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Role of Content Marketing for B2B

How do businesses stand out from the crowd and entice new customers? Can B2B companies benefit from content marketing?

Let’s begin by defining the B2B market context and what content marketing is as a business tool.

Content Marketing’s History & Significance

Content marketing is any information published by a company and consumed by an audience.

Newspapers and tabloids are the original content marketers. A newspaper brand publishes articles and often dictates the rigor and type of information distributed, while consumers choose which paper they read based on their values. 

Historically, B2B & B2C brands had few choices for ongoing customer communication: newspaper Op-Eds (public relations), traditional advertising, snail mail ads & marketing, and traditional brand equity plays like sponsorship. These marketing avenues were expensive and opaque: it was not easy to track their effectiveness. Only big, deep-pocketed brands could communicate consistently with their customers because of the limited supply and lack of transparency.

Fast forward to the internet, specifically Web 2.0, and our marketing universe turned upside down. The internet reached maturity, and as a result, a rapid onset of innovation was triggered. In business strategy, this type of maturity is called a decoupling point; a moment when a market transitions from favoring integrated companies (like giant media companies) to modularity or specialization. 

In practical terms, the internet’s open-source architecture and rocketing commercial adoption rate meant it had become a viable and universal resource. With internet-ready computers in every home and business in wealthy countries, Entrepreneurs had a new means to connect businesses and consumers. 

The Social Web & Content Marketing

The most significant development of Web 2.0 was the launch of “the social web.” Earlybearers, Facebook and MySpace, took advantage of the new era, launching environments that allowed individuals to connect and engage. Apple launched iTunes and the App Store for the iPhone. Google pounced on an opportunity to steal a communication environment from America Online by offering free email in Gmail. 

The new digital world encouraged co-creation with developers and enabled multi-product integrations. Soon, tasks that once required lots of money and lots of time were available at the click of a button. 

A few key products and categories accelerated the pace of business marketing, namely – email marketing (ex. Mailchimp, Constant Contact), digital advertising (Google Adwords, Facebook & LinkedIn Ads), and content marketing (blogs & organic social) and search. 

Within a few years, small businesses with limited means to speak directly and consistently to their customers now had a simple infrastructure with which to communicate. Direct access to customers would change everything, and it began a new type of competition that gave birth to the modern lens of content marketing.

How do companies build new business?

Brands only have so many ways to develop leads, no matter if they are B2B or B2C. Below is the macro context of the business development marketplace.

  • Search (inbound)
  • Advertising
  • Brand Awareness (inbound)
  • Referral

Search

Search is part of our everyday lives. We wake up in the morning, pour some coffee, and open Google to search “morning mantras,” “midweek dinner recipes,” or “what’s going on… besides COVID;” Questions like these and countless others are submitted to search engines hoping they return valuable answers.  

As the world is increasingly more digitally native, younger generations turn first to the internet for answers. When users search for your product, understandably, you want to be first in line to answer their questions. It does not matter if you sell shoes to end-consumers (B2C) or provide industrial machine repair services (B2B).  

Search allows your business to compete via two pull marketing and inbound techniques: SEO and content marketing.

Advertising

Advertising, in concept, is well-understood. Fundamentally, nothing has changed since the 16th century. 

It is a pay-to-play communication model; historically, the options were limited and opaque; now, the options are more numerous and transparent (although Facebook, Amazon, and Google control the marketplace). 

Digital advertising has seen widespread adoption because it is relatively inexpensive, somewhat intuitive, and allows you to track ROI. However, there is often a lack of understanding regarding acquisition cost. Specifically, how much a brand will ultimately spend to achieve and maintain a customer over time (i.e., customer lifetime value.)

Advertising content consists of stories and information about your business’s goods and services. For instance, say you want to promote the B2B service mentioned above, “industrial machine repair service.” You may decide to show individuals seeking this information a video demonstrating your expertise and unique product offering. Or, perhaps you want to market directly to companies that deploy industrial machines and have them read your blog to extoll your sparkling reputation and 40 years of expert service.

The content you promote is the foundation that gives life to new leads. 

Brand Awareness

Unlike Search and Advertising, brand awareness is more imprecise. It includes any activities used to promote the brand’s awareness and stickiness. In addition to the above, this includes partnerships, endorsements, PR, activations, word of mouth/gorilla marketing activities, and more. 

Brand awareness is most significant to your success in markets where your company competes against well-known products and services. For example, imagine your startup B2B company sells accounting software targeted at the wine industry. You would have a difficult journey ahead with a market saturated with products like Quickbooks. 

Brand equity is measured by share-of-voice research and what we call market propensity research which helps businesses understand the basis of competition for your product. 

Referral

Referral marketing is a powerful means to provide social proof for your product or service. It comes in a few flavors: digital and analog. 

Analog referral is when customers endorse your product or services to their network. This can be powerful for any business, but it is particularly beneficial to higher-end products where consumers seek to justify their spending with a trusted resource.

Digital referrals are when one website references another website as a resource. For example, many publications produce a Holiday Shopping Guide every year, linking to many of their favorite products or gizmos. These guides drive significant downstream traffic to each company, often selling out the product. Digital referrals are frequently the result of public relations. 

Referrals are beneficial to B2B or B2C. In addition to increasing awareness, every time your business is linked to online by a reputable business (this is called a backlink), it improves your domain authority and organic SEO. 

Marketing Mix

The marketing pathways illustrated above demonstrate the finite and definable ways to create new customers. However, new customer acquisition is only one-third of channeling activities toward increased revenues.

In addition to developing new customers (C), businesses can expand revenues by increasing the frequency (F) of purchases and by increasing the average order value (AOV) purchase size. So, with some pretty simple math, we can produce a useful growth (G) formula: 

200%G= 1.3C+1.3F+1.3AOV.

But why? Why not just double your customers to double your revenue? The key factor is that every new customer has a cost of acquisition. That coupled with the fact that the price of advertising platforms increases year-over-year in tandem with year-over-year inflation, we have a scenario of diminishing year-over-year profit. This scenario is brutal if the basis of competition in your industry is price.

So instead, we look to a balanced marketing mix that focuses on three principles: 

  1. Building new customers
  2. Increasing the frequency of their purchases
  3. Increasing their average order value. 

Here is the hidden benefit: 

F & AOV increase customer lifetime value without acquisition cost. 

Hang tight; we’re circling back to our original question!

So, does content marketing work for B2B?

First, how do we increase F & AOV? I’m sure you know the punchline. 

That’s right, content marketing. Let’s start with frequency. 

For a current customer to increase purchase frequency, they need to be aware of additional products or services your company provides and their benefits. 

With Web 2.0 vehicles for customer communication, i.e., email marketing platforms, social media, or industry-specific communication platforms, we can distribute the information about your company’s products & services at little cost. In fact, we can communicate with clients frequently and concern ourselves with how do we bring value to customers across the calendar year. This line of thinking helps tune your team to consider customer needs to mature the product offering.

To increase the average order value, you can indeed raise prices, but that is a separate article about the elasticity of your pricing model and the basis of market competition. Instead, we will focus on the ability of content marketing to attract customers through the cross-selling of your current product and service line.  

The critical factor in increasing average order value is the timing of cross-selling. 

A classic example is the success e-commerce has serving up recommended products to add to your purchase without re-entering the checkout process. Success is multiplied by linking an upsell to a core product’s value (“consumers who purchased this also liked this”), increasing the perceived benefit of the product the customer has already decided to buy. 

Similar to the benefit expressed in our frequency example, focusing on how to increase average order size tunes your team to incremental innovation opportunities. 

