Home Newsletters July 2015 Newsletter

Building Reputation in New Markets

July 01, 2015

A strong reputation strategy provides the foundation for a B2B organization to successfully enter a new market

When B2B organizations enter new markets, the communications team needs to embrace two roles – first, as part of a team that assesses market readiness and establishes a foothold, and then as a leader employing innovative methods to advance into markets where awareness of the organization might be low. The success of these reputation tactics determines the organization’s ability to create demand and support a healthy pipeline in the new market. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we look at five types of tactics that communications leaders should apply as part of a reputation strategy when entering new geographic, vertical or firmagraphic markets. 

Brand Reputation

One: Ensure Communications Readiness

Organizations often enter new markets without fully considering the burdens placed on the communications team, and the resulting need for additional human and financial resources. They may assume that new responsibilities can be absorbed by other parts of the marketing organization, or that the use of earned media will mitigate budget impact. Communications leaders should address incorrect assumptions early in the planning process to avoid setting unrealistic expectations. Consider the following specific issues associated with each type of new market:

  • New geographies. Assuming that field marketing can support reputation initiatives as part of its overall duties might place personnel with little communications experience in the position of managing critical programs. Communications leaders should require at least a dotted-line reporting structure with supporting field personnel if there are no dedicated communications personnel in the new region. Provide agency support – either from a global agency with local presence or an approved regional agency – to facilitate local activities, engage influencers and help drive global message consistency.
  • New verticals. Entry into new verticals due to an acquisition often creates questions about how to combine two communications groups. No matter the circumstances, new resources and budget are likely needed for a full-scale push into a new vertical. Post-acquisition, be sure to retain subject matter expertise in the new market. Formal interlock with product or industry marketing also is essential to understand the target audience and new or revised buyer personas.
  • New company size. Buying processes at small and large companies differ considerably. At smaller companies, a single executive might be responsible for the buying decision; at large enterprises, the buying process generally involves group decisionmaking and a complex, time-consuming process. Communications approaches – and, consequently, headcount and budget – must reflect the predominant company size in the new market. For instance, targeting smaller companies (which are more numerous) often requires higher investment in paid media, while influencers tend to play a larger role in enterprise decisions. Moving in either direction generally requires significant adaptation of content or the development of completely new content and delivery channels, both of which can consume significant budgets and resources.

Two: Understand Current Brand Awareness

Document the existing state of brand awareness in relation to the specific offering and the targeted audience. A brand perception audit provides a baseline for future measurement and can be supplemented with social and traditional media monitoring to establish measurements of sentiment (i.e. positive, neutral, negative) and share of voice vs. in-market competitors. Factors to consider in relation to specific market types include:

  • New geographies. Don’t assume that methods for building awareness in one region will work in another. Understand the new audience’s content and channel preferences, as well as key influencers. Social media behavior may also differ, and monitoring tools purchased for a North American market might lack the language or coverage capabilities to support reputation assessment in new geographies. In addition, lower social media adoption rates in a region may mean that findings cannot be generalized and that a full brand perception study is required.
  • New verticals. For companies with a strong reputation in one vertical market, entering another may require changing deeply held perceptions. Activating this shift can be more difficult than creating a reputation where awareness is nonexistent, so it’s essential to understand what beliefs must be overcome. Talk to influencers to gain a deeper understanding of relevant issues, competitors and perceptions. Communications should convey the company’s commitment to the market and its intention to compete and grow.
  • New company size. Buyers sometimes assume that they are not a good fit for a company because of their size. This perception might reflect the selling organization’s historic pattern of catering to a certain segment. If this belief is creating a reputation-building challenge, deploy specific messaging to address it. Don’t assume that positive brand awareness translates across companies of different sizes. Be sure to gain an understanding of buyer roles within the new buying audience and their relationships to the decisionmaking process.

