Why prefer Coke over Pepsi or GE over Samsung or Ford over Chevy?
In markets that aren’t natural monopolies or where there are clear, agreed-upon metrics, how do we decide?
Yes, every brand has a story—that’s how it goes from being a logo and a name to a brand. The story includes expectations and history and promises and social cues and emotions. The story makes us say we "love Google" or "love Harley"… but what do we really love?
We love ourselves.
We love the memory we have of how that brand made us feel once. We love that it reminds us of our mom, or growing up, or our first kiss. We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.
We can’t easily explain this, even to ourselves. We can’t easily acknowledge the narcissism and the nostalgia that drives so many of the apparently rational decisions we make every day. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not at work.
More than ever, we express ourselves with what we buy and how we use what we buy. Extensions of our personality, totems of our selves, reminders of who we are or would like to be.
Great marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning.
In his epic book “Here Comes Everybody”, Clay Shirky writes:
We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race. More people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase, from under one million participants to over one billion in a generation, makes the change unprecedented, even considered against the background of previous revolutions in communications tools. The truly dramatic changes in such tools can be counted on the fingers of one hand: the printing press and movable type (considered as one long period of innovation); the telegraph and telephone; recorded content (music, then movies); and finally the harnessing of radio signals (for broadcasting radio and TV). None of these examples was a simple improvement, which is to say a better way of doing what a society already did. Instead, each was a real break with the continuity of the past, because any radical change in our ability to communicate with one another changes society.
So now you are an expert. I know it. You know it. It’s the rest of the world that may not know it. Yet. In my humble opinion however you did not get to this ripe old age of wherever you’re at without becoming an expert in something. The 10,000 hour rule is just that – Malcolm Gladwell hypothesized that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. Now think of all the things you are an expert at!
Here’s the problem, however: your area of expertise may be so narrow or specialized that no one in your town or county or even your state needs it. There are however almost 2,000,000,000 people on the Internet. Even if your expertise appeals to only one in 1 million people that still means there are 2,000 people who need you to guide them. The 10,000 hours you spent gaining your expertise probably means you’re pretty good thinker too. The challenge is you can be the sharpest knife in the drawer but if no one can find the drawer you’ll never get a chance to get out…
Chris Brogan says:
“As you now know, if you have no Google results, in a sense you don’t exist.
My good friend Dana VanDen Heuvel, a thought leader in his own right, says “there are thinkers and there are thought leaders. They both have a point of view. The thinker has a point of view that is limited by word-of-mouth but the thought leader is only limited by world of mouth.” Using the good, fast and cheap tools available on the Internet a thinker can make his or her thought leadership position searchable, findable, knowable, usable, and shareable. Because of all those ‘ibles’, they may actually become credible. Publishing your thought leadership position will give you a share of voice which may lead to share of mind and ultimately to share of market…
The first step in ‘being known’ is actually accepting the face that you ARE an expert and discovering your ‘onlyness’ as author Nilofer Merchant puts it in her book “11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra“:
The foundational element starts with celebrating each human and, more specifically, something I’ve termed onlyness. Onlyness is that thing that only one particular person can bring to a situation. It includes the skills, passions, and purpose of each human. Onlyness is fundamentally about honoring each person, first as we view ourselves and second as we are valued. Each of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies. That unique point of view is born of our accumulated experience, perspective, and vision. Some of those experiences are not as “perfect” as we might want, but even those experiences are a source of ideas and creativity. Without this tenet of celebrating onlyness, we allow ourselves to be simply cogs in a machine—dispensable and undervalued.
Merchant, Nilofer (2012-09-12). 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era (Kindle Locations 107-113). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
So now we have established the foundation of being known; you have to define your area of expertise and embrace your ‘onlyness’; only then can you take the next step. More next Tuesday…
Thought leadership marketing may be hitting the big time. Forrester Research just published a paper entitled Thought Leadership: The Next Wave Of Differentiation In B2B Marketing. Jeff Ernst, the author of the paper, says:
Business-to-business (B2B) marketers need to position their firms as thought leaders on the issues their buyers face. But most firms don’t have a process or framework for managing thought leadership marketing initiatives, so they push out product brochures and white papers disguised as thought leadership content.
It’s a great endorsement for thought leadership marketing. I don’t know Ernst and haven’t read the report (at $499 it’s out of my price range), but if you have a Forrester account be sure to check it out.
Ernst is pushing the new Forrester platform for thought leadership marketing, which at first blush obvious (but who am I to complain about publicity for the cause). Forrester’s IDEA Platform for Thought Leadership Marketing consists of these four steps:
Identify your target audience, their issues, and the sources of information they trust.
Develop your thought leadership platform: the ideas and content that express the company’s positions.
Engage your audience through a considered mix of digital, social, and traditional channels.
Assess the impact on your business and revise or reinvest.
One thing I see missing from these steps is a consideration of the competition from a thought leadership perspective. Like in any market, if there are already lots of folks vying for a leadership position in an area, you may want to avoid that area. You at least have to determine whether or not you can compete. It doesn’t do you much good if you have ideas and content on positions where others are clearly in the lead.
Ernst also has some good stuff to say about thought leadership marketing in his blog. In It’s Time to Take a Stand … In Your Marketing, he says:
Marketers have to realize that in the age of the customer, business buyers don’t “buy” your product; they “buy into” your approach to solving their problem. Read that last sentence again. Your products aren’t as unique as you think. In fact, in most markets, the products and services are fairly commoditized. Buyers want to do business with firms that share their outlook on the world and have philosophies on solving key problems that align with their own. Yet so many marketers only talk about their features and benefits.
What do you do about it? Establishing a position of thought leadership in your market is becoming the next arena for differentiation in B2B marketing. When done right, thought leadership marketing is a way to stand out from the competition, create interest, and earn the trust of potential buyers early in their problem-solving process.
In checking out this information I came across Forrester’s CMO and Marketing Professionals’ Community where there have been some great conversations on thought leadership marketing that you should read.
Well, enough selling for Forrester today. Keep thinking.
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