Right on the money

Editor's note: Lisa Brink is senior director, client consulting, Gongos. She can be reached at lbrink@gongos.com. Karen Stoychoff is manager, public relations and communications, SurePayroll. She can be reached at karen.stoychoffinman@surepayroll.com.

Brand positioning is no longer just for B2C companies. Today’s leading B2B brands like Google, Slack, Adobe and Salesforce understand the valuable ways brand positioning supports growth and serves as a key marketplace differentiator. 

However, even the strength of the most dominant brands can fade over time. Increased competition, lack of relevance, an unwillingness to change and failure to sustain an emotional connection with consumers are just some of the factors that can tarnish a brand. But market-aware and resilient brands regularly take stock of their brand positioning and adapt.

After 22 years as the innovator and leader in online payroll and benefits services, SurePayroll faced stiff competition from new marketplace entrants. The existing value proposition – a fast and easy online solution for small business owners and household employers – remained strong and relevant. However, it was no longer a point of differentiation, with competitors leveraging a similar positioning and touting a newer online payroll experience. 

Many organizations would bask in consecutive years of record growth and enviable customer satisfaction metrics. Not SurePayroll. Determined not to succumb to the age-old trap of “If it ain’t broke…,” SurePayroll launched a brand revitalization initiative to refine, evolve and elevate its marketplace presence and expand its distinct advantage over the competition. 

SurePayroll decided to reimagine its value proposition and associated positioning to better connect on an emotional level with its three key customer segments – small business owners, household employers and resellers/CPAs. 

Recognized as the original disruptor in online payroll and benefits services, SurePayroll understood the pivotal nature of the brand revitalization initiative. Redefining the brand and asserting its leadership position would be a significant undertaking. SurePayroll turned to Gongos for strategic counsel and support; together, they began a brand revitalization initiative to position SurePayroll for long-term growth. 

Beyond the traditional scope 

Gongos counseled SurePayroll to leverage insights across multiple dimensions – primary, secondary and behavioral – and look beyond the traditional research scope. The team augmented the research plan with internal assessments, industry analysis, market-sizing and inspiration from brands across different verticals with winning strategies. This approach included more traditional qualitative and quantitative research in the small business, household employer and reseller/CPA sectors and a sample plan that captured insights from prospects, current customers and the customers of SurePayroll competitors. These consumer insights would reveal the competitive landscape and the placement of SurePayroll within the marketplace and also help shape understanding of competitor strengths and challenges, along with highlighting white-space positioning opportunities for the firm. 

Gongos designed a methodology to better understand the SurePayroll B2B market. The goal was to gain a 360° view of the online payroll and benefits industry, customers and competitors to discover the areas that could be exploited to benefit SurePayroll. But the methodology wasn’t just about the research or the secondary analysis. Equally important was the partnership and process Gongos and SurePayroll established to address the business challenge. Experienced in insight and brand strategy development, Gongos understood how important it was to solicit deep category and business expertise from the SurePayroll team. Bringing together these sources of insight (customer, industry, competitors and the SurePayroll team) enabled Gongos to bring forward a strategy that was differentiated but also achievable and actionable. 

The Gongos research process explored customer segments and their unique nuances and needs – internal capabilities and barriers – and the available competitive advantages to leverage into meaningful points of difference. Research insights helped inspire three unique positioning territories SurePayroll could clearly own based on equity, market white-space opportunities and plans for future growth. Gongos completed additional qualitative work with customers to identify, optimize and validate the positioning that would best resonate with current and future SurePayroll customers.

Ultimately, Gongos developed a comprehensive brand positioning for SurePayroll based on salient insight generation and strategic thought leadership. Together, the Gongos-SurePayroll team refined the brand’s value proposition and points of differentiation, informing its internal strategies to deliver a best-in-class experience and guide agency partners to develop a new external expression of the brand.

Four key challenges

Over the course of 11 months, the Gongos-SurePayroll collaboration addressed four key challenges: 

  • Evaluate the current SurePayroll brand presence and competitive set to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
  • Provide key insights and leverage points for the three customer segments (small business owners, household employers and resellers/CPAs) and understand the overlapping needs and motivations of each segment to determine if a unified brand position could be leveraged or if a separate brand was needed for each segment.
  • Reconcile current-state perceptions and strengths with the standing value proposition and refine accordingly for positioning.
  • Recommend the future SurePayroll brand strategy across the full-spectrum customer journey.