You could achieve this by:

  • Developing new, adjacent products and services 
  • Sustaining innovations that improve your product (and allow you to increase profit margins)

Price & Time: Content Marketing for B2B v B2C

Content marketing is agnostic to business types (B2B or B2C) and is a powerful communication tool. Its impact is tied closely to the cost of products and services. The higher the price or the more complex the product/service, the more indirect and abstract the impact. 

Let’s unpack that last bit by starting with a B2C product, luxury automobiles. 

For decades, luxury and sports cars have avoided mass marketing communications, namely traditional advertising, because the medium is too broad and their consumer set narrow. Instead, they have succeeded in focusing on mediums purpose-built for their customer type, such as financial magazines and promotional events targeted to the enfranchised. Now, via social media, these brands can speak directly and regularly to their fans through content marketing.

In this way, content marketing for highly-priced and complex products and services is brand awareness marketing that should be focused on incremental product education, otherwise known as brand equity. This model is consistent across product markets where the basis of competition is differentiation. In addition to luxury cars (B2C) it can be seen in bespoke professional services (B2B, like us here at BS LLC) or insurance (B2B / B2C).

Content marketing works differently for lower-priced products and services with low psychological purchase barriers. Here, if the product meets a true human need, you will find a more transparent conversion value and a more immediate commercial value. Namely, the timeline for product or service acquisition is shorter. 

For example, you see a piece of content on Instagram that helps you imagine how that product could fit neatly in your life. Click, and it’s on your counter in three days. It could be a beauty product that costs $5, or maybe it’s your favorite item at a local restaurant, or maybe a concert or event. These examples rely on split-second emotional decisions. 

For B2B, time events are also crucial. Once you understand your customers’ Jobs To Be Done and their purchase timeline, you can find points on their purchase journey where content can facilitate increased frequency of purchase. 

Let’s take the example of an engineered discreet part. After talking with the purchasing departments at multiple customers, you find out that their financial year ends early. They are mostly concerned with low turnover of suppliers in order to cut down on internal costs. In the service of getting prepared for the next year, they need to present budgets and plans to their executive team on how to meet objectives. 

Poof, you have a marketing insight that enables your team to produce content to help improve your chances of a win. Also, you found out that purchasers have lots of headaches with suppliers because parts break, which pushes them over expected budgets and forces them to change suppliers every year in search of support that works. They audit the factory floor in March, which usually causes a storm for purchasing! 

Now you know when to send your sales team to sell a maintenance program that ensures your products work and keeps the purchasing team happy. 

The examples are oversimplified, but the context is consistent. Content marketing is useful across industry types. Its conversion is faster with lower-priced items and equity-based with higher-priced items. Content marketing’s success rate is pinned to understanding your customer journey and when to deploy content based on their needs. 

In Summary

This article does not recommend that everyone spend all of their time drumming up posts for social media. On the other hand, we hope it dispels the idea that content marketing is not useful for B2B. Finally, we hope it paints a picture that content marketing, like all marketing, is only successful with focus and precision. 

Content marketing can help drive customer frequency and average order value, cutting down on customer acquisition cost and increasing customer lifetime value. However, it too has a cost. You must put in the due diligence to create a strategy that understands customers’ needs; you have to build a content schedule and stick to it; you have to design and write copy, measure the impact, adjust, rinse and repeat. 

Getting smart about content marketing is essential to every business’s future. The digital conversion of business has passed, and its future is managed and executed in a digital realm. If you don’t figure out how to use content to improve your success, you can be sure that your competitors will. 

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Part 4 of 6: Digging Deep. Way Deep.

We use two great tools for strategy at BS LLC: Our 4-Way Analysis and the famous but oft-misunderstood Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) lens.

With this info in hand, we are confident that everything we do — from digital design to copywriting and more — is honed for maximum effectiveness.

Let’s Start with a 4-Way Analysis

What’s 4-Way for, anyway? 

The 4-Way Analysis is a comprehensive look at your business and the most immediate macroeconomic factors that affect it. It’s an extensive overview made of 4 specific areas.

1: Your Authority

First up, we analyze your brand “stance,” including your quantitative digital chops, how you’re ranked in published surveys, articles, etc., and the qualitative perceptions, how you’re described and talked about. It gives us a feeling of your brand persona. (If you’re not familiar with “brand personae,” try this little exercise. Describe your company or brand to someone you’ve never met as a person. What characteristics would you use?)

2: Your Competitors

Next, we evaluate your “relevant competitive set.” That first word in the phrase is vital because not all of the competition that immediately springs to mind in your industry segment may apply to your audience. (We learn which ones do with our JTBD lens.) By looking at your competitors and what they’re doing well — and not so well in competition with you and other brands, we can see where you “sit.”

3: Your Customers

While our JTBD point of view illuminates the “product hiring” activity of your customers (that is, what brand are they hiring to solve a particular problem they have?), this specific slice of the 4-Way looks at them in a more traditional demographic way: which roles at which companies are “hiring” other brands, who are their peers, what is their educational and work backgrounds for context, etc. When we blend it all, we accurately picture who engages with you and why.

4: Your Industry

The last quadrant is a survey of what’s going on in your industry, politics, geographical area, and economics that affect your business. It’s the “weather report” for your marketing because it affects everyone, including competitors and customers.

All Together Now

When all 4 of those areas are distilled, they provide a clear picture of Your Place in the World. (Does that make it a 5-Way?). For the strategy to offer up a direction for you to go, we first must understand precisely where you are. Here in the center of our 4-way intersection, we know.

Jobs-To-Be What?

Now it’s time to understand where your customers are.

Jobs To Be Done is our companion strategic tool to understand essential customer behaviors.

The late Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School authored a book entitled “Competing Against Luck,” where, among other ideas, he introduced the concept of Jobs To Be Done, a way of looking at how customers of all kinds “hire” products and services to complete jobs. He most famously used a case study from some of his associates of how McDonald’s benefitted from the approach to selling more milkshakes. It’s a fascinating story.

Instead of investing in making a better milkshake and then rolling that out to see how it sells, using this new view, you know what problem the customer is having and what they “hire” to solve it.

Clayton’s associates learned that morning commute boredom was the problem, and drive-through milkshakes were the self-selected solution. By implementing minor and ingenious tweaks to their existing product, sales rose a remarkable 30%. 

At BS LLC, we have a penchant for the number 4; we’ve simplified the intricate Jobs To Be Done process into four research steps that we apply to customers to learn what their real problem is and what they do on their own to solve it. It’s not a brand deep dive; it’s a problem-solution deep dive.

Here are the steps: 

1: Their Need

Listening to customers is challenging. Understanding what their real problems are is hard. Why? Because when you talk to them, they want to fit their conversation neatly into pre-established roles: You, the questioner, represent a brand or a solution. They think you want to hear about their perceptions and use of your solution.

But that’s not what we are after. We don’t just want to make a new version of the same widget. We’re trying to discover what’s genuinely driving them. Once we know that, we have something we can start to do to help them and build our businesses.

2: Their Prep

Knowing you have a problem and taking action to solve your problem are two different things. In this crucial phase, we observe how your customers prepare to take action, and this can yield significant insights. How do your customers research? What do they learn about others who are in the same circumstances? Where do they learn about products and techniques that can solve their problem? How do they vet those techniques?

3: Their Actions

Here, we watch your customer pull the proverbial trigger and take action on their job to be done. They may go DIY. They may hire a competitive product or service. Observing their steps can often reveal faps that you can profitably fill. 

4: Their Conclusions

This is the afterglow. Will they repeat the action in the future? What will they “archive?” Will they tell their friends, family, or coworkers what they did? Will it become a “workflow?” Or will they swear never to do this set of actions again and reestablish a new definition of “need?” 

Syn. Tha. Size.

Hopefully, you can understand how these two elegantly simple frameworks guide our desk research, our interviews, our surveys, and the way we look at online analytics.

