Published by Bill White , June 26th, 2014
When scientists and engineers commit to finding a better way to do something, they usually do. But whether these innovative solutions sell or not depends on two critical structures. The first is funding, particularly angel or venture capital investment. The second, often deferred and usually misunderstood, is branding and marketing. For emerging growth companies, I believe this - sales is getting rid of what you have; marketing is everything else.
My experience with venture capitalists dates to my first technology start-up in 1980 where I was a co-founder and director of marketing. Now, for more than 30 years, I have helped emerging growth companies lay the foundation for global branding and marketing.
To the venture capitalist who has made the deal and perhaps taken a seat on the board, confronting technology branding sooner rather than later can be the difference between loss, break-even or a big win on an investment.
Avoiding Stranded Technology
As an entrepreneur and product manager, I have learned that valuable products and services – those that require an educated customer committed to evaluating benefits in context with alternatives – often evaporate somewhere between R&D and the sales report simply because they are not sufficiently positioned, branded and explained. Early stage companies who secure capital for seed financing need short-range and long-range strategies at the same time. In the short term, articulating professionalism and progress to justify the next round of financing is critical, but it requires investment in branding at a time the company can least afford it. Without proper marketing, the management team can’t communicate the benefits. The investors, many of whom are lay people, can’t appreciate the solutions. The value proposition is ambiguous, and comparative context is nowhere to be seen. In the end, the investment is tenuous and commercialization is at risk.
Large companies no longer have legions of product managers to build the precepts for a consultative sale. Small and emerging growth companies never did. Venture capital and angel investors who commit money and expertise to promising ideas are often at a loss to explain these ideas to those who matter most – the next round of investors and, eventually, customers.
Regardless of the stage of the company, my job as a marketer is to establish creative relationships, build the offer, and to educate and supply the tools necessary to manage the brand. Unless we acknowledge the sacred ground - first between the investor and the originators - then between the point of sale and the customer, even the most expensive marketing investments will fall flat. Even during the earliest days, we need to think down the road; if we don’t empower the last person hired, our sales efforts will be restricted by how efficiently we can pour knowledge out of an entrepreneurial head and spread it on the table for all to see.
Emerging companies cannot buy market share or customer loyalty; they must think their way into mutually beneficial investments and, ultimately, success in key customer management. This requires an integrated marketing effort. The burden of education, establishing context, competitive positioning and defining value always rests with us, not the customer. Left to inexperienced technology marketers, much information can be sexy but of no consequence.
In a technology company, the role of marketing is to bridge the gaps among R&D, investors, peer reviewers, sales and customers. Simply, we must sell our story an indifferent public. If this can’t be achieved in-house, outsourcing makes perfect sense, but only when your outside marketing partner understands the nature of the start-up, the realities of time to market, the technology and the context in which it is applied.
All of this requires partnership and patience. That is what we do at OffWhite. We call our work Brand Science.
Contact us today and we will be happy to discuss your specific marketing needs.
Published by Bill White , June 19th, 2014
You remember the “flux capacitor” from the Michael J. Fox movie “Back to the Future.” This device ran on orange peels and egg shells, and was the key to propelling Marty McFly and the Professor through time. The flux capacitor is a good example of lexicon – words, phrases, talking points – that every company develops when technology emerges from R&D. It’s the language you speak, the abbreviations and acronyms that form a shorthand among you and your team.
Don’t expect everyone to understand it. For most, especially those in your sales channel and your customers, it’s a foreign language. For new employees, it’s a barrier to understanding, a thicket to navigate that begs for context and some hands-on training.
The words and phrases you use to advance the benefits of your products and services, your “flux capacitor,” demand attention early and often. At OffWhite, we urge our clients to formalize this lexicon, beginning with a simple glossary and expanding to a management-approved manual, or at least an online reference, that leads us through the business like an old-fashioned vocabulary lesson.
Doing so benefits your company in three ways:
The concept of healthcare, life science and technology services and products is difficult enough to explain on its own. The production, distribution, sale and maintenance of your products, however, becomes the real obstacle if everyone in your company isn’t using the same vocabulary to describe your products and the processes that surround them.
Variations in speech might seem minor on the surface, but the reality is they decrease your business’ productivity. Time after time, these variations cause confusion amongst employees across and within departments in your company. They call for explanation and corrective action, wasting valuable time and resources. Having a formalized lexicon streamlines your company’s communication. This, in turn, reduces confusion and increases productivity.
Consistent language across a company’s print, digital and spoken communication establishes and maintains credibility. Like professional attire, a standardized company language signals to your audience that you care about the details and are an authority on the subject. Like uniforms, this consistency allows your audience to recognize, and your employees to identify with, your message even though it comes from various communication channels and individuals.
3) Search Rankings
Before making decisions about your company lexicon, you should consider your customers. How do they refer to your products and services? These words form the basis of their online queries. The more your digital content aligns with these keywords, the higher your company appears in search rankings, and is more likely to be found by your consumers.
Language is essential to communication. Communication makes or breaks your business. This is why it's crucial to reflect on and maintain your company’s language.
Is your company lexicon acting as more of a barrier than a bridge? Contact us today and we’ll help you establish your language and streamline your communication.
Published by Abby Spung, June 12th, 2014
From very early on in my graphic design career, one of my sweet spots has been identity design, commonly referred to as logo design — often mistaken for brand design. So, what’s the difference? Hire a designer if you want a new logo. Hire a highly skilled multi-disciplined team if you are building a brand.
