Brand Engagement: Today’s Hottest Marketing Currency


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In today’s challenging marketing environment, where every firm sounds alike, sales cycles take years, and services become commoditized overnight, how can A/E/C firms engage their audiences and ensure they stay engaged – growing from prospects into loyal life-long customers? How can A/E/C marketers take advantage of the multitude of communication channels without diluting the brand’s message (and do so with today’s often-sparse financial and human resources?). Enter brand engagement! Brand engagement is critical to cultivating internal and external brand champions, giving stakeholders and marketers the vision, structure, and motivation to turn brand into action.

Published in: Business, News & Politics
  • Thank you, Ron! Doing this talk again for the MD/DC joint Professional Day.
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  • Excellent Overview of how critical and 'perplexing' a Brand can be for companies today.
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  • Whenever I talk about anything related to brand, I always like to start here. This is a very simple truth but we often forget that the marketplace co-owns our brand. BTW, I highly recommend this book – it’s small and very graphic so it’s a very quick read, but makes a great case for bridging the gap between brand, design and business.
  • [Read out loud] – NEXT
  • Brand is a perception. It’s intangible. It’s emotional. Changing perceptions, which is essentially changing what people believe to be true about your brand, is always much harder than getting it right in the first place.
  • This is a great video about how you build a brand that leads, engages and inspires action. It’s only 18 minutes and I hope that you will watch it on your own, so I’ll try to stay very high-level and not spoil it for you.  This TED talk is about why some brands are remarkable, while others are ordinary. The circles: “What” is the outer layer and every organization knows what it does; what products and services it provides“How” is something that some organizations can articulate: this is your unique selling proposition“Why” is the key to a differentiating, remarkable, memorable brand. “Why” is your firm’s purpose, its core belief, it’s the reason you exist.
  • Why vs. What/How is the foundation, the key ingredient for the Brand Engagement formula for success. And while it’s always easier to sell to those who need your services right now, to build a great, enduring brand that will stand out and not become a commodity, you need these 2 things: You need deeply engaged clients and deeply engaged employees.
  • Brand Engagement is not the final goal – it’s simply a tool to inspire action. And to inspire action, you need to build a brand that people and companies want to connect with.  Build your brand around your firm’s Why; show your audiences what your brand stands for in a way that turns them into raving fans and life-long brand champions.
  • Important to note that in order to resonate with your audiences, your brand must be in alignment with what THEY care about. Think of your brand as a reflection of your audiences – more so than a reflection of yourself.  A quick illustration of what it means: law firms forever had these ivory engraved biz cards and each new firm and new lawyer would order those because they wanted to look like lawyers. And then finally someone clued them in that nobody in the universe under the age of 90 can relate, because their audiences are business people, young people, innovators, tech start-ups, artists and entertainers and they all have their own language. So there was this fundamental shift in the Legal marketing discipline and we started seeing legal brands that are reflections of the industries they do business with. And those firms do much better than the ones who are still holding onto their engraved BCs. Or, closer to home: we often hear from Engineering firms when we embark on a rebrand or a website redesign: “We don’t want to look like an Engineering Firm, we want to look like Architects – they are our clients and we want to be relatable.” These firms understand that they need to speak the language of their audiences.
  • Apple is the poster child for brand engagement. NEXT>
  • And for making people believe what it believes. Think about it: it’s just a computer company. From which now we buy everything from phones to music. But we don’t simply buy electronics, we buy a lifestyle, a status.We buy into a brand movement. NEXT>
  • Why? Because Apple makes sure that every encounter with its Brand, every touchpoint, every impression all add up to an unforgettable brand experience.
  • If you address the needs and aspirations of each of the stakeholder groups, you will not only create repeat clients and happy employees, but you will, TOO, create your firm’s and your brand’s champions.
  • By paying attention to every single brand touchpoint, Apple has created unparalleled brand experience. The challenge of today’s brand management is that each communication channel is different, operating under it’s own set of rules and on its own terms. We can no longer use the same campaign headline across multiple channels and call it integrated marketing. What’s even more challenging, is that we are no longer engaged in a monologue about our brand, but in a 24/7 two-way conversation.  However challenging, this also provides a tremendous opportunity to not simply tell about the value of your brand but to show it, to engage your audiences with it, in real-time and across the channels of THEIR choice.