But, harvesting these eight big data buckets doesn’t mean you magically have guidance.

That’s where the “art” of strategy enters. 

Great strategy always does two things: 

First, it defines “what’s going on right now.” 

Second, it yields principled, transparent actions that minimize risk, minimize loss, and generally produce positive outcomes. You pay strategic research partners for the gold in that last step.

At BS LLC, you’re getting a blend of art and science from a team of life-long students of economics, branding, marketing, fine art, literature, design, spirituality, philosophy, and even metaphysics. Great discipline blended with a diverse background and a curator’s eye for detail. 

Thanks for going along with this exposition of our strategic approach. We hope you’ll let us apply it to your next strategic need.

About the Author:

Sam Lowe conducts research to help build full-featured road maps and strategies for BS LLC clients ranging from hospitality to healthcare and manufacturing to high tech. He’s also delightfully addicted to 2-wheeled vehicles, classical music, and fine teas.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Why are Brand Guidelines Important?

Does anyone actually care what the brand guidelines say? – Unnamed Client

Why spend time and money creating Brand Guidelines no customer will ever see? Why create these documents that invariably frustrate internal employees who want to use a new color or a new font?

What does a consistent brand identity provide for your business? What do creative pros working on behalf of your brand need to know about your tone-of-voice? If you talk to an experienced graphic designer, they’ll sing the praises of good, clear brand guidelines.

What are they, exactly? Internal documents that work like a Rosetta Stone for expressing or communicating a brand or on behalf of one. These pedantic (but usually pretty) tomes explain:

  • What a brand’s logo (or system of logos) is
  • How it should and shouldn’t be used
  • What fonts are to be used, including where and how
  • And other fiats about color, imagery, and layout that very few people who work outside of a marketing team will care much about

However, the branding agency that develops these guidelines care. A lot. In fact, they’re downright passionate about their creation, and even more passionate about their diligent use. 

Why?

Your branding agency designed these guidelines to help your business grow.

Let’s strip the emotion away and talk business, shall we? Here are three very profitable reasons why you should care about making sure your brand guidelines are adhered to faithfully by everyone inside — and outside — your organization.

The authority of consistency

When your brand’s communications are consistent over time, you begin to appear stronger, smarter, more cohesive. OK, that may be overstating the case a bit, but we’ve all experienced the impact of this. Think of any major brand with lots of different tactical executions: packaging, signage, web assets, social assets, print, broadcast, and yet they all maintain consistent use of logo, color, language. This is a brand that literally “has it all together.” That unified look and voice denotes confidence, intelligence, and presence. “A brand with a plan,” even if it doesn’t actually have one. That’s marketing authority.

The clarity of consistency

Clarity can perhaps be expressed by what it is not: namely, confusion. How confusing would a brand be if it had different logo executions that were deployed willy-nilly? How about inconsistent fonts, different colors, different tones of voice. Large brands often use both internal and external partners to create brand assets. One of the very best ways to ensure clarity of brand is to share a clear brand guide. Without that, and with multiple collaborations working in a vacuum, you’d experience a sort of schizophrenia. 
We’ve all been conditioned to believe that brands represent themselves in a certain way for a reason. Therefore, if inconsistency became a norm for a brand, customers would wonder what the brand was trying to say. It wouldn’t take long before customers gave up on figuring it out. In summary: Your customers expect clarity and purpose. Give it to them. 

The efficiency of consistency

When everyone on your team is addressing customer needs in the same way and your customer sees this, you set the stage for events in your business to occur more smoothly, and that includes sales. Internally, documents are created from established templates, communication draws upon similar language, even potential new hires simply “get” what your brand is about. Efficiency means speed to market and quicker decision-making. Bet you didn’t think that was a benefit of a well-planned and well-executed Brand Guidelines document.

A thought experiment

Imagine that you’ve hired a collection of the most gifted and award-winning content creators imaginable; amazing writers, videographers, and designers. Now imagine that you’ve withdrawn any restrictions whatsoever on brand guidance. What’s more, you’ve allowed everyone inside your company to be just as unencumbered. You’ve “set them free” to create on behalf of your brand: marketing, PR, social content, proposals, you name it. Pure talent, but no “swim lanes.” 

Can you imagine the pandemonium? Can you imagine what that would do to your brand authority in the marketplace?

The first thing creative thinkers would demand would be the restriction of brand definition. To filter the infinite possibilities and permutations of creation into a singular path—that is true creative freedom. 

Food for thought.

About the Author:

Sam Lowe conducts research to help build full-featured road maps and strategies for BS LLC clients ranging from hospitality to health care and manufacturing to high tech. He’s also delightfully addicted to 2-wheeled vehicles, classical music, and fine teas.

Estimated reading time: 0 minutes

Marketing rocket fuel: JTBD

If you’re a marketing leader, how do you know what to prioritize? Using Jobs To Be Done, you can let your customers tell you.

Brand Managers, is it just us, or is Marketing becoming increasingly complicated?

Media, analytics, multiple platforms, multiple budgets, multiple timelines, multiple stakeholders, and different customer types. Now factor in the radical changes surrounding the current social, political, and economic climate, and it’s a wonder that marketers in any industry achieve any consistent successes at all.

Jobs To Be Done Focuses on Essential Actions

Using a Jobs To Be Done lens, you can determine the most important actions to take because ambiguity is minimized. How? Because of what we’re looking at: the customer need (or “job.”)

Typically, research focuses on who the customer is, what products they use, and when they’re attempting to achieve something. Unfortunately, this methodology leads to circuitous reasoning, where we attempt to “outdo” a competitor by redesigning features. 

Not exactly what anyone calls “innovation,” right? 

With JTBD, however, we hyper-focus on what that “something” is, and the actions the customer takes on their own to solve their job. Along the way, the customer will cobble together solutions when nothing currently exists (compensating behaviors) or rely on alternate workflows because they have a “wish” that something would work differently. These identified gaps are opportunities for innovation and give rise to job-focused marketing approaches.

A Case In Point

One of our clients enjoys a magnificent reputation as a precision manufacturer in their field. They make expertly designed components for a highly-regulated space. They’re proud of that equity, and the industry recognizes and accepts the premium pricing their products command. However, despite the excellence and durability of their products, sales beyond initial installs were flat for many of their core products. We were hired to learn why, and determine what steps could be taken. This client is remarkable for several reasons, most notably that they were open to our feedback on every aspect of the business, from branding to product design, to internal workflows to sales processes.

Using JTBD, we structured highly specific interviews that spanned the full gamut of their global stakeholders. The information from those interviews was then parsed across a spectrum of actions that define customer jobs to be done (or “hired for.”)

What we learned turned out to be both insightful and challenging, but also crystal clear in terms of opportunities for the business.

We learned that the roles responsible for purchasing our client’s wares were shifting away from enduring, robust materials to virtually disposable architectures. We also learned that customers were frustrated with the communications process that should have led to a clear work order. From this, a whole host of opportunities arose, including automating the speccing process, ways for customers to self-select from modular solutions, and a platform that synthesized rep training, operations, and diagnostics in the field.

Needless to say, the verbatims have virtually pre-written marketing materials for these innovations, once they’re ready to operationalize.

Like Painting a House

When you look at the time spent painting a house, the lion’s share is in preparation. (Oh, all that masking tape!) The painting itself is rather straightforward. JTBD is similar. Lining up a robust list of interviewees, preparing the conversations for repeatability and consistency, engaging with those stakeholders, and then synthesizing the feedback.

Once parsed, however, you’re ready to go, go, go. 

Curious? Give us a call or an email. It’s a process that yields solid results.

About the Author:

Sam Lowe conducts research to help build full-featured road maps and strategies for BS LLC clients ranging from hospitality to health care and manufacturing to high tech. He’s also delightfully addicted to 2-wheeled vehicles, classical music, and fine teas.

