ComBlu is a social business and influencer marketing firm that amplifies influence along the stakeholder decision journey and maximizes the voice of the customer.

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  • Pam Flores

    Getting Back to Basics: Branding 101

    Recently, we were asked by a long-term client to help them reposition their brand in the marketplace. 2014 is a milestone year for the firm as they introduce significant process innovations that will help redefine the way they—and the industry—do business.

    Leveraging this milestone with an eye to the future, rather than a look back, provided them a great platform for reinvigorating their brand messaging to better reflect who they are and effectively position them for decades to come.

    Over the years, we’ve found that the concept of branding is still somewhat misunderstood. To some, branding is synonymous with designing a new logo or crafting a clever tag line. While those can be important elements of a rebranding, we believe strong messaging lies at the heart of effort and drives the look and feel.

    Another branding reality is that your reputation is built 80% on experience and 20% messaging. Organizations must be able to deliver on their brand promise—and engaged employees are those most critical to making that happen. Make sure your message is framed in the context of how it supports the customer experience.

    The Brand Repositioning Process

    At its core, brand repositioning is about getting a bead on where you are today versus where you want to be—then crafting the messaging first and the look second, to help you get there. When implementing a branding messaging program for our clients, we employ a three-step process outlined below.


    As the name implies, you start with a solid understanding how your brand is currently perceived by your key stakeholders—customers, employees, shareholders, and industry influencers, for example. In the case of our client, they had a long-standing reputation in the market—a strong foundation on which to build. Look at how you’re currently presenting yourself to those audiences. And, the tougher half of the equation—based on the firm’s vision and strategic plan; articulate what you want the brand to stand for going forward.

    An important step in Discovery is to audit your current messaging, by reviewing a wide range of marketing, sales support and communications materials. Your review should include proposals, collateral, articles, digital and social content.

    Use the findings of that audit, along with feedback from your stakeholders, to help coalesce the leadership team around the more aspirational brand messaging.  What messages still resonate with your targets and represent who you want to be? Conversely, what is overused and no longer a differentiator, has become stale and should be eliminated from your corporate lexicon?

    Be sure to get a good cross-section of perspectives—from different functional areas and levels of your organization. Once insights are gathered, common themes begin to emerge and will help guide your message development. Finally, conduct a competitive scan to understand the environment in which you’re positioning must stand out.


    In the design phase, you map out the messaging, and set the tone and voice for your new positioning. When building the message blueprint, it is important to capture the firm’s story in a way that not only resonates across key stakeholder groups but is easily tailored to the various audiences and market segments that are important to your business.

    The message construct starts with a value proposition—one to two sentences that align your strengths with relevant, high priority client needs and distinguishes you from the competition. Typically, this is one of the toughest parts of the process.

    From that base come three-to-five core messages that succinctly spell out what you offer in the marketplace, details where you excel, and how this benefits customers.

    Proof points pay off each core message, giving your targets a reason to believe. Any audience or market specific messaging is spelled out here. The result is a common blueprint for brand positioning that will guide development of all your materials.


    In delivery, it’s all about execution. This is where the new messaging synchs up with the look and feel to roll out your new positioning. Your website is one of the more impactful stops throughout a buyers’ decision journey and as such, is often #1 in terms of delivery priority.

    Ensuring Success

    When embarking on a brand positioning, it is important to keep the end game in mind. In order to be effective, brand messaging must be:

    • Relevant – It speaks to stakeholders most important needs and wants
    • Differentiating – It separates you from the competition
    • Authentic – It’s in your true voice and consistent with who you are (and want to be)
    • Credible – Stakeholders believe you can deliver on the brand promise
    • Aspirational – It builds on your existing equity and takes it to the next level


    Great positioning can do a lot for a brand in keeping it relevant and distinct in the marketplace. It not only supports the growth of the business, but also can re-energize the internal team. Done right, it should serve you well in the immediate term as well as years down the road. Think about your brand today. Does it reflect who you are and who you want to be?

