Archive of ‘branding’ category
When considering potential products and services to offer, it can be useful to look at the nature of the target audiences involved. Inbound marketing based on niche communities represent the ultimate dream for retailers that want to sell direct at incredible margins. Some groups can be more readily persuaded to buy online and to help evangelize a product solution.
So what does an ideal niche look like? Here’s a checklist of desirable audience traits to test product ideas against.
Traits of an ideal niche audience
Readily targetable – using advertising or organic means, it’s possible to make content and messaging available to your group. Having a unique user persona is great but it will be of limited use if you’re not able to identify similar users in the marketplace or to reach them.
Impressionable – Some groups are more open to persuasion than others. Users that follow influencers on social media or that read learning publications or videos, show that they are interested in advice and suggestions.
Self-motivated – Offering utilitarian products has its place. For the small brand selling online though, it’s especially helpful to operate in an industry where the users are motivated by personal passion. That could be a cause, a personal hobby, a mark of individualism or other thing that generates emotion.
Buying power – Audience members should be willing and able to buy online. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ultra wealthy as long as they have some discretionary income. These users should be comfortable moving from browse to purchase without getting overly caught up with privacy or security concerns.
Part of a community – If there isn’t a place to discuss the industry you can always create something and add value by cultivating it. But it’s even better if there’s an existing one that you can leverage and participate in. Online discussion boards or meetups provide a great way to hear from potential customers directly and you can mine the existing chatter for clues about what motivates purchasing behavior.
Example Niches – Meat Thermometers and Carbide Chisels
Hobbyists that don’t do work as a professional but that want to dabble are a prime opportunity for niche brands. There are plenty of weekend warriors that want to buy their way into upping their game, whatever that game may be. One example of a brand that benefits from this kind of audience is Thermoworks, who is the undisputed leader in digital meat thermometers. Chefs swear by the Thermapen, considered the Cadillac of instant read thermometers for its accuracy and speed. Home chefs likely have very little need for a thermometer that can measure accurately to the tenth of a degree, or that can create a readout in 3 seconds instead of 10 seconds. But if they just spent thousands on a new outdoor kitchen and want to follow their Big Green Egg recipes closely, spending $100 to get the best thermometer seems worth it. This kind of narrow focus has allowed Thermoworks to attain an enviable market leader position and they have such a cult following that they can afford to avoid marketplaces like Amazon.com entirely.
The content opportunity for brands catering to a specific niche is to show the output that pros get out of their high end tools. By demonstrating what’s possible, ambitious amateurs are offered a tempting shortcut to improving their own skills. And while huge hobby categories like woodworking have been crowded with vendors forever, there are sub-categories with specialized tools like creating bowls from stumps through wood turning. As an interested beginner you can get a cheap set of chisels from Harbor Freight to do the job. But if you want to use the tools that the big accounts on Instagram use to create their works of art, you’ll have to pop for a premium brand like Robert Sorby and their titanium-nitride Turnmaster with tungsten carbide cutting head.
So where do you go to find categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories? Communities are a good place to start. Anywhere people organize to discuss their passions and hobbies can be a great source for ideas. There is a seemingly unending supply of obscure subreddits where users discuss their unique needs and preferred brands. Sites like subredditstats.com can help to identify groups that are gaining momentum. Meetup.org is another place to see how people self-identify around interests. This can be a good way to spot emerging trends to seek out new opportunities. Axe throwing, whiskey tasting and creating and ice carousels have only recently become relatively mainstream and each have their own accompanying set of specialized accessories.
Moving in and taking over
Once a community is identified, it’s best to create a product offering at the high end of the market to command the best prices, presuming you can demonstrate that your product is obviously much better than the others. But that is easier said than done, especially for lucrative niche markets. As an alternative, you can position yourself as the affordable version of an existing brand (like RTIC did for YETI) or create an ordering experience that’s faster or easier than the rest (like Bulk Reef Supply did for salt water aquarium hobbyists) or another way of differentiating from the current line up. The products may seem weird to the general public, but to the right audience they’re the stuff of dreams.
Shopping or browse pages tend to be the domain of the usability team, with utility and efficiency being the primary goals for optimization. There’s good reason for this as conveying the important product attributes can help users make purchasing choices, guiding them down the sales funnel. And click through rate to the product’s detail page is a critical performance indicator. But the browse page can also be an opportunity to deliver and reinforce value statements about your brand too. Visual clues on the product listings deliver brand messages with repetition, which aids in comprehension and recall.
