Creating a brand positioning targeting different stakeholders is not so different from how and why you build a brand positioning targeting consumers. The fundamental point is that if you want someone to take action, you must make it meaningful and worthwhile for them to do so. If you want a supplier to work closely with you in developing new technologies or services that you can incorporate within your products to create more end-user consumer value, you must make it meaningful for that supplier to put you at the top of the R&D trials list. If you want the local community to work with you on approving a greenfield site for your plant, you must make it worthwhile for the community to do so.
So, what is meaningful? We know there is no such thing as a purely business decision. People make decisions for the business, be it the head of R&D at your supplier, the mayor of the town where you want to build a plant, or the merchandising director of the retail chain to want to secure an end-aisle display for your brand. And the one thing we know about people – all people – is that they make emotional decisions and then look for rational reasons to support those emotional decisions.
Looking at it from the perspective of the consumer
When engaging in a brand positioning discussion, it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds with phrases like brand essence or reason to believe. I like to look at it from the perspective of the consumer because the reality is that in the end, it’s the consumer who ultimately decides your brand positioning. Getting lost in internal discussions is just that – getting lost. Again, you want someone to take action, a consumer to buy your brand, for example. To do that you need to look at the decision from their perspective. They have choices, so a good place to start in building a brand positioning is to understand what you need to do simply to be in the game – the frame of reference or the consideration set as marketers like to call it.
Let’s start with this first step. What are the benefits you need to provide to be in the consideration set? Imagine you are running an up-and-coming beverage company called XYZ Beverages. You know that you need to get out in front of your more established competitors by being first to market with new packaging ideas. You need to not only get on the radar screens of the CEOs of the most innovative packaging suppliers but also to stay there so they come to you first with new ideas.
Business Leaders Segmentation
Just as you start brand management with customer research to uncover insights that drive consumer behavior, you do the same with stakeholder management. The following figure shows the segmentation of different types of business leaders based on Adler’s personality dimensions map. The names of these segments reflect their attitudes and values.
Naturally, you will want to have more data that describes who they are and what they care about, but for this example, the name will be sufficient to give you a good orientation point of what they care about as business leaders. Are they collaborators, such as the ones in the upper right or are they more focused on power and a paternal management style as on the left? Are they optimistic risk-takers as in the upper left or cautious risk-averse managers in the lower right?
If you want to engage them and then motivate them to put your company in the top tier of their priority customers, then you need to understand their personality type based on their attitudes and values. You need to appeal to their emotions so that your company is differentiated versus all the others. The CEO of this important packaging supplier then becomes a stakeholder who is emotionally vested in the success of your business.
Do some background checks on the websites of the key suppliers you have identified and then check out LinkedIn to dig deeper into the background and interests of the CEO you want to engage with. Identify one who has the capabilities you need and the attitude and personality that are likely to create a continuous stream of new packaging ideas. They are likely what we would call an Optimistic Achiever in the business leaders segmentation.
Need states: defining the key priorities
Now that you know who they are, how do you motivate them to engage with you and your company in a meaningful way? First, you’ll need to establish what their basic needs are when they decide which customers to partner with on new packaging ideas.
As you develop the first level of a motivational hierarchy for doing business with your company so that you attract this top supplier relationship, you need to ensure you meet the basic needs of the CEO. This will determine the cost of entry benefits of your brand positioning and how you position you and your company to the packaging supplier CEO you have identified as being an Optimistic Achiever. On the first level of the motivational hierarchy are the benefits that are primarily related to the functional needs the CEO has in running their business on a daily basis. For example, the focus of your packaging supplier CEO is typically on what they need to do to take care of existing customers.
They are also thinking about what they need to do to keep their shareholders happy, so they stay comfortably in their job and optimally, get a raise or more stock options. They want reliable customers who have clear expectations so that they always know where they stand and avoid surprises that can disrupt the smooth flow of their business. Additionally, because they are Optimistic Achievers, they are always open-minded and looking for new ways to create shareholder value that they also benefit from financially. These are the basic needs for an Optimistic Achiever in the packaging business.
