Founder of Rock Candy Media, one of the fastest-growing category marketer, advertising, branding and growth agencies in Texas. Read Annie Liao Jones’ full executive profile here.
In my experience as the owner of a branding agency and as a category marketer, there are two kinds of clients that are the highest risk to take on: the ones that do so much and can be everything to everyone and everybody, and the ones that boast, “No one is a competitor because what we do is wholly one of a kind.”
When someone does the latter, 9 out of 10 times there is a direct competitor. What people don’t know is that I’m more comforted by the founders who don’t have this awareness — it means they are so engrossed in their creation that if they are part of the 9 out of 10, their creation is probably going to be easier to market because there’s usually a twist on it that makes their brand more relatable.
Branding can seem superficial, but without it you won’t build loyalty. That means positioning your offering so it is innovative but relatable. Your prospect has to find enough familiarity in your offering to give it a chance.
It’s not just convenience you’re selling. In fact, you likely won’t even get the sales meeting until you’ve made your personal “journey to business owner” story a compelling one. This is why we find our B2B enterprise clients so much easier to rebrand. With the right corporate identity, businesses no longer have to weed out prospects — they should attract only the right eyeballs. Do not be innovative for innovation’s sake. Do not try to be “disruptive” if you fall in love with your own yet-to-be-proven market share.
To be an expert, communicate with confidence. When selling an intangible product — let’s say a mobile banking application — most of the time business owners forget they are still selling to a person who has been raised as a consumer. The procurement officer you are courting is likely going to Costco after work, just like you. Remember, your prospects are trained to purchase products off the shelf. The sooner your sales team realizes that their best prospect is just another human, going to Best Buy during her lunch hour to see what she can afford for her son’s birthday, the sooner you can scale. In many cases, to keep up with everyday costs, that prospect is going to hope for a raise this calendar year if she doesn’t get that promotion. She is not going to purchase a B2B product that makes her life harder when she puts it in front of the CEO.
When selling direct to consumer, 9 times out of 10 there is an opportunity to charge more. But what both types of entities — whether B2B or B2C — rarely get right is productization.
As a category marketer, I can tell you the hardest (and most rewarding) thing to do is getting people to pay more because you framed your costs right and gave them a few choices instead of 99 items for them to customize. Even if someone wants something custom, they don’t want homework. It’s in the bundling of your services or products — the ingredients — to make it seem to your clientele like they’re making a smart purchase. Not packaging your own solutions, and in a way that makes sense, is like watching a good movie with an ending that makes you feel foolish — or worse, tricked into buying into the promotional trailer.
So, limit the number of choices. Why does McDonald’s have a better chance of failing every time it introduces a new item to its already extensive menu? Why does Dropbox, the OG of both personal and business data transfer/storage solutions, have only three plans to pick from? Startup after startup has failed when it doesn’t have tunnel vision.
With the right branding on your website, your own internal onboarding process for new business development employees gets that much easier. Whether you sell a product or a service or you’re a distributor, make it easy enough to pitch and easy enough for a consumer to digest.
You can tell if your elevator pitch is too difficult to understand because you’ll have to recreate the context. If this sounds familiar, head back to why you started the business. Why did you see a need for what you are selling? Make sure it’s baked into your mission. Without it, your conversion marketing campaigns will have a disconnect. People will click on an ad, and your landing page won’t make sense. You think consumers have been on the sweat equity journey when really you’re just now looping them in.
How do you combat a giant new emerging technology headed your way that younger consumers will desire because they think “newer is better”? As a category marketer, I can tell you to show them great customer service. Employ video storytelling to showcase your experience — which has probably taken you years to turn into a methodology — to new prospects. Don’t try to be them, but definitely let them know what they lose by choosing a mass service when your company is relationship-based.
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