Getting the Most out of a Branding Agency

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Here’s how to work with a group of professionals dedicated to helping you build, grow, or evolve a valuable brand

Perhaps you’ve hired or inherited an agency and you’re looking to get more out of that relationship, or you’re completely new to the agency-client experience and don’t know what to expect. As brand strategists, designers, and marketers with decades of combined team experience, we humbly offer the following to those who seek the services of honest, talented, and caring souls who work in our industry; an industry filled with so-called quick solutions, shiny bells and whistles, and hungry entrepreneurs trying to make your brand part of their next   arbitrage scheme. 

Start with the right relationship

Obviously, this one is most applicable to clients who have yet to choose an agency. If you’re currently working with an agency that is not meeting your expectations, don’t lose hope: there are actions you can take to renegotiate your relationship. See Clarifying an Existing Relationship, below.

What problem are you trying to solve?

The key to selecting an agency or partner is understanding exactly what you want them to deliver, and that can often hinge on language. We can’t tell you how often we’ve taken calls with potential clients who reached out looking for a “branding partner” only to find out through conversation that they are actually looking for social media content creation. A good problem statement will save you time and money and help narrow the field of potential partners—some branding agencies specialize in startup branding, others specialize in brand transformation or evolution (shameless plug: we happen to do both).

Finding the right branding partners

Direct referral is an effective strategy to identify an agency or group of agencies that are more likely to get you results. Why? Not only will the folks you solicit referrals from only refer the partners that knocked it out of the park, but the agency receiving the referral will go above and beyond to maintain the positive reputation with their former client. Solicit your personal and professional network to find out who had good experiences with agencies that:

  • Communicate clearly and timely
  • Base their recommendations and executions on a strategic foundation 
  • Possess a portfolio of high quality work 
  • Are a joy to work with 

Direct referrals provide the “flavor” of collaborating with that agency, as well as an understanding of the results of that agency’s efforts from a trusted source.

Great brand strategy is the process of understanding where a brand has been, it’s current market position, and it’s long term goals. From this strategy, we can achieve future goals based on a deep understanding of how a brand’s products or services solve problems for customers and what moves those customers to make decisions.

Contact Ben Greenberg today to ensure that your vision and brand strategy is aligned.

Clarifying an Existing Relationship

One of the big reasons that client-agency relationships (or any relationship) go south is miscommunication and misaligned expectations. There are many, many things that can start, and then remain unclear, and the longer they remain so, the deeper the financial and emotional tole:

  • Misunderstanding by the agency of what the client is seeking to achieve in their business
  • Misunderstanding by the client of what the agency is proposing to deliver 
  • Miscommunication by the agency of what they are capable of delivering
  • Miscommunication by the client of what they seek, tactically or creatively
  • A lack of comprehension by the agency of nuances of the client’s business

Each of these vital areas must be defined — and often refined — during the engagement. If any of the above triggers an area to explore, do it sooner rather than later, and get the clarification built into an action plan. 

The best agencies will have workflows and specific tools to capture, communicate, and ensure that all relevant parties adhere to these realities, so that “scope creep” and finger-pointing doesn’t become a festering, time-sucking and money consuming reality.

Define outcomes

Creativity is an organic process; it shifts, morphs, and changes all along a circuitous path. However, timelines and budgets need to be adhered to, and your most notable competition isn’t kicking back and just letting you rule the roost.

A good agency will present you with documented timelines and briefs that are fair, realistic, and actionable. You should get the feeling that the agency is genuinely working on your behalf when you receive their output. A good branding agency will no doubt be highly creative, but they’ll primarily target business-enhancing insights and actions to be executed to make your brand an asset, not just a clever expression. 

If you perceive your agency is spinning in circles, address it quickly and respectfully; ask for clarification and justification of recommendations. There should always be a business-building reason for any agency recommendation, no matter how right-brained. If your agency can’t tell you how they expect a deliverable to affect your business for the better, it could be a lack of detail — or it could be something you don’t need.

Give the process a chance

If your agency is presenting well-justified decisions surrounding strategy, creative, timelines, budget, etc., but you find yourself questioning them or — simply not liking them, try to determine if you’re looking at the work objectively.

Branding is ultimately a way of capturing and communicating a relationship between your product or service and the customers for which it’s intended. Sometimes you need to be able to step back and realize that you aren’t the customer or audience member. You have to practice the art of letting go if your subjective likes and dislikes are flying in the face of clear strategic insights. 

Conversely, if the work isn’t standing on clear rationale and researched facts, and you’re not feeling the output, you need to call the agency to task.

  • How will this story track gain us more customers?
  • How is this brand expression expected to fare in the marketplace?
  • How do we justify this workflow? 

“That which is measured (should) improve”

This maxim is quoted a lot, and for good reason.

When we choose to mindfully measure something, we’re choosing to pay close attention. And when something garners lots of attention, time and resources tend to get shifted in that direction. When that happens, the object of the attention tends to experience some measure of growth. 

If your agency isn’t collaborating with you towards the production of assets with business value and definable growth potential, go back through this list and see what can be addressed.

And if you have yet to begin that collaboration, we hope this guide helps you launch from a solid foundation.

In this white paper, we describe the Five Pillars that leaders of companies in transition can lean on to build.

BS LLC offers branding, strategy, and design solutions because we believe that businesses operate at their highest growth potential when guided by a holistic set of goals, informed by shared values, and driven by well-crafted tools. 

If you would like to learn more about how BS LLC can help you grow from the inside out, please send us a message or give us a call.  Additionally, you can take an in-depth look at our services and resources.

Contact Ben Greenberg
513-673-6227

What exactly is Jobs To Be Done, and how can it help my business?

JTBD is a way of thinking that promises insights into “what’s missing” in your customer’s lives. Can you be the first to fill that gap?

Jobs to Be Done theory (or “JTBD”)  is a customer-focused lens that increases the likelihood that your efforts at innovation will be successful. Why? Because your customer essentially dictates to you what they need to achieve in order to arrive at a specifically desired result. 

There are two things in that short definition that are critical: 

1: The customer dictates. Your customers have a way they go about getting their “jobs” done. And by “jobs,” we’re talking about specific tasks that hire what you offer — your products and your services — in the process of completing their job. When your customer describes to you in incredible detail how they get done what they need to do, they’ll tell you exactly what they need.

2: A specifically desired result. That “result” IS the definition of success for the customer. That’s what they’re aiming for. The trick is in the “specifically” part. For example, if you’re a manufacturer of industrial tables and benches, it’s not enough to know your customer desires a “big, heavy bench.” You need to know what activities they are going to carry out with that bench, what they’re seeking to achieve with those activities. 

You can’t build genuinely innovative products, services, or marketing in a vacuum and you certainly can’t succeed by simply mimicking the patterns of others. 

“Research” is always the first step

Listening to your customer’s voice, defining who that customer is, and defining their behaviors as it relates to your brand offering isn’t only good marketing; it’s showing your customer how much you respect them. Research informs everything we do at BSLLC. We’re confident our kind of research will help your brand — and help your customer. Contact Ben Greenberg to get started

You can succeed, however, if you target very specific unmet needs or compensating behaviors. These often show up as gaps, or skipped steps in your customer’s process as they attempt to get their jobs done. Gaps and skips happen often because the customer needs to develop their own workarounds because products or services don’t currently exist to serve them at particular points. These missing pieces aren’t obvious, because your customer has internalized those gaps. Sometimes they show up as wishes for new features or complaints about bad design. Sometimes they show up as “side trips” your customer will take during their work processes.

