OPINION LEADER IMPACT ON ESTABLISHING BRANDS
Building a “brand” requires significant discussion, planning, and a real discipline in terms of execution. And, while there is no one right way, certain strategies can be more efficient and potentially more effective than others. If you are a new company or division that has limited resources, I would definitely pursue a very specific strategy.
I refer to this strategy or approach as nurturing third party endorsements among opinion leaders. However, it is important to recognize that under all circumstances achieving these endorsements is not an event; it is a well defined process.
To illustrate the above, let me clarify what I mean by this process. This specific process is based upon the fact that individuals (whether they are general consumers or decision-makers in business) tend to allow their attitudes / perceptions to be molded by third parties. These third parties are called opinion leaders. Once you identify the opinion leaders of the audience you wish to influence, you can then begin the process of soliciting the endorsements of these opinion leaders who will in turn impact the attitudes / perceptions held by your target audience. There is no more effective or efficient way to build a brand / position a product, service, or company if this approach is executed properly.
A couple of examples of this process can be highlighted as follows:
* Neutrogena Corporation
In the skin care / cosmetics industry, the opinion leaders are the beauty editors of the major U.S. women’s magazines. To secure these editors endorsements, Neutrogena targeted 3 to 4 leading dermatologists that influence the remaining 6,500 U.S. dermatologists thru speeches, position papers, conventions, etc. Note, through due diligence it was discovered that the beauty editors regularly relied on their favorite dermatologists to educate them on skin care issues. The creation of broad based support for Neutrogena products among dermatologists influenced the beauty editors. And, as a result, articles published by these editors built demand for Neutrogena brand of skin care / cosmetic products (at almost any price).
Today one can still see the impact of the above. Neutrogena receives a disproportionate share of favorable editorial despite the fact that their marketing / sales budget is a fraction of Estee Lauder, Revlon, Max Factor, etc. And, this favorable editorial has resulted in significant year to year increases in sales and profits.
* Microsoft Corporation
In the software industry, at Microsoft we utilized a similar strategy to achieve dominance. As in the case of Neutrogena, Microsoft products were technically superior. But by combining perception with reality, Microsoft was able to leap frog competition.
The opinion leaders in the software industry were the core PC users. (Note: the core user was defined by ownership / usage of multiple software programs on a regular basis).These core users on average made 12 to 15 specific software recommendations per week (primarily to new / novice PC users) and in 1985 there were approximately 15,000 core PC users. Their potential impact was significant yet transparent (~ 12,000,000 recommendations per year at an average sales price of $100).
Through research, Microsoft determined that these core users were influenced by three things:
* articles written by specific editors in a select number of PC publications.
* regional user group word of mouth on software products.
* on-line technical support depth and accuracy.
Thus, while other software companies were spending heavily on broad based advertising and retail support promotions, Microsoft focused its efforts on the three things that it knew would impact a core user’s recommendation. And, most important, Microsoft tracked its progress in shifting the attitudes of PC core users.
The results were overwhelmingly positive. In less than 18 months Microsoft became the brand of software preferred by the PC core user when there was a choice. Prior to this period, Microsoft was a distant fourth.