As marketers, we face several hurdles when promoting our products and services. Perhaps two of the most challenging aspects of our roles are identifying the activities that will help us build brand equity and showing the value of our efforts to stakeholders – especially those in the business who might think it’s all a bit ‘smoke and mirrors’.
Stefan Maritz, head of marketing at freelance ecosystem Blackbear, shares incredibly valuable content with his followers on an impressively regular basis. He also understands how tricky it can be to communicate your strategy and results with the powers within your business. For this article, Bynder asked him how marketers can get their CEO or CFO on board with their brand-building activities, and ensure their brand awareness strategy aligns with their content and broader business objectives.
What is the role of content in modern-day branding and brand building?
Maritz knows more than a thing or two about how good content marketing can create a positive, lasting impact on brand building. Great content always comes from a place of storytelling and authenticity, both of which can only be achieved with a strong brand and brand equity.
He believes that brands must project and communicate consistent values to mean something to people. When you focus on brand equity and building a credible and consistent brand presence, you have a solid structure to create and deliver a content marketing strategy that gives your customers and leads real value.
Maritz is a strong advocate for sharing a lot of relevant, targeted content online, on LinkedIn in particular. When asked why he is so generous with that content, he replies: “You have to give people a reason to follow you. Not necessarily a reason to type their email in a field. If they follow, then they listen to you – and then they trust you. That already gives you some sort of authority.”
To build a brand through content marketing, it’s vital that the content you create is relevant and offers real value to the recipient. Maritz says it is about helping businesses achieve their goals: “You offer people something useful, and this new follower might turn into a customer somewhere down the line.”
His strategy is clearly working. He says that by publishing valuable content on slides using the PDF carousel on LinkedIn, he has gotten around 250 to 300 personal Gmail addresses from high-profile CMOs, CEOs, content strategists, and business leaders – not bad at all.
How do you prove the value of brand marketing?
Every marketer knows the challenges around showing how effective brand marketing activities are. Attribution is notoriously tricky, and it’s especially tough when measuring brand reach and awareness. How does Maritz approach this?
“Different CFOs, CMOs and CEOs have different ways of looking at it. You can’t measure the return on investment like you would measure a sale. But I am always willing to bet my money on the company that invests time and resources into their brand awareness activities. Over three to five years, they should have a lower cost of acquisition than a company that just throws money at things like PPC advertising.”
He acknowledges that it isn’t easy for marketers to report on brand awareness and brand-building activities – there isn’t the direct return we get from PPC. When reporting on ROI, the best course of action is to educate CFOs and business leaders on the challenges around attribution and why brand building is essential.
“It’s the real value that allows a business or a brand to grow organically,” says Maritz. “If I can give you something of value and a reason to follow me, then I will win that interest. You can’t buy that with money. That’s how content and branding sit hand in hand.”
Rather than focusing on clicks on ads, brand building and content-marketing performance are best gauged by looking at organic traffic and how people engage with specific content. You can also look at the types of conversations people are having about your brand and what sentiments your campaigns evoke.
How do you promote a brand effectively during challenging times?
Businesses of all shapes and sizes struggle to promote their brand, products and services in a tough economic climate. Unfortunately, this is a situation that is likely to continue well into the near future. So, should businesses take their feet off the pedal when it comes to brand awareness activities, or is it the right time to double down on your efforts?
Maritz knows that providing a consistent brand experience is as important as the product itself. You simply cannot gain the audience’s trust without it.
“When we’re all fighting for the same dollars, it’s about shifting the strategy from asking to giving. The brands that give when things are tough are the ones that will win in the long run. You should give 80% and only ask for 20% in return.”
But how can you tell when you are getting it right – and ensure you do it consistently?
That’s another million-dollar question. According to Maritz, the answer is authenticity.
“It’s about finding that consistency and being the same person at all times. You have to go where your followers are and where your audience is. You must tell your story and promote your brand authentically in everything you do. Every conversation we put online, every social media post, every sales call needs to tell the same story to build the brand consistently.”
Successful brand building is also (perhaps primarily) about listening to your customers and your community of followers and building good relationships. If your organic and social following is strong and keeps growing, you are doing something right.
How do you educate your team about the importance of branding?
Having worked as a marketer in both client-side and creative-agency environments, Maritz knows it can be a real challenge to educate disparate stakeholders about the importance of brand building. Going back to basics is the best place to start, he explains.
“One of the biggest problems is that most people don’t know what branding is. They think it’s just something the marketing team does, like social media or writing a blog. Once you take the time to educate your team through a simple hour-long workshop and explain what a brand is, there is that ‘aha moment’ where people understand how it all fits in together and how the roles and activities integrate.”
Stefan also recommends showing how it works in practice. For example, marketers could sit in on sales calls and explain when conversations are and aren’t on-brand or part of the brand narrative you want to promote. “You need to align the company around the brand but also educate them on the concept and show them their role within the brand, that it is something bigger than just themselves.”
This approach empowers the team and ensures that everyone stays 100% on-brand. Every interaction the customer or lead has with the company is consistent and unified.
Stefan Maritz’s number one tip for 2023: Understand how to manage the shift from third-party data to first-party data
“The world of digital marketing is about to change,” Maritz tells us. Every brand must get to grips with managing the shift from third-party to first-party data and the so-called cookieless future.
“There’s a lot to do on the data side, but the overall concept is quite simple. The brands doing content and value creation right will come out on top. They rely on specific clicks rather than all the remarketing stuff. If you have managed to win someone’s trust and give them valuable content, they will always come back for more. You don’t necessarily need to track a lead’s every move to get the sale.”
He foresees a sharp rise in gated content as a result of the move to first-party data. “The problem is deciding which content to gate and if the lead will even be worth the trouble. Then there is the issue of gating content your competitors give away for free. The best course of action is just to keep providing that all-important value. Give people a reason to believe and a reason to follow you. When the time is right, they will come to you and buy.”
The reduction in cross-platform remarketing will also result in less content to compete against, which could present an opportunity for great content assets to get their moment in the sun. “Brands will have to pay a bit more and work a bit harder to get their message to pull through, so the top brands should prevail.”
As Maritz keeps reiterating, brand building is about providing genuine value. Whatever your product and whoever your audience is, the important thing is to produce targeted, relevant content with purpose in a consistent tone of voice that resonates with your community.
Deliver content experiences generously to the right people at the right time, and you should continue to generate ROI and fuel your branding. Take the time to get buy-in from your team and help them understand how their role sits within the wider branding and marketing strategy and how they can help deliver a great customer experience across all touchpoints. Building trust is critical to building a brand; just make sure your message is consistently customer-centric.
This article is part of a series of tech talks where Bynder picks the considerable brains of some of our industry’s leading content experience lights. Discover the entire ‘Talking Tech’ series here and gain actionable insights that will inform your content strategies in 2023 and beyond.