Strategic questions to ask before you consider a rebranding endeavor.Continue reading
Project case studies are required high-demand marketing assets for professional service providers. They’re essential resources for your prospects because they provide evidence to support your positioning at every stage of the buyer’s journey. Here’s how it works. As your prospect interacts with your content, such as descriptions of your services or capabilities, or blog articles which demonstrate your insights, relevant case studies and use-cases, provide the proof of your competencies, but that’s not all.
Positioning through Case Studies
The goal of positioning is to articulate the difference between your brand and that of likely alternatives. Your products, services, and capabilities, alone, won’t set you apart. Remember that your competitors offer comparable services and the gap between solutions that you and those of your competitors might be hard to find. The difference between being “on the shortlist” and discussing an opportunity lies making your solutions tangible, compelling and personal.
Case Studies don’t just provide evidence. They help demonstrate how your solutions are relevant to the customer’s problems, and they provide nuanced insights into not only what you do, but also, “how,” and “why” you do what you do. From a branding perspective, your case studies, and project references provide the most significant opportunity to integrate your solutions, with real-world examples that demonstrate your approach and your process.
Positioning Through Case Study Examples
- How your solutions helped mitigate risk
- How your process helps to improve communications
- How you work with similar types of companies
- How your company can handle work of similar scope
- How you dealt with unforeseen challenges
- How you share the same values as the customer
- How your solutions addressed overall business goals
- Demonstrate your roles and competencies
- Demonstrate safety or reduced environmental impact
- Impact your solution had on your customer’s brand
Case Study Structure
Today, we’re going to take a look at how to conduct case study research and structure for how to write a business case study, so that your content educates potential clients, supports the value of your, and express the significance of your company’s service.
Select the Right Client and Use
Before you start developing your case study content, you need to get a few critical details down — the project or the (use case) and the client.
As far as your project or use-case goes, you will want to select projects that best highlight your problem-solving abilities, capture the attention of potential clients within the same niche, and demonstrate the methods by which your company helps minimize risk. Risk is involved when problems arise in the development of a project that cannot be overcome – such as technical problems, critical project timelines or budgeting. For most clients, the projects that require your services are “high-risk” endeavors, so minimizing their exposure to project failure due to cost or schedule overrides can set your firm apart from… the rest.
From a client perspective, you should try to prioritize clients that have recognized brands and segments that reflect your growth opportunities. You might also consider those that have enjoyed positive experiences which you can leverage customer feedback as quotes or testimonials. This allows you to incorporate the voice of your customer to express their values and priorities, as in what was important to them, in your marketing content.
Case Study Context
The first thing you need to do is frame your project with the necessary context provides the reader with information about what this project includes and what it doesn’t. Typically you’ll need to add the client, the project name, location, and key partners involved. For example, let’s say you are developing part of a much bigger project: for example, the next phase of a construction project, the manufacturing process for a pharmaceutical, or the integration of a specific component or system of a wind farm. Most projects are complex endeavors that include an array of stages and elements.
The background of the case helps establish the significance or importance of the project to the client AND the end-users. A project or initiative that is of high strategic importance means that they took great care in selecting the partners and solutions that would help them deliver it. A project’s significance to end-users means establishing the connection between the project and who it ultimately serves. For example, a new 400-bed hospital and the importance of what the access to health care means to the local community or a new school with security features that make it safer for local families.
Always ask the question…
Why does this project exist?
Problems to be Solved (The Scope)
Every initiative is a problem to be solved. Let’s use the word “problem” to incorporate a broad set of challenges that need to be overcome to complete the project successfully. If everything goes smoothly, there might not be much pain, but that doesn’t mean that problems weren’t encountered or solved along the way. Your problem includes the general scope of the project. The range might consist of the size of the project or the timeline, regulatory hurdles, technical challenges, or communication.
Solutions to Problems for Integrators
If you’re an engineer, architect, or you provide technology or product for a built environment or components to a more extensive system, you’re an integrator. Your expertise is realizing the successful delivery of the project. For example, the deliverable may be construction documents, but the results are achieved in the overall successful delivery and satisfaction of the project. When a significant initiative fails, everyone fails with it.
To tell the story of YOUR solution, you will incorporate the services that were utilized to address the challenges of the project. This is the part of your case study where you integrate your services and expand on *how* your services were applied. For example, explaining your proprietary processes, or expanding on the resources in your company that were utilized to deliver the results.
Extract the Challenges
You know your processes inside and out, but they’re not top of mind with your customer. They engaged you for the results and the journey to deliver those results might be overlooked or even completely invisible. Incorporate challenges that needed to be overcome, especially those that required additional problem-solving ingenuity. These are typically “normal,” but also unforeseen problems that need to be diagnosed and resolved. In many cases, these are business problems. By demonstrating that you understand the financial ramifications of the problem, you can provide business solutions that your competitor might solve with engineering solutions.