Your brand isn’t your logo.
Your logo is exactly that – a logo. It gets attached to your company’s name or other visually consumable collateral material. Your identity is an astute, multi-channeled summation of what your company stands for, telling an in-depth story with many intricate details and triangulations. Your identity and logo work together to form the foothold of your brand. This foothold grows to represent your promise to consumers, creating an expectation. But, this by no means is all there is to your brand.
Your brand isn’t what you think it is.
Your brand occupies the space where your promise of technology, simplicity, sustainability (or whatever you’re selling) and consumer expectation meet. Your brand is what your customers think it is. The ability to consistently deliver your promise to meet your consumers’ expectations is what will ensure the positive equity of your brand.
Brand Science: Our approach to building your brand
The first step in any branding project is to explore the territory beneath the surface. We don’t even start at ground level. We go deeper, to the very core. We call it “Brand Science.”
Hiring someone to “overhaul” or “create” your logo won’t fix a poorly managed company, or hide a weak product. It won’t cure poor customer reviews, or even step up your market positioning. It may make you look better, though — if that’s all you want. Keep in mind there are many really great looking identities out there that suffer monumentally from poor discipline and a lack of properly managing the brand behind the mark. Conversely, there are some really unappealing or unattractive identities out there that are somehow able to rise to the top.
How can this be? Newsflash – it’s not all about the design, which is precisely why a “design shop” can’t deliver what OffWhite can. We aren’t interested in the surface quality or short term benefits (ours or yours). We’re looking for clients with character, with good bones, with a promise that will deliver and a drive that will take them to the top. We thrive on this kind of motivation.
Our process isn’t so much about “what” you do, but “why” you do it. What’s your passion? What drives your company? Revealing the story that lies at the core of who you are takes trust. Discovering how to position that story takes talent. Growing your market share takes discipline. When you ask our clients why they like working with us, they’ll tell you they trust us; they’ll tell you we’re talented; and they’ll tell you we hold them accountable. They’ll tell you we’re a part of them.
We are the “what’s missing” in the “What are we missing here?” question you may be asking about your company’s image. Contact us and we’ll be happy to discuss Brand Science with you. Once we understand the problem, we’ll work with you to deliver a solution.
Published by Nat Miller, June 5th, 2014
“Are websites obsolete?”
This is the question posed in a recent business marketing LinkedIn group discussion. Many experts weighed in on each side of this subject, touting everything from site traffic data and social media reach to customer surveys and testimonials as reasons in favor of or against using websites to market companies online. While no one presented information in the forum that was conclusive, one point remains clear: feelings about websites are currently mixed, but content remains the catalyst that drives online traffic. This trend is true now and will continue far into the future.
Social media has its place
Social media is great when you use it to complement your website, but take care not to get caught up in all the hype. Lately, so much focus has been placed on social media content that populating the corresponding company website has seemed secondary. A social media presence is designed to perpetuate a company’s brand, position them as a leader in the industry, and allow interaction with their customers or potential customers. A strong social media presence is necessary, but there needs to be a place to redirect that social traffic to capture contact information and provide an in-depth view of products and services as well.
What does your website say about you?
Websites often are the first impression that potential customers have of your brand. Recently, some companies have chosen to redesign to a minimalist platform that encourages the visitor to call or email for more information, providing very little useful content on their actual website. This is a short-sighted venture as providing too little information can be as dangerous as providing too much.
Information is vital to interaction
Is your website robust, providing detailed information on products and services? If not, you’re missing an opportunity to effectively engage visitors by providing answers to common questions, which can aid in making purchase decisions. Additionally, when researching information on your company or product, many internet users still turn to search engines that direct them to your website before visiting social media.
OffWhite works with you to develop digital marketing plans that integrate many different media types, including websites, social media, email campaigns and newsletters. Each facet of these plans always hinges on the content used to populate the campaigns. Your customers remain hungry for information, and we want to help you provide it to them.
To learn how, contact Jane Cirigliano at 800.606.1610.
Published by Bill White, CEO , June 2nd, 2014
We are proud to announce the addition of Rebecca Miller to our full-time staff.
At OffWhite, Rebecca manages social media coordination and technical copy development in support of our life science, pharmaceutical, medical research and agribusiness clients throughout the USA and abroad. She is responsible for designing, maintaining and analyzing social media marketing and search engine optimization programs as well as writing and editing content across multiple media platforms.
Rebecca’s attention to detail and ability to orchestrate the use of new media reinforce our integrated marketing tactics. Her contributions to our staff and clients are already expanding our ability to grow here in Marietta and beyond. Her liberal arts education at Marietta College has prepared her for a career in a business that requires curiosity, insight, organization and communication at the highest level.
A native of St. Marys, WV, she graduated summa cum laude from Marietta College in May with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations. She completed a summer internship with us in 2013.
She is the seventh Marietta College graduate team member at OffWhite, joining the ranks of Bill White, ’78; Jane Cirigliano, ‘04; Chris Hlubb, ‘04; Nat Miller, ‘05; Steven Hollis, ‘10; and Bobby Schehl, ’13.
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Offenberger & White, Inc. (OffWhite) is an integrated marketing solutions company based in Marietta, Ohio, USA.
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