Brand marketing for the niche expertise-driven business

Philip Morgan

File this away for the day when direct response marketing starts to feel icky to you.

 • • • 

Sometimes I do the answer-a-question-with-a-question thing with my clients. I use this approach when there's no 1-size-fits-all answer I can provide. "It depends" isn't a very satisfactory answer in those situations. :)

The question(s) I ask are meant to spur deep thinking. That's almost always laborious. Sorry, not sorry.

As I've explored brand marketing over the last year, I've defined it in a variety of ways. Art with a logo on it is the most fun version, but the idea of gift-giving is more central to the whole vibe of brand marketing. Gifts with a logo on them doesn't have quite the same ring. :) And neither one of those is couched in the specifics of our world, the world of the expertise-driven business.

I'm wondering whether defining brand marketing as a contrasting force against the relatively more well-understood direct response marketing might be a better approach. With that, we get a definition like this:

Brand marketing uses gifts rather than gates and focuses on aspirations rather than fear. Broad presence replaces narrow targeting, and this presence leads to insight that helps the marketer make better leadership decisions than the lagging indicator of data ever could. Direct response marketers chase markets; brand marketers shape them.

That's a mouthful! And it also encompasses a lot of the tradeoffs and distinctions in brand vs. direct response marketing. It ain't bad.

Here's a quick Liston Witherill-style sketch:

The caveat is that the binaries I've identified here don't exist in reality. But you knew that, right? Reality is more nuanced, and these binaries represent opposing poles on a spectrum.

Now for the answer-a-question-with-a-question part.

If the question is: "How does my expertise-driven business do brand marketing, Philip?"

The answering set of questions is this:

  • What does your audience aspire to? An improved version of themselves? A fundamentally changed version of themselves? Something else?
    • There is a world of emotional and mental content between an aspiration and our current state. This content takes the form of thoughts, emotions, judgements, plans, dreams, etc about the journey from here to there. What is the content that exists in the gap between your audience's aspired and current state?
 • • • 
  • Data about individuals in your audience can be used to sell in a more personalized way. How could you make that data unnecessary by instead focusing on changing the thinking of your entire audience?
    • What metric or metrics could be leading indicators of this change in thinking?
    • Can these metrics can be assessed without individually personalized data? If not, how will you avoid the flawed conclusions, decisions, and actions that can flow from data collected on individuals?
 • • • 
  • What single gift would be valuable enough to spread by word of mouth alone among your audience?
    • That gift could be free. Or, you could charge for it. If you did, at what price point would it still have wide reach among your audience? And at what price point would buyers feel like they have "skin in the game" as a result of buying the gift?
    • How would that gift be packaged in a way that's attractive to those you want to reach?
    • What tension between aspiration and reality might that gift create? What portion of that tension do you want to resolve with the gift, and what balance of the tension will you resolve with your paid services?
 • • • 
  • Dreams can be both powerful and fleeting. Sometimes we're afraid of them because they seem so elusive -- so out of our grasp. How could you serve your audience by reinforcing their commitment to their dream(s)?
    • How could you make their dreams more achievable? Your answer(s) to this question could lead you to education, motivation, analysis, standardized advice, customized advice, or customized implementation. All have value in making dreams more achievable.
    • Do you care if your services are the only way for your audience to move towards their aspired state? Are you OK with others being a part of that solution, or even providing a better solution for some in your audience?
    • Will you avoid overtly shaming your audience as you remind them of their dream(s)?
 • • • 
  • Where could your presence with your market be most effectively felt? How and where can you connect with them in a way that nurtures your leadership and insight?
  • How can your presence as an individual, your way of thinking, or some asset you are custodian of (relationships with others experts might be one example) create safe harbor in a storm for your audience? Storms don't last forever, but there's value in thinking through the sorts of "natural disasters" that effect your audience on a semi-regular basis (economic downturns, sector-wide PR bombs, etc.) now to prepare you for the next one where you can serve as a source of stability, safety, or simple emotional comfort during a difficult time.

I'm sure you can see how these questions explore the space between the left and right columns in my drawing above. And you can see there are additional questions you could ask yourself.

If your point of view as articulated through a voice medium moves people to action without you laying down a phat CTA, then what's stopping you from moving entirely into a mode that looks like brand marketing?


Reminder: I'm working on starting an April 2020 cohort of The Expertise Incubator ( If you've been considering it, let me know (just hit reply here) and we'll see if it's a fit for you.

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