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How B2B Companies Can Build Impactful Brand Positioning with Mark Evans – Episode #127

“Brand positioning is much more than a marketing exercise…it underpins the entire organization.”

Mark Evans is the principal with Marketing Spark, which offers fractional CMO and strategic advisory services to B2B SaaS companies. Mark’s areas of expertise include brand positioning, messaging, and content-driven growth plans. Mark has a podcast and recently published the second edition of his DIY marketing book, “Marketing Spark.”

Questions and topics we covered included:

  • Defining what brand positioning is for B2B SaaS companies
  • Who’s supposed to own brand positioning?
  • How to effectively execute brand positioning
  • Who should own brand governance within a company?
  • How to use internal marketing to aid in brand governance
  • Why addressing switching costs is the biggest challenge SaaS companies face when promoting their products
  • Why the commoditization of content should be a concern for all marketing teams
  • How to create useful buyer personas?

And more!

Mark’s B2B Positioning Guide (PDF): 

Say hi to Mark via LinkedIn:

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Full Episode Transcript:


Kenny Soto  0:00  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the people of digital marketing podcast with your host, Kenny Soto, and today’s special guest, Mark Evans. Hi, Mark, how are you? Glad to be here. And thank you for calling me special, it’s always nice to start a Monday on a positive note. Nice. So, Mark, I would like to start off this podcast as I do with all other guests, which is to start off by just getting some more context about you as a professional about you as a marketer. So my very first question for you is, how did you get into marketing?


Mark Evans  0:34  

It’s a long story, but I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version. I spent 15 years as a journalist, a technology journalist writing for two of Canada’s national newspapers and Bloomberg News. I never thought of myself as a marketer never aspired to be a marketer. I wanted to be a lifelong journalist love journalism. And along the way, I got recruited by a friend of mine to do a startup. And one thing led to another and I launched my own marketing business in 2008. Specializing in helping b2b SaaS companies do better marketing, why specifically b2b,


I’m based in Toronto, the epicenter for business in Canada, and we have a population of 30 to 35 million people. And we don’t have a lot of b2c digital companies. You know, we are mostly because of the size of the country, I think b2b has been the focus. So I just gravitated to b2b. And it just sort of aligned with my interests in the way that I wanted to do marketing. And, you know, one of the things that, that I think about a lot when it comes to marketing is is niching. Down and specializing on specific areas, it’s hard to be a generalist, it’s great. If you’re a unicorn, you can you can do everything, but it’s hard to actually make that happen. So it was one of the ways that I actually focused on specific type of marketing for specific types of companies.


Kenny Soto  2:01  

And when you talk about niching, down, that’s a perfect segue to talk about the main topic of this of this episode. So niching down can also be and correct me if I’m wrong can also be attributed to positioning yourself and positioning a brand in a specific way. But positioning, at least for myself, can sometimes be a catch all term. I’ve seen people on LinkedIn, define brand positioning and positioning in general, differently across various industries. How would you define what positioning is for b2b SaaS company?


Mark Evans  2:39  

I think there are two primary concepts to be memorable, and to be easily shareable. And by memorable, if you have clear positioning that people get right away, they understand what you do and why you matter to them, then that’s a great way to break through the noise. And then as important, if your story is user friendly, if someone can go to a conference or a dinner party, and tell somebody else, hey, I ran across this amazing company, and they do X. And I’m super excited because the benefits are y. And that person understands that story, and so on and so on, then you got a powerful brand positioning story to tell


Kenny Soto  3:27  

who owns that story within an organization?


Mark Evans  3:34  

That is a really great question. Because traditionally, brand positioning has been owned by marketing. They’re the ones that are crafting this narrative that they’ll take to the market through various channels. And as a result, I think what’s happened is a lot of people with an organization have felt disconnected from the positioning exercise. So marketing does their work. They launched this new story and sales and marketing and customer success, they Well, that’s not the story that we want to tell where no one talked to us about it. So I think the answer your question is that well, let me take a step back. My point of view, is that brand positioning is much more than a marketing exercise. I believe that underpins the entire organization, sales, product development, HR, customer success, raising capital, because you want to go to market with a story that is coherent and consistent, and you want everyone to rally around a story that they believe in. So for example, better brand positioning allows sales to understand who they’re targeting and to be empathetic to what their needs are. Better brand position allows product development to actually create features that customers want as opposed to features that engineers want to build. So they’re just those are just two examples of the power brand positioning. And as a result, I think that when a brand positioning, exercise starts, everybody needs to be at the table. Everybody so that people feel engaged and vested in the process so that when you launch your spanking new brand position, everyone says, Yeah, I was part of that. That story resonates with me. And I believe in it, I’m going to go to market I’m going to, I’m going to embrace it and share it to the world.