Take cleaning your floor, for example

For years, we had brooms to gather up nasty bits into a dustpan. To make the floor even cleaner, we’d get out a bucket, soap, and mop, then dredge  the mop all over the floor before disposing of the dirty water. An even more unpleasant alternative could be getting down on your hands and knees with a cleaning solution and paper towels. 

The above illustrations are what we call compensating behaviors, actions taken to MacGyver an end-result to a job. But then, in walks P&G with a new and wondrous product, Swiffer. Here is a new product and a new purpose brand, designed to keep you off your knees and deliver sparkling clean floors. In fact, they solved the problem so well, the product name went from a noun into a verb, and people today refer to the duty as “swiffering.”  

Having a methodology that allows you to capture and parse your customer’s processes is the secret to discovering “gaps” wherein you can innovate and be a hero. However, it’s not as simple as that may sound. 

Don’t allow yourself to be diverted into aping the market or following trends, which can lead you, essentially, to mimicking. It’s easy to fall into the trap of duplicating other company’s “successful” efforts. Even if you attempt “improvements” to existing products or services it just adds static and noise to the market. In fact, by adding undifferentiated messages or products, you are complicit in confusing customers. Perhaps even more tragically, you are contributing to the commoditization of products and services which is nasty for everyone, a phenomenon called “racing to the bottom.” In order for commoditized services to survive, their price point must go lower and lower, and with it, quality.

Your market is broader than you think

If you honestly experience life through your customer’s eyes, you’ll see that they don’t just consider products within your industry to solve their problems; they entertain a wide range of approaches from — pretty much anywhere. 

Solutions cobbled together using disparate tools aren’t uncommon. This isn’t difficult to grasp: If you’re a fast food burger restaurant considering “How do we make our restaurant more desirable for lunchtime here in our office park location,” you don’t consider only other burger restaurants to be your competition, but you might consider any restaurant within 10 minutes of the office park your competition. Taking it to the next level, you might consider “grocery stores,” “delivery services,” “meal replacement drinks,” “intermittent fasting” or “eating an early dinner” as your competition. This is the level of granularity required for a true jobs to be done, customer-centric approach to marketing and innovation.

This is the difference between observing correlation (finding similar patterns in those who successfully accomplish tasks) versus causality (understanding why a task is possible or what precipitates its action in the first place.)

Once you understand a cause, you can then determine several things accurately, such as: 

Who is your competitor, really? When you sensitively immerse yourself in your customer’s job process, you’ll likely see that customers are themselves very innovative. You may make and sell traditional gardening equipment, only to learn that customers in cramped apartments have learned to use Tupperware, aluminum baking pans, serving spoons, and clotheslines to great effect to enjoy growing their own fresh flowers or herbs. As previously mentioned, competition can come from anywhere. Understanding how your customers innovate can drive any number of new directions for your product design, education, or marketing.

What characteristics (product design, education, service offering) do you need to bring together to help your customer achieve a successful outcome? Considering our apartment gardener, you may learn that their combination of passion, ingenuity, self-driven research, and “earthiness” are themselves illuminating in comparison to what the gardening industry has been providing. What you can deliver therefore is integrated services that solve their need to research and “hire” products from such a diverse range of companies.

For example:

  • Gardening kits where the limited-space gardener can select from curated materials in pre-determined areas such as soils, containers, seeds or starters, or hydration
  • A new social network dedicated to limited space growing, where those in high-rises can share their successes and challenges with single-family structures without yards

Therefore, as far as innovation is concerned, the ultimate question you’re asking, once you’ve determined what the job to be done is in your customer’s mind, sounds like this: 

What can be done to help the customer get the job done better than anyone else?

How will you know if your solution is better? Your customer will tell you, directly. You just have to be sensitive enough to listen, and not be addicted to foregone conclusions.

One of the greatest aspects of JTBD is it is non-commoditizing. By prioritizing what customers truly need, you innovate through the lens of causation, not through benchmarking (which leads to commoditization.) The net effect creates sustainable and differentiable strategy. 

Functional vs Emotional – Social Aspects of JTBD

In B2B, especially, we hyper-focus on the functional jobs to be done, I.e. “I need to deliver products from one city to another city in less time than my competition for a comparable cost.”

However, to completely understand a customer’s involvement with a job to be done, there is an additional component that is more difficult to measure, but is nonetheless important; the emotional and social aspects of getting a job done. 

Back to our apartment gardener: How does raising fresh tomatoes from a small terrace box make our gardener feel? What emotions drive them to choose tomatoes over, say, flowers? 

Here’s another. Consider the emotional drivers behind even the most foundational human needs, such as shelter. Consider the branding and marketing choices to be made for a home builder who has clients comfortable with statements like, “I want to choose a company to design my house that will make me feel more exclusive when I talk about them to my buddies on the golf course.” In this instance, the functional job of house building is subjugated to the emotional and social need of personal exclusivity brought about by choosing an influential designer.

It’s therefore very important to structure your fact-gathering during research to attempt to understand what emotional and social needs may be present in even the most mundane jobs, and what the search criteria looks like to that customer. A few more examples of this behavior can be found in perfume (help me feel unique), rare whisky (help me build a memory), and social clubs (help me belong) among many more. 

BSLLC offers branding, strategy, and design solutions because we believe businesses operate at their highest growth potential when guided by a holistic set of values and goals. 

If you would like to learn more about how BS LLC can help you grow from the inside out, please send us a message or give us a call.  Additionally, you can take an in-depth look at our services and resources. Contact Ben Greenberg
513-673-6227

Should You Rebrand After An Acquisition?

You’ve just acquired a firm or been acquired. What are some good reasons to rebrand?

Brand management used to be a much simpler proposition than it is now. When the “big idea” was king (think Don Draper & Co.) you had a handful of media channels and a fairly straightforward customer definition.

Now there are so many stakeholders and channels, not to mention all the methods for which  products and services can be monetized, that branding has become a wildly intricate endeavor. 

The complexity has given rise to the notion of brand “architecture.” It takes more than a village, it takes a full-on, well-designed city infrastructure to manage the layers of modern brands.

Post merger and / or acquisition, things get even hairier. Now you’re taking two entities with (presumably) defined offerings, each with their own set of stakeholders, preferences, and history of working together, and altering the perception of those relationships.

The action that was originally undertaken (the merger or acquisition) with the goal of strengthening or building, can easily confuse, disenfranchise, or disappoint existing or potential customers if not planned and executed with discipline.

Managing Perceptions

The economic value of a brand is expressed as how it is perceived relative to the needs of the customer. Managing that perception has become a house of cards for many. How a service, talent, or product is perceived in the mind (or in the “tribe”) of your customers is a highly subjective and psychological matter. There is the personality and the promise made or implied, and there is the delivery of that promise: all combined, you have “the brand.” However, the subtlety involved in matters of design, naming, imagery, language, etc. belies the immense economic value brands represent. Seemingly minor actions such as changing typefaces, transitioning to a lighter shade of one of the partner brand colors, or publishing an out-of-character point of view about a subject critical to your customers can have potentially disastrous — or powerfully beneficial implications.

Post M&A, the newly created entity now must blend and manage the implied values of the 2 previous entities. No easy task!Brands and their definitions are therefore assets, and must be treated as such.

Why Brand Architecture is Critical

This article assumes that a merger or acquisition has taken place between two organizations, each with their own established brands.

By doing so we can examine a larger potential set of interactions and the importance of managing them.

Each brand in a larger structure therefore has a role in supporting the group, and the relationship between brands needs to be defined and managed. Maybe nurtured is a better word.

To better understand how those relationships function, let’s consider just three forms of brand architecture, the house of brands, the branded house, and endorser brands. 

