This is the second in a series of blog posts on the different business goals that can be supported by content marketing, how to achieve them and how to measure their success.
In this post, I look at content marketing for brand positioning.
How do you define brand positioning?
Brand positioning is a pretty broad term. Building authority, becoming a thought leader, being seen as fun or trendy or the one that sets the agenda…these are all examples of brand positioning.
Effectively what it means is to consciously and proactively create the kind of brand or image that you would want others to describe you as, even if you’re not in the room.
For example you might want someone to say ‘They’re really smart, really know what they’re talking about, I’d trust them on that’ or ‘That’s such a cool brand, I wish I could have one.’ If they’re saying what you want them to say, your brand positioning is succeeding.
One important note to make at the outset however, is that your content marketing has to sync with the rest of your business. If your businesses’ values, actions and product/solution are inherently different to the content marketing you’re putting out there, it will simply undermine any potential success you might have, and even worse, it will come off as disingenuous and inauthentic.
Contently provides a good example of this as they analyse why Chick-fil-a’s branded content portal ‘Let’s Gather’ is unlikely to succeed in shifting the negative image of the company.
However the disconnect will often be more subtle than in the case of Chick-fil-a. For example, if you’re creating a series of exciting, lifestyle focused content that celebrates living life on the edge – but all your landing and conversion pages are written in a dry, corporate language, you’ll clearly lose the perception your content had created.
So just be sure that the rest of your business is actually authentic and consistent with your content marketing.
Why is it useful to my business?
There are lots of reasons you’d want to be proactive in positioning your brand. Probably the most important is that people will form an opinion of your brand regardless of whether or not you’re proactively positioning it.
So whether you use content marketing, advertising or some other kind of activity,you may as well get in there first and give your customers a helping hand by showing them what kind of a company you are.
Here are a few other shareholder-friendly reasons to employ content marketing to position your brand in a particular way.
Companies invest in brand building because of its long-term defensibility. In other words, every penny now can actually accrue several pounds worth of value over the years.
Just think about the first name that comes to your mind when you think about: Refreshing fizzy soft drink; car rental; package delivery; coffeeshop; buying or selling second-hand goods online.
Chances are most people would quickly say Coca-cola, Hertz, FedEx, Starbucks and eBay. Sure, they all have big competitors and different brands may have won the hearts and minds of other customers – for each of those brands there were a close second and third alternative I could think of.
But the point is, creating a well-known brand will mean potential customers think of you first (more on that next), and – this is the key here – it’s very hard for anyone else to shift that. There’s a great book on positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout called ‘Positioning: The Battle For your Mind’ you should check out on this topic too.
Content marketing can help you to achieve this status of being first – and stay there – by creating the necessary assets for your brand. Magazines, blog posts, youtube videos, a buzzing social presence online, big events and PR stunts all live on way past the day they took place. In fact, Google often gives more credibility (and as such, better results) to older content than newer because of the authority they’ve accrued over time.
So producing lots of high quality content that positions your brand in a particular way will keep paying back, year after year, as newer competitors try to win the affections of your customers.
First choice for customers
This is tightly correlated with the defensible asset benefit from above, but while that’s looking at the long-term benefits, any hard-driving business executive is going to care about results today as well as ten years from now.
Well, content marketing can help here too.
It’s a great way to stay relevant and fresh in your customers’ mind next time they’re looking to make a purchase. Whether it’s a SaaS solution or a fizzy drink, it’s highly likely that the last brand that made an impression on them (and I don’t mean an ad impression here), will be the one they think of first.
For example, if your potential customers’ friend just shared your latest meme with them, or they read a great piece of advice on how to solve a problem by you, or they just finished laughing at a Youtube clip you created, it’s much more likely they’ll purchase your product or solution, even if they see a dozen ads from your competitor in-between. That’s because your brand is the last one that made an emotional connection with them.
Reduce sales friction
Perhaps the biggest question (even if it’s never explicitly asked) that you have to answer is ‘why should I buy your stuff?’ This is the same in B2C and B2B.
And content marketing is a great way to provide the answer long before it comes to the point of sale.