Kenny Soto  5:25  

I work in b2c, but I faced this similar issue last year in the startup that I’m working at, where we had a rebrand. And one of the challenges that we’re facing now is the brand governance challenge, which is, we’ve done a rebrand. We’ve created brand guidelines. We’ve started now to start conceptualizing our buyer persona and creating those documents. But it feels like once the documents are made, especially like a positioning statement, okay, there’s buy in, you have alignment, everyone’s like, alright, this is awesome. We’re now we’re going to start executing, how do you recommend your clients go about that execution where the positioning is actually being manifested? And it’s not just a document that that starts collecting digital dust?


Mark Evans  6:17  

Great question. And I think that a lot of brand positioning exercises, unfortunately, collect digital dust, they’re wonderful to do, everybody gets excited about them, everyone gets to display their creative juices. And that’s it. So a couple of ways to think about this. One is the ROI and value of positioning, it’s not so much the deliverables, the value proposition, the brand positioning statements, the actual process that you go through. So if you take a deep dive into your customers, competitors, and your product, and you suss out you surface, what your customers want, how the competition positioned themselves, so they can attract your customers, and your strengths and how you’re unique. It allows people to give delivers amazing insight to everybody involved in the process, which is why everybody needs to be involved. So people inherently start to understand the way that they should think about the company and the way that the company stands out. So that’s step one. Step two is turning positioning into messaging. So that it’s more than just updated buyer personas. And we can talk a little bit about traditional buyer personas versus the new buyer persona. But it’s the idea that that story gets translated onto the website into sales decks, your social media profiles, I call it pollination, it’s the idea that the story appears everywhere, so that it’s impossible for your employees to ignore, and that your target audiences see the same story everywhere. But it also goes back to the original point of making sure that people rally around the new story. So once people are engaged, that’s great. But when the exercise is finished, what I would recommend to any organization is hold a town hall, or some kind of group meetings. So you can walk through the position and explain why it matters and what you need to do. And then talk about how everyone needs to talk off the page page, the same page of the script. Because once you get buy in, then and you arm them with collateral, then people feel vested and they’ll go, they’ll go to market in a very in a lockstep kind of way.


Kenny Soto  8:35  

What is your recommendation when it comes to keeping things in lockstep where you’ve gone to that transformation? Everyone has their marching orders, but now there has to be? Well, maybe let me take a step back here, who owns monitoring, that everyone is going in lockstep? Who owns that brand governance after that transformation.


Mark Evans  9:02  

I would say that marketing is probably the positioning police, if you want to use that term. They’re the ones that are actively monitoring all kinds of activity from a sales and marketing perspective. They should be on top of what employees are saying the collateral that’s being used and anything that’s offside, they gotta rein it in. Because one of the things that you’re trying to avoid is variations of the truth. The problem that a lot of companies run into is that sales says our product is red because of x. And marketing is talking about why and then product is going off on their own mad direction about what they think is important. And that’s a recipe for disaster, because you have an organization that’s running madly in different directions, and marketing needs to to be in control of positioning and messaging, and they need to identify things that are going off the rails and bring it back in. Because that’s the only way way that you can make your positioning and your messaging more successful is that if it’s consistent and coherent,


Kenny Soto  10:06  

I’ve been doing research on internal marketing. And I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Would you say that internal marketing would be a good channel for an initiative that a marketing team can use in order to rein in, when there’s that drift across different stakeholders across different teams, where it’s like, okay, we’re not just doing internal marketing for the sake of answering the question, what is the marketing team doing this month for this quarter, but we’re also doing internal marketing, to make sure that everyone’s still aligned on that positioning and almost brand islands.


Mark Evans  10:48  

I think the marketing needs to be the positioning catalysts, they need to continually not only not penalize people for going offside, but also reinforce the message and make people feel confident that it’s the right story at the right time. And it’s, I think, a lot of value in just talking to other departments, and asking them what they’re doing, and making suggestions and recommendations about how what they’re doing aligns with the story that the company wants to tell. At the same time, I think it’s also important for marketing to be proactive and say, Hey, sales, I developed this new, the slides for your deck, or here’s a new approach to demos, or here’s a video that we want to do. And I think a lot of positioning and messaging needs to be very collaborative, because I think traditionally, it’s marketing saying, Hey, we develop this collateral, there you go. But there hasn’t been enough idea, brainstorming. And so I think a lot of organizations feels that marketing simply leads the way and then tells people what to do. And I think in a very collaborative based culture, it doesn’t work that way, it can’t work that way.