House of Brands

In the House of Brands structure, Individual brands are positioned on their specific benefits with little or no relationship back to the master brand. P&G’s hair care offerings are an illustration of this: Dandruff control (Head & Shoulders), Shampoo-conditioner blend (Pert), Glamor (Pantene.) But notice that P&G doesn’t brand these products as “Procter & Gamble Hair Blend” or P&G Glamor Shampoo. Marketing a set of sub brands purely on the basis of their individual reasons for being allows for clear targeting of niche benefits to customers who seek specific solutions. Of course, the wide range of benefits are brought to you thanks to the master brand, but this is very subtly implied, if it’s ever overtly stated at all.

Branded House

The classic example of the Branded House is FedEx, where a master brand’s sub-brands describe differences within the world of logistics: FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, FedEx Freight, etc. The implication clearly is that you’ll always get a “FedEx quality experience” with any specific service attached to their name.

Great brand strategy is the process of understanding where a brand has been, it’s current market position, and it’s long term goals. From this strategy, we can achieve future goals based on a deep understanding of how a brand’s products or services solve problems for customers and what moves those customers to make decisions.Contact Ben Greenberg today to ensure that your vision and brand strategy is aligned.

Endorsements

Think of any example of two brands separated by the words, “by” or “from,” such as “Courtyard by Marriott.” At first blush you may think that this is no different than the aforementioned relationships P&G’s beauty brands have with Procter & Gamble. But the situation is very different. Why? Because there are no P&G branded beauty products. 

Marriott is it’s own brand of hotel, distinct from Courtyard. However, the emotional value-connection back to Marriott lends a specific feeling, flavor, and experience to Courtyard that is strongly implied — and therefore must be managed.

There are other, more nuanced versions of brand architecture we could discuss, such as token endorsements (where a well-known brand’s icon, logo, or phrase appears on a smaller brand), the linked name (such as Apple’s iMac, iPhone, iTunes, etc.) and the world of subbrands, sometimes referred to as “brands within a brand” or an “ingredient brand.” Car companies do this often, since a model by a manufacturer will often evolve with its own specific customer base. Consider just a couple of Toyota brands, the Prius and the Accord; clearly their own brands within the Toyota brand that speak to distinct customer groups in distinct voices.

Post M&A: Should You Rebrand?

Thus far, we’ve been dishing out a branding-101 lesson. On to the good stuff.

According to Harvard Business Review, M&A is fraught with failure. Huge failure.

M&A is a mug’s game, in which typically 70%–90% of acquisitions are abysmal failures.Why is that so? The answer is surprisingly simple: Companies that focus on what they are going to get from an acquisition are less likely to succeed than those that focus on what they have to give it. (This insight echoes one from Adam Grant, who notes in his book Give and Take that people who focus more on giving than on taking in the interpersonal realm do better, in the end, than those who focus on maximizing their own position.)

Hearkening back to the start of our article, we mentioned “managing perceptions.” In the previous quote, the diamond in the rough is the perception of what the dominant partner in M&A has to give — both to the acquired firm, and of course, to the customers of the new, resulting entity. 

From a branding perspective, therefore, there are several choices following M&A. The most often experienced being:

  • Staying the course — allow the existing brands to maintain their identities 
  • The acquired brand is absorbed, with the dominant brand retaining, or evolving, it’s identity. (Sometimes, the reverse occurs, but not nearly as often.) 
  • A new brand is created, leveraging the strengths of the two parties

Despite all of the conversation about rebranding, it should be noted that there are many good reasons NOT to rebrand:

  • Your organization is now “open under new management,” but there is no significant change to the vision or the offering of the company.
  • Internal teams in the organization are simply bored with the existing brand. Although this could be true, the bigger question is: What does the market think of your brand? Test your perceptions against the market.
  • Your current brand has strong perceptions and recognition. This is a carry-over from the previous point; if your brand has clear strengths from the point of view of customers, you may benefit from an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach.

What to Keep in Mind When Rebranding After a Merger or Acquisition

Coming together creates the perception of a truly new company. Even if you retain one of the partner’s names in totality, the feeling or expectation in the market is, of course, that something big has just happened — something has really changed. It may have the same name, but that company isn’t the same anymore.

So then, how do you re-wrap this new entity? What should guide the rebrand or brand evolution? 

Ask yourself some straightforward (but challenging) questions: 

  • In this new entity, does a master brand exist that fuels this new personality? If so, how? Added credibility? Added visibility? New associations that bolster the brand proposition?
  • Does the new entity drive a powerful need for a separate brand because of new associations? Or maybe it avoids an existing negative or competitive market presence?
  • Does a master profit formula exist that allows the new brand ecosystem to thrive? Or does the blended ecosystem give us clear insight on what we cannot continue or achieve?

The first bullet indicates that you’re building a new or extended Branded House. Just like the example of FedEx, the master brand’s established characteristics will define the limits of the new expression.

The second bullet reveals that you’re establishing or growing a House of Brands. Citing P&G, if you have a new entity that is clearly addressing a specific customer need in a differentiated way, it can and should have it’s own unique expression. 

The third bullet speaks to the long-term health of your merger and its impact on culture.

If you’re struggling with the questions above, there are some things you can do (and BS LLC can help you with.) 

Clearly articulate the new entity’s customer-facing value proposition

This can be a “thought experiment.” Play out the scenarios in as many different ways as you and your team can visualize. The north star to maintain while doing this, however, is what your customer’s actually need. What job are they hiring the new company’s products or services to do? This may require some new research. (Hint: BSLLC can help with that, too.) 

Create a new brand strategy that is objective, based on clear market observation

From an insights-driven value proposition, you can map out a resulting brand strategy. Again, if you’re struggling with your rebrand or existing brand evolution, doing this as a “thought experiment” can yield powerful insights. By determining what the resulting strategies for success would need to be, you can perhaps more easily determine the correct brand flavor and approach for the new entity.

It’s easy to get lost

When you’re in the midst of a merger or acquisition and tasked with determining a new brand direction, it’s not hard to be overwhelmed. You’re swimming in a world of mixed realities, both abstract and concrete. It’s to your advantage to work with a team that understands customer research, brand strategy, creative strategy, and message activation (or “delivery.”)

Doing so frees you to do the linear, measurable tasks of logistics, while your branding partners (like us) can extract and distill insights from data and present you with fact-based options regarding everything from naming, to persona definition, to identity design, communications design, and comprehensive branding.

BS LLC offers branding, strategy, and design solutions because we believe that businesses operate at their highest growth potential when guided by a holistic set of goals, informed by shared values, and driven by well-crafted tools. 

If you would like to learn more about how BS LLC can help you grow from the inside out, please send us a message or give us a call.  Additionally, you can take an in-depth look at our services and resources.

Contact Ben Greenberg
513-673-6227

Conducting Better Research Interviews Leads to Better Marketing

There is an art — and a science — to conducting fruitful marketing research interviews. Here’s how we do it at BS LLC

The tried and true staple of marketing research, desk research, has undoubtedly changed over the years. Long, long gone are the days when you (or a contractor) spent hours in a physical library pouring over vast volumes of old data.

However, despite a genuinely mind-numbing array of sources online, you still arrive at a place where the only way to get the customer or industry-specific information you need is by having one-on-one conversations with the right people

This article will give you a quick overview of how we go about it at BS LLC, where we approach strategy using a Jobs To Be Done (“JTBD,” or sometimes called, “Timeline Theory”) lens.

What this article won’t do is tell you how to go about locating (or “recruiting”) “the right people.” That is a masterclass in and of itself. 

So, we’re going to assume you’ve got a robust list of qualified industry or customer contacts queued up on your calendar. What do you do when the conversation starts?

Set — and fulfill the interviewee’s expectations

During the recruitment process, you’ll want to let your interviewees know what the research is about, and what areas you’ll be exploring. Understand that, despite a willingness to participate and even receiving modest compensation, your subject is still a volunteer. 