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  • Kathy Baughman

    When your brand is an ingredient… …your content strategy needs to reflect that

    Kathy’s blog on content marketing for ingredient brands was originally featured on Industrial Marketer, a blog by Tom Repp dedicated to offering the latest in top-level strategy for the industrial executive.

    Ingredient branding is one of the core principles of B2B marketing for those companies whose products are a component of other products. It differentiates the product offerings and establishes how they are essential to other, more familiar products. According to research conducted by Industrial Marketing Today, ingredient brands are shifting budgets and resources from traditional industrial marketing programs to inbound. While some in the C-suite were skeptical about the efficacy of content marketing to generate sales, today’s path-to-purchase overrides these concerns. The decision journey includes multiple decision-makers who want to discover new ways to do things or understand how a component will integrate into their systems. Different content types have different authority and influence at each point of the journey and each individual decision-maker has its own preferences and “go-to” places for high authority content.

    Today ingredient brands need to sell their smarts; not their products. Component manufacturers need to overcome their “vender” mentality and instead create a content strategy that demonstrates their value as a visionary partner. Old school content such as product collateral, sell sheets or component catalogs and price books, still have a place on the roadmap but do little to convince the multiple decision-makers of the company’s innovation, solutions orientation or provide an experience that makes them “need” to work with a specific partner.

    A recent conversation with Carlos Abler, Leader – Online Content Strategy at 3M, focused on some of the complexities faced by ingredient brands in selling to OEMs or system integrators. According to Abler, “Ingredient brands need to deepen their customer centricity to a more role-based approach. They need to holistically understand the tasks undertaken by each role that ultimately touches or influences the buying decision.”

    Companies selling to OEMs, for example, need to consider multiple roles, including:

    • Industrial designer, who is interested in ideas and applications
    • Design engineer, who wants to know the specifications
    • Process engineer, who needs to determine if the solution will work in the company’s manufacturing environment
    • Compliance officer, who ensures the components are environmentally compliant in all manufacturing locations
    • Program manager, who wants to find companies that can contribute to multiple projects
    • Economic buyer, who negotiates terms and pricing
    • Partners, who can integrate products into net new solutions

    This suggests a complex sales construct with multiple cells, which needs to be reflected in the content strategy. Companies can no longer act transnationally with customers and prospects. The content strategy needs to combine thought leadership with innovative use cases that span multiple industries and sectors. The content strategy also needs to provide great evaluation and simulation tools; this type of content underscores the partnership mentality of the company vs. the transactional view of a “vender”. According to Abler, “Buyers want an ideational partner. They want to work with visionaries who can articulate and demonstrate future possibilities and share application content that demonstrates this. If the ingredient brand waits until the buyer is at the specification stage, they are too late.”

    Another consideration is NDA compliance, which can prevent ingredient brands from disclosing their coolest or most innovative applications. This requires a lot of creativity to communicate their vision and ability to be a creative thought partner without disclosing actual applications.

    BASF handled this issue through their long running ad campaign, which established its brand as a component that made products better. Their advertising showed multiple applications that never disclosed customer names. The campaign used arresting visuals of familiar products in engaging situations with a voice over that said things like:

    “We don’t make the dress, we make it brighter”“We don’t make the motorcycle; we make it quicker.”“We don’t make the sand board; we make it lighter.”BASF. The Chemical Company.

    3M positioned its innovation for the electronics industry through a video with a science fiction theme. It featured various futuristic applications such as wristbands with flexible displays, glass touchscreens and wearable technology. The video highlighted 3M’s innovation without ever showing any customer’s actual application. Yet, it appealed to designers wanting a partner who could take them to “what’s next”.

