The ultimate gauge of any business's success is sales. Yes, you can measure other metrics, define non-sales related KPIs, and consider customer satisfaction. Still, the viability of a company is determined by how many products or services it sells and the margin it makes on them.
But to sell a product or service, you have to tell stories – you have to inform and persuade. And the stories and the way that you tell them is the crux of a company's marketing – it's the brand.
Brands can be powerful things. For example, some brands, like Apple, command so much power over the market that they could sell almost anything branded with their logo, and it would be a success.
At the very least, a strong brand eases the way to a sale; it opens doors and shortens the sales process. A strong brand creates an impression in a buyer's mind and silently answers questions they might have about reliability, customer service and quality before they are even asked.
Once you have established a successful brand, it becomes a powerful asset that helps to optimise your sales and marketing efforts. A buyer will come to you with only a few remaining questions, and the time and effort spent establishing credentials and reassuring your buyer will be saved.
So how do you build a brand that will optimise your sales and marketing?
The first step in developing a strong brand is to define the brand strategy. Here at Equinet, we run brand workshops to help businesses determine their brand in five steps:
- Core Proposition: We hone in on the proposition that is key to the value you deliver for your customers. What is the core of your competitive advantage? What makes customers buy from you instead of someone else?
- Reasons to believe: Why should your team and customers believe in your core proposition? In the brand workshops, we identify the reasons to believe; evidence of the unique value you offer to customers.
- Brand Essence and Personality: Part of what should differentiate you is a unique expression of your brand values, culture and character. It's the most intangible but often most significant part of how you turn up in the world and communicate with customers.
- Positioning: The best B2B brands define their ideal space in the marketplace; the brand positioning that helps them stand out from their competitors in the eyes of the right customers.
- Purpose: Successful companies have developed a clear and compelling sense of why they do what they do. We will unearth your brand purpose - the reason you exist - the one thing that encapsulates your brand in a simple, unique, inspiring way.
The second step is developing a well-researched, well-rounded buyer persona.
A significant part of this process is understanding the customers you wish to target – your buyers.
You need to go beyond just demographics and consider what are their challenges, fears, and aspirations? What are they looking to achieve, and what other people exist in their world who help or frustrate their decisions?
You can break this down into six key considerations:
- Change Drivers: What causes buyers to invest in solutions like yours, and what is different about buyers who are satisfied with the status quo?
- Success Factors: What operational or personal results does your buyer persona expect to achieve by purchasing this solution?
- Perceived Barriers: What concerns cause your buyer to believe that your solution or company is not their best option?
- Decision Criteria: Which aspects of the competing products, services, solutions, or company do your buyer perceive as most critical, and what are their expectations for each?
- Buyer's ecosystem: This insight reveals details about who and what impacts your buyer as they evaluate their options and select one.
- Buyer's journey: What information is a customer looking for as they pass through awareness, consideration and decision stages and the nuances that can occur between each stage?
Then we consider the story you need to tell and how you position your customer.
Once you have a comprehensive buyer persona (or more likely personas), you can start to focus on the stories you want to tell to flesh out your brand. Through content and tone of voice, you establish the direction and nature of your brand. You develop its personality while making sure you communicate the basics of what your company does and how its products or services benefit the buyer.
But even more importantly, it would be best to position your customer as the hero in the story you tell and your brand as the guide. Understanding the transformation they seek, the problem they face, how that makes them feel and why it matters establishes an opportunity to empathise and establish your authority to help them.
The last step in the brand-building process is to think like a media publisher.
The key to establishing all the right reactions in your audience, triggering positive emotions and feelings, is telling the right sort of stories and helpful content at the right stage in the buyer's journey.
Once you have defined your brand, it's time to live it. No matter how perfect a brand is on paper, its success depends on the business being true to that brand, being that brand, across all of its operations and all of its customer touchpoints. No amount of marketing or sales talk will compensate for poor customer service or a product that doesn't do what it says it is going to do.
As well as successfully delivering the practical aspects of the business – meeting or exceeding expectations – everyone in your organisation has to live up to the brand's ideals.
The aspirational aspects of the brand, its character, tone of voice, and core messages must be understood and competently relayed and displayed by all business members.
We live in a world where content drives the brand, and so marketing will find itself taking a more prominent role in business than ever before.
However, this can leave sales with a lack of focus or a sense of purpose. In reality, sales are as important as ever, but their role needs to change.
With buyers now coming to you well-researched and with a clear idea of what they want, it's now up to sales to take on a more consultative role and become the human face of the organisation.
The new role for sales is to advise and suggest, rather than pitch and sell. They will need to answer the specific questions that the prospect can't find the answer to anywhere else.
An essential aspect of this approach is telling stories – case studies, anecdotes, the kind of stories that the prospect can directly relate to because they care about their peers – people in a similar position to where they are now.
Stories of working through issues that the buyer is familiar with and describing situations they can relate to.
Marketing will supply sales with all the data and information that the salesperson needs to fulfil this role – keeping them informed about the prospect requirements and desires to reduce surprises.
Conversely, when contact is made with sales – it is up to sales to capture information and ensure that it gets passed on to marketing to keep track of all the prospect's interactions with the company and push appropriate content in their direction.
The best way for sales and marketing to implement this coordinated approach is to use a comprehensive, company-wide Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) that allows any Sales or Marketing member to view relevant data on current prospects and customers.
A comprehensive system will enable data-driven marketing, integrated lead management, email workflows, agile websites and customised content publishing, along with the usual functions of a contact management system.
This integrated and united approach to customer engagement is essential to build the brand as it ensures everyone is on the same page and giving out complimentary messages.
Regular analysis of data from the CRM will allow for continuous refining of the brand and its messages. As markets and customers change, the brand should evolve, generally somewhat subtly – to maintain relevancy and retain an edge.
Every few years, a comprehensive review of the brand and its effectiveness should take place – while ensuring that it's not changed just for the sake of it – "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
By defining a meaningful brand, thoroughly "living" it and integrating sales and marketing's approach using a CRM – you can build a brand that optimises your sales and marketing efforts.