  • We all know that the first marketing rule is “know your audiences,” but this goes beyond simply knowing who your stakeholders are – you also need to know what motivates and inspires them and where they hang out.  Where and when they prefer to receive communications: online, offline, via social media or traditional marketing channels.
  • Just like any other human relationships, business relationships need to have that initial spark and then deepen through the process cultivating the relationship. Life-long friendships don’t form over night and you don’t expect someone to marry you after the first date. And both, real friendships and marriages, take a lot of work. Prospecting is not about getting a project – it’s about building relationships so that when there’s a project, your firm is considered. It’s about building trust so that when it’s time to buy, your firm is an easy choice. Staying engaged with your prospects, partners, media and other external stakeholders takes time, patience and the right marketing tactics. And as we all know, in our industry, it can take a very long time to actually close a deal. Brand management is a discipline of romancing your customers, and fostering a deeper connection through engagement with your brand and your firm.  So you need to have strategies for both: creating that initial attraction, that spark and then making sure that you stay top of mind through the first project opportunity and beyond.
  • This is by no means is a full list, but being mindful of our time constraints, I wanted to emphasize a few tactics that we find work best for B2B and proved most successful with our A/E/C clients. These tactics both help create initial attraction and keep your audiences engaged over time.
  • Content Marketing is one of the most powerful tools in the B2B Marketing toolbox. It helps your firm build awareness and become an idea leader in your key markets. There are a lot of tools available for creating and publishing content – this is a sample list, and you can use both the content your firm generates and carefully curated content generated by outside experts.
  • It should not be done hap-hazardly, it requires a strategy and a process in order to produce results. You need to allocate appropriate human and financial resources and define specific goals and how you will measure success. Vary types of content to ensure that it’s readily available wherever your prospects and industry influencers are before the sales cycle begins.  Use different forms of content delivery, such as video and social media to supplement more traditional tactics, such as posting a white paper on your website. Incorporate visuals and videos to enhance user experience. Always remember: tell a good story! Stories engage and connect and they are remembered long after technical and marketing jargons fade.
  •  Content Marketing is your path to thought leadership. The choices available to your prospects are overwhelming, and your competition is smart. So how do you stand out? Positioning your firm as a thought leader is a great way to rise above your competition. Thought leadership helps demonstrate vision and innovation behind your firm: its unique processes, subject-mater knowledge and technical expertise.  In order to be effective, Thought Leadership has to directly relate to what your firm sells without the apparent sales pitch. It also has to be in alignment with your perceived areas of expertise.
  • Each of these can be its own talk, and there are other forms of communications you can use, but this is a good mix for B2B, and chances are you already have most or all of them in place. Web:While this is not the only place where your audiences connect with your firm online, your website is still a digital hub for your firm. And it still may be your only chance to engage your prospects – because if your website does nothing to compel them to get to know you better, they’ll move on to the next firm, probably your competitor. Make sure your Brand is clearly articulated. Make sure the content is fresh, relevant and engaging. Makes sure it creates opportunities for user interaction – calls to action and downloads help to deepen engagement. Social Sharing through Share This bar helps to take advantage of viral marketing. But make sure the content is actually conducive to sharing, don’t stick “share this” on every page of your website.
  • Just a few industry examples. Perkins + Will: Their brand is clearly articulated, their purpose is front and center. There are clear opportunities to engage with and share information. For example, you can create your own collection of site resources that you find interesting via “My Book” NEXT>
  • When you click on My Book, you are invited to create your own, customizable book that can also be downloaded as a PDF.
  • As mentioned before, people buy from people. We always use “experience” or “industry expertise” to justify our company selection choices, but it’s all about people. How many times in you professional career have you heard: “I like them and I trust them to do the job.” Having interesting profiles helps your prospects, clients and future employees to get to know your team beyond the corporate headshot. This Engineering firm does a really good job walking the line between professional and human. We can learn a great deal about this firm’s team, their interests, passions and personalities from their online snapshots. It’s engaging and connecting. And it’s the beginning of “like and trust.”