Kenny Soto  11:58  

In the guide that I’ll have for the listeners in the show notes, you share a multiple step process for creating transformative positioning statements, can you go over the multiple steps and why you’ve created the process in that way.


Mark Evans  12:19  

What I wanted to do was simplify the process, because I think from the outside looking in brand positioning is sort of a fuzzy marketing activity. And people don’t really know what it is, and they don’t understand the deliverables. And and for the most part, people don’t do brand positioning, because they just don’t see the value. So that’s number one. And so the framework was created to break down the different parts of the journey. So to simplify it, number one is essentially looking inward, and asking yourself, you know, what is our positioning right now? What are the signs that it’s not working? How can it be better? And why do we want to do this? Like, what are our motivations right now it could be brand awareness is not what you want it to be, or your marketing and sales aren’t working. Your website, conversion rates are low, your bounce rates are high, or maybe the CEO slash entrepreneur, it’s an ego driven thing, because one of your competitors are getting a lot more coverage or, or just killing it, and you’re not. So that’s number one. And then the first step would be looking at your customers and trying to get a real sense of what their needs are. And you know, what they think, feel and do, how they do their jobs, how work gets done, and how you can align your product to meet their needs and interests. So that’s number one, that’s a deep dive, and you’ve really got to know them inside out. Number two would be competition. You know, you know, entrepreneurs, a lot of entrepreneurs want to hear this. They say, when you ask them, What who their competition, they’re, they say, well, we don’t have any competitors, or we don’t have that much competition. And that’s an absolute, it’s either a lie, or it’s blissful ignorance. Or it’s stupidity. I hope it’s not the stupidity, but sometimes, you know, entrepreneurs are our half glass, you know, they’re always super optimistic, and they always believe that their product is isn’t the obvious choice. But you really have to know that what the competition is doing, and they’re battling every day for the same customers that you want. And so how do they position themselves? What are their strengths and weaknesses? And how do they outflank you? Why did they win? And you have to know that as well. And then finally, you have to look at your product and say, okay, so we know what our customers want. We know what the competition is doing to attract those customers. So what are our strengths? You know, how do we differentiate yourselves in amid a wave of competition, and the one thing I did want to emphasize when it comes to differentiation, and a lot of marketers talk about differentiation, is it doesn’t necessarily have to be a dramatic difference. It can be something that’s quite small, or something that your customers love, love, love, love, that your competitors don’t do So it could be your customer service, for example, or a feature that that your customers rally around. And when they discover your product, they love it. And and they evangelize about it. But that’s the whole essence of a of a position exercise is to discover the thing that makes you stand out. And something that you can rally around to attract the people that matter to you.


Kenny Soto  15:25  

When you brought up those, the fact that that some people don’t believe they have competition, even if people are aware that they have competition, another hidden competitor, if you will, are switching costs, like the the cost of breaking an old habit. And to give a specific example for the listener. Think about this company called loom, where they help create screen recordings that replace meetings, emails, Slack messages, etc. Yes, there is utility there with their SaaS offering, but one of their competitors. Aside from all the other copycats out there is the old habit of sending a Slack message scheduling an email, sending over an email or sending over a meeting for, for discussing the tasks that you can just do a recording for. So it’s not only that you have direct competitors, indirect competitors who just grab audience share, you also have the switching cost of transitioning from the old habit to what your product or service is trying to change. Now, with that being said, Mark, my next question for you is, are there any examples that you can think of in the b2b space of brands that have really strong memorable positioning that listeners can look at when they’re thinking about their company?


Mark Evans  16:51  

Happy to answer that question, but first, let me address the change. conundrum. Change is super hard. People hate to change horses in mid race. And so one of the challenges facing companies is getting people to even consider a new option to walk away from Excel, for example, and to embrace an online accounting platform, even though it’s better. One of the ways that you can approach this is use Donald Miller storebrand template. And it starts with the idea that as a company, you’re the guide, and that your customer or prospect is the hero of the story. And your job as the guide is to show them the Promised Land is to show them what’s possible, what the future could look like, what a better future could look like, if they considered another option. So that’s something to consider about, but you really have to give people believable reasons that the exploration of a new approach is going to deliver tremendous results. And also part of that is is FOMO. If you don’t do this, these are the consequences. So that’s number one. Number two, the answer is about a b2b SaaS company that has really great position. And I think I would I always want to do presentations, as I’ve talked about chili Piper, which allows sales organizations to book meetings. And one of the things that impresses me about chilli Pipers the fact that their messaging and their position has evolved over the years. When they started, when I first started looking at them, it was very, like inside baseball, like they were using a lot of industry vernacular that was unclear and didn’t highlight the reasons why this company would matter to me. And over the years, what they’ve done is they’ve simplified the messaging. They made it user friendly and accessible and shareable to the point where when you hit their website, you go, I know what they do, I know what the benefits are, I got to talk to these people, if you’re in the market for for meeting software. So that’s one example of the idea that simplicity, and it’s not dumbing down your message or dumbing down your position. It’s just making it easy for people to quickly get what you do and whether you might matter to them. And that’s the startup of the of the marketing journey.