Have a look at this browse page for Red Wing work boots.
They have codes that indicate the features of each pair of boots in relation to workplace needs. Filtering options include insulation against electricity, waterproofing, etc. Besides helping a customer navigate the site, displaying these product attributes sends a message to users that this brand is serious about work and their boots are purpose-built for the task. Visitors get this information at a glance, without having to read.
Compare to another shoe site NikeID, that is more geared toward the fashion-conscious and those the like to express a unique personality.
This site allows for color personalization and notes each product that is eligible for the feature. The addition of color wheels to each product image reinforces their brand’s commitment to co-creation and personalization.
The outdoor retailer REI uses a different browse page template for their outlet versus their main store. Here is their main store’s listing of jackets.
The outlet “REI Garage” displays products in a similar way but emphasizes the bargains by using strike-through pricing and calculating the percentage savings.
Because they’re delivering a different message in their outlet, they use a different template.
Messages can extend beyond the products to include store policies and content marketing. Bulk Reef Supply serves the DIY reefing community and has invested heavily in tutorial and product review videos. They add value to customers by offering lots of helpful guidance and infuse their product listings with visual cues to remind visitors that help is available.
In addition to badges, product images themselves provide an opportunity to lay out value drivers. In this case SCOTTeVEST offers an ‘x-ray’ of their apparel on mouseover. Besides being somewhat functional for browsing, it delivers the idea that you can carry a lot of stuff in these closes without looking bulky, which is the center of their value proposition.
The fact that these visual brand messages are native and repetitive is the key to this opportunity. Product listing pages with 50 or more products listed at a time offer a chance to drum key attributes into visitors’ heads as they scroll, in a way that feels natural.
Tactics for delivering brand statements are often at odds with usability tools designed with utility in mind. But the browse page for a product catalog offer a rare chance to do both in the same place.
When it comes to interactions with brands, consumer expectations continue to climb. Users want to be treated as individuals, especially younger audiences that grew up immersed in digital media. This has been driving the trend in marketing toward segmentation and personalization, which generally results in better experiences and better response rates.
But mass personalization can be difficult to manage for marketing departments. The more that segment definitions explode the more there is to tailor, monitor and adjust. The solution seems to be to gather as much data as possible and to develop a robust profile on each individual contact and then to turn the content-matching task over to algorithms and machine learning. Micro-segmentation gets at the spirit of creating personalized experiences appropriate for individuals but there is a point of diminishing returns. Attempting to custom tailor messages per user shouldn’t come at the cost of efficiency of workflow or human-directed editorial work.
Marketing departments that use user personas arrive at a good compromise between no personalization and attempting to modify messaging for each unique customer. Personas hit upon the key use cases and drive focus versus trying to be everything to everybody. Making messaging work for a small number of personas is a realistic task for content editors and you don’t have to turn over your end product to a black box.
Persona template by Chase Oliver
But beyond the practical reasons for using personas for the sake of getting arms around the work, there’s another reason why they work: archetypes are a powerful way to address how users think about themselves. They provide context and understanding for the complex themes of self identify. Marketers are on one side of the equation trying to interpret what all of the data inputs on customers mean and users are on the other side trying to do the same thing. Archetypes offer a shortcut to understanding for both.
People are irrational thinkers and identity constructs are constantly in flux. A young person might consider herself a saver and financial conservative most days and yet contradict that when it comes to loves travel. If you asked her she’d probably have a hard time communicating all the complex reasons she acts the way she does. But she might reach for an archetype of her own and explain that she’s both a saver and an adventurer at heart.
Having mountains of data is always helpful but the ideal output isn’t ultra-refined segments that are one-to-one with individuals. Having well informed personas, even if they are fictional, can serve the purpose of tailoring products and messaging best. Companies look to them to bring clarity to how their product serves their key markets. And customers lean on personas to understand their own motivations and to develop a self identity.
The same person may wear a persona that doesn’t fit a company’s approach one day and then change into another that is compatible down the line.
There are so many ways for brands to use Pinterest, I thought I would put together a summary of pin types and what they’re good for.