  • Large captivating images. A feature box with News, Featured Project and a Video – right from the home page you are compelled to dive deeper, to engage with the website and the firm. Also note the CONNECT vs. Contact link in the main nav – much more inviting already. It’s a small detail but design is in the details.
  • Email is a cost-effective way to stay engaged. Leverage email’s ability to be delivered to thousands at a time, while remaining personal. This means that you need to make sure that the tone of voice and the message are similar to a one-on-one conversation rather than to a sales pitch. Use e,mial marketing to stay top of mind, position your firm as an expert and a thought leader and to showcase new projects, awards, promotions and other accomplishments.
  • If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth 10 times that. It facilitate as whole new, deeper level of engagement. Use videos to showcase your projects and your experts and to share your business philosophy and brand’s purpose. As an added bonus, Youtube is a very robust search engine, so you get an organic SEO boost as a side effect.
  • Entertaining through though-provoking content is key to a thought-leader strategy. This is a beautiful, branded Youtube channel with videos that showcase the firm and its expertise.
  • Videos go viral when they use humor to communicate. There MUST be an element of entertainment. The Marketing team at SmithGroup produced this rap video to get the word out about their role at the firm. It has quite a few views and it also received the SMPS award for excellence in internal communications.
  • Social MediaThis is a whole huge topic in itself and there’s a lot to be said. But in 30 seconds: Use what make sense for each medium and your firm. Educate, don’t self-promote. The worst thing you can do is start and stop. Assign a community manager, create an editorial calendar and stick with it. Equally important, develop personas for each of the social media network – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have specific personalities that need to be taken in consideration when sharing content. We all love, love, love automation, but don’t send the same message across all channels just because you can and it’s faster. Tailor it to the personality of each network.Use images and videos – they engage. Pinterest could be a great tool for visual industries.
  • Having your own blog helps to keep your website fresh, share newsworthy items, promote thought leadership and do better in Search Engines. But don’t forget industry blogs where your experts can be guest bloggers. Industry blogs are often looking for good quality content, so this is a great opportunity to build awareness of your firm and its expertise. 
  • This blog uses a very cool pinterest-like grid on the front page. Once you click through, the topics range from the industry-educational to company-educational. NEXT>
  • In this and in a couple of other posts they demonstrate their expertise, but there are also articles on more general topics related to architecture. It’s a good balance and presented well. They have a great mission statement page on there, too.
  • People want to do business with companies they like and perceive as holding values aligned with their own. High-growth companies of today understand that having a brand with a strong sense of purpose is more attractive to customers, employees and industry partners. Corporate citizenship not only helps to attract clients who “believe what you believe” but also the best and brightest employees. Millennials especially, want to work for companies that provide opportunities to be involved in something greater than day-to-day job. How do you decide where to start? Think about what type of cause or a nonprofit partnership aligns with your brand and is relevant to your audiences. Look at what your prospects and clients are involved in. Being part of your customers’ world is good for business. What organizations do they support? What causes do they care about?
  • David M. Schwarz Architects is a DC-based firm and they actually have a Foundation that manages their corporate citizenship programs and projects. Several years ago they founded Gingertown – essentially an industry fundraiser where the A/E/C community and building enthusiasts come together and build a town made of gingerbread. Individual structures are then donated to local healthcare and community support organizations.This event has recently expanded to Dallas and Nashville. I know in DC it generates a lot of buzz and excitement year after year, and David M. Schwarz has enjoyed brand recognition through both PR and good will generated by Gingertown.
  • A Baltimore-based accounting firm partners with Parks and People foundation for employee volunteer days. In addition to the social media buzz and press mentions, as well as increased employee engagement, Gross Mendelsohn gets write-ups and thank you’s on the P&P website. This means that every Parks and People donor, funder and board member, as well as business and community supporters see the firm’s name in the context of helping a good cause.
  • Microsoft believes that its Corporate Citizenship strategy is instrumental to being a great company. “Being a good corporate citizen plays a vital role in fulfilling Microsoft’s core mission” NEXT>
  • There’s a microsite that showcases Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship programs.NEXT>
  • And a Citizenship report that is a combination of inspiring stories, quotes from executives and marketing data. It’s downloadable from the website and is very well put together.
