As originally published on CIO.com.
In the world of tech, it can be hard to think long term. After all, your customers aren’t.
They are most concerned with the need in front of them — and, oftentimes, the latest and greatest product in the lineup. But the most successful technology marketers don’t rely solely on product feature sets and price points. They invest in the one thing that can shield them from fleeting trends, market fluctuation and technology commoditization: branding.
So, What Is Your Brand?
Your brand is a blend of visual, verbal and emotional attributes that define your company and distinguish it from your competition. Simply put, it’s your promise to your customers.
While branding can include elements like a logo or tagline, successful brands begin with a hard, honest look at what your company stands for, be it quality, efficiency, hipness or customer satisfaction. Once that’s been pinned down, you can work on the verbal elements that will make these qualities tangible.
The Brand Messaging Checklist
Using the brand messaging checklist will allow you to work through how you talk about your brand, what your brand represents, who you are trying to reach, and why they should choose you over the competition. It won’t always be easy answering these questions — after all, you will be balancing fact, opinion, aspiration and emotion. But in the end, the answers will help form a foundation for your company’s positioning in marketing content, presentation and collateral.
You can’t write code until you’re fluent in the programming languages of your choice, whether it be Java, Python, SQL or something else. Same goes for branding; you have to speak your customer’s language before your messaging will compute.
Begin by jotting down single words that represent your core values and how you want to be known. Interview your key stakeholders, decision makers and company leaders. Hear from sales and customer service to get a sense of perceptions from the trenches.
One caveat: Beware the dangers of internal jargon. Take time to translate your words into those of your target audience. Talk to customers, survey competitive websites and use Google’s keyword research tools to target the key terms you need to “own” from a branding perspective. Through strategic repetition, these will become the words synonymous with your company.
Use the terms you’ve selected as the building blocks for your key messages. These are phrases and short sentences that define the goal of your entire branding effort. Ultimately, they will be the thesis statement of your website, PR, email, advertising, social media, presentations and so on.
But before reaching that point, it’s critical to stop for a reality check. Are these promises on which you can confidently deliver? To be an effective brand, your vision must be integrated into your corporate culture and carried out by everyone from R&D and manufacturing to sales and marketing, so proceed with caution.
Naturally, you will want to include what gives you a competitive edge in the industry. But for a given advantage to be valid, it must be distinct and measurable – and it must matter to customers. Feature sets can be become stale. Focus instead on evergreen benefits and value statements.
Then, back up your claims with proof points, including testimonials, statistics and case studies, to bring credibility and life to your messaging. Think customer satisfaction survey results, awards won, market share information. Gather long-form testimonials (50 words) and create 10- to 15-word versions that focus on your key terms. Build a bank of case studies that use a problem-solutions-results format and make your client look good for choosing your company.
Audience-specific messaging is key secondary branding messaging that speaks to the major pain points of each of your customer segments. These might include different levels of buyers — stakeholders like end users of your product, influencers like directors of technology and decision makers like the CIO, CTO or CMO — or cover a range of industries. Each buyer type has distinct needs and motivations at every stage of the adoption life cycle. The messaging that appeals to an eager early adopter may not work for a laggard requiring more education and persuasion.
Make sure your branding is flexible and dynamic so you can preserve your overarching brand while delivering the right message to the right customers at the right time. When well-crafted, your branding could play a big part in a customer’s choice, trump other decision-making criteria (e.g., pricing concerns) and ultimately close the deal.
By weaving together your key terms and key messages, adapting those to appeal to your target audiences and backing everything up with proof points, you will have all you need to write your elevator pitch, boilerplate copy, “About Us” webpage, and more.
But bear in mind: your work is not done. Like your products and software, brand messaging requires updating to remain current, effective and secure.
So, keep this ticket open. And every time you launch a new product, remember to ask yourself, “Are we delivering on our promise?”