The Art of Building a Brand:
Leading Marketing Visionaries Reveal the Secrets for Companies of All Sizes to Build Successful Brands
Merging a Brand in an Emerging Market
Neil Myers, Connect Public Relations president
What’s in a Brand?
A brand is what your product or service stands for in the minds of customers. Looking for a safe car? Buy a Volvo. Need a reliable laser printer? Buy a Hewlett Packard. With the kaleidoscope array of companies and products in today’s competitive market, millions of customers lean on their brand perceptions to make buying decisions easier. For instance, why would customers spend days researching every new computer on the market when—thanks to Dell’s effective branding—they ―know‖ Dell provides leading edge
technology at a fair price?
Take Lexmark laser printers, for example. In 1998, Lexmark won an impressive 90 percent of competitive laser printer reviews—more than 100 independent reviews in all. Clearly, Lexmark had a superior product. Yet HP laser printers outsold Lexmark four to one that year. Why? Customers felt that all laser printers were about the same and made their decisions based on brand attributes. HP—with an established brand—
was a safe, reliable choice.
An effective brand—one that represents something of value to your customers—leads to valuable returns
for your company. There is no shortcut to having a clear brand that people will remember. You can’t advertise your way into reputation and you can’t overtly build a brand by cramming it into your customers.
Building a successful brand is the process of touching people at the appropriate points as they migrate and understand the market evolution—in other words, getting the right information to the right people at the right time. Building a brand takes time.
What if you don’t have time to build your brand? It can take years for brands to develop. In-between the
time a new product category emerges and the point at which there is a dominant brand leader there exists a no man’s land where marketers must sell their company without the cover a brand provides.
Forget using classic brand marketing techniques … they won’t work. In emerging categories customers are focused more on the category and products than on the companies.
To be a successful emerging category marketer you must first understand the three major phases in the life cycle of an emerging category:
Your job is to be the leader in each phase. In the definition phase you centralize efforts on educating the market. You literally want to be the company that ―wrote the book‖ on that particular segment so customers will think of your company when they talk about the area. Once you achieve such awareness, the next phase is dedicated to showing you have the best product. In the third phase, you are working to be the brand leader in terms of sales and volume. Let’s further examine each phase in turn.
Who knew what a browser was in 1997? A PDA in 1996? A personal computer in 1978? For every new category there is a learning curve for the customers. The public needs to ask several questions about your solution during this education stage:
- Why should I care? What need does this meet for me? This is critical. It’s fine if customers are
unfamiliar with an exotic technology, but if they’ve never heard of the problem you’re in trouble.
For example, remember all the times you’ve needed to buy dog food online? Probably not. Which
is why Pets.com is no longer offering the service—it didn’t address a need many of us felt.
- What does this new product/service do? Your answer better be simple or potential customers
won’t listen. For example, in its early development stages F5 Networks took two hours to explain
its core technology. Like everyone else, reporters and customers won’t sit that long. By
simplifying its message, F5 increased its ability to share information resulting in a 3000 percent thincrease in press coverage and the 7 most successful IPO in history in the following year.
- Why is it a better alternative than existing solutions? Consumers are constantly barraged by
information about new products. You need to quickly and simply explain why yours is a better
alternative. Just remember that in an emerging category the most popular alternative is the ―old‖
way of doing things, not necessarily your immediate competitors.
- Who makes the new product? Why should I trust them? New categories are risky. Large,
established brands usually wait on the sidelines to let small, unknown start-ups pioneer the
category. So how does a start-up build trust when they have no track record? You need to point to
company attributes that indicate trust, such as:
o Well-known customers.
o High profile venture capitalists who have invested in the firm.
o Well-known members of the management team or board who have a successful track
record in prior endeavors.
o Glowing reports from press or analysts.
Once people understand the category, they will buy (assuming the addressed need was a real one). But how do they decide which product to buy? At this stage the products are wildly different in their designs and technology.
Smart companies provide the yardsticks by which customers can measure the various products and then demonstrate product superiority. As an example, while mega pixels are the standard measure of performance for digital cameras, Sony added the yardstick of lens quality. If it convinces product reviewers that lens quality is an important feature, Sony stands a good chance of moving up in the product leadership fight.
However, it is important to tie product features to real, demonstrable customer needs and benefits. In the case of digital cameras, customers don’t care much about a high quality glass lens … they need clear photographs. Sony must link their high quality glass lenses to clear photographs if the want to customer to care.
Eventually products reach a level of parity with each other. Few people perceive much product-level difference between Gateway and Dell. As a category matures, the difference between ―the best‖ product and ―second best‖ is generally insignificant and based on insignificant features.
