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‘Bland’ Kills Brands: Here’s How to Find Your Voice

This post was first published by Blaise Lucey on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.

Being bland can kill your brand.When the beaten and weary buzzword of “innovative” comes up, it’s inevitable that tech companies come to mind first. Whether we’re talking about 3D printing or the cloud, social or mobile networks, tech businesses are the ones that are thought of as brave barrier breakers.

Many are also leading the way in creating distinct, value-driven organizations. Google’s famous motto, “Don’t be evil,” has guided the company down an interesting path. The search giant has taken firm stands on the FCC’s net neutrality ruling, the NSA’s cloud monitoring and, most recently, climate change legislation. Facebook has exhibited a similar tact – launching a worldwide nonprofit, Internet.org, to help everyone in the world access opportunities on the Internet.

These big moves can make a big difference. One study found that 60 percent of a consumer’s inclination to buy, recommend or work for a company is driven by corporate reputation – not products and services.

Not every business can invest in multi-billion dollar initiatives and campaigns, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to take a stand. In fact, nowadays, it’s critical. Brands that don’t have an interesting story to tell come across as bland and forgettable. And, with so much noise in the market today, ‘bland’ can actually kill brands. If your brand is bland, no one will visit your site. No one will follow you on social media. And no one will cover your story.

Companies have discovered how to broadcast to customers through digital PR campaigns, social media and content marketing, but their voices are all the same. At the very best, brands are creating generic self-help and thought leadership articles (“Big Data is good!”) that will do little to nothing to catch the attention of prospects and customers. At worst, the website is the same as every competitor’s website – highlighting an array of products and services that really are no different than everyone else’s.

Bland brands are becoming a big problem in the tech world. The landscape is flat. There’s no real tangible product and the market is flooded with competition. Even alcohol delivery apps need to find a way to differentiate.

Companies understand it’s important to create stories around the brand, but few seem interested in creating a story that’s unique or compelling. Here’s how businesses can find a voice that resonates:

1. Go Granular.

Industry-specific content can be leveraged through social PPC campaigns, because platforms like Google Ad Words and LinkedIn Sponsored Updates allow you to target by industry and job title.

If you’re targeting “digital marketing managers” with a PR or content marketing campaign, you can drill down deeper. If you could ensure that your message only got sent to digital marketing managers for media companies, what would you say?

Digital marketing managers for media companies face a very different set of obstacles than digital marketing managers for cloud analytics companies, for example. Do some industry research about what kinds of digital obstacles media companies face and build the message from there. If you can build a campaign that shows how your product helps customers in the media space, your story – and your brand – won’t be bland. Every digital marketer may have read a story about how mobile is key to reaching customers, but not about how mobile is key to building a new kind of media ecosystem.

2. Research Your Audience.

But then we hit the other wall: even most targeted content has the same kind of style, tone and voice. Sometimes, it’s casual and other times it reads like a newspaper. Sure, maybe there’s a spicy headline. Some companies have even dared to use the word “suck.”

To really give your company a distinctive voice, you need to know your audience. Not just as buyers, but as people. If you’re targeting IT managers, you could think about what kind of TV shows they watch. A playful blog post that makes references to familiar hobbies among your target audience can position the brand as a company that really understands the audience and, therefore, the issues the audience faces every day. Plus, “10 Ways to Optimize Your IT Network” sounds a lot worse than “10 Signs Your IT Network is as Complicated as Game of Thrones.”

Try issuing a survey among your primary audience and go from there. Or just follow a group of them on Twitter. This can give you some valuable insight into the kind of tone that can engage prospects.

3. Make Meaningful Partnerships.

Consumers are value-driven, especially since the Internet has made every business transparent. If your tech product is an analytics dashboard, maybe your company’s mission is to make Big Data understandable for everyone. To build positive press, you should work on offering a nonprofit an analytics dashboard for free – maybe it’s during an annual fundraiser that allows nonprofits to track donations in real-time. Or maybe you build a dashboard that keeps track of how many trees have been saved or planted.

When organizations create partnerships, they automatically double their potential exposure on social media. If your company is working hard to build a presence on Twitter, for example, partnering with a nonprofit for a specific campaign or sponsoring a fundraiser could greatly increase your reach and show prospects what you care about.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Have an Opinion.

At a time when opinion is the best way to get viewers on TV or visitors to a website or followers on social media, brands are still woefully behind in becoming self-actualized. Like I said, big companies are taking bold stands. Google and Facebook have pulled out of ALEC due to the organization’s stand on climate change legislation. Likewise, many companies are protesting the FCC’s net neutrality ruling.

You don’t have to become obsessed with a political mission statement or a specific cause, but businesses that invest in values beyond the bottom line become more defined – and more memorable. A social media monitoring company, for example, could come out and start talking about how Facebook is “completely useless” for B2B brands.

Who, What, Why

Brands have never before had to have such distinct identities across such a broad landscape. But when consumers can research businesses in just a few seconds, it pays off to be memorable. Creating generic industry content isn’t enough, and neither is making a killer product. In PR, it’s getting harder and harder for tech companies to get coverage because there’s so much competition across the board, from mobile to cloud to marketing tech.

Companies have to find a voice that resonates. To do that, you have to create a story that’s not just about your product and your customers, but how your business impacts the things that matter to your customers.

 

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