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Big Data is a Must, but it Only Gets You Halfway There. PART 2.

One of the most critical factors in acquisition marketing is brand readiness. Highly measurable, brand readiness is the degree to which your brand has the awareness and familiarity needed to deliver results. With digital marketing, there comes an expectation that dollars spent will yield immediate results. To an extent, they do; people click on your search campaign, visits to your website increase. Brand readiness, though, ensures the right kind of people are engaging, people who need your product or service, can purchase it, and are motivated to purchase that product or service from your brand.  

For example, I can stand in Times Square with a sign saying, “will you marry me” and earn a ton of impressions, build awareness that some chick is looking for a mate, and even start a few conversations. I think we can all agree no weddings will come from this stunt, because the people I am engaging are not qualified to be a spouse, they didn’t come to Times Square to get married, and they have no idea who I am. 

Acquisition marketing without brand is like this Times Square stunt – much to do about nothing. You need to build brand awareness, familiarity, and affinity so acquisition tactics deliver leads at an allowable cost. Decades ago, companies understood brand building was necessary for market success. Budgets were set aside for brand campaigns with the sole objective of raising awareness and recognition. Most business managers balk at the idea of spending money to prime the market, yet even dollars spent on acquisition campaigns will inevitably shoulder the important first step of building brand before generating qualified leads or purchases. When you do not account for brand building in your go-to-market strategy, you will be disappointed with the early results of your campaign. 

The rationale for skipping brand building is commonly related to cost and time to revenue. I get it, investors and boards do not like to wait. But building brand does not have to be expensive and time consuming. Choosing the right strategy is key. Here are a few branding dynamics to think about. 

Smart but lucky. 

I first coined this phrase in the oughts’ when we launched Liberty Mutual’s ‘Pay It Forward’ campaign. The campaign generated a much bigger response than we had expected, and I wanted to figure out why. I concluded success came in equal parts from being informed (smart) and culturally relevant (lucky). The data taught us about who the ideal customer could be, and at first, we focused on concrete attributes like age and income. Interesting for sure but not inspiring.  

The responsibility attribute popped up when the analyst created a competitive landscape cluster analysis. He took the most descriptive attributes, the attributes that were most associated with the various brands and plotted the attributes and brand names. A curve appeared, with Progressive and Geico customers clustered close and Liberty Mutual customers as an outlier. While the competition’s customers were interested in the more exciting and extroverted aspects of life (e.g., they like fast cars and thought it was important to be the first to know about a product), Liberty Mutual customers were more grounded, interested in community and family (e.g., voting in every election, volunteering). We created the ‘Pay It Forward’ campaign to honor those who were quietly choosing to do the right thing, adapting storytelling from the 2000 film of the same name.  

Brand building that uses data-driven insights (smart) and tells the story in a culturally relevant way (lucky) can be successful. Every good idea has its time. If you can hitch your brand to a cultural star, you, too, can be smart lucky. 

Being seen. 

We all harbor truths about ourselves – our identities, beliefs, and passions – that sit at the core of who we are as people. Many of these self-truths are hidden, shared only with the trusted few with whom we feel safe sharing. Others become avenging torches, expressed as advocacy for broader acceptance and inclusivity. Whether hidden or worn on your sleeve, they are defined in contrast to the social norm, experienced as other. Most brands stay inside the comfort zone of social norms, missing an opportunity to create a deep emotional connection with segments that feel underrepresented or ignored.  

I understand the desire to play it safe. Most brands look to the category leaders and seek to adapt their market winning tactics. Unless you are the category leader, playing it safe will not work, because your brand is not the safe choice – your brand is the alternative to safe. People must be highly motivated to choose the alternative so challenger brands must be prepared to challenge the status quo. An effective way to create this deep connection is by signaling your brand ‘for people like me’ which results in people feeling like the brand understands them, sees them for who they are. 

I am working with a childrens apparel start up that is taking the less conventional path. Lion + Owl’s product line has a purpose – to normalize childrens clothes that do not adhere to gender norms. We know who we are serving and have designed the clothes to address a range of fit needs. Now we are launching the first campaign in support of the first capsule by leading with our purpose, telling our audience (caregivers and kiddoes) about the functional benefits while also elevating the value to bravery and safety. This brand will not be for everyone, but it will be cherished by those who cannot see themselves in the more popular brands’ paradigms. 

Better or cheaper. 

Better or cheaper value propositions still work, but you must tread lightly because better/cheaper is one dimensional and difficult to sustain. And better propositions work well against one segment while cheaper works well against a totally different segment – necessitating a totally different marketing communications approach. 

Better. Often viewed as a broad marketing approach, better branding is actually very narrow. 

Better branding works when people are both interested in your product area and can understand the technical specifications that make your product better. Think enthusiasts or experts. These people want to think about your goods, they often devote time to learning about the category. Persuasion-based storytelling works, but brands must constantly innovate to maintain an edge.  

Cheaper. Often seen as differentiating, low-price marketing leads to commoditization, often making it difficult for a brand to expand its value proposition beyond price. Price is a quality signal, allowing people to make quick judgements about how good something is without requiring them to do the investigative work (this mindset sits in sharp contrast to the better marketing mindset).  

Warby Parker ran headlong into the cheaper/low-quality paradox and continues to struggle to find its position foothold today (IPO pricing was close to $60/share – two years later its stock is trading just shy of $13/share).  Having launched as a less expensive option, Warby Parker was able to win over an audience segment who understood direct-to-consumer operations could reduce the cost of glasses without sacrificing quality (take out the middleman costs and pass the savings to the consumer).  

Its tech-first approach to selection and trying glasses on meant the early adopters also had to feel comfortable choosing glasses without touching them. After years of growth, the company had to shift its strategy to win over the early majority – those that would consider buying from an online retailer but had to be won over. Marketing shifted focus from cheap to quality and craftmanship messaging. No doubt this worked to an extent, but the early majority segments are fickle. Companies must work within existing behavioral patterns, for eyeglasses customers could not get beyond the need to feel and touch the frames in a retail store. So Warby Parker adapted a retail strategy. While doing so, a dozen online-only brands popped up, offering direct-to-consumer glasses at prices that were lower than Warby Parker. Now the brand is caught in no man’s land, no longer the cheaper option yet not known for anything else. 

Better and cheaper positioning works, but its window of opportunity is usually short. You must be ready to launch a longer brand platform that connects on a human level for sustained growth. 

Right place, right time. 

If I want to launch a bottled water company, I will most likely go to a place where people are thirsty but don’t have access to water. I would head to summer music festival, long road races, or busy playgrounds. I would be at the right place at the right time, and my thirsty audience would be grateful for my brand, but street teams are hard to scale. How can I be at the right place at the right time virtually? By having a media plan that considers mindset and is timed to make the message as salient as possible. Fast casual restaurants are expert in right time/right place. When my old agency ran all the Dunkin’ marketing, we would choose dayparts and product offers that worked together – am drive time and coffee, for example. Domino’s does the same strategy via its app, sending notifications in the late afternoon when people are just beginning to plan dinner, sharing an offer that makes it easy for a person to just click and order. Right place/right time marketing is possible via digital channels, but you must be open to other tactics, often less measurable, to make this approach work (e.g., OOH). 

Is your brand ready to deliver positive acquisition marketing results?