Kenny Soto  19:09  

I saw on your LinkedIn that you shared a post around chat TPT. And I’m both optimistic but also wary of the tool. I know that it can be used for research purposes. But when it comes to creating content, it it’s hit or miss mostly miss. And I’m also concerned with this new sea of commodity content that’s going to be out in the world. I’m an SEO manager. So I have to monitor this all the time because now I’m going to start competing with way more experts out there when it comes to the insurance space. So when it comes to Chachi Beatty and the future of content, how do you recommend marketers start thinking about and strategizing around creating content that can make an impact and stand out at the end of the day.


Mark Evans  20:06  

I agree that it’s a fascinating, terrifying and exciting landscape right now. One thing that I read this morning that made me pause was that Geoffrey Hinton, who is one of the pioneers of AI, he did some amazing research at the University of Toronto. He’s been working for Google, the last 10 years on AI. And he quit Google because he’s so concerned about AI and, and what’s going on right now. And he felt that he needed to the ability to speak independently about the future of AI. So that’s just setting the stage for what I see as the wild west right now. To answer your question, I have a lot of concerns about the future of content marketing, at a time when content is easily scalable, is that people can use chat GPT prompts, and I call these people prompt jockeys to generate content in minutes, I mean, really good content. And the thing to remember is we’re at chat GPT, for which you and I agree is okay, but what happens with five and six and seven, when it becomes awesome. So content is going to be easy to create. That’s just the way it’s going to be in the content is going to be good. But the biggest question facing not only content marketers, but people who are focused on SEO, is how do you break through with a tsunami of content? How does good content rise above the pack when there’s so much competition around? keywords? So I don’t know the answer that right now. And that’s the the biggest thing that I questioned is Yes, I can as a content creator. And as a longtime writer, I believe in the power of content, I believe in the power of creativity, and content that provides value and insight. But it’s the analogy that I wrote on LinkedIn Post recently. So let’s say for example, you have a restaurant that makes amazing food that you’re you’re you’re so good people love your food. But suddenly you’re surrounded by hundreds of restaurants like surrounded by hundreds of restaurants, fast food, restaurants, making cheap and cheerful cheap food. You’re going to lose business, because there’s so many options, people not even made, it may not be able to discover your restaurant. And so I think the biggest issue for for content creators is not creating content is actually getting people to discover it. And the and the other side of the coin, I think, for SEO people is what’s the future of SEO? If people can just use chat GBT to find the answers that they want. And if I was Google right now, I’d be terrified. Terrified.


Kenny Soto  22:50  

Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this myself. And for the listener, especially anyone who’s listening who’s in SEO like myself. Perhaps, maybe the future of SEO was more focused on long form and short form video where you’re over indexing on short creating blog posts and articles in the technical side of things, but then repurposing specifically written content for Tik Tok, Instagram reels, YouTube shorts, and then creating long form for YouTube specifically, maybe that’s one avenue to explore. But, again, it’s good to keep one eye on the horizon and the other eye right in front of you. Now, I do have another question for you where you brought this up earlier, and I think this is a perfect time to talk about it. buyer personas. So I’m in the middle right now of conceptualizing and defining several buyer personas for for my team. But my concern, just like with brand guidelines, we create the buyer persona documents. What’s next? How often do we revisit them? How often do we update them? How do we create true utility from conceptualizing our buyer personas? What are your thoughts on that mark?


