Having worked with many technology startups over the years, one thing that has always been a challenge is helping wonderfully smart engineers, developers, and scientists (left-brained, analytical people) understand the intangible but potentially potent benefits of brand awareness. For most startups, budgets are limited, and near-term sales are a top priority. Investors must be satisfied, bills must be paid, and momentum must be generated. This, in turn, makes lead generation a top marketing concern. From a mathematical perspective, it might seem logical to invest all marketing budget into generating leads at the early stages, and that brand awareness is a luxury that can’t be afforded.
Too often startups try to measure everything in terms of leads – which are clearly paramount to sales – but dismiss the need for frequent and consistent branding and awareness. And so, most tech startups look to marketing and media partners to magically deliver customers who want to buy their product implicitly. Having worked behind the veil of a media company, and watching hundreds of advertising campaigns over the years, new companies were often dismayed at how few leads they gained through a given campaign, while established companies with well-known brands would generally receive much better results. Without a doubt, there is a correlation between brand recognition and lead generation success.
Often, when marketers purchase a guaranteed lead program where they are delivering a message to an audience that they have little or no brand recognition with, the media company or agency is forced to fatigue the audience with promotions that can actually have a negative effect on a company’s brand, labeling them as spammy or desperate. Rarely will a company refresh the marketing and messaging for a campaign, leaving the media company to reblast the same content over and over until the lead guarantee is met – which can lead to cold, mostly uninterested contacts that are often dead-ends.
The problem starts with a common misunderstanding of what a brand actually is. Many non-marketers think a brand is simply a company’s name, logo, and colors; the ‘visual’ representation of your company. The truth is, your brand is more like an aura surrounding your company, or its “soul.” Brands have personality, emotions, and evoke feelings in your customers that affect how they engage with your company. A clear, solid brand serves as the bedrock for all communications – both internally and externally. When the entire organization clearly understands the brand and is in alignment with it, the organization acts as one body, with one voice… which ultimately builds trust from the customers’ perspective.
The second part of the problem lies in the unrealistic expectation that the first time someone sees your brand or product they should take interest, do the necessary research, recognize the value, and be ready to talk to a salesperson. Studies show B2B buyers are 57% of the way through the purchase decision before sales is contacted (CEB, now Gartner). Depending on which study you look at, it has been determined that it takes no less than 5 touches, (or brand engagements), to as many as 13+ to create a sales-ready lead. With customers being bombarded with 3000+ messages every day through various marketing channels, it takes frequency and continuity and cumulative exposure to create interest. Even if a prospect has shown initial interest by registering for some asset or demo, it still might still take multiple touches to nurture the lead from “marketing qualified” to “sales qualified”. Maybe they see an ad, receive an email, read a blog post, and/or see a social media post – or some combination thereof – and finally decide to give the solution a closer look.
Fortune 500 companies invest millions into building brand equity. Many times, there is no measurable ROI for branding vehicles such as billboards, print ads, TV ads, etc. There is no ability to take immediate action – no click-through-rate. However, these great companies didn’t achieve their lofty status by focusing on only brand awareness or only on lead generation. They understand that while each has certain unique functions and goals, the two strategies must work hand in hand to be effective. They understand that lead generation is far more effective when the groundwork has been laid with strong branding and awareness.
As it turns out, how we relate to companies and brands is very much like how we relate to people in our everyday lives. We are much more likely to buy from or help out a person we know and trust, or someone with a good reputation. As such, audiences are much more receptive to calls to action from familiar brands. A brand starts with a genuine vision, a mission statement, and a clear understanding of your customers and their needs, and your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can clearly convey your unique value proposition. This provides the foundation for all messaging and helps the customer understand who your company is, what you’re all about, and why they should trust you to solve their problems.
Brand reputation has always been important. As the old saying goes, if you make a customer happy, they might tell one friend – if you make a customer angry, they might tell 10 friends. In a changing, sort of ‘open source’ world, where technology is recording our every move, and we seem to be moving towards more of a ‘sharing economy’, we are experiencing a new level of transparency in the world. Company’s are finding it increasingly difficult to sweep mistakes under the rug or pretend to be something they are not. Its our belief at OmniScale Media that brand reputation will become the most important asset a company has in the future. Stay tuned for a future post where we discuss what makes up your company’s brand reputation, and how much control you actually have over it.