(originally published in Entrepreneur)
“Sorry. I won’t even consider that brand.”
As I finally figured out what the robin’s egg blue tinge on my fingers came from, I recalled my buying journey earlier that day.
And it was an ambitious journey. Buying jeans isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s especially difficult when you’re shopping for cool-guy jeans with a dad-jeans body.
The brands and style choices are staggering. There’s selvage, raw, distressed, boot-cut, straight leg and skinny varieties. The brands have interesting, americana names like The Flat Head, Sugar Cane Co., and Imogene and Willie. But after a 20-minute Internet search I was bombarded with retargeting ads asking me to buy their jeans before I even knew what my choices were. I immediately discounted those brands in my brain then realized how gargantuan my mission was. I needed some kind of shortcut.
I got it. Soon I was teetering under 210 pounds of slippery, oddly metallic-smelling denim in a trendy men’s store in Austin’s South Congress district. To the astonishment of the sales person, I said I wouldn’t even try on one of their fashion brands – I’ve seen it too many times at discounters – it’s dead to me. Anyway, after a couple hours of hopping, cussing, and crashing into fitting rooms made for skinny-jeans people, I found that perfect pair.
As an entrepreneur with an emerging brand, trying to get your name and content trusted can seem like an art form. In your gut you know it’s not just money – after all, the “Will It Blend – iPhone 6 Plus” video has amassed almost 3 million views. But it’s not voodoo – it just takes knowledge, discipline, and a lot of hard work.
Here are some crucial elements (and that shortcut) that can make placing your company’s product in the hands of consumers a lot easier:
1. Distribute with discipline.
“Content is king, but distribution is queen; and she wears the pants.” There are a lot of ways to poison your brand. But incorrect or inconsistent distribution is near the top of the most wanted list. It’s why I wouldn’t even try on one of the brands during my jeans journey.
Joshua Bingaman, founder of HELM Boots, is fiercely disciplined in his company’s branding strategy. He researched all the possible personas of consumers who buy fashionable boots and came up with the one that’s most aligned with his brand’s values.
He determined that his buyers would trust his artisanal boots only if they were excluded from sales sites.
“We’ve worked hard to develop HELM Boots into a brand that is recognized in Esquire or GQ instead of sale sites like Gilt or Fab.” – Joshua Bingaman, founder of Helm Boots
This is Joshua telling the queen which pants to wear.
Look – you work hard on conceiving and creating your brand’s image, products, and marketing content. You’re rightfully proud of them. But your distribution must fit your buyer perfectly or your jeans may be the only ones left on the rack.
How about that shortcut I took to find my perfect pair of jeans?
2. Determine who influences your buyer persona.
Word-of-mouth is an old and established marketing channel. Nielsen Research found that 84% of consumers trust buying advice from friends. So HELM puts its global tribe of brand advocates to work to spread its message; these people know their reputation will be elevated each time they recommend HELM. And it was a similar web of advocates that proved critical to my buying journey.
After I gave up searching for the perfect jeans, I tossed out a Facebook post to my friends.
I received some good advice from a fashionable Dane whose opinions I trust. He gave me the name of the men’s shop on South Congress and a few brands to try.
Cultivate your brand advocates, those people who have bought your product and look for opportunities to recommend it. It’s hard, but rewarding work. Your other influencer channel, bloggers, can have a bigger impact that pays off enormously. Of course, I could talk to you for hours about it.
Number one on the most wanted list of most toxic brand poisons is next.
3. Mind where your consumers are in their buying journey.
Mastering timing is critical for ensuring that you’re providing the right content for a particular phase of a buyer’s journey.
Roughly speaking, buyers go through three phases: awareness (do they know your brand exists?), consideration (how does your brand compare to competitors?), and conversion from prospect to customer (Are they ready for a call to action?).
In my cool-guy jeans experience, I went through the journey in a matter of hours. I wasn’t buying a car or a house or looking to move data centers. Usually consumers need time to make up their minds before a company or its influencers bombard them with “buy now” messaging. Retargeted ads are the most ham-fisted example of a premature call to action. If this happens too soon, it’s bad fugu – poisonous to the brand.
Today, getting your product in front of the right buyers isn’t about broadcasting your message to anyone who will listen. It’s about identifying your ideal buyers, finding the influencers who resonate most with them and serving up the appropriate content at the right time, in the right place.
That way, in the chaos of the holiday-shopping season, your customers hopefully won’t be distracted by an overabundance of choices. If they hear about your company’s brand from someone they trust, making a choice will be as easy and comfortable as donning a good pair of jeans.