What I’m getting at is a valuable insight about telling the story of your solutions. In most situations, more time and more money can be added to any project to solve technical problems. However, sometimes, a business-minded consultant can advise the client about restructuring the project or addressing the pros and cons of design decisions that will impact project cost or operational efficiency.
Think about the value of demonstrating how project changes will cost an additional, unplanned $500,000, but will save the company $10 Million over the next five years. Remember that the above and beyond insights that you demonstrate will help propel you to the top of the short list.
Position your brand values
Great case study examples find ways to incorporate “why” you deliver your services the way that you offer them. For example, you can integrate the principles that guide how you serve your customers or why your products and services were packaged and delivered in your specific way.
- Integrated communications
- Green Solutions
- Agile project optimization
- High Efficiency
When you incorporate your values into your case study, you are demonstrating what you value and opening the door to the emotional reasoning that your customer selected you in the first place. When we understand what another person or company values, we gain comfort in understanding how they will approach working with us and dealing with the challenges that might come up in the process.
Review the Results
Reflect on the tangible, measurable figures that support the overall success of the project. Sometimes, these are takeaways that you will add in later, as your project lives in the real world and serves your client and the end-users. However; there’s no need to limit the results on hard-facts. Perceptions are also important. You can describe the experience of your efforts. For example, you can incorporate how the project champions felt about the delivery of the project or how end users experience the final product.
Practice Project Storytelling
Remember that your sales challenge is to differentiate your business from that of a likely competitor and it’s unlikely that you’re in a category of one. That means that your competitor is considering at least two other solution providers to work with. This is true for existing customers as well – they are vetting potential options to find out which one provides better value.
Don’t wait until a project is complete. Develop and enrich your cases in stages, from the earliest point, until long after they are experienced and enjoyed.
If your prospects understand what you do and what’s in it for them, good for you. You’re in a good starting place to start building a value proposition to separate your brand from similar businesses in your category. A value proposition in marketing doesn’t simply explain what you do. A compelling value proposition also describes who you help and how you’re different from everyone else.
Targeting Your Audience to Separate from the Pack
A great value proposition is an important strategic branding asset because new prospects are unfamiliar with your brand. They put your business alongside a few others in your category and quickly assess who’s the right fit. Your positioning statements and messaging are important elements in reinforcing how you want your brand to be perceived.
Creating a Category of One
Competition is fierce in most categories and business leaders need to take a comprehensive approach to improving their positions and protecting their markets. A compelling story encourages prospects to believe you and to prefer you, compared to others, and preference drives improved conversion rates and more qualified leads.
We may be confident in the quality of our solutions, and hopefully, our existing customers will agree. But to truly succeed and grow, we need to educate and convince more people of this – especially potential customers who may discover us for the first time by reading articles, visiting our website, or finding us through search or social channels.
An effective business value proposition is vital: it’s a visible and convincing statement that tells your ideal customer why they should buy from you, including specific benefits of how this purchase will make something in their lives better. What problems can it solve? What does it improve? What do you do better than your competition? Why should customers spend their valuable time and money with you?
The Ingredients of Your Value Proposition Model
Your prospective customers are always asking some version of the question, “What’s in it for me? so taking into consideration their point of view, is essential in crafting a message that is relevant to what they value. If you can get this right, your business value proposition will be an important asset in driving more qualified leads, because your message is:
Make sure your Unique Value Proposition is Relevant
If you are conducting buyer persona research effectively, you’ll have a good idea about the problems, questions and beliefs that your customers have about businesses in your category. The “value” that your business provides is specific to a targeted, ideal customer, and it addresses a specific pain point that your customer understands and agrees with.
A good value proposition is unique
The universe of your brand exists solely in the space of your market. It’s unlikely that you’re competing with Nike, but you should take care that your positioning strategy doesn’t seem exactly like the other companies who are competing for the same opportunities that you are. Your positioning should explain why you are the only….. (What?).
Make your selling point brief
Value propositions are short, memorable phrases, that use language that is relevant to your audience rather than catchy slogans or business jargon.
Create a value proposition that is integrated
Your value statement doesn’t “carry” your brand. It is supported by other content, blog articles, and visual brand assets and evidence that reinforce your core promise. Is your messaging believable? Is it consistent with other assets. Are you using case studies to support your messaging?
