Closing Time

Branding Your Way into B2B Buyer’s Initial Consideration Set

If your company is not in a buyer’s initial consideration set for a purchase, the odds of winning the deal plummet.

In fact, research shows you’ll have a less than 5% chance of winning the sale. 

How can you create awareness ahead of the buying process? You guessed it, with branding.

In this episode of Closing Time, Jess Cook of Island shares tips for breaking into the initial consideration set for saturated categories (like CRM) and category creation (like Island’s enterprise browser).

Watch the video:
Key Moments:
Small Category, Big Challenges

Category creation in marketing is akin to blazing a new trail in a dense forest—you’re introducing a new concept or product into the market, essentially establishing a category that didn’t exist or was poorly defined before. A prime example is how Drift pioneered the conversational marketing category, while Island is spearheading the enterprise browser category.

Jess says that while the prospect of creating a new category is exciting, it comes with significant challenges. Educating consumers about a novel concept from scratch can feel like an uphill battle. It requires extensive patience and perseverance because you’re working with low search volumes, minimal awareness, and the need for extensive education.

Jess explains that consumers may not even recognize the problem your product aims to solve, making the task of garnering interest even more challenging. Despite these hurdles, success stories like Drift and Slack demonstrate that overcoming these challenges is possible.

For marketers, the opportunity to engage in category creation is both rare and rewarding. Jess, for instance, considers herself fortunate to have embarked on this journey, inspired by the experiences of industry pioneers like Dave Gerhardt. She sees category creation as an opportunity for experimentation and growth, where failure serves as a valuable learning experience. In this unexplored territory, marketers have the freedom to experiment with unconventional strategies and adapt based on feedback and insights gained along the way.

Standing Out in a Sea of Competitors

Marketers may very well go through their careers without navigating the waters of category creation. However, the majority of marketers will likely experience the thrill of over-crowded, saturated markets–think the CRM, MarTech, or cloud computing spaces. There’s a big pond with way too many fish vying for a meal to stay alive.

Jess has worked in both spaces and says that regardless of the market, the secret to success lies in branding. For saturated markets, “you can’t position yourself as better.” She says the winning play is actually, “How are you different?This could mean catering to a specific segment of the market, offering tailored solutions, or providing a distinctive customer experience.

Differentiation extends beyond functionality; it encompasses the essence of your brand. Jess underscores the importance of defining what your brand stands for, its tone of voice, and the values it embodies. In essence, your brand identity becomes a potent tool for building loyalty and attracting customers in a sea of similarity.

Drawing from examples like Target, Jess illustrates how brands can carve a niche by offering more than just products or services. Target’s appeal transcends mere affordability, drawing customers with its curated offerings, collaborations, and unique shopping experience. Similarly, in the CRM space, even a seemingly minor feature like HIPAA compliance can serve as a powerful differentiator, especially in specialized sectors like healthcare.

Jess advocates for a strategic approach to differentiation, urging businesses to identify their unique selling propositions (USPs) and craft compelling messaging around them. By pinpointing what sets them apart and effectively communicating that value proposition, companies can sway customers away from the status quo and towards their offerings.

In essence, differentiation isn’t just about being different—it’s about being distinctly better in a way that resonates with your target audience. It’s about finding those “little gems” that solve customers’ pain points and compel them to choose your brand over the competition. By honing in on these key differentiators and refining their messaging, businesses can navigate saturated markets with confidence and capture the attention of discerning consumers.

Differentiating via Unbranded Search and Influencer Marketing

Gaining a spot in your buyer’s initial consideration has never been more important than it is today. Marketing analyst and former Closing Time guest Dale Harrison compiled data from Forrester and Gartner to conclude that if your brand is not in that day one set, you have a less than 5% chance of closing the deal. 

Jess offers valuable insights into two strategies that can help brands secure a spot in this consideration set: unbranded search and influencer marketing.

Unbranded search, Jess explains, is akin to finding a side door entry into the consideration set. By addressing tangential problems that your target audience faces, even if your product doesn’t directly solve them, you can still provide value and catch their attention. This approach boosts awareness, positioning your brand as a viable option when customers are evaluating their choices. Jess emphasizes the importance of analyzing high-volume, low-competition search terms that may not directly relate to your product but can still attract potential customers.

In addition to unbranded search, Jess underscores the power of influencer marketing in humanizing brands and building trust. In today’s landscape, where people prefer to buy from individuals they like and trust, aligning with influencers who resonate with your target audience can be highly effective. By collaborating with influencers on content creation, webinars, or podcasts, brands can leverage the influencer’s credibility and reach to introduce their products to new audiences.

