Building a Challenger Brand in a Risk Averse Industry

Written by Venessa Wilson, Marketing Director, VIRTUS Published 2021-04-27 09:14:44

Traditional marketing education focuses around the importance of the 4 Ps; namely Product, Price, Placement and Promotion. And whilst these elements certainly hold true for the development of many good marketing strategies, a more granular approach needs consideration when launching an unknown brand into an established marketplace.  Add in the inherently risk-averse nature of the customers in this particular market - due to the criticality of their purchasing decisions on their entire business - this certainly presents a challenge to the Marketing team.

Presented with this issue over 7 years ago, as I joined VIRTUS Data Centres to lead the Marketing function, my focus quickly sharpened around the lesser known 4 Cs: lead by Communication, the champion of ‘Promotion’ – and supported by Clarity, Consistency and Confidence.  The IT industry - and specifically the data centre market - has oft while been engaged in communicating lengthy and complex tomes, born out of obvious technical expertise which enable modern data centres to optimally operate.  Certainly, these enormously innovative environments are worthy of their technical brochures and whitepapers, but as an opener to engage with new prospects and customers they can ultimately turn off the reader or viewer.  The approach needed to be far more simple, concise and clear.

Acutely aware of this, we set about cleaning out the old technical content, across all platforms including our existing PR efforts, brochureware, website and social media, and adopted a strict ‘less is more’ view.  This took a steady hand and sometimes nerves of steel, as this was definitely going against general wisdom in this area – but in order to ensure that we could engage and retain that engagement with our audience, we knew we couldn’t afford to complicate and get lost in our own messaging.

We took a similarly strict approach to developing our brand – both in terms of its visual identity and the persona we wanted VIRTUS to represent. Visually VIRTUS Data Centres had been inconsistently presented across a variety of media, diluting all efforts in brand recognition.  Although Marketeers know that the creation of a strong logo is not the beginning and end of a great brand – having a moniker that is strong, and accurately repeated, everywhere, does obviously build brand recall.  A simple truth, but surprisingly still something that many great brands often struggle with during this fledgling phase.  Having a small Marketing team, and also small organizational team, assisted – as controlling the usage and placement of the logo to ensure conformity to colour, font, size, placement etc. all became the jurisdiction of the Marketing team, and we rigidly enforced this, whilst enabling the wider VIRTUS team on how to emulate us.

With a few distinct industry USPs defined, we educated both our internal VIRTUS teams, across all business functions – from Operations to Finance, Sales and Construction, to enable all VIRTUS employees to share our vision.  As the brand developed and solidified across the marketing material, we slowly enveloped other areas of the business into our world – with bold VIRTUS branded interior design and environmental branding, ensuring that everyone who interacted with a VIRTUS staff member or entered a VIRTUS data centre was always presented with the same brand identity.  Nothing particularly new in terms of Marketing strategy here – but not something that is always embraced so wholesale by technical IT-Engineering led companies such as data centres.  Indeed some internal resistance was sustained, especially within the data centre buildings as to why Marketing was ‘bothering’ with interior design and branding within Reception and Security areas, and stringently developing VIRTUS branded signage for all doors, lifts and parking spaces – but as we rolled out more and more buildings at a quickening pace, the sense of unity and importance became obvious.  We tentatively procured some VIRTUS branded polo-shirts, which were suddenly seen as a necessity by the data centre staff, mushrooming into a full-blown VIRTUS Clothing Catelogue!

As our confidence in our product, our brand and our status in the competitive UK data centre market grew, we continued to stick to our core approach.  Evolution of the market, our customer base, and their requirements shaped our direction with our sales success; in turn our marketing messages faced tweaks and amends, but our core beliefs of Clarity, Consistency and Confidence in our communications prevailed.  Confidence built confidence – with customers, investors and employees, and these strong foundations supported discrete campaigns, to further educate our audience around key areas of importance to VIRTUS, including the VIRTUS Green campaign - focusing on Environmental and Sustainability issues - the ever-green ‘Build vs Buy’ argument and critical ‘Location, Location, Location’ discussions.

The data centre industry continues to grow steeply within the UK, Europe and globally, constantly welcomes new entrants, alongside existing global giants, mid-sized local providers and regular consolidations, mergers and partnerships.  Steering a steady path through all the noise, resisting the temptation to change the message whenever another pushes theirs, sometimes seems intransigent – but if you can build confidence with your audiences, internal and external, and through clarity of consistent narrative and delivery, it appears that this communications strategy has carried VIRTUS Data Centres into a leading position in London, the UK and beyond.

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