#1 Title Pin
Title pins represent content that’s hosted elsewhere. Good ones use eye catching visuals and text that’s readable in its thumbnail form. These pins aim to pass users from pinterest.com to the destination site.
#2 Long Form
These pins are self contained and offer all of the content in the image. Using these pins encourages repins and can gain the brand more followers.
It might be a single image that represents a larger gallery, or one tip from a list of ten. This hybrid type offers some of the content directly in the Pin, while promising more if the user clicks through to the site.
#4 Sale Pin
Announcing a sale can directly affect business, but these pins are much less likely to get passed along. The pins also easily become outdated.
For brands that have a loyal following, your fans may simply want a pin that represents your business to show the world who they love.
#6 Product Category
Best for brands within niche solutions or for market leaders within their category, these pins present the features of a product without naming the company at all.
Product pins are the most natural way for Pinterest users to interact with brands. Verify your business and use rich pin meta data for the best effect.
Some pins are all about self expression. Users pin these to tell the world what they’re all about. Design a great badge pin that represents your industry and grow your brand.
#9 Results Pin
These images sell your products by showing the net result. The pin can link to your tutorial for more details on how to achieve the result, or can reference your product in the pin description.
Choose your strategy and get to pinning!
Getting someone else to come around to your point of view can be a tricky thing. Before you can ask your audience to act, you’ll need to make them aware of your point of view and convince them to consider it. It’s even tougher to change a point of view that they already have. You could take on the task directly and come armed with a list of arguments and facts. But that’s just the standard way of doing things.
|West Coast Trail, British Columbia
Another approach is to talk around the issue, subtly shaping the decision-making landscape. Like the forestry service offering a path through the woods that fits the setting, you clear obstacles and offer the best path past hazards while still allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. It’s more difficult to do and takes more time. But it can be a lot more effective.
Groomed Trails and Shortcuts
When planting an idea you have to be early enough to affect your audience before they take a firm position. And you can’t come on too strong or they’ll know the idea is not their own. A long term awareness campaign requires a lot of faith and patience. But we can also take advantage of shortcuts. An idea that comes from a single source can take quite a long time to wedge itself into consciousness. Having the idea reinforced by multiple, independent sources greatly increase that message’s effectiveness. And you get even further by getting your audience to agree with that message on their own, or at least recall your claim for a positive reason. (Plus the act of recalling something can deliver positive benefits on its own as well.)
Getting your audience to recall your message can jumpstart your attempts at persuasion and there are several effective tools for the job. Have you ever had to remember a phone number without having a pen to write it down? If you’re like most people, you repeat it to yourself, out loud (at least if there’s nobody else around to look at you funny.) There’s something about speaking that makes it easier to remember. There has actually been quite a bit of neuroscience research on the topic – suffice to say voicing your ideas requires additional brainpower that helps with recall.
Likewise, concepts and arguments stick when you try them on for size, either in your head or on paper. Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators said, “thoughts disentangle themselves passing over the lips and through pencil tips.” Translating an abstract thought into coherent communication requires you to process it first.
So how can you get your audience to try out your idea without putting up conscious barriers first? As a thought exercise, let’s take a look at some potential techniques and how they might play out in a creative campaign.
1. Awareness campaign plus 3rd party ask – Let’s say you’re a small Chicago based company in a competitive industry like organic snack food. You could run a two part campaign to cement your message of being a local favorite. In part one, you’d do a typical awareness effort like becoming a sponsor at a 5K or a summer festival in town. Give away samples and literature that describe how you’ve been connected to your city for x number or years or another unique and re-callable claim.
In step 2, follow up with the people that were exposed to your brand claim shortly after the event but do it through a 3rd party. Your goal is to trigger the memory of their initial interaction with you (and reap the benefits of that recognition) and to use a positive reward to solidify your brand positioning claim. Continuing the example of a local snack company, you could create a simple Facebook quiz run by Windy City Software that lets users answer questions about how well they know their hometown. One of the questions will be related to your claim. “Which of these companies based in Oak Park was one of the first organic snack options in Chicago?…” The user is motivated to dredge up the memory in order to get the question right and your claim is reinforced.
