Using iteration to land on the perfect marketing strategy
For small- and medium-sized businesses, getting the right positioning from the outset is critical. Mess it up and you’re likely to be lumped in with the wrong crowd. Pulling out of that quagmire can seem an impossible task. For Shanghai-based food and beverage brand consultancy, The Silk Initiative, this frustrating notion was starting to become a reality.
We helped TSI blast off away from the orbit of China's BS artists.
Ah, the ever-present BS artist. They’ve been around since the beginning of time, promising the world with little actually to show for it. Whatever you might call them – snake-oil salesmen, quacks, liars – BS artists are part and parcel of the business world. China, though, takes this to the extreme. Here, there’s a con job around every corner. And for some reason they seem to dominate the market.
When The Silk Initiative originally approached Fulcrum, they were sick and tired of being lumped in with these BS artists. Believe us: TSI had no place being in the same universe. They are a specialized brand consultancy that really knows their stuff. Because BS artists hold so much sway, though, people started lumping all China-based brand consultancies together.
Our task was to help TSI blast off and get out of this orbit. To do so, we identified all the unique things TSI was doing no BS artist could ever replicate. What began as a simple look at competitors, though, grew into a multi-year, iterative refinement of a strategic communication campaign for TSI. This approach has allowed TSI to expand its reach, improve its reputation, and exponentially increase sales.
To begin, Fulcrum did a complete stakeholder and competitive review of the TSI space, as well as a full materiality analysis. We also took a fresh look at TSI’s strategic communications and b2b marketing, eventually landing on five key areas of differentiation. With a laser-like focus, we planned out an entire year of traditional and digital marketing around these areas. In a matter of months, TSI was already seeing a positive impact in market positioning, pipeline leads, and reputation.
We found those BS artists once a concern for TSI were actually masters of information manipulation. On the surface, they seemed to be providing the latest information to potential clients. In reality, they were just aggregating the news. What was missing in the market was an explanation of what the hell all this news means. This discovery informed our approach to thought leadership, which included opinion, insight, and long-form collateral.
To continue pulling away from the competition, we completed a full TSI rebrand. This included visual identity, website, social media, and case study overhaul.
In this first year, we tried a number of different activities and channels to see what worked best. Of course, some worked better than others. Building stakeholder advocates from among clients and TSI supporters, as well as giving everyone in the organization a chance to contribute to marketing, were quite successful. Trying to attend as many events as possible, by contrast, was a huge drain on resources. These learnings would all inform subsequent annual strategies for TSI.
makes us different?
2019: What's working
and what's not?
In 2019, we refined the TSI marketing strategy based on learnings from the previous year. Our main focus was to ensure tight collaboration between the marketing and sales functions of the organization. To do so, marketing took on an expanded business development role, acting as a bridge between the two teams. As part of this role, Fulcrum worked to develop unique buyer personas to assist with sales.
Seeing the value in giving everyone in the organization a voice led us to develop a personal branding series for all team members. Along with new personal brands, every member of the TSI team published individual insight pieces throughout the year. This helped to show an organization where all add value to thought leadership, not just a few executives at the top.
This flurry of thought leadership activity had a knock-on effect in promoting TSI to major international media outlets, podcasts, and on the event circuit. During 2019, TSI by-lined or was featured in 20 publications, including Forbes and The Huffington Post, as well as on 10 podcasts. TSI team members were keynote speakers at 10 events, including Global Table, SIAL, and CIIE. TSI also hosted an international seminar circuit with events in China, Australia, and New Zealand.
In 2020, we continued to refine the marketing strategy but feel we’ve hit on the sweet spots for TSI. The difficult part is to ensure we stay laser-focussed on these areas and avoid distractions or tangents throughout the year. Even with the difficulties already facing businesses in Q1, TSI has been able to weather the proverbial storm. In essence, the marketing machine is working to keep TSI top-of-feed, with a well-regarded reputation, and pipeline to match.
This is a far cry from the days of worrying about BS artists in China. Today, The Silk Initiative is a formidable force in the global food and beverage space. TSI team members are seen as experts in the field, being called on to provide insight and guidance the world over. The iterative marketing process Fulcrum used with TSI has brought about a recognized global brand now competing on par with multinational brand consultancies, instead of lowly regional BS artists.