Good public relations can be an essential way for a brand to stand out from the pack, especially in the B2B/ technology sector. The tech space is a crowded category with more startups entering every day, so in order to compete, companies must differentiate their product or service. There are some PR tactics that can help.
A company can set itself apart by speaking in a distinct brand voice. A consistent but idiosyncratic tone through branded content like blog posts, social updates, and a company’s own website and sales materials can convey an impression of its personality. Is it humorous? Down-to-earth? Aspirational or emotional? But the company shouldn’t just start experimenting with different tones in hopes of finding the one that resonates. Instead, the PR agency or team should work with leadership to commit to a strict definition of the brand voice — and it should come from a place of authenticity. Being outspoken or controversial is a common method of differentiation, but if it’s contrived, it will probably fall flat. MailChimp is admired for its pithy and wryly humorous communications – all of which helps it stand out from bland competitors.
Entrepreneurs tend to be driven to create something the world wants or needs – and most of them have a story of how the light bulb went off or what drove them to take the leap. The origin stories don’t always make for great PR, but if a founder’s journey is fascinating, it’s a differentiator. We have a client here at Crenshaw whose business idea was borne from his brush with death in a terrorist attack. His experience is unusual and must be handled with sensitivity, but almost any senior executive does have a story to tell. Check out these “wacky entrepreneur stories to inspire you” from Inc. Magazine. In addition to origin tales, PR teams should embrace narratives about adversity, unconventional paths to success, small setbacks, or even personal quirks and interests. Who would have thought that a rift between friends could be a big story in Inc. Magazine? Last month, Inc. told the story of the troubled relationship between the founders of Reddit, their departure from the company and eventual triumphant return. It’s a riveting story, and is part of a recently published book about Reddit – that itself being another tactic for differentiation.
One of our clients, CEO Robert Glazer, published the first in-depth book on affiliate marketing. His accomplishment has helped cement a reputation as an authority in a poorly understood sector. A book, like a research study or other knowledge project, separates a thought leader from other business executives, and even in the digital age it remains a solid platform for earning media coverage, speaking opportunities, and other executive visibility within an industry. The small B2B software provider Basecamp set out to be different from the moment is began in 1999. Part of the founders’ strategy was to publish business books under the company’s name, culminating in co-founder Jason Fried’s 2010 best seller ReWork. Basecamp is still a small, privately-owned company, but its culture, branding, and ethos help it stand out from the crowd, and the books were a part of that.
It’s always beneficial to speak at industry conferences, but a bigger and more lasting step for a company can be to start its own conference where feasible. Because it’s an ambitious undertaking, however, few companies take this step. We’ve found success in mini-conferences we call thought leadership panels. A company that regularly holds its own entertaining and relevant panel events can quite literally earn the label, because it’s taking the lead in an industry discussion on a trending topic to benefit customers. A business that takes the initiative to assemble influencers, colleagues, and key media has found one more way to differentiate itself. See this earlier post for best practices in putting on a successful PR event.
We are now in an era of burgeoning corporate social responsibility, in which many in the millennial generation expect companies to take a stand on issue(s) or initiatives designed to contribute to the social good. Last week for World Dyslexia Day, McDonald’s created digital signage in Sweden which simulated what dyslexics see when they read. This type of creative, highly effective activity makes a splash. SalesForce, well known as a differentiated SaaS brand, launched its employee giving program “philanthropy cloud” in early 2018 – not only a dynamic idea, but also in line with its brand voice and stated purpose as a “self-sustaining social enterprise.”
Another way for B2B companies to distinguish themselves is to offer expert commentary on trending news — but not just neutral commentary. SaaS company Box Inc.’s CEO Aaron Levie has been speaking out on issues of trust in tech and privacy regulations in the last few months, taking a strong point of view in reaction to the reputation struggles of big tech. Levie is calling for more digital privacy regulations – something not always expected from a software provider. Reactive executive commentary in the brand voice is an excellent tactic to differentiate the firm from the competition.
The PR tactics like the ones listed here can work together to create positive differentiation in a hyper-competitive atmosphere in which every enterprise scrambles for an advantage. While skillful branding and solid performance can set the stage for success, PR-driven storytelling, third-party recognition, social values, and a compelling brand voice can make a brand distinct. Isn’t that what all companies strive for?