A 5 Step Brand Building Model for any Startup

Build on these pillars and you’ll attract the right customers

It’s a funny old game, startups.

In the age of e-commerce, where so much is at our fingertips; we take a lot for granted and we sometimes expect results too quickly.

It’s a symptom of our growth-hack minded, business landscape.

Business can grow and move so quickly in the digital age, so naturally our expectation for commercial return has been accelerated and conditioned for instant gratification.

But if you’re looking to build a business from scratch, and you’re yet to acquire any funding; it can be a daunting process — but that doesn’t mean you should overlook basic brand building.

Before those sales can start churning, you need to put in the groundwork to work out what your product should be saying, and who it should be speaking to.

To put that in marketing terms, you need to know your brand position and your target market.

Two pillars of any commercial foundation, but two pillars that are readily overlooked because they require patience, due diligence and, at first, budget.

Back in the days of offline business, founders and entrepreneurs would spend months or even years, discovering who their most profitable customers were.

It took commitment, patience and dedication.

But in the age of e-commerce, some founders expect significant return on investment from the word go —but that’s just not going to fly.

The danger of not investing significant time and money into determining your brand position and target market is that months down the line, your product or service could be speaking to the wrong demographic, in the wrong way.

Yes, for sure, you could seem some short-term gains but if you’re searching for long-term growth and sustainable profit, market permeation takes time and accuracy.

With this 5 step model, you can streamline your way to building a brand on solid insight and real customer data and begin to compile a database of the most valuable prospects available.

This isn’t a sales pitch. And it’s certainly not a cut and paste set of instructions.

You’ll need to use these steps, applied to your own product and market to ensure your startup has the quality foundations it needs to grow and succeed.

1) Analyse the market

First up, you need to build a list of all the brands out there and think about the tone of voice they use, the price points they have and how those brands are positioned — you can only find a gap, if you know what else is out there.

Make a list of all the brand positions out there, for example some brands will be premium and all about the craft; others will be more emotive and lay on the sob story; other will be cheap and cheerful.

2) Set out your positioning options

Once you’ve swept the market, consider all the positions available to your brand; should they extract and showcase the components or ingredients of the product? Should they be focused on the region or location of your service?

Here’s an example of a positioning map for a startup coffee brand:

These positioning grids can be used for message testing

These positioning maps are a reflection of all the possible brand positions out there.

Caffeine and Accessibility vs Taste and Mass Market, the list is endless but its important to select a few based on what is close to your business objectives and from there determine the messaging.

3) Determine a bank of messaging

Next, use your positioning maps to consider some actual messaging that could be tested in a product or advertising environment.

You might need to consult a copywriter at this stage, because the language that form your messaging bank will be customer facing, so it should be tight and sales-minded.

Again, using the coffee startup as an example, see below for how the positioning options can be manifested into headlines to be tested:

Headline options will determine your brands position when tested

4) Test all messaging options in advertising

Using your headline options, you can A/B test in a chosen advertising environment.

Consider the demographics you want to speak to, this will also inform the channels where you can test your headlines and brand positioning.

It’s not 🚀 science. If you’re looking to speak to younger audience skews, then hit social channels and tighten your targeting by reaching out to specific communities and fan pages.

If you’re speaking to the older generations, those old-school media channels can do the trick but equally platforms like Facebook have an older audience skew.

The less recognised the social platform, the cheaper the impressions; so for initial testing Reddit is always an excellent starting point.

Run your advertising for a set amount of time and test all the messaging options available.

5) Optimise

A front-runner will begin to emerge.

The set of headlines and position that drive the most engagement and sales within your testing period will determine your brands position.

From here you can double down on your resource, forget the rest of the headlines and positioning but pour all of your testing spend into the best performing set.

But this is only the beginning.

Your brand position should now permeate through everything.

It should appear in your product, it should appear in your packaging, your comms, your branding and your design.

This brand position has been tested and informed by real engagement data, so you can have full faith that you’re on the right track.

DOOH advertising is due a programmatic supercharge

The next big vertical?

Digital out of home advertising is slowly but surely gaining a programmatic edge as the gap between an outdoor campaign and a online one grows ever smaller.