Jess highlights the synergy between these two strategies, suggesting that they can complement each other effectively. Borrowing clout, as Val puts it, involves engaging with influencers to tap into their audience while also focusing on building trust through unbranded search. This trust by association can significantly enhance a brand’s credibility and appeal.

Furthermore, Jess emphasizes the importance of customer proof, citing it as a potent tool in building credibility and trust. By showcasing success stories and testimonials from satisfied customers, brands can reinforce their value proposition and inspire confidence in potential buyers. Jess shares her own experience at Island, where she meticulously plans customer outreach to compile a library of social proof across various verticals.

Branding Beyond Color Schemes and Logos

While features, benefits, and ROI are undeniably crucial, branding plays a pivotal role in leaving a lasting impression on customers.

Branding isn’t just about logos and color schemes; it’s about the emotional connection that customers forge with a company. Every interaction, whether it’s reading content, watching a video, or speaking with a team member, contributes to shaping this connection. Therefore, it’s imperative for businesses to define their brand identity clearly and consistently across all touchpoints.

Branding and the consideration set

Establishing brand guidelines helps ensure that everyone within the organization understands what the brand stands for and how to communicate its values effectively. This includes determining the brand’s voice, topics of discussion, and even opinions on certain matters. By aligning their messaging with the brand’s identity, companies can build a strong and memorable brand presence.

Jess acknowledges a shift in focus from data-driven marketing to a renewed emphasis on branding. While data analytics are valuable, they can’t capture the emotional resonance that a strong brand evokes. Branding not only sets a company apart but also fosters trust and loyalty among customers.

Ultimately, branding keeps a company top-of-mind, even when immediate conversion isn’t on the horizon. Customers may not need a company’s products or services right away, but a strong brand ensures they’ll consider it when the time comes. Unlike data points, which quantify behaviors, branding encapsulates the intangible feelings and sentiments associated with a brand, making it an invaluable asset in today’s competitive landscape.