Three: Identify Content Requirements

Can existing content be adapted for new markets? How much new content needs to be developed? To answer these questions and ensure audiences’ needs are met, communications should help drive enterprise-wide best practices around content development. Communications also should seek to reuse content when possible. Consider these actions in the context of each market type:

  • New geographies. Schedule briefings with field marketing experts to give content creators a solid understanding of the audience and market context or demand type. Audit the content adaptation and localization process, and adjust communication strategy and budget accordingly. Adapting content for new regions requires more than simple translation. Understanding the gap between central and regional helps to ensure appropriate levels of investment and resources.
  • New verticals. To develop credibility in new verticals, use subject matter experts to produce thought leadership content, working in concert with product marketing and sales and communications. Thought leadership assets (e.g. white papers, blogs, case studies) should demonstrate a grasp of key issues and success with customers in the new vertical market.
  • New company size. For larger organizations, content must be aligned to an understanding of inflection points in the buying process to accommodate a longer sales cycle with more decision gates and internal influences. Large-company buying generally entails greater sales involvement, which requires more enablement content. For smaller companies, because the buying process is often in the hands of a higher-level executive (perhaps even the CEO), more references to overall business impact are appropriate.
  • Four: Assess Influencer Strategy

    Communications to (and through) a broad range of influencer types make up the bulk of corporate communications activities. Analyst relations, public relations and brand professionals must collaborate on a holistic strategy that includes paid, earned and owned elements. Although persona research is the first step toward identifying relevant influencers (e.g. analysts, journalists, bloggers, social pundits), it is usually supplemented with social and traditional media monitoring. Specific influencer considerations include:

  • New geographies. Research and identify in-region influencers through conversations with field marketing and local sales and the use of monitoring tools. Overcoming major language barriers may require the support of local resources and agencies. Fluency in local issues and culture is also essential to establishing a dialogue..
  • New verticals. New verticals generally require specialized influencers. Boutique analyst firms and consultants play a strong role in some markets, while industry associations often provide a platform for reaching buyers through specialized publications and events. Pundits and customers active within online communities and social groups also can provide credibility.
  • New company size. Large enterprises need assurance that the selling organization can meet their needs. These customers often prefer the advice of tier-one analysts and large management consulting firms when making their buying decisions. For small and medium-sized businesses, channel partners often help to educate buyers and guide decisionmaking, making them important influencers.
  • Five: Determine Investment Needed to Support Campaigns

    The amount of paid media required depends on the level of existing awareness, how rapidly the company wishes to advance, and the goals of the reputation campaign. Communications leaders should participate in a cross-functional planning process to ensure reputation strategies align with demand and sales enablement activities. Start by evaluating the effectiveness of existing media and event buys in supporting campaign goals and timelines. Build on the organization’s existing media and events footprint before venturing into new media buys and sponsorships. Specific investment considerations include:

  • New geographies. Media and event choices in new geographies should be based on persona research, as well as the input of field marketing and sales. However, functional views should be balanced with quantitative media analysis. Because many campaign goals blend reputation, demand and sales objectives, be clear about how investments are measured.
  • New verticals. Having a presence in vertical markets’ dedicated media and at their events signals a serious commitment. Whether advertising and content must be adapted to meet the market’s needs, or new content must be created from scratch, be sure to plan on content-related expenses in advance.
  • New company size. Developing media buys targeting small businesses may resemble a B2C plan, with costly elements such as drive-time radio, regional cable and out-of-home advertising. Conversely, moving from small to large businesses likely requires a shift in event investments (e.g. industry conferences and trade shows) and media vehicles (e.g. trade and business publications, Web sites) to appeal to buyers in enterprise sales cycles.
  • The Sirius Decision

    A large, established company that already has general name recognition in a new market might enjoy a slight brand awareness advantage. For example, a large software company in the United States might be well known in the United Kingdom within the same vertical. However, tangential awareness doesn’t necessarily translate into demand for the company’s offerings. A name or logo is meaningless without the robust content, influencer and awareness tactics needed to drive home the value of the organization’s offerings. An effective reputation initiative supporting entry into a new market should highlight the value of both the company and its offerings in the context of the target market.