Take as much mystery out of the experience as you can upfront. Let your interviewees know that they are there because they are the expert in this particular area, and that the knowledge they are sharing is essential, and will make a difference towards new products, services, or whatever else is relevant to the engagement. Most people enter into these scenarios in good faith, so reciprocate in kind.

Ask for their patience. Let them know that you’ll be offering up rather pedantic-sounding questions, and that you’ll be repeating yourself — perhaps often, along the way.

Listening to your customer’s voice, defining who that customer is, and defining their behaviors as it relates to your brand offering isn’t only good marketing, it’s showing your customer how much you respect them. Research informs everything we do at BS LLC. We’re confident our kind or research will help your brand — and help your customer. Contact Ben Greenberg to get started

Also let them know that, despite your affiliation with Company A or Brand X, your goal isn’t to discuss the merits or flaws of those entities. Instead, the focus is on the results of job processes they enter into and participate in.Of course, secure their permission before you begin to record them. Audio or video recording is highly encouraged. After each recorded interview, you can use digital transcription services to turn the live interactions or video calls into text, and that means they’re searchable. Searchable text takes the pressure off of you as an interviewer to be super diligent with note-taking, liberating you to focus on the conversation.

Personalize the experience

A simple way to get things started after the preamble above is to ask the interviewee to share their professional background, and any personal aspects related to the topic. Ask follow-up questions to let them know that you’re genuinely interested in them as a person, and not just as a repository of facts that you’re trying to tease out.

Attempt to round out The 9 Steps

The aim of JTBD always centers around the person doing the job and the desired result it yields. Who is this person, what is their role, and what is the specific result they are trying to achieve?

This is all pretty dry stuff. And it can be tedious to get your interviewee to talk in mundane specifics. Most will speak in broad strokes and generalities that aren’t measurable. 

The gold, however, is in the mundane, because it’s in the steps people take for granted that gaps and opportunities appear.

To aid you in getting these specifics, you’ll want to inquire about and capture detail for as many of The 9 Steps as you can:

  1. Defining the job
  2. Items or info to gather first
  3. Job prep
  4. Job prep completion
  5. Steps to complete the task
  6. Definition of task progress
  7. Definition of task adjustments
  8. Job conclusion
  9. Archiving or next job prep

We go into more detail on these steps in our White Paper, “Brand-building and Innovation using a Jobs to Be Done Approach 

Fulfilled and Unfulfilled Results

Each of the individual 9 Steps have definitions defined by your customer of what success looks like. Moreover, the entire process aims for a specific, sought-after result. You need to capture those expectations. You also need to define what happens in the interviewee’s mind when a step isn’t getting the hoped-for results! What do they do then? Do they take failures for granted and move on? Do they adapt and improvise?

Principles to keep in mind

From a linear perspective, we’re done. That’s the entire routine! 

If you simply stick to this every interview, the resulting treasure trove of information would get you much further than a series of conversations that often get reduced to discussions about products or brands, and that’s NOT what you’re after. 

However, we can do better. Here are some guiding principles that can help you get to even more juicy details that are meaningful to your customers; the kind that can help you drive change.

The emotional side of things

There are factors other than the usual quantitative goals that can define a successful outcome for any research interview. For example, how might a person think they’ll be perceived by their peers, supervisor, direct reports, family, or friends if they successfully achieve the overall outcome of the job process at hand? How would they feel personally? And then there’s the flip side: what negative feelings enter the picture if the desired result doesn’t come about? Are there feelings they seek to avoid during any particular step or at the end of the process? Emotional motivators such as pride, accomplishment, and yes — fear, embarrassment, and even anger can be revealed, and could have a powerful shaping force on the innovation you’re trying to develop.

Stay linear — “What’s first? Second? Third?”

This process is also named “Timeline Theory” because you’re breaking a task down into 9 steps, and then each of those steps gets examined linearly. To avoid pat, staid, or overly-broad answers to these steps, you’ll want to be gently persistent. “When you’re preparing to do this, what do you do first?” Or, “What comes before you do that?” Eventually most interviewees will start to see the time-based thinking you want them to use.

Repeat and Probe: “What else?”

Probe further whenever you get to the point where the energy surrounding a step or a procedure peters out. A simple way to do that is to ask, “What else,” and then… remain quiet. Don’t rush to fill the silence. Let your interviewee think for a few moments.  In this way, everything included in this part of the process is more likely to be addressed. 

Out on the fringe — Related tasks

Amid one or more steps, you’ll encounter tasks that are not the principal activity or job, but are related. These “side streets” or diversions may be interstitial, or they may run in a parallel path to the primary process you’re examining.The point is: don’t ignore these related tasks. There may be an insight or two to be gained from these other activities that support or inform the current objective.

Patience and Tenacity

Focus groups and survey subjects tend to try to bring conversations back to the brand or service they associate you with. This usually happens with generalized, unmeasurable language that “rates” the product or service. Most often this occurs because the interviewee thinks this is what you’re after.

With gentleness and firmness, return the conversation to your subject’s desired outcome, and the steps they’re taking to achieve that desired result. 

The discipline you put to work in this process will help you craft innovations, solve particular customer problems, and inform your marketing communications in remarkable ways.

BSLLC offers branding, strategy, and design solutions because we believe businesses operate at their highest growth potential when guided by a holistic set of values and goals. 

If you would like to learn more about how BS LLC can help you grow from the inside out, please send us a message or give us a call.  Additionally, you can take an in-depth look at our services and resources. Contact Ben Greenberg
513-673-6227

Brands in Transition

People go through “life events.” Companies have “brand transitions.” When your company is experiencing transition, it may be time to re-brand.

What are examples of “transitions?”

Think about the most significant events in life and you will find a common denominator: movement. 

As the clock ticks, waves swell and break, carrying growth and advancement, fear and decline, windfalls and misfortune, pivots, and repositions. And yes, ultimately death and endings come, and they in turn give rise to new births.

Companies and brands are inherently human and they experience similar changes. However, when profit and loss are involved, the way those events are positioned has a direct effect on the value of the brand.

That’s why big life events in a company often involve rebranding; the way the company or organization presents its story to the world may need to change in order to capitalize on these events or mitigate the potential damage those events could cause.

There are many reasons why a company, organization, or product may need to seriously consider rebranding. The list below isn’t complete, but it should get you thinking about where your entity is in terms of its life cycle.

Merger or acquisition

When companies come together, their service offerings or products suddenly find themselves in a new context. It’s important that the freshly minted environment doesn’t create confusion for existing customers — as well as potential new ones. Same goes for your employees and team members.

Great brand strategy is the process of understanding where a brand has been, it’s current market position, and it’s long term goals. From it, we can achieve future goals based on a deep understanding of how its products or services solve problems for customers and what moves those customers to make decisions
Contact Ben Greenberg today to ensure that your vision and brand strategy is aligned.

During moments of transition, research and subsequent strategy are essential to ensuring a smoother road. Which of your established brand equities should you maintain in order to prevent loss of revenue, but ultimately modify to make sense in the new entity? Can your origin story drive a blended mission & vision? Which cultural attributes and processes make sense to carry forward and which need retooling? How can change happen without creating animosity, confusion, or a feeling of duplicity from  within (cannibalization and no clear purpose) or without (lack of differentiation with competitors, either inside the industry or from within a different consideration set.) 

All of these questions ladder up to brand architecture:the definition of how a master brand and its subsidiary brands—sub-brands or co-brands—interact with and support each other.

New executive leadership

When a new captain takes the helm, the perception of the entire ship changes; certainly the perception from the public changes, and expectations for how fast, far, and smooth the sailing will be.

During these times, brand management may be more subtle than overt, but discipline and rigor are key. New management will always have a new vision, and with a new vision will come new ways of executing. All of these require communication skills that profoundly impact the brand, sometimes changing its character.