    Ingredient brands also need to include “to” and “thru” content as part of the roadmap. This is important for communicating with partners and for helping with intra-role interactions. Partners need content “to” them that spells out why the ingredient brand’s applications and innovations matter to the partner’s customers. They also need “thru” content that helps with sell-through to their customer base. These dynamics also apply within a prospect company. Ingredient brands need to speak the language and address the needs of each role and help those in those roles communicate up and down the chain. This is a huge gap in many content strategies.

    Huge organizational and cultural challenges exist that prevent component manufacturers and integrators from adopting this type of matrixed content strategy. Often, the corporate level has the best horizontal view of the impact it can have on industrial design across industries and organizations. Yet, the budgets for content live in the product or business level, which tends to have a more parochial view. In some instances, multiple products can compete for the same piece of business, each offering a different solution or application. These divisional or product siloes prevent the company from presenting an overarching story that tells the big “ideation” and “innovation” story. If this becomes a centralized function, they can tap the divisions or product areas for deeper, role focused content.

    The resulting content strategy will reflect understanding through the lens of the customer and further refract it into the subtopics and interests of the multiple decision-makers. Ultimately, ingredient brands need to inspire design and product engineers, inform program managers and instill confidence in economic buyers. Your sales people may or may not have relationships with all decision-makers and influencers. A content strategy that offers spec sheets and price lists will leave your potential as an innovation partner undiscovered.

    For more on content strategy, check out Content Supply Chain and The Alchemy of Content.

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  • Jennifer Voisard

    Creating Content for the Tech Buyer

    Recently TechTarget summarized the implications of a study conducted by SolarWinds that looked at the “Evolving Role of IT.” Not surprisingly the data shows that nine out of 10 IT professionals agree that an increasingly complex infrastructure has affected their roles over the past three to five years. The executive vice president of products and markets was quoted as saying, "The complexity that it’s creating is tremendous. IT pros are trying to chase a car moving 100 miles per hour, and they are on foot."


    From a technology perspective IT Pros report that Cloud and Mobility will see the highest levels of investment in the future according to the study.


    And, for large technology investments UBM Tech tells us that an average of 7.2 people can touch a purchase decision – both inside and outside of IT. As a result, the alignment of new business models and emerging technologies brings a great talent and skills gap to the work place – especially in IT.


    From a content perspective this can be very daunting for large technology vendors, because IT is expected to both build the business case and implement the solution. In a nutshell, their current and prospective customers need trusted information to help them:

    · Stay on the forefront of emerging technology

    · Make trusted vendor recommendations for large investments

    · Build the business case

    · Deploy large scale solutions

    · Work with LOBs

    · Keep end users happy and productive

    · Secure their data

    · Deliver business based results

    · Save money

    And, they need this content yesterday.

    Creating content for IT Pros needs to be carefully crafted. You have to understand what makes them tick — to know what to do and what not to do. Tech buyers are looking for a mix of business focused content and the speeds and feeds. Vendor content is essential, but in many cases third party/unbiased content is often more authoritative and trusted. They rely heavily on search and their peer networks both on and offline. IT Pros also expect an optimal mobile experience no matter the content or channel.

    If you are responsible for generating content for this audience the best way to start is with your various buyer personas. It is the first step to a content strategy. Don’t have any personas? Check around in your organization first. Some pockets within your company might have done some market research, commissioned studies or conducted interviews/focus groups. Identify your holes and either augment with additional primary research or conduct third party research. Make sure that you have a baseline understanding of their:

    · Role in the organization and the purchase process

    · Pain points

    · Digital, social and mobile behaviors

    · Key go-to sources for information

    Once you lay this foundation you can begin to put your tech buyers in the driver seat because you’ll have insights into what content will resonate and help the most.


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  • Brenda Todd

    Influencer Identification Shouldn’t Be a Challenge

    According to MarketingProfs’ recent Influencer Marketing Status Report, nearly two-thirds (61%) of the marketers they surveyed noted that one of the biggest challenges of influencer marketing is identifying the relevant people who can truly help their brand or campaigns. It raises the question, what steps are they taking to identify their influencers? Depending on your brand or campaign, there are different approaches you can take to identify the ‘right’ influencers, and there are three common elements that are a must to make it successful.