The billboard; advertising’s oldest friend. A trusty stallion. A sure fire winner. A media favourite.

The out of home poster has always been a popular choice for advertisers, creatives and media agencies thanks to it’s premium positioning, high-cut through and mass appeal. Perfect for driving huge amounts of brand awareness and efficient for getting effective ROI thanks to it’s high number of impressions and unmatched view-ability.

After all, a powerful out of home ad can’t be stopped by an ad-blocker and with the arrival of digital billboards a mere ten years ago, allowing for digital flexibility, the channel has been growing ever since.

Out-of-home (OOH) is projected to grow almost 12% in spend by 2020 – faster than any other traditional media – thanks to opportunities in digital, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. Digital OOH accounted for $2.7 billion in ad spend in the US last year. That’s some serious media spend.

The arrival of Digital OOH meant more creative flexibility for advertisers and the ability to be dynamic with their chosen creative (some DOOH billboards can pull in data via an API, like journey times or relevant statistics that support the messaging of the campaign). See below for a clever Virgin Trains ad that served frustrated motorway drivers with faster train times:

Naturally, as DOOH inventories grow and demand increases; media owners have been looking towards programmatic integrations that make digital billboards even more attractive thanks to optimisation and analytical elements that this kind of tech stack brings.

A programmatic stack would mean creative could be bought and sold in real time and performance data could be looped back in to inform future buys and real time creative performance, much like the strategic approach for traditional programmatic activity.

With a programmatic edge, DOOH can become just another piece of the digital inventory, a media spot that’s open to real time buying. However, unlike stock digital ads like banners and display, OOH is almost immune to the dreaded race to the bottom that saw the extreme commoditization of digital ad impressions (let’s face it, we all hate digital pop-up ads). This is due to DOOHs limited availability and careful placement (you don’t build an OOH site in a shoddy location because nobody would buy it).

“The great thing about Digital OOH is that there are really no bad placements, so there will also not be a race to the bottom like we had in display.”

-Digiday 2018

This is good for two reasons, the quality of OOH advertising should remain high and competitive and so should the price points and cost per impressions.

“OOH is physical real estate and there is a value and a limited amount of premium placements, keeping costs stable.”

– AdExchanger 2018

Despite programmatic OOH inventories growing year on year, the promise of programmatic remains a work in progress for the sector, despite taking on more of the familiar characteristics inherent in digital advertising.

Ruth Zohrer from Mindshare shared her thoughts on how programmatic bidding for out of home sites could potentially become a tiered process, where “Premium, high-impact locations could be sold in a pre-reserved way, and the rest slowly opening up to an auction mechanic of sorts, whether that’s private auctions for certain location-based packages or open auctions for more pervasive, lower impact formats.”

And finally, programmatic gatekeepers Google have been testing programmatic out of home inventories since 2015…

Google’s capacity to bring together its programmatic know-how and huge store of personal data could be a real game-changer for outdoor, particularly considering its unique access to mobile data from its Android network. In addition, Google are so well trusted with vendors that the transition would be seamless. However, the industry should be cautious to avoid a similar monopoly that Google DoubleClick left in its wake.

Old media, new tricks; publishers are competing with DTC brands

Direct to consumer brands are facing competition from the hand that raised them…

Publishers are rapidly realising that they’re best placed to compete with direct to consumer brands as they begin to use rich reader data to inform their own product developments.

This is leading to sandbox or product innovation environments popping up inside large publishers. Here, small teams of writers-turned-researchers can use their category and market expertise to develop competing products, in-house.

After all, e-commerce focused publishers like GQ, Cosmopolitan, What-Hi-fi and more curate thousands of product reviews and product guidelines on a yearly basis. This category knowledge combined with huge data sets of what readers are buying; makes for an incredibly fertile model to begin thinking about product creation.

Publishing giant, Hearst, have recently launched a range of Yoga mat’s into their Yoga and fitness based editorial, in order to compete with other Yoga brands and drive sale at a higher yield. It also enables Hearst to begin building brands of their own that can be exported elsewhere, a valuable IP proposition.