Map Your Product or Service to Competitors Offers
Let’s make things easy. Before you knock out your value proposition, you’ll want to take inventory of a few critical items. Using a simple scoring system (download value proposition template for positioning), you can quickly identify areas where you compete effectively by assessing your main customer groups, their core problems, and the key competitors or competitor-types that you face within your category.
Scoring is easy. Score the effectiveness of your business on a simple scale that starts at “below average” and goes to “above average”. You can plot your performance and that of your competitors anywhere on that spectrum. This is a relatively easy way of visualizing positions which you can own. See the following example:
Your Positioning Inventory List
Use the following elements to score your matrix:
- Group customers into broad categories such as segment, products, or company size.
- Identify broad groups of core problems that your target customers face.
- Select and review competitor value propositions
- Compare how selling points are relative to your target customers
Ready the following elements to include in your statement:
- Short description of what you do
- Synthesize customer analysis to describe your ideal customer
- Narrow down your problems to a single, core customer-challenge
- Why should the customer select your business?
A Template for an Effective Business Value Proposition
Now you’re ready to put it all together. ‘Writing short’ effectively can be a challenge even for seasoned copywriters, but consider your business value statements to be a vital first impression. Treat this short introduction as you would a quick in-person pitch, where you may only have seconds to wow them – or drive them elsewhere. The following frameworks can be a good guide to deciding not only the right wordplay but intensity of your message.
How to write a Value Proposition Template
If you can consolidate your value proposition down to a single brief sentence, you’re going to provide a great deal of clarity for your customer. You can remix the following statements to fit your own needs.
- We’re ( Doing what ).
- We help (Who) solve (What Problem)
- We help (Who) accomplish or overcome (Problem) by doing ( Our Unique Value )
- We are (what customer values) For (Customer Group), who (context: have what problem)
Having trouble narrowing it all down to a simple statement? In many B2B environments, there are multiple beneficiaries of your solutions, or steps in the value chain, and you need to appeal to all of them.
- Start with a headline that describes your core benefit.
- Expand with 2-3 brief sentences that include (for whom you provide this benefit), and why (how it benefits customer).
- Refine with short sentences or bullet points to expand for unique sub-segments.
Where to Display Your Value Proposition
Experts also recommend displaying your proposition anywhere visitors and potential customers are likely to see it, not just once on a main page. This will reinforce the message and also make sure it isn’t missed. You may not need to include the entire value statement formula everywhere, but at least feature the basic takeaway or perhaps vary the benefits on different pages.
Overall, the value proposition examples definitely all have had other assets going for them, such as innovative products and well-designed sites. But the effort started with defining and sharing what made them work well.
The name of your brand, company, or product can be an important differentiator. These strategic factors can guide your brand naming process.Continue reading
You have invested in your website and creating effective content to describe your solutions, but your B2B customers still need a connection that feels relevant and human. They can’t shake your hand in person and talk about current events while taking your measure. Instead, they rely on your About Us page for that first, personal connection. Is it making the right impression? It’s one of the most critical, most viewed pages on your website. So why is it treated as the stepchild? Business owners who happily launch into a discussion of the fine points of their product list will spit nails at the thought of writing about themselves and their company.
Here is a look at why you need to care about your About Us page and 8 ways to create a great one. With examples!
What a Great About Us Page Does for Your Business
Your customer is conducting research on companies and solutions that are a good fit. He wants to engage with a brand that solves his problems and/or shares his values. After a prospect checks out your home page or product page, he navigates to your About Us page. Is your company a good fit?
When you wonder how to write an About Page, just remember to talk directly to that person. Tell him why you are a better choice than your competitor and how your background makes you the best fit.
8 Essentials for a Powerful About Us Page
Wondering how to write a killer About Us page? It’s not that difficult. Follow these 8 guidelines to tell your story and differentiate yourself from your competitors.
#1. Be conversational. Avoid jargon and corporate speak. Actually, talk to your visitors. Your goal is to make them feel at home with you.
That means using “I” and “you,” not third person, which sounds forced. Be direct and casual. Avoid flowery, fluffy statements, which come across as insincere and empty.
Feel free to inject your personality into your writing and photos. Visitors relate to you more easily and you sound likeable.
A great example: Apptopia
#2. Make it about your customers. People read your About Us page to find out how you can solve a problem or benefit them. That means you first need to know who your target market is and your ideal customer. Once you’ve figured out your buyer persona, you know exactly how to focus your message.
Write about what your product and company does for them. In fact, show that your business story is what gives you the value that your reader is seeking.
A great example: Copyblogger
#3. Give some background. Tell your story. You’ve got one, whether you’ve been in business for 10 years or 10 days. Everyone loves to hear how you got your start, your ups and downs and your future plans. They identify with it.
