31 Jul Do you know when to cut in? How a product-market strategy can amplify your executive voice and help you disrupt your industry
Startup entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists who fund them are fixated on achieving product-market fit, keenly deploying new products and services that satisfy the most pressing needs and latest demands of a target audience. Being scrupulous and intentional helps them know the exact right moment to cut in and disrupt the marketplace by storm. Without this precision, their timing would be offbeat and their energy and investments would be in vain.
When we work with clients, we recommend taking a similar entrepreneurial approach to developing a professional brand. Emphasizing product-market fit in your executive voice will not only help you better serve your current audience, it will also help you seize the best opportunities to spark new conversations, stay relevant, grow your community and disrupt your industry in the best ways possible.
Here are some starting point tips for taking a product-market approach to your executive branding strategy.
Create your own unique niche spaces
As anyone who’s been online lately will tell you, the digital marketplace is saturated with a plenitude of experts – all clamoring for airtime. But if you stick to what you do best and calibrate your messaging accordingly, you will end up in a less noisy space with more opportunities for your voice to come through and be heard by those who matter most.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that many of the new e-commerce brands popping up these days are catering to quite specific demographics, such as cosmetic products for vegans, meal kits for paleo dieters, hats for people with larger than average heads, or even shirts for people who don’t like to tuck them in. Niches lead to riches.
A great preliminary exercise for carving out a valuable and unique niche is to make a list of your talents and passions. Next, you’ll make a list of your industry’s emerging needs and find where these intersect with your capabilities. For example, if you’re in human resources and have great insights for managing virtual teams, you could start building around the distinct needs that are emerging in the marketplace, amid COVID-19.
Sometimes niche building is met with fear and hesitation, as leaders don’t want to pigeonhole themselves into one small space. But everyone must start somewhere and it’s best to begin the journey with what you know and do best. Eventually, you can expand on this inside-out strategy and branch out into other spaces, essentially speaking with an authoritative executive voice that covers a multitude of fortés within your industry.
The most successful brands are problem-solvers. For example, going back to startups, Uber was born in direct response to customers who wanted cashless, on-demand, mobile services for their transportation needs. The founders recognized exactly what people didn’t like about existing transportation options and launched a service that eased these pain points. Notably, all their branding masterfully highlighted the app’s ease and convenience.
Moral of the story: be sure your thought leadership strategy positions you as a problem-solver. In other words, you must be a solution for an existing problem and not a solution searching for a problem to solve. While doing your own research on your target market’s challenges, it is also critical to reach out to your stakeholders directly with questions or polls. These results will offer new insights you may miss in your own research and create opportunities to publicly offer solutions that directly address their pain points. It also adds more engagement touchpoints with your audiences.
It’s important to remember that positioning yourself as a thought leader doesn’t mean you claim to know everything about every aspect of your field. Instead, it’s about priming yourself as the go-to expert within your particular niche, which can and should be very narrow as we’ve already covered.
In the age of hypercommunications and instant gratification, there’s a growing instinct to post on social media without minding messaging strategy or audience targeting. But, in order to demonstrate expertise, the stories you tell must dig deep. One single yet well-detailed blog post that is backed by research and personal analysis will take you so much further than the 20 high-level, vague posts that many of your competitors will be tempted to share.
Rather than curating a daily article or mass-producing your own articles to automate a constant stream of content, redirect your time and energy to developing provocative, comprehensive pieces that confront the most pressing challenges in your industry and draw from the specific personal experiences you’ve had. Quality and depth will get you noticed and help put you in front of the right audiences.
Executive branding is a long-term commitment and you cannot expect results overnight. Even the big brands, backed by huge marketing teams, make missteps [think Google Glass, Windows Vista and pretty much all of Blackberry’s releases post-2007, until most recently (sorry, not sorry Blackberry)], and it’s important to learn from mistakes. There may be more than just a few rounds of trial and error. How you respond to failure and pivot will determine your success.
Consistency is also key, as your executive voice will likely always be a work in progress. After all, you are seeking meaningful dialogic engagement, rather than monologic discourse, so your voice should always be responding to the conversations taking place in the marketplace. Essentially, you are trying to build a community of followers that turns to you for content and advice. To nurture these relationships and build trust with your audience, you must continue to provide value. If you don’t stay the course and remain consistent in your branding activities, these relationships will never fully blossom and your executive brand won’t stay relevant.
Invest in yourself
You might be a diamond in the rough, just waiting to be discovered. Maybe you have all the skills needed to solve your industry’s most urgent problems. But if you don’t put in the work to promote yourself, nobody can find you. Personal branding isn’t about spinning out puff pieces to boost your ego or tooting your own horn. It’s about earning the success you deserve so you can be found more easily and help others. But still, nobody else is going to earn the spotlight for you.
To help scale the executive branding process, some professionals invest in themselves and hire third-party experts that can guide them away from common pitfalls and steer them on a path to success. Most importantly, an executive branding team can help you discover your product-market approach and help you identify the exact moments to cut into the conversation and lead positive disruptions in your industry.