Archive for November, 2010

Tapping your (big) partner’s brand – six strategies that work

Monday, November 29th, 2010

In almost any tech industry segment you’ll find a few very large companies surrounded by dozens to hundreds of complementary smaller companies that do everything from filling in functionality gaps to adding industry specialization or providing service and support. This ecosystem is important to the big company’s success and most, to varying degrees, works to grow and nurture their ecosystems.

But if you’re a small- to mid-size company, being part of a big company ecosystem is anything but a free ride to success.  This is especially true from the PR and marketing side.  Many times I’ve heard small company execs talk about how signing a deal with Oracle or Microsoft will lead to instant credibility and visibility, followed shortly by big sales. They are usually crestfallen when it doesn’t materialize quite the way they thought.

Gold PartnerBig companies have a lot going on. Their PR teams and product managers are invariably overworked, and have a huge number of mouths to feed.  That joint press release you wanted? Not going to happen.  Maybe a quote, if you’re lucky. And the response from the media is worse?  Reporters and bloggers simply do not care that you’ve become a Gold Certified Platinum whiz bang partner of the year. Not only do they not care, but will get pissed if you even send them the press release.

For sure, there is huge brand-building potential from partnering with a big company. How do you tap into that potential, and ride the coattails of your big-brand partner?  Here are six strategies I’ve found to be way more effective than issuing a press release about your partner status.

Target the partner’s bloggers – Most big companies have a thriving cadre of bloggers at various levels within the company. These are not professional journalists. They are looking for ideas and content assistance.  By educating them about how you fit in the big company’s ecosystem and help boost sales or increase customer satisfaction, they may be inclined to write about you in their blog, or you could even supply a guest post.  Be sure to read the relevant blogs and comment often.

Create compelling content – As noted, big company marketing types are typically very busy.  That means they won’t be doing any work on your behalf. However, if you come up with some smart contributed articles, they will often be willing to be quoted, are even add their name to the author byline.  Editors will be much more interested in the article if there’s a big name on the byline.

Support initiatives – Most of the time, the major players won’t give small upstarts the time of day. That can change when the big company has a major product launch.  They are often looking for endorsements and quotes to show how the industry is backing the new initiatives. Be ready with Johnny-on-the-spot press releases, quotes and spokespeople.

Partner events – The big partner events can be a good opportunity to make some noise.  Ideally, you can work your way into one of the keynote speeches.  If that doesn’t work, be sure to place as many of your customers, technical and product experts on panels and workshops as possible, and then funnel information to reporters and bloggers covering the event.

Partner beat reporters – Media outlets, whether online or print, devote inordinate amounts of space to big companies.  Many, such as the Wall Street Journal for instance, have reporters fully dedicated to only covering IBM or Microsoft.  It’s worthwhile letting these reporters know how your company fits into the space. They won’t write a dedicated story about you, but you can get mentioned in other coverage.

Self-publishing and social media – Scrapping for coverage in a brand-centric world is hard work. As a supplement, you can control your message and build your brand on your own.  By using social media tools, and publishing articles, videos and podcasts on your websites you can create significant buzz. This is where engaging the partner can be useful to creating more exposure and building your credibility. For example, you could interview the partner for a news podcast and use that as the basis for a thought leadership, brand building effort.

Working with big partners is never easy. It takes real organizational commitment to building the relationship in the first place and developing product and sales opportunities. The same goes for trading on the partner’s brand name. Done right, however, the payoff can be significant.

What communication strategies have you found to be successful on the partner front?

How Can I Be A Brand Ambassador?

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Brand, viral marketing, social media…the marketing buzzword machine just keeps on rolling. I know editors who use tools to throw out e-mails if they contain certain buzzwords like breakthrough, solutions, and cutting-edge.

And yet new marketing terms come up quite frequently, although many are good ones since they hit the nail right on the head. Maybe I’m living under a rock but here’s one that I haven’t heard before – Brand Ambassador.

As I learned reading Mashable a brand ambassador is a “person who creates a sense of credibility, likability or interest.” It’s very common to have a movie star or professional athlete hawking your product. But because Michael Jordan hypes Gatorade does that mean I’m going to buy it and drink it? If I’m an athlete the odds are pretty high.

But where did this notion of “brand ambassador” come from? I just read a great blog entry in Mashable called “Why Social Media Is Perfect for Brand Ambassador Campaigns” that highlights five great ambassador programs. The two that are most commonly known are Jared The Subway Guy and The Snapple Lady. These programs highlight the everyday person or the common man. Granted, these two examples show that the concept of the ambassador program have been around for awhile, but the growth of social media, and YouTube in particular, shows the true power of this type of activity.

Which brings me back to the original point. While us folks in the PR/marketing world are guilty of creating and abusing certain buzzwords, the idea of the ambassador program is pure genius to me. Why pay a star athlete or actress zillions of dollars to promote your wares when you can pay almost nothing, use a regular person and touch a nerve with consumers, namely that I can relate to these people.

OK, so maybe relating to the common person isn’t a truly revolutionary idea. But the idea of viral marketing is to use social networks to increase brand awareness. Over the last few years it’s been common for me to include a section or idea on viral marketing in almost every PR plan I’ve written or contributed to. By combining tools – common person, leverage social media – viral marketing has taken off like wildfire. I love the fact that it allows you and your team to be creative, think outside the box (another buzzword) and have some fun with what can be sometimes a boring process.

What about you? What successful viral marketing programs can you name? What are some examples of viral marketing campaigns you’ve been a part of?

Customer Engagement and Design Experience Key to Brand Building

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Over the years, I’ve found it fascinating to see how different marketing and creative disciplines define “brand.” My favorite: brand = logo. While the logo is an important visual output of the brand experience, to say that a brand is fully represented by its logo is ignoring a much bigger picture.

Apple is perhaps one of the most obvious companies that truly understands the full view of what it takes to build a powerful brand. This understanding is integrated into its packaging and product design. The marketers at Apple have mastered the customer engagement experience in their stores. Even the clothes Steve Jobs wears are part of the brand experience. And this doesn’t even touch the online experience, cultivation and nurturing of their followers, advertising, PR and overall marketing strategy. All that Apple does makes customers feel they are part of something hip and cool. With a few exceptions of course (that iPhone antennae issue sure didn’t help, but enormous brand equity certainly softened the impact).

This past week Microsoft showed it still has a handle on creating a powerful brand experience with the launch of Xbox Kinect. As the company moves to show Xbox providing something for everyone and being more than a gaming console, it created experiences that connected people to the brand. The launch event in Times Square alone positioned Xbox Kinect as the hottest thing on the market, with dancers showing off the capabilities with R&B star Ne-Yo at center stage. Throughout the year the company has created hands-on experiences for consumers to bring them close to the products and connect them to the brand. Microsoft just raised their forecasted holiday sales for the product from 3 to 5 million based on pre-sales and initial sales since last week’s launch, indicating their brand engagement and launch strategy will pay off. Time will tell in the coming weeks as holiday sales numbers are released.

The moral of these stories? When thinking about your brand, it’s important to consider how you weave the experience through every touch point you have with your target audiences — from your sales associates, retail presence, customer support and Web site to creating experiences that engage consumers directly via events and social media. And design together with innovation plays a critical role, especially in the consumer market where it can make or break the sale.

 Who are the companies you think truly get “branding?”

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