Why are publishers creating their own products?

The commodification of digital ad impressions has meant that publishers have continued to look away from purely traditional display advertising revenue. The value of each impression is plummeting thanks to the sheer volume of advertisers out there, add in the rise of ad-blocking and the implementation of GDPR, and the value of ad revenue rapidly declines; forcing many publishers to look at alternative revenue streams.. Many publishers now rely heavily on donations or subscriptions, alongside depleted digital advertising, to keep afloat.

The Guardian has stripped back on digital advertising all-together:

After two battle-weary years in which The Guardian cut costs and halved losses, the publisher is starting to turn a corner. Today, it has a new reader-revenue driven business model and is on the brink of breaking even.

Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. The Guardian has been forced to downsize and rein in its global ambitions. But a shift to a unique reader revenue model that relies on voluntary contributions as opposed to restricting access has, in many ways, proved naysayers wrong.”

-Digiday 2018

So, those publishers that are in a position to offer buying guides, product reviews and curated look books; are also poised to start bolting product development onto their revenue model and investing heavily in product innovation.

And just like that, a new revenue model is born

Publishers have been building profile data for years and know more than the brands themselves about what their customers like and dislike, which products perform best and what the outstanding features are. Add this to cookie data that pulls information from a prospects social media feed and you’re starting to build a pretty sophisticated buying profile, perfect for informing the next innovation in yoga, headphones consumer electronics etc, etc…. the list goes on.

Wareable, a popular smart wearable’s publisher, collates all the popular brands and products from the sector; curating detailed and well researched buying guides that tech fans love to browse and purchase from. They’re perfectly placed to start investing in their own ‘Wareables’ range and begin competing with the very products they review.

The DTC market boom

The DTC (direct to consumer) boom has been growing for the last five years, thanks to behemoth marketplaces like Amazon and Ali-Baba giving rise to independent products and e-commerce platforms.

For those unaware, a DTC is essentially a product that goes straight from a brand to a customer without the use of a typical retailer or brick and mortar middleman. Amazon and Ali-Baba are an exception to this rule because they’ve encouraged the marketplace to prosper by enabling brands to manage their own stock inventories and exposed them to large volumes of bottom of the funnel prospects. i.e. customers arrive at the site, ready to purchase.

Publishers have been capitalising on the demand for direct to consumer brands for the last ten years through the millions of impressions that product pages generate (this was previously a healthy income of advertising revenue via the pay per click model). Publishers will also typically take an affiliate kick-back from any direct or re-targeted sales, but if a reader was to purchase a publisher own product; the income would be significantly higher and the long-term impact, significantly more valuable.

On the horizon we could potentially see established publisher brands in a range of sectors, competing with, and even superseding established brands in popular markets. Picture GQ branded aftershave or Cosmopolitan cosmetics.

The move from publishers into product and DTC offerings is another example of the constantly shifting advertising world and the relationship that triangulates between customer, advertiser and publisher. Increasingly, advertisers are looking at opportunities away from typical digital advertising and this in turn has caused publishers to start addressing their readers needs more directly and at much higher margins.

New ‘cookie law’​ could be the final smackdown for digital retargeting

First GDPR, now ePrivacy… permission marketing has never been so relevant

Way back in 1999, Seth Godin penned Permission Marketing, a revolutionary paper that sought to steer marketers away from an entrenched and outdated model of disruptive advertising, a model that simply snared a consumers attention in whatever way possible, and instead favour a permission based approach. This new methodology respected the customer, genuinely understood their likes and dislikes and served them interesting content or advertisements that they would actively choose to engage with. At the time it was utopian.

Well Seth, we should have listened.

Ironically, it seems like Permission Marketing now holds a relevance more than ever as digital advertisers are slowly but surely backed into a corner where the only way out is a trap door labelled, ‘permission‘.

Following 2017’s introduction of the GDPR, a law enforced to ensure data handlers, controllers and processors of every variety address consumer data privacy, 2018 signals the arrival of the ‘cookie law’ or it’s less glamorous title, the ePrivacy law.

