A common mistake is thinking that your corporate branding – your logo, tagline, and chosen color palette – constitutes your brand. Sure, these things play a role in your branding, but they are just one small facet of your overall brand. More than any design elements, it is your company culture and the reputation of your front-line employees that define your company brand – which is why it is essential that you understand who inside your company is influential outside your company.
Most companies do not understand who the influencers are within their customer communities, and how to tailor their messages to those influencers. Even more elusive than a strategy for external influencers is a plan for internal influencers, and yet these people are often the eyes and the hands for an organization. As a technology evangelist, my role is a bit more clear-cut than what most organizations have in place, but I can tell you that it took a couple years at my last company for their to figure out how to utilize my skills, or in how to measure my success. But just because something is difficult to measure does not mean that its perceived value is amiss. Whether you have someone dedicated to building out your corporate brand, like an evangelist, or you take the time to ensure each customer interaction provides the right branding message, the secret is to at least try to measure the effects.
Measuring the Brand Effect
I’ve written a number of times on the difficulties surrounding marketing measurements. Even operational metrics should be monitored closely, as it is human nature to modify our behaviors as we begin to understand the ways in which we are being measured. For example, most operations teams have some sort of ticketing system in place, and a common measurement is the time to resolve an open ticket. As people understand this metric and how it plays into their own employment measurement, they modify their behaviors to improve the metric – often times in a way that does not benefit the customer or the business. You can’t blame the employee for following human nature. It just means that you need to constantly fine tune or adjust your metrics based on these human adjustments. But the real data is not about the average time it takes to close a ticket – but whether than average is changing over time. What you want to measure is not the performance of one individual’s handling of a single ticket, but their average performance over time. Is their performance improving? How does it compare to others on the team? Much more useful data than the singular activity.
Similarly, performance of a single email campaign or reception of a single webinar or presentation is not as useful as looking at multiples over time. Using marketing methodologies such as A/B testing is an improvement, but even there an organization will not use the one test, but test repeatedly, learning from each result as they refine their over all strategy. I’ve presented some SharePoint sessions at events which seemed to land hard on unyielding audiences, while in other locations the same topic with minimal edits has brought in large crowds and high ratings.
Figuring out how to translate these learnings into your own brand management strategy is not easy – and honestly, for many it is a source of competitive advantage. No two companies are going to follow the same strategy to building their brands, and therefore the measurements will be different for each. Based on my experience, however, there are three main components to brand building, each of which should be measured:
- Message. There are several elements to a strong marketing message, including relevance, audience, and tone, among others. Over time, certain messaging will seem to resonate with customers, and patterns begin to appear.
- Delivery. Who is delivering the message can be as important to how it is delivered. Personal style plays a major role. For example, I have a very colloquial style to how I write and present. it’s very conversational, and invites participation – and, I feel, resonates equally with user groups and with executives. But then again, my personality plays a huge role. I may take different delivery paths depending on audience. While my messaging remains the same, my delivery might change based on the questions being asked, on the customer scenarios the audience is most concerned about, or whether or not my jokes and anecdotes seem to be landing. Over time, I have learned to use certain stories, themes, or use cases based on prior successes.
- Volume. When capturing metrics of any kind, the larger the data set, the more accurate the measurement. If you stopped an approach or marketing strategy after the first customer, you wouldn’t learn much about your product or your strategy. The same does for any branding strategy. The more data you can gather, the more customer feedback you can receive, the more you can measure and learn about how to refine your strategy.
Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with metrics. You cannot claim success in anything if you cannot measure it (well, except for love, I suppose). The problem I have with them is that most people try to manage-to-the-metrics rather than learn from the metrics, and THEN manage. Too many people try to manage via spreadsheet, and in the end, they get the metrics all wrong. It’s not about a point in time, but about what they tell you over time.
Focusing on External Influencers
At the Gartner event in San Diego earlier this year, one of the customer stories that really stood out to me was about how the Nokia marketing team approached their brand-building activities, separating advocates from customers within their CRM, and then developing individual strategies for each. Part of their approach is/was to specifically flag each influencer, and nurture them individually. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to treat every customer the same way – what motivates one, making them an advocate for your brand, might be very different from another influencer. Similarly, how your internal influencers approach brand building for your company may be very different.
With the rapidly growing marketing specialization of brand influence, we’re beginning to understand the importance of influence by topic, and not just general influence. Sounds obvious, I know, and yet in messaging, in delivery, and in volume of marketing we tend to treat all customers the same – and then wonder why people don’t easily become advocates for our brand.
One very successful branding strategy – and a way to support the unique value add of your internal influencers – is by matching internal branding strengths to external influencer needs, wherever possible. For example, you have your marketing messaging that you’re testing out, moving forward with, and it is being delivered by your evangelist, your product management team, and your solutions sales team. You have a regular cadence of webinars, emails, and live events, and you’re confident you have a solid approach with message, delivery, and volume.
Now, as you learn about your partners and customers, measuring the success of these various marketing activities, the real test of your strategy – and the measurement of your brand – will come through the exceptions. Influencers begin to identify themselves: a customer loves your product, and happily joins a webinar or co-presents at an event on your behalf, but struggles with your sales process and handing off leads because it does not have the personal connection necessary for a successful hand-off.
How your company handles these influencer relationships, responds to this exception, or the creation of a new process, is the culmination of all of these moving parts. Can you measure these components? Probably. Should lack of measurements keep you from taking the right steps, ensuring you keep your influencer (and advocate) happy?
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