What’s harder?
Creating a category or competing in a crowded one.
Let’s talk about it in this episode of Closing Time.
Welcome to Closing Time, the show for. Go to Market Leaders.
I’m Val Riley, head of content and digital marketing at Insightly CRM.
Today, I’m joined by Jess Cook.
She is the head of content and communications at Island,
the Enterprise browser.
And she also hosts a podcast called. That’s Marketing Baby.
Welcome to the show, Jess.
Thank you so much for having me, Val.
I’m so happy to be here.
Jess there’s so much. I want to cover with you today,
but let’s start with the challenge that marketers face in category creation.
And what I mean by
that is how Drift sort of created that conversational marketing category
and how Island is really creating the enterprise browser category.
So I think with category creation one, it’s very exciting, right?
It’s so fun and exciting to go out and like basically start
something from scratch content wise that either
no one is aware of, no one has heard of before.
And, you know,
there’s some competition, but it’s really just starting to heat up.
The challenge, though, is that because it’s being created as you’re
kind of building and creating content around it, the education
and kind of the awareness of that thing is incredibly low, near zero.
Especially at the beginning.
And so there’s this very big piece of education that has to be done
on, you know, what it is exactly that you are creating.
And along with that comes a lot of patience.
We’re talking about, you know, low volume search terms, because if you’re creating
a category, there’s probably very few people actually searching for that thing.
And there is a lot to be said for,
you know, understanding kind of the tangential problems
that someone is trying to address with whatever
it is your product solves for.
So not only are they unaware of your brand because you’re creating the category,
they’re unaware of whatever you do, they may even be
completely unaware of the problem you solve.
If you’re really creating a category,. It’s very possible
that, you know, your target audience doesn’t actually realize
they have the problem
that your product is intended to come in and kind of save the day on.
So it is a big challenge all around,
but a very, very exciting one and one that, you know, is able to be surmounted
as we have seen with the likes of Drift and Slack.
So I’m curious, Jess, I wonder so few marketers really might have
the opportunity across their career to really establish a category.
So I’m wondering if you’re seeing this as like
that you’re
lucky or that maybe it’s a bit of a curse.
Oh, no, I feel so lucky.
I absolutely pursued this opportunity.
This was something you know, I’ve listened
to Dave Gerhardt for a couple of years now and his story at Drift.
And, you know, I always thought, oh, man, that sounds so fun,
challenging and incredibly difficult.
But really fun.. And I love a fun challenge.
And so this was very exciting for me
and a little bit of like,. I think you have potentially
even more room for testing and failure
and learning from failure in category creation
because you’re not sure what’s going to work.
You’re out there in kind of like uncharted territory
and you have to try things and see what happens.
And, you know, how do we talk about ourselves?
And okay, that didn’t quite resonate.
Oh, but this other way, like people are gravitating toward that.
Let’s continue down that path. Right?
So I think if anything, it gives you a bit more permission to,
you know, try things you might not have the opportunity to try otherwise.
I love that.
Let’s switch gears a little bit,
because I know you have experience also working in established categories.
CRM, for instance, is the category that I work in and
established might be an understatement because there are 1700
CRM on the market, so we could be with them every day.
So how do you approach,
you know, working in a saturated category?
I think when you’re in a saturated category,
everything comes down to your brand, right?
You have to have a reason that someone would feel something
for your brand over another one that’s already there.
That might be the most established, has been there longer, has the most customers.
And I think what goes with that is
you can’t position yourself as better.
I don’t think that’s the play.
I think the play is how are you different?
Are you for a very specific part of a market?
Are you for one vertical?
Do you do something a little bit differently in your workflow or,
you know, your even your customer success team is like
built into the offering some way that it isn’t somewhere else, right?
There are so many ways to differentiate, and I think that’s what you really have
to look at in a saturated market and also just your brand.
What do you stand for?
What is your tone of voice?
What is going to build loyalty, Right.
You can’t be saying the same things as everyone else.
Again, it goes back to that differentiation.
The brand can also be a differentiator.
You know,. I think if you look at things like,
you know, Target, Target is not cheaper than, say, at Walmart, right?
If I were logical, I would go to Walmart.. But I don’t go to Walmart.
I go to Target because they have the best stuff,
the cutest stuff, the most interesting collaborations, the coolest, you know,
the best toys for my kids and and they’re on top of things. And
that, you know,
that is a differentiator that I would pay more for.
So I think it’s really finding and figuring out what that is
and then capitalizing on that in a saturated market.
Sure. Well, our target has a Starbucks.
So, you know, there’s another reason.
I think your advice is really on target, though, Jess
because you know, as a CRM, I mentioned, we’re in a highly saturated space.
Our CRM is a HIPAA compliant.
And though that small little phrase in health care
means a lot, a lot of our competitors are not.
So just finding something like not even just the vertical,
but like an aspect of a vertical can be a real differentiator.
Yeah, absolutely.
Oh, that’s so smart.
And just like double down on that,. I bet people, when they find that out
that are in health care or require that HIPAA compliance, they’re like,
Why would I go anywhere else Like that solves the one of my biggest problems.
And I think that’s, those are the little gems you have to find, of like
what’s the thing that’s going to sway someone from
you know, there’s that whole saying
of no one ever got fired for bringing on. IBM or for buying IBM, Right.
What’s the thing that’s going to sway someone
from buying the obvious choice in the CRM market
and bring them to you or to, you know, a some other kind of niche CRM?
And I think you have to find that thing and and test the messaging
around it, right?
Like, I’m sure there are ways
you can talk about it that are much more successful than others,
that bring in more interest.
So, yeah, in general,
just getting into the consideration set that initial considerations,
that is really a challenge for us again, because our category is so crowded.