Mark Evans  24:04  

For a long time, you know, buyer personas in theory have a lot of value because they’re fictional representations of our ideal customers as HubSpot likes to tell us, I’ve always found buyer personas to be in theory useful, but in practicality, no one ever uses them. And there, they collect us somewhere and that’s the reality. The problem with buyer personas is that there’s just too much fluff and stuff that’s not interesting. So you know, your demographic information, how old you are, what your interest in hobbies are, how many kids you have all that stuff isn’t useful. It doesn’t provide any insight into the buying journey or the buyers process. And I was talking to Jim Krause from the buyer persona Institute recently on my podcast and it was almost like an epiphany when he started talking about the five step process that I use to create a buyer persona. It’s it’s all about the buyers journey and buyer insight and Understanding what does a buyer want to achieve? What are the triggers that will make them explore a new option? What does success look like? What are the obstacles that would cause somebody to back off your decision? Even your product, even though it might be the best choice? And who’s involved in the buyer process? And what are the steps that they take to actually make purchase decisions? What kind of information do they read? What influences them? What excites them about you? And what are the competitive options? So it’s not so much focused on the individual on their activities and behavior? But it’s more focused on the buying, what does a buyer look like? What motivates a buyer what, what stops a buyer, and that’s the way that you should look at buyer personas, because when you take that approach, then it salespeople can go, that’s what I’m interested in. Product people can know, okay, that’s, these are things I need to do to align our product with what buyers are thinking and feeling and doing. And I think that’s the better, smarter way to buyer personas. And I’m sorry that it took me so long to rally around it. But better late than never, I guess is the way to go. And you’re always learning marketing. So that’s just a key lesson for me.


Kenny Soto  26:19  

Two more questions for you. What are the benefits that you’re seeing from starting your own podcast?


Mark Evans  26:27  

That is a question that I get asked all the time. And the short answer, it has nothing to do with the number of streams or not for number of downloads, or subscribers, those those are nice metrics to have. And obviously, I want people to listen to my podcast. But I think the biggest benefits of having a podcast is number one, it gives you access to pretty much anybody you want to talk to. So in the three years that I’ve run my podcast 99% of the people that I’ve reached out to have said, yes, they’re happy to be in my podcast. And for me, it’s free 30 minute consulting sessions with experts, I get to ask them anything I want about all kinds of different topics like Jim Krause, for example. Like, he gave me 30 minutes of how to write how to create better buyer personas, it’s much more powerful than watching YouTube videos, or, you know, reading blog posts. So that’s number one is that the access to smart people, and I’m building relationships from scratch with people who could help you in your business move forward. So that’s number one. And number two is the idea that you could take a 30 minute podcast, and you could create some really powerful, authentic, and prescriptive content, videos, blog posts, infographics, LinkedIn posts, you can squeeze a lot of juice, a lot of marketing juice out of one podcast, and the ability to repurpose, and distribute that content in different ways is unbelievable, because it’s authentic conversations that you’re having with people, not things that your, your idea you had for a marketing idea. So that’s, that’s, that’s, it’s the ROI is unbelievable. So you combine those two, and it’s the reason that I believe that every b2b company, every b2b SaaS company should have a podcast, it’s it’s just a no brainer. For those two reasons. And then if you get streaming and downloads, well, that’s,


Kenny Soto  28:21  

that’s a bonus. Definitely, as a bonus with my last question, it’s hypothetical, because time machines do not exist. But if one did mark, and you can go back into the past about 10 years, knowing everything you know, today, how would you specifically accelerate the speed of your career?


Mark Evans  28:42  

That’s an interesting question. I think when I look back, I would probably systematize everything that I do right now. All the marketing, content creation, doing a podcast, customer research, everything that I do, I would, I would have ever developed systems from tip to toe. And so regardless of the job that I was doing, or the companies that I worked for, I would come to the table and say, I’ve got a system and a methodology that I’ve developed over time, it’s proven it works. And that this is the operating system that I bring to the table when you hire me as a consultant or an employee. I wish I had done that. It’s just a powerful way to have a methodology that that complements the insight and the creativity that that you bring as a person so so you can start from scratch and just start everything you do start to just Just what are the steps number one, number two, number three, and then continually up that update those steps and that becomes your personal marketing Bible. And I wish I had done that from the start because I would have to have just very powerful systems to do marketing efficiently and effectively for


Kenny Soto  29:56  

your time today, Mark, and thank you to you the listener for listening Link to this episode of the podcast mark. If anyone wants to find you online, where can they go to discover you?


Mark Evans  30:07  

Obviously go to LinkedIn. I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn probably too much writing content and commenting and reaching out to people to search for Mark Evans, fractional CMO. And then you can visit my website marketing spark


Kenny Soto  30:20  

fan. For those who are interested Mark does have a PDF guide to positioning for b2b companies. It will be in the show notes of this episode. And if you haven’t done so, please subscribe and rate us on Apple podcasts or Spotify or wherever you’re listening to this on. And as always, I hope you have a great day. Bye.

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