You know you have good products or services and good people, and yet your brand is struggling to make an impact in the market. You have a few established customers, but you aren’t gaining as much new business as you would like. One of the reasons you are failing to attract new business may be that your brand positioning simply isn’t right.
When you launched your product or service offerings they were new, and would have attracted some attention for that fact alone – they may have been in the right place at exactly the right time. To give an extreme example: in the early days of personal computers there were some terrible brands selling products that were average at best – but such was demand that they made a fortune – for a few years.
Markets move on, technological developments drive change and what worked back then may be ineffective now. If you want to drive growth, then you need to reposition your brand, finding new markets, new opportunities and capitalising on them.
Philip Kotler – generally recognised as the father of modern marketing and who gave us the idea of the marketing mix amongst many other modern marketing concepts – defines brand positioning as “the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market”.
Straight away, we can draw three lessons from this definition; firstly, that you need to position your brand deliberately – it requires thought and planning – secondly, your brand should be distinctive, and thirdly, that it should be designed for your target market.
Given those lessons - let’s have a look at some of the reasons your brand positioning is failing to attract new business.
Markets change over time; the past few years has seen the costs to launch a new product and bring it to market reduce for many businesses leading to a significant increase in competitors. Diversification by bigger companies has seen them enter related markets that they were not competing in before.
Conversely, tougher market conditions may see fewer competitors and consolidation of businesses and brands. Competitors don’t stand still either – they will be striving to become more competitive, to become the better brand, to grab all the business they can. If you haven’t regularly reviewed your brand positioning to see if it still relevant in the market – then that lack of relevance could easily be the reason you are not gaining ground.
Are you standing out from your competitors? Or are you too similar? Sometimes this can be by design – following in a bigger brand’s footsteps can pay off for a while, but it’s not a sustainable approach. What happens when you have the opportunity to grow bigger than they are, or if they are heading in a downward direction? What do you do then? Even if you had a very distinctive approach, does an increase in competitors mean that you are now lost in the crowd?
To attract new business you have to be noticed – whether that is for your brand design, your business culture, your brand’s personality or your unique products or services – you need to distinctive and noticeable. If you have a few minor points of differentiation with your competitors then your audience is going to miss you in the crowd or choose a more distinctive brand. Don’t forget one of their questions will be “Why should I choose you?” If you do not have a convincing answer to that question, one that is unique, then don’t be surprised if they don’t buy from you.
To stand out from the crowd you need a personality – it not enough just to be professional and get the job done, you need to have something to say, you need to stand for something; something your audience can relate to and identify with. A nondescript brand just won’t cut through the background noise.
Wait a minute though, how do you know what your audience will relate to? What will they respond to? Remember Kotler’s definition – your brand positioning has to be set forth with your target audience in mind.
Time for a quick recap
In the early days of manufacturing, businesses would produce a product and put in on the market. If people wanted that product, they would buy it. Gradually a new concept of marketing took hold and the idea that marketers could convince the public they needed the product – no matter what it was.
Many consider this to be Marketing 1.0 – it was basically product-centric. Businesses dealt with their customers on a one-to-many basis. The product was the product – like it or leave it. Marketing was carried out en-masse – broadcasting messages which were often thinly disguised company propaganda – today we would probably consider it spamming.
Gradually this process of making, selling and buying became more sophisticated and we reached Marketing 2.0 – customer-oriented marketing. In this phase, businesses research what products the market wants or needs. It becomes about satisfying the customer’s desires rather than trying to sell whatever is easy to produce.
This was more like a one-to-one relationship with products often being tailor-made to a small subset of the market or even individual buyers. Marketing was more sophisticated – but still revolved around selling products. Pushing marketing messages to its audience.
Some businesses are still at that level, and may even be doing well, but more and more are moving to what you might consider Marketing 3.0 – the idea of marketing being driven by shared values. The relationship in this scenario is more collaborative, many-to-many, with business being done on the basis of shared values and ideals.
This type of marketing involves storytelling and content creation and is often referred to as inbound marketing. The idea here is to attract the customer to you – so that the prospects you get are genuinely interested in what you have to offer and ready to buy. You have to demonstrate that you understand your audience, that you get their daily struggles, know their pain points and can help. You also need to know what they aspire to – like saving the planet, caring for animals or doing the best for their family.