Great content marketing can help on a couple of fronts here. The first is demand generation (which we’ll dive into in Goal Three) which helps build a desire for the general product or solution you’re offering, even when its not immediately obvious to the consumer they want or need it; and second is guiding them towards your brand when they are in the market for a product or service that your company (along with lots of others) can provide.
It can do this by answering their technical questions, or making them feel like they know and trust your brand, or by helping them out with other related challenges they need support with.
Basically content marketing can help you by getting them emotionally connected to your brand long before they make a ‘rational’ decision to buy from you.
Word of mouth / referrals
Great content marketing is very often a trigger for social sharing. If you make someone laugh, or feel smarter, or help them out with a common problem, they’re highly likely to want to share it with friends or colleagues.
Every time someone shares your brand’s content, it acts as explicit endorsement of what you’ve got to say (unless specifically accompanied by a negative message – there’s always that pesky exception to the rule!). Best of all though, each share is also an implicit endorsement of your company (and brand), too.
Imagine how much more likely a prospective customer will be to buy from a company if their friends are all sharing it’s latest hilarious video, which gives them an emotional connection to that brand – they share the same irreverent sense of humour after all
Or if their colleague is the second person that month to tell them that they have to read this blog, it’s full of useful information. They’ll be much more likely to purchase from a company who know’s what they’re talking about – and it’s the same for your customers too.
How can content marketing help position your brand?
Content marketing is a great way to build your authority in a particular topic or market. By becoming an authority on something, you naturally position your brand as the go-to choice for customers.
How? By consistently showing people that you know what you’re talking about through blogging regularly; or sharing data and insights that inform your audience; or creating videos or podcasts that help to answer your customer’s questions; or by putting on events that bring together key influencers in your industry, showcasing the strength of your network.
It doesn’t really matter the format, so long as the content is conveying the message that you are uniquely authoritative on a particular topic.
One particularly strong way to achieve this is by sharing data – and insights generated from that data – that no one else has. This is something that Buffer do really well, as they regularly share amazing insights that only they can provide, based on the collective data of their users.
Taking this approach has turned their blog into one of the most popular and must-read blogs of any SaaS company, and has led to some incredible ‘hits’ such as ‘The Ideal Length of All Online Content’ which has seen over 30,000 shares since it was published last year.
More good examples of this approach come from OK Cupid’s OkTends blog and even PornHub, who’ve created a lot of press attention for their data-backed insights into the word’s ‘behind closed doors proclivities’ (more on their approach here – don’t worry, it’s SFW).
GE is another great example of turning data into authority, with their Data Visualisation centre a huge hit:
A second option is to utilise the knowledge of your staff, an approach exemplified by GE again, which does a brilliant job of tapping into the unique (and genuinely impressive) knowledge of its staff across the world to tell compelling stories about the transformative work they do. Check out their stories section here.
One of the biggest barriers to purchase is trust.
Content marketing can help you to lower that trust barrier by letting your customers actually get to know your brand in a much deeper way than advertising ever could. Whether it’s taking a stance on an issue your company feels strongly about, or telling stories about your staff and team culture, or transparently showing the processes your company goes through to make the product – these are all great ways to build trust with your audience.
One particularly good example of this is McDonald’s ‘Our Food, Your Questions’ campaign they’ve been running. It started when the Canadian McDonalds released a behind the scenes ‘making of’ video to show how Chicken McNuggets are actually made in response to false online rumours about the process, that made people question if they really wanted to eat there. They’ve since released more videos, which tend to get plenty of press coverage, and the original has now been viewed over 7 million times.
Content marketing is a great way to increase the desire for your product, ideally by positioning it as a cool and interesting brand amongst your target market.
The best way to achieve this is to link your product or service with some kind of lifestyle choice that resonates with your potential customers. Whether or not they actually live it, connecting your brand to their aspirations will go a long way to positioning it in their minds as a first choice when they come to buy.
It’s hard to think of a better example of this than Red Bull, who even spun out their own media company with over 100 employees to keep their word-class content marketing engine running. From global news-making stunts like Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the edge of space (now watched over 38 million times) to their regular magazine and sporting events.
However there are plenty of other brands creating desire for their products too, typically by showing them in action, with Go Pro’s Youtube channel, Deus Ex Machina’s media centre and the classic ‘Will it Blend’ by BlendTec all coming to mind.