We had some data in a couple episodes of Closing Time ago
where it was presented that if you’re not in that initial consideration
set, your odds of winning a deal are literally just like one or 2%.
So it’s crucial.
One tip you had had was about using unbranded search
or being a side door of sorts to getting into that consideration set.
So I think it goes back to those tangential problems.
What are the things that your target audience are trying to solve
that maybe you don’t necessarily solve for them,
but you can provide them some value and help them in a way
that feels very valuable to them, that will then get them to consider you.
At least be aware of you and awareness is like, that’s
half the battle in that consideration
set right there, if they know, okay, they do the thing I need
to do, you know, why wouldn’t I take a look at them
if I’m already kind of trying to figure out what the right tool is?
So unbranded search is definitely a big one.
Taking a look at some of the search terms that are,
you know, high volume, low competition,
but not necessarily, you know,
100% related to what it is your product does,
is one approach.
Another is, you know,. I think there’s this big push now
to the idea of people buy from people
that they like and trust.
And we’re seeing more and more now companies, you know,
finding the right influencers and, you know, hey, try my product out.
Like, do some sort of post around it or be on my webinar, be on my podcast, right?
And we share the same values.
Like let’s talk about
some of the big thought leadership topics that we both agree on.
And I think there’s something to be said.
You know, when you hear someone that you admire
or trust in your kind of line of work
talking about the same values, ideals of, you know,
a new company that maybe you’ve not heard of, a tool that you’d not considered
or even like promoting them and saying, hey, this is something that I use
and I like and is different that I haven’t seen before and,
you know, wanted you all to know about it.
So I think there’s something kind of both in those realms
and I think they can work really well together.
The idea of, you know, using influencers
but also kind of unbranded tangential search.
Yeah, I love that.
We call it we call it borrowing clout, right?
So but you are trying to engage with people
who have a following or who are in the same space as you to,
you know, just reach their audience with your message, you know, tangentially.
I think that’s a great tip.
Sorry, just was going to say it’s like trust by association, right?
Oh, that’s a great term.
I have to borrow that one.
Yeah. Go for it.
So we’re always looking for, you know, customer
stories, people to say, hey, you know, we love Insightly.
And then we were
recently asked by a vendor of ours, Hey, will you do a customer story?
And, you know, there was a slight bit of hesitation.
I was like, we have to do that like that.
We spend all of our time and energy asking people to do that for us.
Like we have to, you know, you know, it’s like karma.
Like, we’ll put in this testimonial and then it’s going to come back
to us some way That’s right.
I was just going to say that.
Yeah, absolutely.
That customer, that customer proof is so, so big.
That’s something that I’m working on right now
at Island is like I just this week. I was like, putting together
this giant spreadsheet of like, okay, by vertical, which customers
are we going to go after for which, you know, kind of needs that we have
and in what order so that we can kind of start making our way down that list
and, you know, knocking them down one by one and building that library
of of social proof of like who’s used us, who’s been successful and in which ways.
Great. Okay.
So we talked about a little bit about search terms using the side door,
borrowing clout.
Any other tips, Jess, for getting in that initial consideration set?
So I think the last thing really just to hit home
is the importance of branding. And
I know that branding, you know, some people,
you know, in B2B like your brand doesn’t have to be as established.
It’s all about,
you know, the benefits and the features and what it’s going to do and
how it’s going to save time and ROI.
ROI is the thing, right?
I feel like I hear that all the time.
And yes, those are all really important.
But I think the thing that helps,
you know, a company really stand out in people’s minds
is the brand, is how it made them feel
when they interacted with their content or saw a video or,
you know, spoke with someone on the team like that is all brand.
And so, you know, as someone in content and you know, kind of the corporate
marketing side of things, it’s really important to instill that in everyone.
And you know, how you interact with the customers
is part of the brand and what you say on LinkedIn
as a person even is part of our brand and it really all comes back to that.
So, you know, establishing those guidelines like what do we say?
What don’t we say?
What do we stand for?
What do we sound like?
What topics do we talk about?
What topics do we stay away from?
What do we have very strong opinions on, you know, and what are those opinions
so that everyone can kind of toe the line together and really build that
strong brand
that’s going to help differentiate you get you in that consideration set.
I mean, as a marketer, I’m just delighted that brand is coming back.
I do feel like over the last maybe ten years or so,
we got so bogged down in attribution models and data points
and tracking and pixels and all that was great.
But, you know, sometimes I feel like we maybe lost
a little bit of brand along the way.
And so to have it come back stronger than ever, I think bodes well,
especially for content marketers, but really all of marketing.
I totally agree.
I think it’s the thing that, you know, just sets
a company apart in a way that is going to stand out in someone’s mind,
make you more interested and intrigued.
And you know something you’d be willing to share.
There are certain brands that I know I’m
probably not going to use them in my role right now, but I admire them
and I’m like, they’re going to stay on my radar and hey, someday down
the road, I might be able to use them and they’ll be the first ones I go to.
And that’s,. I think, what brand does, right?
It just it keeps people thinking about you.
It builds trust in a way that you
and resonance resonance in a way that you just can’t do with
you know, oh, this campaign worked and this one didn’t.
Or, you know, the whole like you say, just to review the data,
like data is great, but you can’t pinpoint someone’s feelings on a graph.
And I think that,
you know, the sentiment someone has about
your brand is just as important as all of that data.
All right, Jess. Brand is back. I love it.
Thanks so much for joining us today.
Thank you for having me.
This was great. It was our pleasure.
Thanks to all of you out there for joining us on Closing Time.
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