The Power of the Brand, Part II – How to Compete Against Stronger Brands Online

By Jim McKinleyJanuary 27, 2016

This is Part 2 of this series. Be sure to check out the first article, "The Power of the Brand in Direct Response Online Lead Gen."

In our previous article, we discussed the misconception that online marketing is a level playing field where the company with the best ads and most optimized campaigns wins. It’s not. A strong brand has intangibles which can defeat even the best optimization strategies.

Questions for your company:

  • Do you find yourself competing in a market that has one or more “brand giants”?
  • Do you struggle to meet your online return-on-investment goals? 
  • Do you wonder how your company can even compete?

We frequently face these questions when working with our clients. In our experience, we have identified four things you can do to compete with stronger brands:

1. Have the proper expectations. If you compete against stronger brands, start by modeling higher cost per acquisition (CAC). If a higher CAC doesn’t work with your business plan, then the digital might not be a long-term growth engine for you. 

I see a lot of companies who desperately search for the “magic bean” of digital that solves all problems. It doesn’t exist. If you have switched agencies or internal personnel three times in 3 years because you haven’t seen the scale or ROI you were seeking, take a look at your market and competitors. Are you the weakling among a crowd of giants? If so, adjust your expectations or look at other channels.

2. Beat the well-known brand in user experience and in your sales process. Large brands often move extremely slowly in implementing website changes. This can result in a cumbersome user experience. A more nimble company who can test and quickly make changes has the opportunity to create a superior user experience. A better user experience will result in a higher conversion rate that can neutralize some of the benefits of a big brand.

Do you have a robust conversion rate optimization effort (CRO) at your company? If not, start one now. There is a lot written about this, so I won’t cover how to do it here. However, realize that CRO is not a “project” or something that you can complete in 3 months. It is something that is ongoing and should be ingrained into your organizations DNA.

Another area of opportunity is the sales process. You can often do better than the big brands. Some questions to ask your sales organization:

  • Are we following up with leads within 5 minutes of receipt?
  • Are we attempting to contact five+ times?
  • Are leads routed to the best sales person for that lead
  • Is our sales team well-trained on the nuances of internet leads?
  • Do we have complete, end-to-end, tracking?  Can we see the marketing source (down to the keyword/ad unit) and what happened to each lead?
  • Is lead tracking data shared with the marketing team?

3. Find differentiators. One of the most common ways companies compete is through product differentiation. Take an example of two nursing degree programs: one strong brand, one weak brand. What if the weaker brand was able to offer a 9-month degree program vs. the standard 18-month degree program? Could that narrow the advantage of the stronger brand? For some students, yes.

Just within nursing degree, here are some ways I have seen universities differentiate themselves:

  • Shorter program: “Finish your degree in 9 months”
  • Cost: “$8,490”
  • Frequent start times: “Classes start every 8 weeks”
  • No fees: “No application fee”
  • Financial aid: “Scholarships available”

Note: Just like a conversion rate optimization effort, innovating and finding product differentiators is not a one-and-done activity but rather, something you do continually.

4. Leverage someone else’s brand to promote your own. Do you have an A+ rating with the BBB? If so, tell people about it in your ads. Were you mentioned in the Wall Street Journal? Use it as a way to build “instant brand” at the time your ad is served. I have seen this used as a very effective tool, especially inside of paid search.

Some proof points you can leverage:

  • Newspapers or magazines that mention you in a story
  • Accreditation organizations
  • Ratings agencies/companies (i.e., BBB, Yelp, AAA, etc.)
  • Industry trade groups

All hope is not lost just because you are not a brand giant. In a perfect world, the way to compete is to simply build your own brand and gain the brand giant benefits. However, this is an extremely long process and it may not ever be possible for some companies.  Regardless of the situation, you can compete online, even with the initial cost disadvantage. But, it requires that you be extremely nimble and optimize all aspects of the customer experience. Doing so can help level some of the digital playing field so that you can compete.

Join Jim as he brings the pre-day SEO Workshop: From Visibility to Revenue and How to Compete Against Brand Giants in the Online Marketing World conference session to LeadsCon Las Vegas in March! Register here today.

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