CEO of Rock Candy Media, A Top Category Marketing Agency, Says Brand Authenticity Is Not Optional

American small businesses have been profoundly affected by COVID-19. As the nation prepares to lift many social distancing restrictions and reopen for business, brand authenticity is more important than ever before. Businesses that work with a category marketing agency – which allows them to speak to the way individual target markets categorize a product – may attract consumer loyalty by demonstrating that they truly understand their customers’ perspective.

Forbes Business Council member Annie Liao Jones is the founder and CEO of Rock Candy Media, an Austin-based advertising and category marketing agency and one of the fastest-growing businesses in Central Texas. Liao Jones, who specializes in targeting market segments by homing in on consumer behavior patterns, says that – especially today – brand authenticity is not optional for any business that wants to survive the long haul.

“It’s actually an opportunity for every larger enterprise to be relatable and earn some brand loyalty right now,” said Liao Jones. In her experience, the biggest obstacle preventing brands from taking action to gain customer loyalty is fear. “For a long time, most traditional industries have been letting fear get in the way of taking action of any sort. And it is dangerous – not only as an entire economy but as a corporate culture – to let everyone around you see you emote that lack of confidence,” she said.

This fear and inaction is what prevents brands from defining themselves.

“My motto is “Do not let others define you,” said Liao Jones, whose full-service content strategy, design, messaging, branding, and category marketing agency was founded in 2009 and now grosses over seven figures annually. She says brands that don’t take the opportunity to define themselves are forced to compete on price. But in today’s digital economy, where brands also compete for clicks, getting in front of consumers requires compelling category marketing.

“Local businesses are more able to be nimble and call the shots right now,” Liao Jones said. Her firm specializes in researching and applying microeconomics to help agile clients redefine their businesses by meeting their target market’s specific needs. For a Texas construction client in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, this meant answering the question “Who has the most to lose if a project goes slowly?” (superintendents) and uncovering what they were researching (metal buildings). “Everyone wanted to be that house still standing,” said Liao Jones. These insights combined with powerful category marketing helped her firm grow the construction company from a team of six to a team of over 100.

According to Liao Jones, successful category marketing requires first understanding an industry’s economics on a macro level before defining it on a micro level. “If you don’t feel like you can forecast it innately, you are not ready to name a category or carve one out,” she said. She recommends Seth Godin’s bestselling book, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See, for further reading into the nuances of category marketing.

Especially in an era of advancing technology, digital sales and real-time analytics, successful advertising forges an emotional and empathetic connection with consumers that builds loyalty and trust. Liao Jones sums up what matters most: “Marketing your brand to be human, like talking to a friend, is what takes price off the table.”


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