You know them - the “Kardashian brands" of the business world.
These are tech companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Tesla, Slack and Apple that make headlines anytime an intern sneezes.
At least it feels that way.
It’s the power of the name. Publishers know if they put “Kardashian” in an Instagram post or article headline they’ll see an increase in traffic, clicks, follows, likes, shares, comments, and all the other things modern media needs to stay viable and earn ad revenue today.
In business press, these aforementioned "Kardashian brands" seem to carry the same clout as America’s royal family, nearly guaranteeing traffic and boosting view counts. What’s old Zuck up to this week?
Despite the obvious fact that their tech impacts billions of people every day, another contributing factor may just be that former Google PR leaders now work at Facebook, Twitter, Tesla, Square, Uber, Lyft, Yahoo, Pinterest and Snapchat -- a fascinating diaspora. Read more here.
There is value where there is attention and buzz.
... especially if you’re operating a media business. Facebook has cracked this code, making $9.16B in ad revenue last quarter alone based on its ability to serve up the kind of timely, instant news and content cycle that users crave.
Pubs that cover politics are reaping the benefits of a highly-engaged readership now more than ever as readers share their content as a way of defining belief systems and political leanings.
Please, some empathy for the journalist in 2017.
I don’t mean to knock the newsroom workers or journalists who cover these brands.
My friend, the brilliant communications strategist Katelyn Holbrook recently spoke at a General Assembly event on PR.
She explained what it’s like to be a journalist in 2017. (A little empathy goes a long way in understanding what’s going on here.)
Many newsrooms are shrinking, with fewer staff and yet more responsibilities than ever to create enough content to keep up with traffic demands (huh, sounds a lot like marketing.)
The news cycle is constant, yet fleeting, with events happening in 24/7 real-time. Our trade press is declining (RIP) as brands have become content hubs of their own, and trust in the media varies by source.
It’s a difficult time to be writing for the press. The institution of “media” has given way a bit to other platforms for discovering news and discussing ideas and opinions. This is one of the major shifts that’s rocked the world of communications, PR, and B2B digital marketing, and created an opening for a new role - buzz builder.
Buzz - the evolution of PR.
In my POV, PR has evolved to a more ambiguous discipline of buzz-building, which involves a highly orchestrated combination of tactics (like anything else, any tactic that exists in a silo doesn't work.)
“Buzz” just may be the evolution of PR in an age of digital marketing.
You could consider buzz-building as the new intersection of thought leadership, content marketing, social media, awards, speaking, influencer and media engagement, and events. But to be honest, every company features a different application of these tactics depending on their industry, staffing, budget, experience, and expertise.
As I wrote in Samantha Stone’s Unleash Possible (named a top 25 must-read marketing book this summer!):
"Creating buzz is a continuous and very intentional,strategic act of positioning your brand as a trusted resource in your industry, of raising the profile of your executives and brand stewards to a position ofauthority, and of earning air cover while your business does what it needs to do - grow. It takes into account who matters in your space, what they’re talking about, and works with timely precision to insert your brand message into that narrative."
And when it works, it amplifies.
Great buzz commands attention, changes narratives, and creates a platform upon which to build relationships, drive sales, secure funding, or hire great talent. Buyers don’t do business with companies they’ve never heard of, and with those they do not trust. Creating the right kind of buzz impacts both.
The challenge for B2B brands.
Ok coming back down to Earth for a minute… Kardashian brands like Google fueling traffic for ad-revenue-dependent media companies has created a paradox for smaller organizations.
Brands need attention to grow, but it’s never been harder to break through.
This has been true for every team I’ve been part of. In my career I’ve worked primarily with B2B companies from 2 to 200 people. I like startups. I’m drawn to their pace of growth. These companies are full of ambiguity and ambition rolled into one ugly beautiful mess of a job.
The ones that have broken through all the Kardashian clutter look similar.
They want to grow, create change, and punch above their weight.
They’re ascending brands.
You’re an ascending B2B brand if you demonstrate continued growth and momentum, punch above your weight against often larger competition or bigger ideas, and operate with a sense of ambition that is reflected in the thoughts you put into the world.
Ascending brands are those who earn buzz.
As I wrote recently in Chief Marketer Magazine, “Merit alone does not a market leader make.”
Some still believe that a remarkable product alone is enough to earn customers and grow over time. That's simply not the case, not even for a tool touted as a model for modern-day organic SaaS growth, Slack.
This company's very famous founder, Stewart Butterfield (who once founded Flickr), brought strong media contacts to his new role at Slack. The company invested heavily in content and social (see their Medium posts.) Combine this with their strong product/market fit, smart and pervasive integration strategy with hundreds of tools (my favorite is /giphy), and boom... The holy grail of buzz that results in awareness, word of mouth, 1.25M paid users, 4M active daily users, and a casual $4B valuation. Read more about Slack's journey in this excellent post.
But, we’re not all Slack, and we’re all not likely benefitting from the diaspora of Google’s PR team infiltrating our ranks.
Maybe that’s why the majority of our B2B buyers are disappointed in the quality of insights produced by companies. 56% of executives in a LinkedIn / Edelmen study said they do not gain valuable insights from the “thought leadership” they consume. When it’s good, it works. 45% of these execs report that thought leadership has directly led them to decide to do business with a company.
If you’re not a "Kardashian brand," your best chance at breaking through, earning attention, and convincing buyers to trust you is to become really really good at creating the right kind of buzz.
Get people talking about your ideas, start to change how others see their own world. Act like an ascending brand.
When I worked for a PR industry luminary, Maura Fitzgerald, one of the most consistent pieces of advice I heard her give to marketing leaders, CEOs, and founders was that they needed to behave like the kind of company they wanted to become.
The late poet Leonard Cohen (RIP) said it another way “Act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act.”
If you want to be a market leader, act like a market leader.
If you want to disrupt the market, act like a disruptive brand.
Market leaders and disruptive brands set the agenda of their space – not only in what features they build, but how the market thinks and talks about their category. These brands have the ability to influence the overall narrative because they are confident in their point of view, and highly strategic in how they make that POV heard.
"Displacement technologies compete with incumbents on the same buying parameters. Disruptive companies change the way a buyer thinks about solving their need. Most SaaS products today are displacers."
In spaces that are fast-moving and full of confusion (hello, MarTech) – ascending brands are those who continuously lead with assurance in their world view. They are relentless in their ability to publish opinions, thought leadership, and guidance that create a kind of crescendo effect as their ideas take hold.
Important note: Ascending brands don’t achieve continued momentum without a killer, solid, remarkable product. Nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing, as the saying goes.
In contrast, descending brands sit still, off the radar. They stagnate. To stakeholders like prospective buyers, investors, and partners, if you’re not seen to be growing or otherwise moving in the right direction, you’re doomed.
Momentum, in business, is everything. Descending brands are dangerous.
To compete for attention with "Kardashian brands," make sure the world knows you’re an ascending brand.
Let’s talk about this - Join me at Connect to Convert, August 21-23 in New York Cityor the upcoming MarketingProfs B2B Forum, October 3-6 in Boston. I'll be discussing this paradox for ascending B2B brands, and sharing some ideas that have worked in the past.
I’m continually fascinated by the concept of authority, leadership, and attention. What gets people talking about an idea? What earns a buyer’s very limited focus and head space? Who shapes their opinions and informs their point of view? It’s a very powerful position to be in - and I welcome a conversation (or, you know, a non-troll comment here) on this topic if you’ve got something to share.
Feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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