GDPR has frankly dominated the market’s attention for the last year. It’s also had a profoundly negative impact on the value of digital ad impressions, the size of customer databases and the general consumer attitude towards traditional digital advertising. This has paved the way for more nuanced revenue models to spring up from the embers of cost per click and cost per view.

But ePrivacy brings a more refined and precise limitation to cookie data and retargeting.

The ‘cookie law’ does exactly what it says on the cookie tin, it seeks to provide web visitors with more clarity on the cookies that advertisers frequently drop into their browsers; leading to greater restrictions and tighter limitations on the type of cookies that can be dropped and the data they can harvest. The ePrivacy law is on the verge of being rolled out internationally:

“The new ePrivacy law has received far less attention than the GDPR, partly because the regulation hasn’t been set in stone, and ad trade bodies were confident they could water down the terms. But their optimism was dented last week when the European Parliament voted for the law to go to the next stage, ignoring any lobbying to date. Businesses ignore ePrivacy at their own peril because the fines for flouting it will mirror those for the GDPR.”

-Digiday 2018

The ‘cookie law’ will be particularly damaging to ad vendors who use third-party cookie networks to build granular and detailed buyer profiles by connecting a chain of data points. For example, a prospect may get site of an ad in an automotive magazine, weeks later be spotted again on a third-party Audi dealership sight and finally be connected via a Facebook ad; leading to a full-fat profile that can be readily exchanged to an awaiting brand or advertiser looking for bottom of the funnel leads.

Cookies are at the core of all behavioural marketing and advertising, with advertisers using them to build a picture of people’s interests by tracking which websites they visit. Once someone visits a site that shows one of their ads, they can tailor the ad’s message to cater to the person’s inferred interests.

In principle, cookies should have worked for the consumer. After all, there’s evidence to suggest that customers are far more likely to favour an advert that holds some relevance to their browsing behaviour. Retargeting ensures that customers only see ads of products or services that they’ve previously interacted with. However, cookie abuse has spiralled and they’re now predominantly used to harvest data from unsuspecting web visitors and can often be invasive and extremely persistent, flying well below customer consciousness.

ePrivacy laws don’t necessarily mean the end of cookie data or retargeting but ad vendors will need to be more mindful of consumer permission both literally and metaphorically. Vendors will not only have a responsibility but a legal obligation to acquire written customer permission at every cookie data point. Vendors will be obliged to prompt a web visitor with a permission form and box tick, every-time a new cookie is deployed.

Equally, advertisers should look to do far more with their creative to ensure advertisements are genuinely targeted and will spark a real and wholesome interest with their potential prospects.

TV Advertising is getting smarter

A rise in new technologies is helping TV keep pace with digital channels

Ever since TV’s inception during the 1980’s and the first TV boxes were propped up in domestic living rooms, the medium has been the go-to for advertisers wishing to drive huge amounts of awareness, create and leave a lasting legacy or earn noise in the press. After all, nobody ever wrote home about a piece of direct mail or a banner ad…

Hundreds of millions, if not billions of global currency has been splashed out on remarkable TV advertising over the last thirty years, launching and building countless brands, driving cultural change and stimulating healthy business and prosperous economic growth.

But TV audience numbers have of course, been consistently dropping. In the case of linear TV, plummeting.

And since the rise of the web and more potently, since the rise of web 2.0, the pendulum has swung. More and more media money has been poured instead into digital alternatives, digital alternatives that can be hyper-targeted, explicitly tracked and ruthlessly optimised. These digital ads have simply accommodated for the digital age, for the digital consumer and provided brands and advertisers with greater transparency on their ROMI (return on marketing investment) and making attribution models increasingly more granular and profitable. Naturally, digital became the answer to almost any commercial question.

Now, that’s not to say that TV ads ever went away, they were always there; even throughout this growing boom of digital impressions and online prospecting, media spend has always found a place for linear TV, even if the spend was depleted. And thanks to it’s close siblings YouTube pre-roll, Video on Demand (VOD) and various targeting servers like AdSmart and Sky Analytics, TV campaigns have remained a consistent comms option for the top brands with hefty budgets.