    1. Understand how you are defining ‘influencer’ in the context of your brand or campaign. Some define influencers as those who have shown interest in a topic or lifestyle, market or brand and have high social scores (number of followers, unique visitors, retweets, link sharing, comments etc.). While others may look at a high-profile personality or celebrity with a large Twitter following as their ‘go-to’ influencer. There are different “types” of influencers depending on how you want to utilize them to reach your goals and that drives your identification process. It is also important to remember, what you define as an influencer can change—and change often — depending on the audience and environment you are trying to reach.

    2. Further refine your selection criteria. Once you have defined your desired influencer type, determine what factors you need to look at to find the influencer best suited to help you meet your goals. For example, beyond network size, you also may want to look at the quality and type of the content they are creating, as well as the engagement level of their followers. Do they leave comments on their blogs? Are the influencers not only creating content, but are they interacting with their followers? One effective selection methodology is to create an algorithm that weighs a number of these different factors along with relevance to the brand and/or product. Taking this step helps you dial-in on the right influencer for your program. And even more important, it establishes a great base of potential influencers that you can start to build a relationship with.

    3. Get to know your influencers firsthand. Building a relationship with your prospective influencers is an important step in the identification process. Influencers appreciate the fact that you are not just approaching them like a number, that you have read their posts and followed them, and in some cases, engaged with them along the way. Having an authentic experience is a great way to select the influencers you want to engage with for your brand.


    What approach do you take to identify your influencers? Are you part of the 61% who find it as one of your biggest challenges? You may also want to check out how some of our clients have tackled the challenge.

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  • Colleen Nolan

    Quality Content Diet

    It sometimes seems that you can’t attend a meeting without someone making a joke about “feeding the content beast.” Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the need for the beast to have a quality and balanced diet. Early in the process, it seems that your content program is like a new puppy. It’s an exciting and new experience with extra care, and even costs are expended to make sure your program gets what it needs for healthy growth.

    But like that puppy, once your program is mature, the content diet can get off track. Whether apathy orclip_image004 overload, or a coupon for a cheaper food, it is easy to get distracted and the overall quality of the content can suffer. How do you know if you are neglecting your content doggie? Below are a few warning signs:

    · Volume Is Up: If you find yourself producing more content to please more internal clients, chances are your focus has shifted from the content consumer to your product and service marketers. Study after study tells us that more is not better—it’s just more. Stop now before you make your dog sick!

    · Editorial Standards Are Optional: If you have drifted from your original editorial guidelines, and it’s not in direct response to additional learnings about the market or your audience, your quality will suffer. Your content is supposed to have a focus and a point-of-view. And yes, it is faster and easier to produce it if it does not. But just like you would not feed your dog a steady diet of gerbil food because someone sent you a free sample in the mail, you would have to align with and be sure to uphold your editorial standards and focus.

    · Content Isn’t Reused: At a minimum you should be reusing at least 15%. If you are producing 100% new content each month, chances are you have a budget unlike 99% of the content organizations out there or it’s not all high quality. Do yourself a favor and look at developing content that can easily be reused and refreshed. Don’t worry; I’m not going to make an analogy about feeding your dog recycled food.

    · Inconsistent Across the Cycle: Best practice is to develop and reuse content throughout the sales funnel. If you find that your content is heavy in the beginning of your funnel or just inconsistent across the customer journey, it’s time to hit pause. Make sure you are providing content for the entire sales cycle; including post-purchase and not all of it is original content. You can’t just feed your dog in the morning and ignore him at dinner and wonder why he’s not behaving the way you expected.

    I understand that developing high quality content that advances your brand and business objectives is hard work—sort of like training your dog. But what you will find is that a consistent investment actually takes less time and yields greater results. If you get off track, a quick return to the basics will get you back to having a good dog vs. a content beast.

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