Differentiation (Still) Makes your Budget Work Harder

In this era of brilliant marketing technology, brand building is often placed on the back burner while marketers focus on the latest digital tools and techniques. As a result, a generation of marketers (and digital agencies) has been raised without a great deal of training in or focus on strategic brand differentiation. However, every dollar you spend works harder when you promise and deliver a clear, meaningful brand differentiation message to your customer.

Before moving onto the latest digital tools and techniques, take a step back and revisit your differentiation strategy. Let your DNA, voice and tone dictate the type of content you produce.

Here’s an example of the harmonious balance of branding and digital marketing from our most musical client.

MMB Music: Building a Brand and Community Using Digital and Social Differentiation

brand building pyramid
A solid brand is the foundation of a good marketing strategy.

This is the unique story of a distributor marketing for its retailers to produce serious results on a shoestring budget. MMB Music uses inbound marketing and social interaction to pull sales through teachers, rather than pushing sales through its retailers. The success of the program was in an optimal brand-building strategy that guided a content plan, causing a 50-year-old company to increase its unit sales by nearly one-third (31 percent) in a declining education sales market.

Competing in a Highly Competitive, Price-Driven Category

While MMB is the only U.S. distributor selling Studio 49 instruments, there are four major competitors that sell other brands of the high-end percussive/melodic instruments that are made to support the Orff approach, a popular music teaching method geared toward young children, to school teachers. A full “instrumentarium” for a district with multiple elementary schools can easily exceed $100,000. School districts typically bid several retailers, so before our positioning re-set, low total cost was a huge factor in winning the orders.

It also bears noting that as school districts vied for the magic formula that increases student test scores, thereby increasing positive school reputation, there had been an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and many times, music departments faced cuts in staff and certainly in equipment budgets. As schools were realizing the value of creativity, leadership, teamwork, and confidence in the 21-century classroom, there was the beginning of the notion to put the “A” (for Art) back in “STEM” or “STEAM.”

Pivoting the Brand to a 31% Sales Increase

We started by studying the Studio 49 brand and its relationship with the Orff Schulwerk teaching approach. We conducted interviews and one-on-one discussions with our end-user—teachers and Orff instructors, and with the Studio 49 founders who actually worked with famous composer Carl Orff—to discover meaningful brand attributes. Using PivotPoint (our proprietary positioning approach) we established a new strategy for Studio 49 that leveraged the “customer” and “point-of-difference” components.

Each component of a positioning offers a chance to “pivot” your brand

We positioned the music teacher (customer) as one of the most “indispensable resources” in a world where it was vital to (point-of-difference) help teachers to promote 21st-century skills of collaboration, critical thinking and creativity through music.

Now, we let our solid foundation for Studio 49’s brand differentiation, their brand DNA, determine the type of digital marketing plan we would produce.

With differentiation set, the strategy became to pull sales through teachers (our end-users) rather than pushing sales through retailers (our customers), using an information and lesson plan sharing portal and social properties.

We created a “Teaching with Orff” blog for teachers to share information and lesson plans. There was no sales content for Studio 49 to be found, just pure information that teachers could use to stimulate 21st Century learning skills in their classrooms. The blog’s sponsor was not the main focus and was only mentioned in an understated footnote at the bottom of each page: “Brought to you by Studio 49 Orff Instruments.”

We collaborated with the Orff teacher association, AOSA, to send 36,000 teacher-tip emails branded only as “Teaching With Orff” to music teachers in the U.S. each week. Each email leads teachers back to the Teaching with Orff blog. The blog became an international social-sharing phenomenon, as conversations spilled onto Teaching With Orff’s Facebook platform. When teachers truly learned that, instead of sales-driven marketing and discounting, that MMB on behalf of Studio 49 put all its resources into a deep repository of teacher tips, sales of Studio 49 instruments soared.

MMB Today

The 50-year old Studio 49 Orff Instrument company and its sole U.S. distributor, MMB Music Company, increased its unit sales by 31 percent, nearly a one-third increase, in the declining music education sales market.

MMB continues to make numerous social posts and sends emails to approximately 36,000 music teachers weekly. The thought-leader content on “Teaching with Orff” is engaging teachers, and the numbers show it—MMB emails are generating an average open rate of 18.87 percent and an average click-through-rate (CTR) of 27 percent, with the highest single-send result generating 28 percent opens and 46 percent CTR. Now, years into the strategy, the sheer volume of teacher-friendly content makes it virtually impossible for any other instrument brand to outrank Studio 49.

MMB Music now has a large group of music teachers who are loyal to their brand. The teachers are happy to have a forum to share their ideas, their distributors are happy to have enthusiastic customers, and our brand building strategy helped MMB to differentiate itself in a competitive market.

How to Differentiate Your Brand and Make Your Budget Work Harder

  • Start with customer and competitor research
  • Revisit your differentiation strategy
  • Use your PivotPoints™: Customer/Category/Difference/Personality. Each can be a lever to create your competitive advantage
  • Develop messaging for key target audiences
  • Package messaging, voice and visual branding as a consistent standards guide throughout your organization
  • Let your brand DNA, voice and tone lead the type of content you produce

When to Get Help

Clients often come to us for help with stakeholder input, market research, developing and testing hypotheticals, competitor research and other insight-gathering activities to ensure that their differentiation and messaging strategy is meaningful and relevant. See how we can help you differentiate your brand and fill your prospect funnel today. Get a free consultation.

Bruce Downing

Bruce Downing

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