  • And this brings us to another big, BIG topic that deserves a whole separate presentation. I know, I keep saying this, but it’s true that each of these points is critically important and very much deserving to be fully explored. Most companies say “We put customers first” Smart companies put employees first Because without great people, there won’t be a great place or great work. And this goes way beyond Employee Recruitment and Retention. Engaged internal teams maximize the value of a company’s brand by delivering its brand promise with every action, every day. Internal teams are the conduit between your brand promise and the overall success of your brand experience.
  • Just a couple of my favorite resources on the topic. Both sites have a lot of articles on Corporate Citizenship as a path to employee engagement and statistics and reports on how it affects the bottom line.
  • And I wanted to wrap up with this: This is the speaker of the TED Talk that we discussed earlier. NEXT>
  • Brand Engagement: Today’s Hottest Marketing Currency

    1. 1. Brand isnot what YOU say it is.It’s what THEY say it is.—Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap
    2. 2. Brand Is–NOT a logo–NOT a tagline–NOT an identity system
    3. 3. Brand Is–NOT a logo–NOT a tagline–NOT an identity system–Brand IS a perception about your firm, its people,culture and services that exists in the minds andhearts of your audiences.
    4. 4. Why vs. What/How―The goal is to do business with people who believewhat you believe, not people who simply need whatyou sell.‖And ―to hire people who believe what you believe –not simply those who can do the job.‖
    5. 5. Creating an Engaging BrandPeople do business with people and people engagewith things that move and inspire them.
    6. 6. Creating an Engaging BrandA brand must be a reflection of your audiences, itsvalues aligned with their beliefs and aspirations, inorder to resonate with them.
    7. 7. Brand ExperienceIs your Brand Experience worth repeating?
    8. 8. Brand Management Across TouchpointsBrand must work across all touchpoints: from brandedenvironments to e-signatures and from marketingcollateral to social media.
    9. 9. Brand Stakeholders–Employees–Customers–Prospects–Partners–Vendors–Industry Influencers and Media–Community
    10. 10. Engaging Brand Stakeholders–Courtship and dating phase–Staying top of mind long-term
    11. 11. Select Tactics–Content marketing–Thought leadership–Corporate citizenship
    12. 12. Content Marketing–Speaking engagements–Articles and whitepapers–Case studies and success stories–Podcasts, presentations, webinars and educationalevents–Trend reports–Digital marketing and social media posts
    13. 13. Content Marketing–What’s in line with your firm’s expertise?–What are your customer’s needs & challenges?–Create a process for content development,publishing and promotion:– Create an editorial calendar– Decide who is responsible– Develop a strategy for promoting content acrossmultiple channels– Always create opportunities for user interaction
    14. 14. Thought LeadershipGreat content leads to Thought Leadership, whichpositions your firm as the go-to source of expertise forcustomers, prospects, industry and media. You will:– Earn trust and build credibility– Expand your market and engage with marketinfluencers– Shorten buying cycles– Avoid being seen as a commodity– Foster customer loyalty
    15. 15. Communication Platforms–Web–E-marketing–Video–Social media–Blogging
    16. 16. Email Marketing–One to many–Segment targeting–Doesn’t expire–Relatively low cost
    17. 17. Video MarketingAccording to Forbes Insight:–59% of senior executives would rather watch avideo than read text–65% click through–50% look for more information–45% report that they contacted a company
    18. 18.
    19. 19.
    20. 20.
    21. 21. Corporate Citizenship–Corporate-nonprofit partnerships–Pro-bono work–Corporate volunteering–Foundations
    22. 22. Being a good corporate citizen plays avital role in fulfilling Microsoft’s core missionas a company – to help people andbusinesses around the world realize their fullpotential.
    23. 23. Internal Engagement―What high-performing companies should be strivingto create: A great place for great people to do greatwork.‖–Marilyn Carlson, former CEO of Carlson Companies
    24. 24. Causecast for Good
    25. 25. ―If you hire people just because they can do a job,they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people whobelieve what you believe, they’ll work for you withblood and sweat and tears.‖—@SimonSinek