The rest of the quiz can be fun cover or you could band together with like minded complementary vendors who might also like to get involved.By the way Facebook has always made it easy to target advertising to a specific segment like residents of your city or neighborhood. They have also recently added an option to upload your own set of email addresses in order to create a custom advertising segment – as an event sponsor you might have access to just such a list.
2. Whitepaper and custom captcha – A lot of smart marketers are using content marketing to good effect these days. If you work in an industry where you can offer a helpful guide or intro to an unfamiliar issue, whitepapers are great ways to introduce your brand. Traditionally, content marketers will write a whitepaper and offer it for free on a webpage. In order to reduce friction and encourage as much use as possible, whitepapers are often offered without having to register or fill in a form at all.I agree with line ofthinking and believe it works out best in the end to avoid the temptation of requiring a name or email address. But even cynical consumers understand the need for short captcha tools to guard against abuse. Why not ditch the traditional captcha tools and come up with a custom one that works to your branding advantage? Ask them a simple question that makes them think, even a little bit, about your brand. “This guide to DIY photography is brought to you by the lighting pros at ______”
By requiring that they type the answer, you’ve added a measure of stickiness to your branding message.
3. Co-opt a common sound and link it to your brand claim. – As anyone who has had a jingle stuck in their head knows, audio can make a terrific vehicle for recall. If you were a pet food company you could incorporate the whirring sound of a can being opened into your TV or radio ads about the quality of your product. By linking your claim of being a superior brand to the common sound of a can opener working, you can encourage recall every time your audience encounters that trigger.
On a similar note, you could create a useful preparedness mnemonic that doubles as a recall device. 1-800-ASK-GARY is a lawyer referral service that already seems to be everywhere these days. During their radio ads, they could offer an acrostic for accident victims to remember what to do while at the same time encouraging brand recall.
G – Get out of the way of traffic and put on hazards
A – Authorities: call the police and, if necessary, an ambulance
R – Record information including notes about the accident and insurance info
Y – Your rights – don’t admit to guilt or sign anything and call a lawyer. 1-800-ASK-GARY is there 24/7 to answer your legal questions.
Each of these hypothetical campaigns use recall as a means of getting your message to ‘cut in line’ amid the clutter of traditional noise. What other creative ideas can you come up with for getting consumers to process ideas and boosting recall?
We talked a while back about how the moment the customer opens their shipment is the climax of the customer experience and the ultimate single make or break point for brand delivery. By that time, the results are beyond our control as marketers. Once the product leaves the warehouse, the die is cast.
Before we get to that point though, we do have chances to influence the final impression. It’s our job to tip the scales in our favor as much as we can. To do that, we must build anticipation for the solution that our customer is waiting for until they can’t wait to tear open the package when it finally does arrive.
The only real caution here is to avoid setting expectations beyond what your product or service can deliver. The product has to come first and I’m assuming that we’ve already got something that does its job. And it’s always wise to save a few surprises for the very end. In the meantime though, there are plenty of ways to whet the appetite.
- Make estimated delivery updates available at each phase of completion
- Offer a photo or PDF of your customer’s custom product before it’s boxed up and email it
- Display happy testimonials on your order confirmation emails
- Send an email with tips and suggestions on how to use their product in the days before it arrives
- Mail a handwritten thank you note on the purchase date or email a short comment that is unique to them
I’m sure you can think up many others. These are not cheap marketing tricks though. Anticipation is part of the customer experience. And it’s an opportunity for us to increase customer satisfaction because people want it.
The process surrounding a product is part of the product. Once you’ve created a pleasant expectation in your customer’s mind, they’re very likely to have a positive ultimate experience (unless you completely botch the job.) Think of how good a bakery smells in the morning. Once you’ve got idea of a warm, tasty bagel in your mind, and spend 5 minutes waiting to get a fresh one, chances are you’re going to be happy when you get it.
Most of the time the reason behind this dynamic of persuasion is cognitive dissonance – people don’t want to disagree with themselves. When you buy shoes online, you’re placing your trust in that shoe retailer. You’ve paid your money and, in a sense, placed a bet that you’ve picked out the right company. You want your decision to be affirmed as a good one and will tend to lean toward that conclusion when the shoes arrive.
One of the old sales tricks that salespeople employ is to get the prospect saying yes, even if it’s not directly related to a sale. Once they start saying yes to the small things, they’ll be more likely to keep saying yes. In our case, they’ve already said yes to the big question; they’ve made a purchase. We’re trying to keep the momentum going past the sale and into the product unboxing.
