I love Tom Kumagai.
As a spokesperson for Toyota, that is.
He is the modest building inspector from Chatham, Ont. who has appeared in television commercials for Toyota with his 1998 Rav-4. His mileage on the vehicle is well past the 600,000-kilometre mark. Previously, he owned a 1980 Toyota Corolla that he took to more than 400,000 kilometres.
Kumagai attributes the reliable performance to the fact that he keeps to the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule and only trusts his local Toyota dealership to do the work.
There is nothing boastful about these advertisements. There is no need to be. The facts speak for themselves. And while not all Toyota owners have the same experience, and the automaker itself deals with quality issues and recalls like any other, the understated tone of these advertisements gives them weight and authority.
Like I’ve written before, there is no substitute for meaningful and sincere testimonials from happy customers. On the other hand, you can’t rely on reference customers alone to make a splash and draw attention in a crowded and noisy marketplace. You, by which I mean the collective brain trust of your organization, must be prepared to get a little profile, too.
“Thought leader.” “Subject matter expert.” “Provocateur and visionary.” Call it what you will, but just about anyone with the managerial responsibility to develop product, grow revenue and take the heat for profit and loss has an opinion about the market space they are in, where the market is heading, and what separates industry leaders from wannabes and posers.
But these same individuals are often too caught up in the day-to-day to appreciate just how much they know, and how many opinions and insights they hold that could make for good reading and serve to better position your organization as a vendor of choice for prospective customers.
The challenge is to pull them out of their routines, put them in a room and get them thinking and talking about these things. Approach it as a media interview, or even better, as a briefing with an industry analyst.
Hit them with questions like:
- What do you consider to be this company’s strengths versus the competition?
- What do you see competitors, or your counterparts in rival organizations, doing that makes you cry, “foul!” How are you different?
- Where do you see the industry going in one, three or five years?
- How will your role, or the structure of the entire organization, have to evolve, to exploit new opportunities and stay ahead of the competition?
You get the idea. You have to ask questions that get the brain trust thinking outside of the norm and becoming more aware of things they take for granted or consider unremarkable. If they truly are leaders in their respective areas of expertise, they live and work on the cutting edge. What they consider “a given” may in fact be an insightful or provocative perspective that is fresh and new to a broader audience. Trade and industry press eat this stuff up. So, too, will prospective customers who are looking for fresh solutions to their issues from vendors who obviously know their stuff.
The next step, of course, is to turn this great feedstock into polished content – blog posts, contributed articles, webinars – that will find a home in a high-traffic media channel. But your brain trust seldom has the time to devote to crafting content. That’s the job of your marketing team. The onus is on them to tirelessly pursue the brain trust for the briefings, reviews and approvals they need, and to have the writing chops to distill that material into usable collateral.
As with strong customer testimonials, the overarching objective is to build credibility in your marketplace. You attempt to educate, inform and tantalize prospective customers, partners and perhaps even potential hires. It’s impossible to anticipate the knowledge and awareness level of these audiences. The best you can do is understand the general demographic that tends to patronize a specific media channel, such as an industry publication, a webinar or your own corporate blog, and tailor the piece of content to that channel.
The more content you create, the more varied the mix of voices you have telling your story, or exploring specific aspects of your story, the more people you will pull into your sphere of influence and your sales pipeline.
Of course, there are far too many instances where brands try to take shortcuts with outlandish product claims that fail to hold water. For your reading pleasure, check out these reads about outrageous claims and false advertising claims.
Image: Q Hunt Ltd.