Customers need a new way to make purchasing decisions when product differences are so minor. Their attention shifts from technology to company attributes. This marks the end of the emerging category stage and the beginning of the mature category stage.
Since the companies are still relatively new (usually three to seven years at this stage), their brands are not yet set in customers’ minds. Market leadership (i.e., who is selling the most) becomes the proxy for brand leadership. This is sensible because customers want to stay with the company wielding the best staying power. That’s why VHS emerged as the category leader even though Beta was generally acknowledged to be the better product.
Once a company emerges as the market leader it inevitably continues on as the brand leader in the category.
For an example of little brand matters in an emerging category let’s return to the Lexmark and HP example,
but this time in the inkjet printer category.
In 1997, Lexmark was just getting started in the inkjet market. Based on its experience in the laser printer market you wouldn’t have expected much from the company. You would have been mistaken. Over the
next four years, Lexmark steadily grew market share in the inkjet product category and now outsells HP.
Why? Although they were not a leader in the definition stage, they clearly demonstrated leadership in the product stage. Customers felt that inkjet printers were evolving products that differed greatly in performance. Accordingly, they paid more attention to the technical details and less attention to the brand. Lexmark was able to gain market share in this emerging category.
Three Marketing Challenges in Emerging Categories
The key for companies in emerging categories is to demonstrate leadership in each of the three stages (Definition, Product and Market). This is often easier said than done. We have identified three challenges almost all of our customers face.
CHALLENGE #1: How can you get a prospect to listen to your message when they 1) have never used a product like yours and 2) don’t know they need a product like yours. This is especially tough in our current
back-to-basics, no frills down economy.
SOLUTION: Craft a message that tells them why they should care. In our experience this message must address the following points, in this specific order:
1. What is the basic need that customers are feeling? What is the ―hurt‖ that makes them look for a
2. What are the drivers of this need? In other words, what makes this problem more acutely felt
tomorrow than it was yesterday?
3. What are the current alternatives to meeting this need? Even though your product category is new,
it is doubtful that the need is new. And if the need was real, prospects were finding some way, no
matter how inadequate, to meet the need prior to your product.
4. What are the shortcomings of the current alternatives? Why does your prospect need to look
beyond their current way of doing things?
5. Finally (and not until you have educated the prospect on points 1 – 4), what does your product do
to meet this need? How does it remove the shortcomings of the alternatives?
Until you have answered the first four points in your messaging, it is folly to expect your prospect to listen to what you do. However, once you articulate responses to these first four questions clearly, customers, editors and analysts will ask the golden question that leads to your solution: What do you do to help meet this challenge?
You may share information differently for separate audiences, such as high-level ROI-focused data for a business publication compared to technical details for an industry trade technology publication. However, at its very core, your message must be the same and focused on needs, alternatives, benefits, etc.
CHALLENGE #2: What tools do I use to get the word out? The mainstay of traditional brand marketing -- advertising – just doesn’t work in emerging categories. You are trying to educate prospects about an area they don’t even know they care about yet. The last voice they will listen to in this situation is an advertisement.
SOLUTION: Put yourself in their shoes. Where would you look to learn about something new? Chances are that’s where they will look as well.
Think back to the last time you had to select a product in an emerging space. Perhaps it was a digital television, a PDA or a wireless network system to share your cable modem at home. How did you decide which product to buy?
Most people, when faced with making a buying decision in a new category rely on sources they trust. Knowledgeable friends come first, followed by unbiased press (reviews, articles, etc.). Near the end of the list is advertising, which is perceived as offering completely biased information.
Based on this, some emerging category companies delay or eliminate advertising budget and pour funds into public relations.
CHALLENGE #3: How do you evolve your message and tactics over time? We have talked about the three stages of the emerging category life cycle. What is the appropriate tool and message during each of these stages?
It is easy to lead during one stage and then fall behind during the next stage. For example, often a company will emerge synonymous with a developing category. Apple did. So did Palm. But who pioneered browsers? Extra credit if you answered Mosaic. Most people no longer remember Mosaic, because while the company succeeded in the definition phase, it lost in the best product conflict, ultimately fought by Microsoft and Netscape. Microsoft then won top market share leadership and emerged as the brand leader in browsers.
SOLUTION: Choose phase appropriate tools and messages. During the definition phase, focus on analysts and long lead media that specializes in trends and directions. During the product phase, key on reviews and first looks. And during the market phase, start to bring business publications into the mix.
These are simple generalizations of what should be a well-thought, complex plan. But they illustrate the value in understand the phases of an emerging category and designing your marketing mix accordingly.