Be sure to couple your story with your values and your brand.
Two great examples: Yellow Leaf Hammocks and Marie Catribs
#4. Give proof. Back up your expertise with facts and hard evidence. Highlight one or two testimonials, list your awards and credentials, mention statistics that prove your skill.
A great example: Tumblr
#5. Express what you believe in. Tell readers why you’re serious about your product or service, about your mission and values.
This is the place to mention any charitable and public service contributions. Whether it’s supporting little league or helping people after a tornado, let your readers know.
A great example: WorldWildlife
#6. Show them what you look like. People love to see real photos. Let them match the name to the face, both you and your team, as they read your About Us page. It makes you seem real and establishes a stronger connection.
While you’re at it, add photos of your workplace and perhaps your neighborhood. Your visitors trust you when they know the people they are dealing with.
A great example: MailChimp
#7. Make it easy on the eyes. Big blocks of copy don’t work anywhere on a website, including your About Us page. Break up copy with subheads, short paragraphs, bullets, graphics and photos.
Without visual interest, they won’t stick around to real your story. Your text needs to be easy to scan.
A great example: Moz
#8. Make it easy for visitors to check you out. Post your social media icons and links where they are easy to find. People like to see that you are established on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.
It gives your company a solid feel. They know if something goes wrong, you’ll be easy to find.
A great example: Eight Hour Day
Sound like a lot of work? Just Cherry Co. can help. From targeting your ideal market to converting visitors to customers, we understand the fine art of content strategy.
Need help creating your buyer persona? Once you know their needs and behaviors, you can personalize your content to appeal to them.
Your brand is the most essential attribute of your company, but your brand is not organized, quantified, or defined by logos and visual artifacts. They are important parts of your messaging, yes, but branding is everything about your company that helps it stand out to your buyers from your competition. It’s your name, your product, your reputation, your logo, your website, your advertising – the recognizable face of your company. It’s how others “feel” about your business and the players are customers, competitors, employees, experts, and community members.
Your brand is a “promise” that must be perceived by the people you most wish to reach. They, not you, determine how effective your brand is. Ultimately, what’s at stake is how effectively you can communicate, deliver a solution that satisfies, and meet the expectations of your prospects, while being preferred to others in your category. Your brand exists in comparison to other companies that can solve similar problems; so you don’t have to worry about the entire universe of customers and competitors, just those in your category.
The Importance of Brand Awareness
89% of manufacturers reported “brand awareness” as the most important goal of their content marketing efforts, yet 76% of them viewed their content marketing as ineffective. So what exactly is brand awareness?
Think about it this way: if you have a rare cardiac condition, do you settle on a general practitioner, or do you seek out a specialist with deep expertise in understanding your condition, who’s on the forefront of cutting-edge solutions? Now you might think that example is extreme, but consider the risks that your your customers take when they trust you with their investments and their reputations? Brand awareness means that you are “known” by a specific audience for being “good” at something. When you’re good at something, you can attract customers who are the best fit for your products. Effective branding will improve recognition, create trust with your buyers, and help generate new customers. Your business simply cannot thrive without strong, positive brand awareness.
How are You Differentiated from the Competition?
The first step in creating a strong brand is to focus on what sets you apart from your competitors. Many a business has found extraordinary success by articulating their unique capabilities or capitalizing on their highly-specialized niche product.
So, what makes your business special? The more crystal-clear this is, the stronger your branding will be. Do you create a specialized valve joint used in the energy industry, or do you make a wider range of products with unprecedented quality? Is your customer service second to none? Ultimately, though, this is not up to your business — it’s up to your customers. It’s up to you to find out how your business is perceived and help spread the good word. Understanding what makes you you is the most important prerequisite to pumping up your brand awareness.
Tell Your Story
Once you know what sets you apart from your competition, don’t keep it a secret – craft your story. Why did you start your business? Why are you passionate about your niche? Who does your business help? How satisfied are your customers with your products and service?
Conveying this to your audience – why you do what you do and what your customers think of you – in an engaging story serves as both a brand foundation and a brand amplifier. Manufacturing can be a very technical, even somewhat “boring” industry. Humanizing your company by sharing your heart-felt story will help your buyers accept you as a real person behind the product.
Use Consistent Branding
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s often overlooked. Your business needs to be represented the same everywhere. Your business name, logo, images, fonts and colors need to match across all marketing materials and all external platforms. Think of your website as “home base,” where every aspect of your brand is represented. Your social media channels, online listings, business cards, email signatures, product guides and catalogs need to all be branded identically. This ensures a consistent brand experience for your buyers and makes everything from your company easily recognizable.
