name raises the question of what should brands do when the borax is poked?

Aaron Perlut’s piece from a couple of years back on how GE chose to respond to The Yes Men laid out two simple strategies. The first one was pretty much what you’d expect: Acknowledge the spoof, clarify, and then ask everyone to move on. This, as he says, is a standard corporate response. It’s not particularly inspiring but it’s functional.

His second suggestion was more ambitious: Take on the mockers with a parody of your own. In fact, Perlut says, such a move may even give rise to an opportunity – “if executed well — tastefully reversing the parody can serve as a means to connect with new audiences that may have previously looked negatively at the brand or company.”

The third option of course is just to ignore the whole thing.

It’s curious to me that brands are very much instilled in our culture yet often retain a stiff and business-like approach to interacting with that wider culture. Having spent huge sums to be perceived as friendly and customer facing, their responses when the spotlight is thrust upon them in situations that they don’t control can be awkward, strait-laced and lacking in the very humanity they seek to cultivate. They seem to struggle with being approachable when they are not the ones doing the approaching. They want interaction, but only on their terms. As Rohit Bhargava put it so well, they reveal themselves as entities with Personality Not Included.

Behind their corporate windows, brands worry that slights on their trademarks and IP have reputational repercussions. The words “dangerous” and “precedent” get an extended airing by those who went to law school. But executive concerns should perhaps be tempered in today’s high-share media environment by the thought that consumers are looking for something to talk about and that parody is often little more than momentary fun. Unless the barb addresses a specific corporate action that will generate, or has already generated, deep ill-will, media scrutiny or consumer boycotts, it is very unlikely to jeopardise their overall brand equity and their response should reflect this.

Jest is really just another interaction. Often, it warrants no more than a reply.

So depending on the nature of the jibe, in most cases I’d plumb for strategies two or three. And if I was looking to strategy two, I’d absolutely be using social media to do it. Just like these brands did.

Act fast.

Act smart.

Act human.

Mitigate, don’t litigate.

Photo of “Smile, Day 153 of 365” taken by DieselDemon, sourced from Flickr

Define your terms of brand, then your terms of business

By Mark Di Somma

Define your terms of brand

So many companies build their brand around their business. They establish the tangible assets and processes and look to extrapolate the intangible value of that as brands for their buyers. They transit in other words from the physical to the emotive.

What would happen I wonder if, like Richard Branson does so often, you reversed the order; if the question being asked was “What would we need to co-ordinate (how, when and where) in order for customers to feel this way?” Start with your terms of brand in other words – and use those to define your terms of business. It sounds radical. But really it stems from the questions that everyone asks now, just in reverse order.

Ask first what most ask second:

  • Who do you want to be your customers?
  • How will you change the industry for them?
  • How will you behave to make that happen?
  • How will you help them feel that they will love?
  • What will they see by way of proof that you are committed to this?

Then, based on the answers above –

  • What will you offer them in terms of products/services (that they don’t get now)?
  • Where will you be for them? (on the ground, in the cloud, online, domestic, international)
  • Who will you work with to make that happen?
  • How will you look after them that they’ll enjoy?
  • How, where and when will you grow in order to be that company?
  • What will you return by way of fair compensation for your efforts?
  • What and how will you charge for what you offer that makes that happen and feels fair?

Photo of “Fly like a who’s who. Pay like a who’s that” taken by George Kelly, sourced from Flickr