By maintaining contact with customer pre-delivery, you’re making that pull toward a happy conclusion a little stronger. In various ways, you’re telling them ‘you made a good decision, you’re going to be happy when your product arrives, you are a smart shopper…’
Once the customers internalize those messages, they’ll start repeating them to themselves and others, expanding your branding statements even further.What are some ways that you can create positive anticipation that can add to your customer’s experience?
Brains on Fire is an identity company that helps companies create sustainable movements by encouraging customer enthusiasm. They’re way out in front when it comes to understanding and maximizing word of mouth. At the Brains on Fire blog, they have a recurring feature called The You Don’t Need Us Awards. In other words, companies that already get how to engage their customers. Considering how most companies operate these days, that’s high praise.
I was traveling on the North shore of Lake Superior last weekend (hearty people up there – it snowed mid-May!) and encountered a company that definitely does not need help with their identity: The Angry Trout Cafe. Here’s why
- They believe in a cause For the Angry Trout, that cause is sustainability. A lot of companies claim to be ‘green’ because that’s what people want to hear these days. This cafe’s owners are true believers that walk the walk and don’t apologize for it. It’s impossible to miss the fact that the Angry Trout believes in the sustainability ideal and practices it despite the difficulty involved and despite unpopularity with some people.
- They are consistent From the way the food is prepared to the way the waste is handled, this place reinforces their message at every turn. Organic food is just the start. They use stoneware that lasts forever, buy all of their furniture and art locally and use small cloth napkins to save on water. They even run the entire place on 100% wind power. An they’ve been doing it all since 1987.
- They have a manual Going beyond simply leading by example, the Angry Trout seeks to evangelize the sustainability movement. They have recorded their story in a fun, useful book called The Angry Trout Cafe Notebook. It even includes recipes to their excellent food along with practical information on their way of doing things. A store copy is available to read while you wait for your food or you can purchase your own copy and spread the word. A written history is key to creating and sustaining culture.
Whatever you believe about sustainability and a Northern Minnesota cafe’s ability to change the world, there is no denying that sincere passion is a powerful thing. The Angry Trout doesn’t need branding workshops or an identity company’s services. They get it naturally.
We’re doing company branding work at the office so evaluating how companies represent themselves to customers has been on the brain lately.
It can be interesting to debate the merits of a position in a marketplace. Should we be the low-cost, efficiency leader? Or should we offer the best customer service possible or go after a luxury segment? While one approach may be more appropriate for a given company vs another, I think the important thing is to be consistent. My personal experience tells me that when a company’s behavior lines up with who they claim to be, it usually works out fine. When it doesn’t, it’s ugly.
I recently found a bogus charge on my credit card. Luckily, I saw the transaction while it was still pending and payment hadn’t been sent. So I called the bank that issued my card and told them the whole story. Their response was to tell me that they couldn’t stop the payment from going out and that I needed to call another department to place a fraud claim. Fine, whatever. When I repeated my story to the fraud department (45 minute hold time) they told me that they’d investigate and get back to me. That was over 2 months ago and still no word on the verdict, despite several phone calls from me. Now to their credit, they did issue a provisional credit to cover the amount in question while the investigation was going on. But I’m not comfortable spending that money since I don’t know whether I’ll be able to keep it or not.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if the credit card company had painted a more realistic picture of how this would happen from the get go. I still have their sales brochure, which says things like “You won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized purchases.” My claim form says “your claim is top priority with us.” Riiiight.
On the other hand, I checked out the local Snap Fitness earlier this week. They are a stripped down health club with about a tenth of the equipment, resources and service that Lifetime or Ballys would offer. But they don’t apologize for it. My conversation with the sales person was sugar coat free.
“Do you have showers?”
“No, most people just get in and out.”
“Okay, how about lockers for my stuff?”
“We have cubbies.”
“Alright. Where’s the drinking fountain?”
“We don’t have one.”
Not the most impressive set of features for a health club but there is no misunderstanding about what they offer. And it’s only $30 a month, less than half of the dues at Lifetime or the YMCA. I think that Snap Fitness may grab a smaller slice of the total market with this approach, but the customers that they do have will be satisfied and likely to stay.