Become a Valuable Resource
Embrace the fundamentals of Inbound Marketing and position your business as a thought leader in your industry by regularly sharing informative, helpful, educational and entertaining material tailor-made to address the problems and questions of your target buyers. Examples of valuable content include:
- Blog – Consistently publishing blog articles is a great way to get new visitors to your site, as well as help keep leads and customers coming back.
- Downloadable Content such as eBooks, product guides and catalogs are great lead generation tools and help to establish your company as experts in your industry.
- Podcasts can be informative and educational, even conversational and entertaining. Speak directly to your target customer by hosting a podcast specifically covering their industry. Invite other specialists, in their industry and yours, to join you in discussing the most relevant topics for that specific segment.
- Publish a Book – This one’s advanced, but certainly doable if you are a natural writer or you have one on your team. Nothing says industry leader like being a published author in your field.
The more resources you create and share, the more your business will become the go-to manufacturer within your niche in the eyes of your buyers and prospects.
Connect Through Social Media
In addition to being an avenue for sharing your content, social media channels are an invaluable resource for actually connecting to and interacting with your current and potential customers. LinkedIn, in particular, hosts the potential to move well beyond the virtual “networking” and connect with your audience on a much more meaningful level. Join a group for your target industry (or better yet, host one), where members can share tips, ask questions, and stay in touch with one another in “real time.”
Ultimately, shaking a bad reputation and negative word-of-mouth is tough to do with any level of marketing, so the performance of your business is still paramount to the strength of your brand. It’s up to you to produce a great product, deliver superb customer service, and exceed customer expectations at every opportunity. Real customer referrals will help establish your brand as the trustworthy, industry leader that you are.
Additionally, branding is just as important internally as it is for external marketing. Without proper branding, your employees might lose sight of the purpose of your product (and, ultimately, your business) and your sales reps will lack the ability to properly articulate the reasons why prospects should buy your product.
Your brand should be the strongest, most reliable thing in your marketing arsenal. To effectively grow your business, you need a clear vision of who you are and what you offer, as well as the strategic plan to properly communicate that message to your buyers.
Today’s corporate buyers are tech-savvy professionals looking for solution providers. They want a personalized message, one that resonates with them, piques their interest and one that moves them towards a request. More importantly, they want to know the “how and why” of your solution.
Your B2B marketing strategies must push past the all-too-common and outdated approaches of the past. They must avoid overused buzzwords, confusing descriptions, and vague statements. You must focus less on your product’s specifications, its overall envelope, and its operating parameters, and more on the positive outcomes that result from buying your product or using your service.
Your goal moving forward should be to do away with the same tired declarations and statements, the ones used far too often by your competitors. Personalizing your B2B marketing is essential so that buyers, design engineers, and other high-level decision makers are made fully aware of how your company, its products and its services can remove a going concern. Here are five ways a B2B marketing agency can personalize your offering.
1. Using Historical Performance to Create a Connection
Customer case studies and whitepapers add the often-ignored human touch that corporate buyers want. It creates a connection. It defines a common industry-wide problem and outlines how your company’s solution removes a long-standing problem. This is your opportunity to define your core competencies. It’s your chance to outline your company’s history of performance. Free downloads in the form of customer case studies and business whitepapers are excellent tools that leave a lasting impression with your customers.
2. Defining Personal Benefits
It’s not that a product or service’s benefits can’t be appreciated. Instead, it’s how those benefits are defined. Start by outlining what your main contact’s biggest concerns are. Next, focus on how your solution provides definitive personal benefits for your customer.
What is it about your product or service that makes your contact’s job easier? How does your offering remove a problematic issue, and what if anything can your offering do to make your customer’s life easier? Research by CEB shows that adding a personal touch differentiates your offer and facilitates a stronger buyer-seller relationship. A B2B marketing agency can help you define those personal benefits so that customers see your offering as unique and value-added.
3. Using Market-Driven Data For Uniform Messaging
Companies often treat inbound leads separately from their outbound leads. However, the information gathered at industry tradeshows, conferences, discussions, and customer face-to-face visits, can be used online and vice versa. A company’s history of sales and its most popular offering are invaluable tools to be leveraged through digital marketing and advertising. In fact, your B2B marketing message should be uniform across all platforms as today’s business professional won’t often distinguish between online and offline messaging.
In the end it’s all about leveraging data to build revenue.
4. Using Real-Time Data for Sales-Driven Activities
Your website and company blog are full of vital information. You can define where leads come from by reviewing a user’s IP address. You are able to define which landing page produces the highest conversion rate. You can easily tell which digital advertising campaign generates the most clicks and you can quickly disseminate which email marketing campaign performs the best. All of this information is made readily available to you in real-time; customers are speaking to you right now by how they interact with you online. All you need to do is use that information to personalize your B2B marketing message.
