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May 14, 2008

A 4 Step Model for Online Brand Building – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about Step 1: Defining Your “Really Important and Specific Problem” (RISP) and Step 2: Have an Excellent Core Offer (ECO). Here are the next two steps in building your brand online.

Step 3:  Recruit an Identified Relevant Community (IRC)? 
Recruiting a community of people who use your product and care deeply about it is, for me, the single most effective method of brand building. 

IRC’s can be customers, employees, uber-users, bloggers or communities with a declared interest in your market category.  The definition of an IRC is this: they need to use your product or service and care enough about it to tell other folks about how great it is or to be honest with you on how to improve it. 

Almost every company that I can think of that is truly successful have very clear IRCs that they work diligently around servicing.  Think here of eBay’s “PowerSellers”, Google’s Advertising Professionals, or Microsoft’s Partner Program.

Sustainable “Word of Mouth” marketing doesn’t just happen by accident.  It happens because a community of your users think your product rocks and they think it rocks because it meets a clearly identified, important and specific need of theirs and they want to let the whole world know about it. 

If you get the first 2 steps I’ve mentioned above right, this community will naturally form somewhere.  If you foster this community, contact them, listen to them and provide them with the tools and incentives necessary to get your message out to the world, you will be engaged in the best, most inexpensive and most effective type of marketing that there is. 

Standard tactics for this step are referral programs, VIP programs, social network integrations and grass roots marketing.  By the way, the very first IRCs that you should have are your own employees.  They should all use your product/service (or at least want to) and they should care deeply about it.  If they don’t, there is a very clear message there for you.

Step 4 – General Awareness Brand Building (GABB)
As I’ve argued above, General Awareness Brand Building (GABB) is a stage of marketing that you need to be prepared for. Companies that brand build through massive marketing programs disconnected from a clear customer need and a strong core offer usually end up with disappointing results. 

In today’s social networked world however, I think the stakes are even higher. I would argue that today, negative word of mouth will travel from disaffected customer to disaffected customer faster than you can react and control.

Let’s go back to Bell for a minute. While the Beavers fill the airwaves with their cute and quirky messages, influential bloggers like my friend Tom Purves create a much more powerful back channel with a significantly different message. Look at the comments he’s attracted and tell me which message you think resonates more.

So assuming that you are ready to create awareness, what should you do? The truth is that there are significantly smarter folks than me speaking about this topic every day. What I can contribute is this: my shortlist of GABB tactics that work well in my personal experience (or because I did the opposite which then backfired).

  1. Negotiate Distribution Partners.  My first look in marketing tactics is always to see how much of our marketing work can be done by someone else.  Here’s the logic: your target customers already live somewhere online and will likely be doing something somewhere that relates to your offering.  Find these places and do a deal with them to get shared access to that customer. 

    Notice I didn’t say “try to own the customer at your website because you’re that good”.  Attempts to “own” customers are misguided and silly. Instead, try to create win-win relationships where both of your respective value propositions improve because of the deal. 

    Here’s an example from my experience.  When I was with epost, the single smartest thing we ever did was to partner with Canadian Financial Institutions.  In going through the steps above, we came to the realization that our bill presentment solution was a “nice to have” for customers, not a “need to have”.  This made for an expensive marketing job. 

    At the same though we could see that online bill payment through banks had become a “need to have” activity for over 50% of Canadians. The obvious solution was to plug our system into the bank systems so that customers could have a full solution.

    It took a while both technically and in the actual deal framework but the end result was that by creating a win-win scenario with the Banks our customer acquisition rates increased by 400% and our cost of acquisition dropped by 80%.  This saved a lot of expensive brand building marketing work.   

  2. Build Endorsed Reach. Ironic as it may be, the best way to tell the story of your company is through the mouths of other people. Why?  Because third parties have a higher trust factor associated with them than you do.

    The single best way to get credible people to tell your story in my experience is with effective Public Relations. Positive press coverage on your service offering is significantly more effective than any type of advertising you will do. Whether you do this yourself or use the pool of very smart public relations firms out there who can help you, your job is to target relevant media (old school media and new school media like bloggers) with the story of why your product/service is great and get them to write about it in their own voice.

  3. Leave a Big Wake. There is a reason why radio and print advertisers are struggling right now and it’s because their advertising mediums are what I would call “small wake” marketing models.

    You hear the ad between songs or see it between articles that you are reading and then it’s gone, never to be seen or heard from again until you pay for another spot.  Compare this model of “one and done” to a “Big Wake” model like a posted video on YouTube which is viewed over and over again for free by anyone who is told it’s there.

    The Superbowl Ads this year were a great example of “Big Wake” Marketing using YouTube. The buzz that each of these ads got leading up to and after the single event of their airing far exceeded the viewers they got at the event itself. Big Wake marketing or “viral” marketing as some call it, is the holy grail of online marketing efforts.

Ok, that’s it for my rant on online brand building.  As always, caveat emptor applies.  Use what you like and leave the rest.



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