Elements of a Successful Emerging Category PR Program
Experienced marketers realize that PR is much more than shoving press releases out the door. Instead, a successful PR campaign blends strategy, messaging and outreach to achieve a blend of press coverage appropriate to the product’s life cycle.
The two most important parts of a successful emerging category PR program include briefing analysts and building relationships with the media.
Analyst Community Communication
Analysts play a key role in the ecosystem of emerging categories. They demystify complex details for a confused market. In fact, analysts are highly influential to media contacts as the reporters often ask analysts to summarize a technology’s status and predict likely outcomes.
An analyst’s reputation depends upon his or her ability to quickly identify which products will eventually
emerge as the leaders. As a competent marketer, you should ensure key analysts in your space are fully aware of your company, products and strategies through timely and consistent briefings.
Get your story out in the appropriate media outlets. The type of media and story depends on the stage your category is in. For example, during the product definition stage you will want to focus on trend stories and case studies. Trend stories educate your market about the need for a new category while customer case studies share real-world examples. Other documents to create for the education stage include market white papers and corporate backgrounders—information that focuses on the factual needs of reporters.
For more detailed and effective coverage, we move on to the next phase. Reviews and features are best during the product leadership race. For customers working to choose the best product among several options, publication reviews, buyer’s guides and related articles provide third party, and thus highly credible information. For this reason, you should make available sufficient resources to the press, including interview contacts, reviewer’s guides and other media kit items.
Feature articles regarding your company’s unique technology and product benefits will support reviews and open discussion about your market. Additionally, features by analytical writers will move you closer to the market leadership and branding phase.
Business stories are important during the market phase. As you are making sales and gaining market leadership, business-focused stories will add interest and credence to your position. Share information with reporters about your executive team, funding, company vision and other business successes.
Regardless of phase timing, to encourage the coverage your company needs you should follow a strategic, organized plan. Some of the steps you will take include:
- Selection of primary and secondary media contacts. Once you have determined whom to target,
read the publications and spend time learning their respective deadlines and processes. As with
communication for any public, know what action you desire from the reporters and how that
action ties into their self-interests. Finally, don’t forget to adjust the primary and secondary targets
as your category evolves from stage to stage.
- Message creation. It is critical that you have a consistent message. If you are stalwart in
consistency early on, any forthcoming collateral or company statements, etc. will be strong and
synergistic. Even so, after the initial message creation, remain committed to consistency by
constantly reviewing new material or company policies.
- Development of media collateral, such as:
o Corporate backgrounder
o Case studies
o Technology white papers
o Market white papers
o Reviewers’ guides
o Competitive analysis
o Press releases
- Conversations with the media. Expect to meet at least two to three times per year with your key
media targets. Forget expensive press conferences, in an emerging category these are virtually
worthless. You need to spend 45 minutes or more in quiet one-on-one meetings with your key
targets so they can fully understand your message and ask questions.
- Media follow-up. There are 30,000 stories written each year about new products categories. To
make sure you get your fair share of these articles you will need to track editorial calendars (which
list the articles a publication plans to cover), talk with story editors, call writers, pitch stories and
be generally relentless in pursuing story opportunities.
During this process, always use phase-appropriate tools and listen to your customers. Focus your efforts on providing the information these targets need to get to the next stage. The reward? Natural progression of these actions delivers a leading and trusted brand for your company.
Some of the biggest brands of tomorrow are starting out today as emerging categories. Tomorrow we will buy these brands based solely on their brand attributes. Today, however, we will only buy if you talk to us about the right things at the right time in the right places.
To do this, smart companies develop a PR campaign that is tailored to the unique needs of an emerging category market. Phase-appropriate tools—including analyst and media outreach—and effective listening
will enable you to build a brand that is lasting and profitable.
Neil Myers has specialized in the connectivity industry for close to 20 years. He started one of the first network utility software firms, Pacific Software, in early 1983. After selling the firm in 1989, Neil started Connect Public Relations (then known as Network Associates) to provide strategic public relations and marketing consulting to technology clients.
Myers’ focus and commitment to excellence has fueled rapid growth for Connect Public Relations. As a high-tech public relations firm with offices in Provo, Utah, and San Francisco, Calif., Connect PR specializes in media relations for the connectivity and Internet infrastructure industries, representing top networking, e-business and software vendors. In 1996, Connect become the first PR firm ever to be listed on the prestigious “Inc. 500” list of the fastest growing privately held companies. More recently, Connect received a Bulldog Award for Excellence in Media Relations & Publicity at the Media Relations 2001 Conference in Washington, D.C.