5. Using Customer-Centric Content and Story Telling
Some of the strongest and most widely-recognized B2B brands increase awareness simply by telling stories, ones about how their product, service or insight has helped their customers. This is evident by Google’s own storytelling strategies, ones where they outline how online publishers and businesses are able to reach their audience through Google Adwords.
A B2B enterprise can use those same story-telling strategies to build a connection with its audience and the ideas for those stories come from the real-time data provided by customers. Our aforementioned reference to real-time data isn’t just about knowing what digital strategies work best; generating renewed interest comes from generating focused content and using story-telling. The ideas for both come straight from your own website and company blog. Your metrics and analytics are critical tools and a B2B marketing agency is best able to show you how to leverage that intelligence.
You don’t need to ask every single customer what message resonates most with them. The right B2B marketing agency can show you how to leverage the information you have right now to create a personalized message your business customers will respond to.
If you’re looking for a partner that will help you create a personalized message, then contact us now and get a free inbound marketing audit.
The best business leads are already sold. They’ve pre-qualified themselves because they’ve bought into your company and closing is easy when you’re the right fit, at the right time, and they “get it.” However, if all you do is sell features or use your product’s price as the lowest common denominator, then you’ve set the wrong conditions for winning business; jostling back and forth in a never-ending price war or arms race with competitors rarely works. So, what’s the solution for companies who haven’t yet learned to adopt solution-based marketing strategies?
Drive Profits by Repeat Customers
Closing the first sale isn’t enough; keeping customers coming back is achieved by focusing on the customer’s evolving problems and not your product’s features or sticker price. Features are easily replicable by a competitor and differentiating your business on price is a “race to the bottom.” If you want to drive profits, your greatest opportunity is increasing the coveted metric CCLV (Customer Lifetime Value) and the primary driver of CCLV (Try Our Online CLV Calculator) is repeat business. Here are five solution-based marketing approaches that will generate better business opportunity leads and help you retain customers, long after the whiz of your widget or the pain of your price has long faded. Become that missing piece your customers are looking for.
Steer Clear of “Me-Too” Declarations
Your customers have heard it all before. Everyone claims to be the best. Everyone claims their product will get the job done. However, your customers need something more substantive than a generic, all-too-familiar declaration. They need to know why they should deal with your company. “Quality” is one of the most misleading offenders of “lies companies tell themselves.” (( Quality )) by its definition is an entirely subjective endeavor, defined entirely by the consumer ( someone other than you ). It’s relatively easy to scan the landscape of competing offers and insert your company in the “me-too” category. Sure, that kind of thinking will get you a seat at the table, but the problem is that the table is already crowded with hungry patrons and you’ll end up sharing a seat with an unpleasant guest who will, metaphorically, eat off your plate. That’s just rude.
The real problem is that you’re sitting with all of your competitors instead of the table with all of your customers and the reason that you get an invitation to their table? It’s because you share the same values and you can participate in a conversation that’s entirely relevant and interesting to them.
The most complicated markets are mostly governed by the social capital of real world relationships. Business relationships are governed by the same principles that personal relationships are based on: empathy, understanding, relevance, and trust.
Focus on your core competencies as they specifically relate to identified customer needs, problems, and expectations, and then justify your quality by your record of exceeding customer expectations. Use this as the basis for defining why your company is different. This is your value proposition and it must be fleshed-out in order to appeal to your business audience.
Avoid Buzzwords and Overused Jargon
Making outrageous claims that can’t be substantiated is not what your customers are looking for. They need something more definitive about the solutions your company brings. Speak to your existing customer base. How would these customers define your value? Why do they return again and again? What makes these brand evangelists so loyal? Once you have those answers, then you’ll have a better idea of how to market to future prospects. Language is important and industry jargon can do more to hurt your perception than it helps. When you speak the language that your customer speaks, you are able to relate to them in practical terms.
You will need the courage to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself, “how do our customers perceive our category?”, “What do they believe now?”, “What do we want them to believe?”, and “Why will they believe us?”
Evidence is plentiful if you can define what you want your customers to believe. Once you know what “they value” you can operationalize the process of documenting and promoting the things that are directly relevant, interesting, and valued by your customers.
Don’t be Afraid of Openness
Don’t hold back on offering your most coveted information and downloads for free. Use them across all your business marketing platforms. Showcase your skill-set on social media and don’t assume that showing too much will give your competitors ammunition. You aren’t marketing to them. Accept that your best efforts will be replicated and adapted by competitors. This is the nature of business and you should share in equal proportions as you are willing to steal. Now, I don’t mean that in an unethical way, but I encourage you to benchmark your own business by how relevant, engaging and competent your top competitors are to the same customers. If your business is in a fortunate leadership position, you will constantly be innovating and looking to solve the problems of tomorrow.