Cost of entry benefits
Start by first identifying the key benefit pillars you believe are the focus of your packaging supplier CEO. Next, identify the need state related to that benefit pillar. As a third step, fill in the minimal requirement to achieve cost of entry benefits for each of the three benefit pillars. Do this and you’re off to a good start.
Just as people are more interesting if they are multi-dimensional, so too are brands and business relationships. Coca-Cola is authentic, optimistic, and inclusive. Apple is about creativity, individualism, and elegant design. It would be easy to argue that a brand could have four dimensions, or five, but the human mind doesn’t do so well comprehending and cataloging the meaningfulness of too many choices. It is also hard to consistently deliver on providing value across more than three benefit pillars. To be meaningful, deliverable, and defendable across three important benefit areas for the consumer is doing a pretty good job.
The next step in becoming a priority for the packaging supplier CEO so that they become a key stakeholder engaged in the success of your beverage business is to determine the emotional drivers that lie underneath those rational need states. This is when you begin to leverage what you know about your supplier as an Optimistic Achiever – as a human being.
Remember, people are motivated emotionally and then use rational reasons to support their emotional decisions. What is the tension point lying beneath the need of your packaging supplier CEO to have reliable purchasing managers as their key customers? Why do they need to have a clear understanding of customer expectations?
It’s because they often lie awake at night wondering if they might lose a key customer resulting in a hole in the volume projections they made to their shareholders, or that they aren’t clear on what their customers’ expectations are and consequently will miss something important that could potentially hurt sales and profits. And because they are an Optimistic Achiever – the main reason you picked this packaging supplier to develop a key stakeholder relationship with – they have a driving need to capture new revenue streams with innovation because they want to show their shareholders that they are significantly growing the business. They also have employee stakeholders in their business who need to have confidence in the leadership of their CEO. And they have supplier stakeholders of their own, such as raw materials suppliers, with whom they also want to have a priority relationship.
Understanding the decision-maker in human terms
The challenge in building the stakeholder motivational hierarchy in this packaging supplier example is to understand the decision-maker in human terms. You need to understand the person behind the CEO title because it is their motivations that integrate functional needs with the emotional benefits you can engage them with, just as you integrate functional and emotional benefits to develop a meaningful and compelling relationship with the consumers of your brand. It is through emotional drivers that we stimulate a higher level of motivation so that your packaging supplier CEO takes action above and beyond what they normally do for their regular customers. You want to be the first to see their best ideas.
Knowing the tension point of your stakeholder target allows you to differentiate your business versus all their other customers. It is this differentiation leveraged by releasing emotional tension points that allows you to capture and sustain your packing supplier CEO’s attention.
You can uncover their emotional drivers by asking yourself what tension is brewing below the surface of each need state. Why is that need state specifically important to the type of manager you have identified as reflecting who you think your packaging supplier CEO is as a person? For example, what really matters to them? What do they really care about? What keeps them up at night? Also, what is the first thing they think about when they wake up? Step four is about uncovering those tension points that lie beneath each need state. In marketing, we call this mining for insights.
Positioning your company to your packaging supplier CEO in a way that relieves and releases those tension points will become the key differentiating factor that will motivate the stakeholder versus all the others so that they become emotionally engaged in the success of your business.
Crucial emotional experience
The fifth and final step in brand positioning to stakeholders is to define the crucial emotional experience stakeholders will have when dealing with your business. The way to get to this crucial experience is to ask yourself the question: If you provided the differentiating benefits in all three benefit pillars, how would your packaging supplier CEO think and feel about your business and the experience of working together with you and your team? This is the essence of the stakeholder relationship you want to create, communicate, and deliver in every interaction you have with that stakeholder.
The same marketing-oriented understanding of needs and tension points that you leverage to create brand value can be the driver that positively engages and creates value for all stakeholders – employees, suppliers, community leaders, retailers, and distributors, as well as your customers. It is also an effective tool for managing in a sustainable way the relationship with the most important, yet mostly silent stakeholder of all, the planet.