In a commoditized industry? Unclog your brand.

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Plateauing volumes, eroding margins, sales lost to that competitor with an inferior product. What you feel in your gut is probably true—the market views you as just another supplier. You’re becoming a commodity.

But there’s hope. We’ve helped marketers across multiple industries unclog their brands by following the principles outlined below.

Uncover customer value and differentiation

We’re all experts on our own business and can quickly rattle off specifications and product features and quality measures galore. But customers make purchase decisions to help them solve problems and challenges they are facing. Understanding those challenges – and positioning your organization to help solve them – is the key to unclogging your brand from your competitors.

The best way to identify those customer challenges is to simply listen. Whether it’s via a focus group, in-depth interviews or a quantitative survey, invest in the opportunity to gain the insights that will ultimately help you better serve your customers – and set you apart from your competition. Take care to listen without letting your current perceptions color what you hear. Insights are gained from assuming you haven’t heard it all before.

Assess the competitive environment

It might be difficult to think objectively about how your marketing materials stack up against your competitors, but it’s a worthy exercise. Chances are your customers are seeing the same jargon, the same clichés, the same stock images and the same product shots. If you covered up the logos with your thumb, would you be able to identify who is who? Probably not. And neither can your customers. Take the time to read through anything you can get your hands on and take note of the words or claims that are used over and over again. Then stop using them.

Create a unique and compelling voice

Armed with a new understanding of your customers and competitive environment, you’re ready to stand out:

  • Avoid the clichés and jargon your competitors’ use and speak simply and directly to your customers instead
  • Talk to them about the challenges they face and demonstrate how you can help solve them
  • Use case studies and/or customer testimonials as appropriate
  • Instead of leading with product images, be human. Show situations your customers can relate to or see themselves in. Your marketing materials should read like a conversation, not Advertising CopyTM

Help employees deliver the brand

So now you know what your customers are looking for, you’re avoiding all the jargon and you’re speaking directly to your customers about their challenges. That’s awesome! But there’s one more audience that should not be overlooked – your employees. They are the ones who come into contact on a day-to-day basis with your customers and it’s important they understand what your brand is, why it matters and how it shapes their role within the company. Consider having a fun event that explains the unclogging process you just went through. Follow up with a handy reference guide to reinforce they key ideas. Empower them to make certain decisions during customer interactions that will reinforce your company’s position.

Let the unclogging begin

This unclogging process forces you to look at youself and your competitors from your customers’ and non-customers’ points of view.

That’s important because in a world where customers and prospects control information, communication and the buying process, it’s in your best interest to think about things the way they do.

And ultimately, the process can provide direction to help you change the relationship that you have with customers and prospects.  You can more easily focus on helping them solve their problems and draw them closer to your brand on a deeper level.  This understanding of customer and prospect value is the key ingredient to developing a powerful business brand that sets you apart from the competition.

And that’s key to winning sales and getting paid as a trusted brand rather than another commodity.

Sounds complicated? Don’t worry, we can help. It’s what we do. Call me at 312.422.5942 and I’ll talk you through it.

The top five analytics mistakes

When it comes to measuring the performance of your ad campaigns and marketing efforts, it’s probably safe to say you’re swimming in a sea of data. But are you tracking the right metrics and using the correct data sets to tell the story you want and need to tell?

Continue reading: The top five analytics mistakes

Big Data! What is it good for?


Attended a marketing industry conference last week. Good program, typical of such affairs – some engaging, informative and illustrative speakers, but a few stultifying and worthless presentations.

A few of the latter, though, revealed a truth I hadn’t yet considered: “Big Data” is a crock of s**t. I waited three years for someone to offer up just one example of what “Big Data” is and how it might practically be used. Just one tiny, concrete example?

Didn’t happen.

At least three presentations on this topic at this conference alone. Every time, “Big Data” was defined as “data.” Not a single real-life example. Just “Big Data” is “data.” Your organization has lots of “data,” or can get lots of “data.” Because there’s lots and lots of “data” to be had. But you’re going to have a hard time making sense of this “data” because that’s the nature of “data,” and the difficulty apparently is proportionate to the bigness of this “data.” But this “data” – if you’re able to get it, make sense of it and use it – will help you do whatever it is you’re doing.

If I wasn’t such a gentleman, heckling was a real possibility.

Today, I strolled through an exhibit in a nearby building. The exhibit’s title hints that “Big Data” is being used for urban planning to shape the future of Chicago and other cities. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“What Is ‘Big Data’?” the sign asks, before answering, “Big data is a catchphrase used to describe the volume, velocity and variety of modern data generation.”

So “Big Data” is a catchphrase and not a real thing at all. Kinda what I thought.

If any doubts remained, one of the exhibit’s videos blows them away. This nonsensical tour-de-force is stuffed with hilariously inane sounds bites that lead absolutely nowhere. The video does, however, perfectly capture the detail- and specifics-free nature of the “Big Data” presentations I saw last week.

The quotes from residents and business owners of one of Chicago’s neighborhoods show that the community long has thrived and even enjoyed growth for the past decade. Now the “Big Data” people want to capture data sets on “celebrating,” “fellowship” and “activity” in order to attract more businesses, apparently.

All the blabberings make no sense on their own or taken collectively. The best is this from one of the many unidentified speakers:

The city is lucky to have one of the best data portals in the country and perhaps the world at this point, really granular data about where crimes are committed or where business licenses are filed or you can even get geometries for building footprints. That’s useful in a lot of ways. And so is comparing the city’s data with census data. The gap there is that the census data is out of date at this point. In addition to being out-of-date, it relies on statistical sampling, which at the end of the day might be accurate but you’re going to have gaps and you’re going to miss important information.

It’s funny, but sad. No real answers about “Big Data” here either.

If I didn’t practice decorum in every facet of my life, making rude hand gestures to the security camera above the video screen was a real possibility.

Look, I know what data is. We use data all the time. Certainly not data’s biggest fan, but it can be very useful.

What data might I be talking about?

Data that comes from research into your customer and prospect base’s perceptions. Data that sheds hard light on what they value when considering your product or service, and why they might buy from your competitors instead of you. Much more what they think than what you think. That’s the kind of data on which you can build a valuable, preferred b2b brand that can help generate leads, allow you to earn a premium and grow profitably.

So forget “Big Data,” a meaningless catchphrase. But, please, find out more about useful data and how it can help you here: Brandwidth, A Semi-Subversive Perspective on Improving Your Business Brand.

Prognostication for 2015

6283676947_23e0f44e74_zWe decided to pretend that we can predict the future of B2B marketing.  So here’s my daring prognostication for the upcoming new year. The idea of Lean Marketing will start to play a larger role in B2B marketing communications efforts as we move into 2015. Continue reading: Prognostication for 2015

Thumb Print Syndrome – A Debilitating Creative Disease

5700609302_16bb1386e0_zMy retired partner had an expression he used whenever a really strong creative concept that the agency presented and sold was methodically destroyed by the client during the actual production process.  Continue reading: Thumb Print Syndrome – A Debilitating Creative Disease