You are marketing your abilities to future customers, ones who are looking for companies just like yours. It’s common to think that showing too much is a bad thing. However, your customers won’t see it that way. They’ll come to see your company as an innovative solutions-provider.
Get to Know Your Market’s “Personas”
Defining your market’s unique customer personas is critical to generating business leads. This means fully understanding all the different decision makers you sell to. You need to know how they make decisions, what concerns and fears they have, how they go about bringing on new vendors and how they make a go/no-go decision on a purchase. Understanding these customer personas will allow you to tailor a marketing message at the right time to the right people. If you really understand your ideal buyer, then you understand their attitudes, concerns, and decision criteria. This isn’t an easy research process, it takes direct experience with your customers to observe and understand their processes and perceptions.
Become a Broker of Capabilities
Finally, be sure that the network you build is a valuable one. This means establishing contact with market influencers who have a direct outcome on not only winning business, but providing solutions for your clients – even those transactions where you earn nothing but the goodwill and the high-five of a great referral. Unfortunately, a number of companies assume that generating business leads through networking is nothing more than a numbers game. It isn’t. It’s about connecting with the right people and being able to connect people to the right solution.
The best companies are forward-looking. They take an entirely different approach to generating business leads. They know that winning business is done by engaging buyers at the right time and having a ready-made solution that appeals to their audience.
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Each sale can be described as a journey with many opportunities and obstacles along the way. Potential customers must work through the discovery, research, and action stages before making a purchase. Some buyers are more adventurous, making it to the action stage quickly, but most customers take much longer to commit. The entire process, from recognizing their need to solve a problem to committing to purchase, is known as the customer journey. It is a dangerous time, with many opportunities to lose a potential customer, but it is also during this time when a huge impact on the end result can occur.
People Buy From People
Once you commit to the idea that your customers, and I mean individuals and the people that make up complex organizations and decision-making processes are, in fact, real people, the faster you’ll be on your way to creating loyal connections. Contemporary customer research requires that we understand both the professional and personal environment of the customers. It does a marketer no good to know everything about the professional pain points of a potential client and completely ignore the real-world fact that your customer is a single parent of two. Life is complicated and business decisions aren’t entirely rational unless you start to understand all of the competing factors that motivate behavior. A client in a high-pressure job has no time for your qualification shenanigans. How will you make them look good to their colleagues and superiors? How will you make life easier for them? If your customer insights research process involves creating “personas”, fictional stories about potential customers, you’re 72.4% more empathetic.
Making it as easy as possible for prospects to advance from the discovery phase all the way to a purchasing decision is an essential part of running a profitable business. There are many disagreements among marketing experts over the best methods for helping customers to do this, but there is one technique which is often neglected: demonstrating customer empathy.
Think of it this way, no matter how efficiently you’ve engineered a purchasing process, it’s always easier to win and keep a customer who believes that you both understand their problems and share their values. Being relevant is often the most important business development strategy that a company can invest in.
However, empathy is a more involved process than understanding a customer’s psychological disposition and leveraging a few, choice industry buzzwords.
Empathy is not only understanding how another person feels, it requires that they believe that you understand. That’s a nuanced and important distinction. Empathy isn’t about Don and Peggy observing customer behavior behind a one-way-mirror. Empathy requires that both parties recognize the other and the other’s perspective. This is a bond. “This is love.” Developing an emotional bond with your potential customers is a profitable technique to drive sales. Everybody wants to feel a connection, and a business which uses this human need can quickly see its bottom line quickly rise.
Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.’
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
Can You Manufacture Empathy?
Creating empathy with customers is often called “engineering empathy,” but that doesn’t make the connection inauthentic. Empathy between you and your friend or your spouse is relatively easy, but from a business’ perspective, it is not as simple as recruiting compassionate listeners. We’re trying to drive profits. Engineered empathy is both a culture and a process within an organization that must be harnessed and nurtured.
4 Important Points to Keep in Mind:
Talk To Real Customers
- Develop personas – fictional stories about their professional and personal lives
- Understand their perceptions of others in your industry
- Understand their personal goals and pain points
- Understand their lifestyle, culture, values, and purpose
Follow Their Buying Processes
An easy way to gain learn more about the customer experience is to pretend you are a new customer and go through the same process he might use to discover, research, and purchase your solution. In order to more accurately learn how customers interact with your sales process, it is a good idea to ask for the help of someone who is not involved in your business.