Understand your audience
Can you see where this is leading? In order to get under the skin of your audience and make an emotional connection, you have to understand them. You have to know them. Get inside their heads and map their psyche. You need to know what makes them tick, what they do on a daily basis, to know their fears, aspirations, hopes and dreams.
One of the biggest reasons for failing to grow your business is that your brand positioning is disconnected from your target audience. Even a small thing such as an inappropriate tone of voice in your social posts can turn potential customers off.
Define your audience
Understanding your target market means you need to define who it is you want to sell to. Remember that they may not be your past customers – there may not be any scope for growth in that sector. You need to ensure that you define the customers that you want to sell to in order to create sustainable growth. Define the customers you want – not those you have.
This involves creating appropriate buyer profiles. Defining a buyer profile is at the heart of brand positioning – which is why we talk about it so much. For more on the process…
A comprehensive well-envisioned buyer profile will help you to relate to – and ultimately engage with – those customers who are really going to make a difference to your business.
How do you stand in the eyes of your audience?
Another key reason for your brand failing is brand perception. If you have carefully planned what your brand position in the market is going to be, but your audience for whatever reason thinks your positioning is something else – then it’s just not going to work and it’s an issue you have to address.
Maybe your content and marketing materials are giving the wrong impression? Maybe your customers don't think of you the way you imagine they do? Maybe, industry observers, commentators and media see you differently and are communicating that to your audience?
Whatever the perception gap – you need to close it. Firstly, find out the scope of the issue by conducting research to ascertain what your intended audience’s perception of your brand actually is. Then takes steps in your content, marketing materials and day-to-day dealings with the industry to correct the misconceptions and re-establish your intended positioning.
How do they feel about you?
It may seem a little weird in the tough, professional world of business, but you can’t ignore your audience’s feelings. How they feel about you as a business will determine their eagerness to engage with you or purchase from you.
If they see your brand or hear your company name, what emotions does that elicit from your prospects or from your customers? Even the difference between how your customers and how your prospects view you is important. If you have happy, satisfied customers but unhappy prospects, then you aren’t communicating those success stories effectively. On the other hand, if you have happy prospects jumping over themselves to buy and unhappy customers, then it may be that there is something wrong with your product’s suitability or your customer service.
This emotion towards your brand is known as sentiment, and you should be monitoring your brand’s sentiment – good, bad or neutral. And remember it’s all about perception. If you have very few problems with customer service, but one incident gets handled badly, and that’s the one everyone talks about, then you will have a problem.
Brand positioning can influence sentiment through the personality you’ve chosen to project. It may be that you come across as arrogant or ‘know-it-all’, or you come across as cheap and cheerful or expensive and lofty. Product fit, price, brand design, culture, employees – these can all have an impact on sentiment.
Is your path clear?
If your brand positioning is unclear or your content is sending mixed messages, then this will simply confuse your audience. Confused prospects do not buy. If you change your brand positioning every six months or different departments are giving out different messages – this inconsistency will work heavily against you.
It is probably better to be consistent about your brand positioning even if it isn't reaching the perfect sweet spot you would like than to keep changing it. In B2B, a prospect will buy from a brand they know, understand and feel they can rely on, rather than one that changes with the latest fad or market fashions.
Time for a review?
Always remember though, that if your brand is failing to gain new business, it’s time for a review.
- Is your brand positioning still relevant to the market as it is now?
- Does your brand positioning still stand out amongst your competitors?
- Is your brand positioning distinctive enough?
- Do you know what you stand for?
- Can you answer the question “Why should I choose you?”
- Do you really know your buyers? Their day-to-day tasks, their pain points, their aspirations?
- Are your buyer profiles just based on existing customers or the customers you want to have?
- Is your brand’s perceived positioning the one you intended?
- How do your customers feel about you?
- How do your prospects feel about you?
- Have you been consistent about your brand positioning across all your audience interactions?
When your brand positioning is targeted correctly, when it’s distinctive and attractive, when it strikes an emotional chord with its audience and when it’s clearly and consistently communicated and perceived – then it will become a major contributory factor to growing your business.