Tone of voice / personality
A great way to position your brand differently in your market – and stand out from the crowd – is to use content marketing to create a consistent and unique tone of voice (i.e. inject some personality!)
By humanising your brand in this way, people can feel closer to the company, make a more emotional connection and just feel like they ‘get you.’ It’s been shown that people tend to buy from people they like, so this is a really important aspect of content marketing to get right.
DollarShaveClub got this right when they launched, with their irreverent humour helping this video rack up international press attention and nearly 18 million views since it launched in 2012. It also helps that the founder, who features in the video, is a former stand-up comedian. Moz is also a great example of a founder staying centre-stage and cultivating a specific personality for the brand, while Dissolve’s Not another stock video also generated a huge number of shares and plenty of attention with it’s self-effacing approach.
Net Promoter Score (or NPS) is a classic way for businesses to measure how people think about them. Very simply, they ask their customers on a scale of 1-10 how like they would be to recommend them to their friends.
If they answer with a 1-6 they are described as ‘detractors’; if they answer 7-8 they are ‘neutral’ and 9 or 10 are promoters. To get your NPS, you just take the percentage of customers who are Promoters and subtract the percentage who are Detractors..
This is a good way to look at how your business is positioned amongst your existing customers. Over time, you can see if your content marketing programme shifts your NPS upwards.
You could even get more granular, and take an NPS for different business goals e.g. How likely would you be to recommend our company for [service / coolness / usefulness / value etc.] They all could roll up to dictate your overall NPS, but by digging deeper you can expose – and improve – specific issues with your brand positioning.
How can you measure the success of your brand positioning through content marketing?
Brand positioning can be a tricky thing to measure, so assigning credit to your content marketing efforts will never be an exact science.
However there are some tried and tested ways to gauge whether the general public’s opinion (or that of your target market) has shifted over time, so let’s quickly look at three of them.
Social sentiment analysis
To measure the impact of your content marketing with social sentiment analysis, you would first take a base line before you start any content marketing activity, and see how often your brand name is associated with a particular keyword (and whether it is in a positive or negative way).
You can then measure to see if the volume of your brand being positively associated with keywords has increased month over month. There are plenty of tools (such as Mention, Social Mention and Hootsuite to name just three) now available that will let you mine the vast amounts of social media chatter to see how people are talking about your company.
At its most basic level, you can again see if your company is mostly talked about in positive, negative or natural terms, similar to the NPS metric we covered earlier.
However you can go deeper again, and specifically look at how sentiment changes depending on your company + keywords that you want to be associated with such as ‘cool’ ‘service’ ‘useful’ ‘good value’ etc.
Another useful thing to monitor would be the volume of associations between your company and key words that you want to related your brand to – a good indicator that your content marketing is shifting opinions and online conversation.
If you’ve got a bit more budget and really want to dig into how your core personas view your brand, it’s hard to beat professional focus groups. However to run them properly and not end up with skewed results is both an art and science, so you should look to hire a professional firm, which can be pricey.
That being said, the insights and qualitative feedback you’ll end up with could be incredibly helpful when putting together personas in the first place or planning your content campaigns.
To measure the impact and effectiveness of your campaigns, you could then reproduce the focus groups with a new, representative cross-section of your target market and see if the perception of your brand has changed in the way you expected.
A lighter touch option to the full-on focus group, surveys can be a good way to solicit both qualitative and quantitative feedback on your brand positioning.
Again, the best way to do this is send out an initial survey to benchmark current brand positioning. You could ask questions like ‘What are the first three words you think of when you hear [company name]’ or ‘How would you describe our company to a friend?’
To encourage completed surveys, try to keep the questions as short and simple as possible. SurveyMonkey also have a useful feature now whereby you can pay for respondents, which you can refine by various criteria so they resemble your target market, and you only pay for successful completions.
You can then send out a second survey to a fresh group of respondents at a later date (depending on your time frame for success) to gauge how well your content marketing has shifted perceptions.
Brand positioning is incredibly powerful for companies of all sizes, and you have to remember, it’s going to happen whether you like it or not.
So you should take the initiative and use your content marketing as a way to win the hearts and minds of your customers, get them talking about you in the way you want them to, and ensure you’re top of mind when they come to making purchases.