As the person moves through the process, identify the key decisions, frustrations and accomplishments that they encounter throughout the sales cycle. As for feedback and recommendations.
Use this information to help you to understand how customers view your sale cycle, and to identify any bottlenecks or dead-ends in the process. Use this information to find new ways to make it easier for customers to buy from you.
Mapping Empathy to Visualize Customer
Before you can sell to your customers, you have to understand what they want, and what is stopping them from getting it. Many companies struggling with sales have a poor understanding of what drives their potential customers. Copyblogger offers a unique way to serve your customers better, and to develop a meaningful profile to help your company develop a marketing plan. It is called an empathy map.
An empathy map is as simple as it is effective. Starting with a large square divided into four quadrants, your goal is to identify the following activities: Thinking, Feeling, Doing, Seeing. Two separate boxes, Pains and Gains, are optional.
Create a large, blank empathy map, and then assemble a panel of people. Try to have a representative from each department in your company, as well as investors, and current customers. Ask your panel questions about your target customers using words related to each box. Write any ideas in the correct quadrant.
Review the empathy with your panel, and then share the results with the rest of your employees.
Use your new insights to solve your customer’s problems.
Remember that It’s About Them, Not You
I know, it’s a cliché, but it’s true! The customer gets to decide what quality is. They customer gets to decide what a fair price is. The customer also gets to decide who can best understand their problems. Sometimes you’re a world-recognized cardiac surgeon, and sometimes you’re the one that the customer feels most comfortable with. Either way, it’s still about understanding what-they-need!
The term “thought leadership” has seen a resurgence in recent years but the concept – no matter its name – has really never gone out of style. Some people – like Gates, Jobs, Branson and Buffet, to name a few – seem to always be one step ahead of the curve. In our mind, they embark on journeys of discovery them to leave the competition behind. Here are a few thoughts on how they manage to do this:
Consider the Big Picture
In a nutshell, thought leadership is where you – as the owner or senior executive – consistently tap into the talent, experience, and passion located inside your own business to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience on a particular topic. In short, you should be looking at the big picture and not being distracted by the details. Simply put, it is the main difference between short and long term thinking.
Create Thought Leadership on Multiple Levels
We all can’t be geniuses on the level of Einstein but the “hive mind” – that is, the agglomeration of multiple brains – can produce some stunning revelations even if the individuals are only of moderate to above level intelligence. In other words, do not dismiss the musings and thoughts of your peers and subordinates out of hand. It is much like finding a pearl in an oyster. You never know where or when you will find one but… find one you eventually will.
Innovate… Even if It is Painful
Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.” This statement is as true in the business world as it is in the scientific one. Innovation – even inspired innovation – requires a lot of follow-up effort to make it work. It may seem like a platitude but do not be afraid to take a flyer on an innovative, but carefully crafted plan. With that thought in mind, ensure that you do not commit too many assets or resources to an untested theory. Beta tests are extremely valuable in this situation.
Brand, Brand, Brand
With thought leadership comes a simultaneous ability to frame the most important questions in your particular marketplace. This allows you – as the thought leader – to frame those questions to your advantage. In other words, the final result should be that when a potential client asks the most pertinent questions in your business space, they should be thinking of you even before the see the final question mark. The goal, is an entry point, a pathway into your business, and a barrier against others.
Continue the Process
Thought leadership is exactly about that ineffable quality defined in its name – leadership, and it demands a continual effort. Without a constant attention to the effort – especially from those “on high” – the entire process will falter if not disappear entirely. For more guidance, look to these thought leadership examples as they have proven themselves time and time again:
- Elon Musk – Cofounder of Paypal, this visionary then went on found Tesla Motors and SpaceX – a fairly amazing range of thought leadership.
- Wayne Dyer – Not your typical though leader, this man has thrown his monumental marketing acumen behind funding public television programming instead of accumulating a fortune for himself.
- Charlie Munger – The lesser known half of the Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger is a thought leader as a business magnate, lawyer, investor, and philanthropist
Building a Thought Leadership Marketing Strategy
You’re going to need insights about the questions and problems that key audiences in your industry are asking and trying to solve. Your audience might be competitors, vendors, or current customers. However, offering solutions and insights about their problems is only part of the answer. Being able to understand the behavior around how a particular audience pursues those answers will guide your content, community, and conversation strategies. You’ll know what signals to listen for and how to be accessible through digital marketing channels and become a coveted go-to resource in a network of informed, and connected colleagues and potential advocates.
For more information on how your company can develop a thought-leadership strategy, contact us for a free consultation about your objectives and the possible solutions to drive a successful inbound marketing program..