But the golden age of Television advertising may well be on the return as a series of technologies creeping into streaming infrastructure is enabling brands to do the one thing they could never do before, optimise their TV campaigns. And with a growing consumer appetite for demand side content and streaming services, TV content has never been so in demand. Thank Netflix and co, for that.

For reach and scale, TV could never be rivalled. But the ‘spray and pay’ TV buying approach, with limited targeting, has been competing in a world where programmatic exchanges, hyper-targeted social media campaigns and aggressive retargeting thrives and prospers and this older model could never be as effective at getting the right message in-front of the right person. Not in the same way as the digital options.

But that’s changing.

What if TV could deliver hyper-targeting, optimisation and it’s famous scale; all at once?

Cookies and Connected TV

The first technology to really emerge in the last couple of years is connected TV. Connected TV (CTV) is simply a television that connects to the internet. Unlike traditional TV, CTV includes Smart TV’s, Apple TV’s, devices like Tivo and Roku, gaming consoles like X-Boxes and PlayStations.

CTV is a conduit Over-the-Top (OTT) video content. OTT content is content that is delivered via the internet without multi-system operator (MSO) involvement. Much OTT content mimics the services of a traditional media service, but over the internet – and usually for free or much less expensive.

For example: WhatsApp, the encrypted, free, and wildly-popular text-messaging app for smartphones that uses internet connection instead of a mobile texting plan. WhatsApp is a good example of and OTT messaging application. CTV like Netflix does the same to traditional television.

The concept of connected TV services like Netflix, Now TV and HULU aren’t anything new but companies like TV Squared are ensuring CTV impressions can be cross-referenced with those of digital nature. For example, if a user is served an advert via a digital channel like a banner ad, display ad or social media ad, their cookie data can be transferred over to a connected TV meaning more effective targeting and targeting.

The most contentious point for development when discussing CTV is monitoring impressions. Up until the last business quarter, there’s been differing KPIs and metrics for CTV as there have been for linear TV. But co-impressions (counting multiple people viewing one TV, like in linear) are starting to be recognised and authenticated by media agencies, Advertisers began to accept co-viewing measurement for their connected TV campaigns in the latest upfront cycle. In 2018, connected TV overtook mobile for the largest share of video ad impressions.

“We all know [advertising] costs in linear TV are going up because supply is going down. Suddenly, if you’re adding supply in connected TV [by counting multiple impressions for a single ad exposure], the costs should go down,”

– Mike Piner, svp of video and data-driven investments at MullenLowe’s Mediahub.

Programmatic TV

As with various above the line mediums, the programmatic tech stack is slowing seeping into TV buying and even linear TV buying, leading to more control for advertisers on optimisation and targeting. Programmatic TV ensures TV retains its mega scale whilst giving more granular control over audience demographics and spot allocations i.e. a particular show can be advertised against and creative variations swapped in and out, in real time.

In essence, programmatic TV replaces a ‘pay and spray’ model with a media inventory that is accessible via an exchange, where TV spots are rewarded to the highest bidder and learnings from creative performance are fed into real-time decision making.

“Five percent of all TV ad spend in the US will be programmatic by 2019, according to research by eMarketer. Though modest-sounding, that’s an extremely rapid expansion from $640 million in 2016 to the $3.8 billion it is expected to become.

Research by PWC predicts that programmatic TV will represent approximately a third of global TV ad revenue by 2021, whereas a study by Videology states the consensus among industry experts to be closer to more than half by that date.

-Marketing Land 2019

As the race to the bottom for cheaper digital impressions only increases and the squeeze of ad-blocking grows in prominence and the restrictions of GDPR compliance tightens, the traditional cost per click model has never faced such jeopardy.

This week, BuzzFeed announced they’d be laying off 15% of staff, another indicator that the triangulation of publisher, advertiser and display network is facing over-saturation.

Connected and programmatic TV opportunities provide advertisers with a TV medium built for the digital environment, one that offers the grandeur of linear TV but also the optimisation of more traditional digital channels. As TV advertising gets smarter and the appetite for streaming platforms only increases, CTV and Prog TV are likely to see an influx in marketing budget as the technologies grow in strength and availability.

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