Departing from your “origin story”

In the event that a leader enacts vision change, she must think deeply as to whether the brand that led the company to this moment provides a rosy future context. In the early years of a company, brands are developed by two forces: deliberate and emergent. 

Deliberate strategy is calculated, emergent strategy is developed through interaction with customers and the marketplace. A brand is the result of a business’s original experience in the market and through its owners original dreams and goals. This phenomenon is the origin story. 

If a brand departs from its origin story, a rebrand is necessary to steer towards balmier weather.

Significant employee change

Just as one or a handful of people at the top may affect brand representation to the public, its customers, or its shareholders, the same could hold true for a mass influx or mass exodus. When the balance of energy is changed due to the volume of staff, the brand may be in for an inevitable change in the way it looks and speaks about itself. 

In most cases, every attempt will be made to bolster the existing brand and to show that it’s impervious to certain factors or strengthened by others. However, the potential for change needs to be strategically evaluated during these times, so that execution, if needed, doesn’t lag behind.

Think about the situation above wherein a company’s brand reflects its origin story, and if it was well crafted, the brand should reflect its resources, processes, and position. A flight of human resources can deeply impact the veracity of the brand particularly if your company deals in intellectual property.

Your brand story or vision has changed — or needs to

Grossly oversimplified, your organization’s mission is what you do. But your vision is why you do it. 

Every organization has wrestled with expressing why they do what they do. Working this story out is part of why it’s exciting to be part of a thriving organization. However, when the vision change is so profound that it requires a change in the behavior, output, and personality of the organization, a rebrand certainly may be in order. 

There are also a few negative drivers for branding change:

Over-complicated or murky — Have you added multiple social channels without proper editorial rigor? Have you introduced so many new products in a short span of time that your sales literature is inconsistent? Are customers able to understand why all of your products exist in your basket?  Growth is wonderful, but unmanaged growth can choke progress and cause weakening

Lack of differentiation — Keeping up with the competition can go one of two ways: it can breed innovation, or it can breed sameness. If the latter winds up becoming the lion’s share of your business, you’ll need to do something to shake things up if your customers can’t tell the difference between you and the competition. Commoditization happens when companies pursue operational efficiency or benchmarking as an end in itself. This flurry of terminology means: you’re giving away profit and setting yourself up for a short shelf life. 

Bad press, negative experiences, BIG HEADACHES — We all hope to avoid the big trainwrecks that we read about in the press: internal behavioral scandals, financial impropriety, outdated or tone deaf messaging. But in our wildly connected world, a simple misstep could be conflated into a negative equity-shattering event, and if shared amongst the right (or wrong) groups, you have a brand problem that has to be dealt with.

Rebranding is one way to escape such negativity. It is not the only way, but it could be part of your company’s redemption story—which must be lived and embodied as much as crafted and designed. 

OK. Enough of the bad news. What about a great reason to rebrand:

You’ve experienced explosive growth

When you look back on your baby pictures, your high school portraits, your marriage photos, you’re likely to see three very different people. The same is true for companies and brands.

“Grow or die,” as the old maxim says. The goal of every organization isn’t just to keep the lights on, it’s to get more and brighter lights (unless you are this 1020 year-old business in Kyoto, Japan). All this to say, the brand definition you launched will eventually not reflect where you’re going. You have to rebrand to tell your current story, defining your future aspirations, and revealing your strongest strengths.

RE-brand or brand evolution?

At BSLLC, we dislike the phrase, “brand refresh.” Why? Because it signals the presence of some misconceptions:

  • A lack of understanding of the rigor required to develop a comprehensive brand
  • A refusal to take the branding process seriously
  • An unwillingness to change despite clear signals

When we work with existing brands, we always start with the intent of a brand evolution; we want to keep as much of your hard-earned work and reputation intact as possible, and to do so in a way that allows us to build upon it, productively. “Carrying the brand essence forward” is one way to look at it, but it will always take research, time devoted to understanding market forces, and then a creative exploration to see what stays and what goes. 

However, sometimes, the market forces are so powerful that a new brand is an inevitable consequence. Research and strategic planning are, as always, there at the fore, but the output is much more robust.

BS LLC offers branding, strategy, and design solutions because we believe that businesses operate at their highest growth potential when guided by a holistic set of values and goals. 

If you would like to learn more about how BS LLC can help you grow from the inside out, please send us a message or give us a call.  Additionally, you can take an in-depth look at our services and resources.

Contact Ben Greenberg
513-673-6227

So, what is SEO?

SEO – a word that drums up as much confusion as it does clarity. 

When harnessed, it is a powerful process that attracts eyeballs to your carefully curated content. At BS, we often think of SEO as the plumbing or the electric; essential infrastructure that allows individuals and families to perform their daily functions. When SEO works well, it is almost invisible, a true #enabler: the yeast to bread, the grid to design, the internal rhythm to language, the meter to music. SEO enables machines and humans to speak as one. When language is clear and public, it increases the flow of information. When information regarding a product or service meets a human need, it will produce a lead. Once understood theoretically, we can begin to analyze SEO’s parts and pieces. 

Know your market (comps analysis)

The best place to begin is to understand the digital propensities of your market. 

Digital traffic can be generated via Direct, Search, Referral, Social or Ad traffic. By understanding your basis of competition, you can prioritize marketing activities that maximize visibility. 

If you find that your market is driven by direct traffic or brand awareness, SEO may not be your best resource to increase traffic. Instead, you may need to look at alternate digital strategies with a more laser-focused SEO discipline. 

SERPs and Search Features

When you Google or Bing or DuckDuckGo a phrase, the resulting information is called a SERP. In addition to a list of websites, you might see Images, Videos, Local Listings, Reviews, and more. The options represent the search engine attempting to answer your question as proficiently as possible. How? Indices read the data on your website, determine its quality, and reproduce it in a format that meets the SERP feature needs of its consumers. 

The above is precisely the role of SEO. SEO markup allows search engines to deduce the quality and precision of your content to meet the needs of their clients. So, suppose we know what search features the indices deploy to answer questions. In that case, we can develop content and markup engineered to support the index. 

Domain Authority

Just as political candidates need to win the hearts and minds of their constituents to win elections, content needs support to gain prominence. Remember, Google and their counterparts want to provide smart answers. To do so, they need to qualify your content’s value as a potential resource.

Think about this, say I’m Jamie Jamm, and I have a fish shop. I have a nasty propensity to serve old fish that makes people sick. However, I’ve hired a wiz of an engineer to improve my SEO and market phony fresh fish. How does Google prevent me, Jamie Jamm, from spreading that fishy feeling? 

Reputation is the answer. Historically, you could ask a friend or neighbor about the legitimacy of Jamie Jamm’s fish. They might say “STAY AWAY, Jamie is cray.” Google & co. turn instead to math. The formula they use to deliberate trust is colloquially known as Domain Authority (DA). The higher your DA, the more reputable you are. 

So how does it work? DA increases as other websites of high reputation or high DA link to your website. Much like the political concept above, friends tell friends about ideas they support. They refer you to information. Referral links are the primary mechanic to improve your DA and thereby improve your organic score against keywords; the more competitive a keyword, the more important your DA Score is. 

So those are the big SEO concepts we drill at BS. When thoughtfully analyzed, they are part of a Digital Strategy. A good digital strategy sheds light on opportunities to drive and keep new leads.

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Helpful Links

BSLLC offers branding, strategy, and design solutions because we believe businesses operate at their highest growth potential when guided by a holistic set of values and goals. 

If you would like to learn more about how BS LLC can help you grow from the inside out, please send us a message or give us a call.  Additionally, you can take an in-depth look at our services and resources. Contact Ben Greenberg
513-673-6227