 The Gongos approach consisted of: 

Stakeholder interviews. First, Gongos conducted stakeholder interviews to understand internal perceptions of the brand and visions for the future. In addition, the team collected various artifacts and reports from SurePayroll to fully immerse in customer understanding and business performance (behavioral data).

Qualitative research. Next, Gongos conducted qualitative customer research among the three identified target segments to understand customer mind-sets, needs and experiences within the online payroll category. This sample gave a comprehensive look and understanding of SurePayroll and competing brand customers. Through extensive in-depth interviews leveraging projective exercise techniques, the team gained insights on customer needs and benefit category drivers. Additionally, the team uncovered category performance gaps and white-space opportunities. 

Quantitative research. Gongos conducted quantitative research to understand how SurePayroll performed relative to the category and key competitors, proving what many leaders intuitively knew: SurePayroll delivered well on many metrics and lacked an ownable point of difference. The research also validated key white-space opportunity areas that fueled positioning development work. Finally, it helped solidify an understanding of customer needs and motivations across the three segments, helping uncover commonalities and nuances that informed both the positioning and the messaging required for each segment in marketing communications. 

Secondary and industry analyses. Throughout the process, Gongos leveraged secondary information to better understand the market size and industry trends. The team supplemented quantitative work with a SWOT analysis, market opportunity sizing and identified core and secondary target segments for the proposed positioning. 

Serve as a differentiator 

Gongos derived inspiration for the proposed positioning from brands in different verticals, including IKEA, Zappos and Amazon. The team selected brands that illustrate how personalized service and support can elevate a primarily user-driven experience and how that support can drive consideration, build affinity and loyalty and serve as a marketplace differentiator.

IKEA, widely recognized as a DIY brand, is also a terrific service organization, according to a Forbes Communications Council article.1 The company delivers simple-to-use services, a fantastic customer experience and around-the-clock support to solve customer problems. 

Zappos has grown into an iconic online retailer because of its focus on customer service. Its customer-centric philosophy revolves around investing in customer service as opposed to traditional advertising, so customers drive word-of-mouth marketing.

Gongos also considered Amazon, a company that extends speedy delivery and personalization by giving users choices in how to reach customer service through DIY and live support options. Plus, Amazon is laser-focused on resolving issues quickly as part of its vision/mission to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.”

Validate and optimize

Once Gongos developed the brand positioning concepts, the team conducted qualitative research to validate and optimize the positioning. This provided an opportunity to better understand customer and consumer reactions, the strengths and barriers to the ideas and the language that best resonated with them – helping shape the brand positioning and personality attributes. 

This multipronged approach provided the insights to confidently move forward with a resonant and differentiated position to revitalize SurePayroll – a position that would build affinity with current customers and attract new ones. The research provided foundational and salient insights across the entire SurePayroll customer base to inform business strategies and decisions. 

Insights are only as effective as the share-out and accompanying communication strategy. Since the SurePayroll brand revitalization would affect key stakeholders companywide, the team engaged them throughout the process. Once Gongos completed the research and finalized the strategic recommendations, they presented the findings and brand playbook in a series of executive-level sessions.

The playbook included a brand ladder – an internal manifesto to guide business priorities, strategic initiatives and creative execution – broken down by the brand purpose, personality and promise. This playbook was designed to help the SurePayroll team absorb the insights that led to the positioning and to understand the new positioning, its value proposition and how it would come to life in the organization. Additionally, a language support guide was developed to arm the organization and partner agencies with the tools necessary to activate and execute on the new brand positioning.

Gongos also developed a creative brief with a crisp articulation of the positioning strategy to hand off to the advertising agency responsible for activating a consumer-facing campaign. These deliverables proved to be a concise, compelling and persuasive narrative for the SurePayroll executive leadership, the rest of the SurePayroll organization and partners.

Laid the foundation

The brand revitalization initiative laid the foundation for SurePayroll and its partner agencies to propel the brand forward. Deep in the next phase of work to bring the strategy to life, SurePayroll is developing a new visual identity, advertising campaign and employee engagement initiative to relaunch the new brand to internal and external constituencies. In addition, this work provides a catalyst to enhance operations and build experiences to support the brand throughout the customer journey. 

While many organizations tackle brand reinvention out of necessity, usually due to declining performance or lost relevance, SurePayroll had the awareness, foresight and fortitude to pursue its reinvention at peak performance. As a result, SurePayroll is well-positioned to expand its distinct advantages over the competition and pave a path to sustainable, long-term growth. 


1 “13 ways companies can connect with the DIY service market.” Forbes Communications Council www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2021/08/26/13-ways-companies-can-connect-with-the-diy-service-market/?sh=7844c81423ca