Category Archives: marketing tips

How to Take a Local Small Brand National

It’s not as scary or as difficult as you think to take your brand national.

Use social media. It’s all about Facebooking, Tweeting and friending people. These are the largest national platforms available to a small business… for free. Take advantage of them.

Capitalize on what makes you unique. Really truly not every business is the same. Even if you’re in an industry like Financial Planning, some people may think you’re all the same but you know you’re not. Believe me there is something about you that is unique, you need to find it and market it.

Be willing to try new things. I fought social media for a long time, especially twitter. It was hard for me to see the value but everyone was doing it so I decided to jump in. My reach nationally is so much broader now, I find it amazing the kinds of businesses that follow me and where they are located.

Step out of your comfort zone and give it a try. You can play with the Big Guys!

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Branding and the importance of consistency

What is branding and why is it important?

Professional Services Companies need to be branding themselves. The benefits of branding are often long term, but include customer qualities like loyalty, memorability familiarity and at some point, your marketing expenses will significantly decrease because an audience is already familiar with you. All that stuff sounds good, HOWEVER, the catch is that the company is not in direct control of the brand. In a nutshell, branding is the perceived emotional image of a company as a whole and, in it’s simplest form, has nothing to do with things like logo’s and stationary.

Branding is a fairly complicated subject because typically the company’s management and marketing team are trying to figure out how to brand the company, or how to find a way in which the company will be unique and find a place in the customers mind; but it’s really not about what the management and marketing want, branding relies on the perception of the audience. So the next question is, ‘How do you find out what your audience is thinking?’

The answer is pretty simple: by doing marketing research–in its simplest form, this could be a survey sent to past customers asking them their perception of the company. The main goal here is to understand your audience and what they think about your company. The next step is how to capitalize (or fix) that perception. That’s branding!

Why is branding necessary?

Every good company should creating a brand and not just creating a company or a service. A nicely branded company has placement in your mind–when you think of innovation, perhaps you think of Apple. When you think of running shoes, you may think of Nike. These are just examples of what good branding is and how they create an attachment with their audience.

When you create a professional services business without branding it, your audience will lose sight of it and most times think of it as just another law firm or financial planner or nothing special. Worst of all, you may not have an audience at all!

Brand recognition and consistency

The ultimate goal of a professional services firm is to win the hearts and minds of your clientele. Once you’ve done that, you have achieved what is called ‘brand recognition.’ This means your audience knows the company well enough to know what they may or may not say, and what they may or may not look like.

Consistency is absolutely key if a professional services firm wants an audience to recognize them.

Once your audience has clamped on to that recognition, if it’s positive, you want to do everything you can to continue with it. If it’s negative you want to do everything you can to change it. Recognition for brands can end up pushing sales harder than any marketing or advertising plan.

Using YOUR Knowledge to build YOUR Brand?

Branding goes beyond the visual elements. Obviously, as a designer, my primary interest is in how things look; however, over the years I have noticed that many companies are not promoting the one thing that really makes them stand out… their expertise.

One of the best ways to build brand awareness and integrity is to establish yourself and your business as an expert in your target market. In a lot of cases, yes, this means you need to narrow down your target market… but that is another article in itself.

Many business owners are modest and don’t want to be the center of attention or they don’t trust enough in their own knowledge to use that as their primary brand element. A client once said that “I’m no different from anyone else in my industry.”  Aghast, my response was, “Then why would anyone do business with you over someone else?”

…He had no immediate answer.

But after talking it though together, we did come up with some key expertise points he had that others did not… giving us ammunition to market. He didn’t think that being in the business over twenty years and having a more specialized business than many in his peers made him an expert…but it does!

Your expertise is what makes you different so why wouldn’t you want to promote that? Not only should you be promoting your expertise, it should be your primary marketing tool.

…Yes, you read that right.

I say this because once you’ve set yourself up as the expert it makes the tactical pieces of your marketing easy to design and execute.

So in a sea of businesses, websites and marketing collateral, how are you going to stand out? And more importantly, how are you going to make your prospects think that you are only choice for them? Set yourself up as an expert.

I refer to this as creating your “Expert” Brand Positioning. What does that mean, and how do I do that, you ask?

In technical terms here is what that means:

EXPERT: a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority.

BRAND: A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business. Brand encompasses identity – it affects the personality of a product, company or service.

So how do you set yourself up as an expert?

First you need to ask yourself two questions.

  1. What is it that you are an expert in?
  2. How can you promote your expertise to reach more people? In turn make more money.

The following five elements can help you answers those questions and properly execute a strong “Expert” Brand Position.

  1. Brand Clarification – Identifying and/or Reinforcing a Clear & Focused Brand
  2. Marketing – Creating a Strong Marketing Plan that Identifies All Targeted Market Niches
  3. Publicity – Creating the Strategies to Communicate the Message(s)
  4. Social Media – Creating a Social Media Plan that Reinforces Your Brand
  5. Time Management & Productivity – Creating the Schedule to Implement the Marketing Plan and Publicity Strategies

Here’s to becoming an Expert!

The Marketing Budget – Where To Start

What Goes into Your Budget?

Before any budgets can be created, there has to be a marketing plan in place. The cost in time and energy to create the marketing plan will pay for itself. Hiring a marketing professional to help develop a plan is something you may want to consider. Too many times small businesses work without a plan and needlessly spend money on “marketing” efforts that have absolutely no return on investment. You need to have a clear vision of what your marketing strategy is and a set of marketing activities that will raise visibility and generate demand.

Sales Tools

Another area of your marketing efforts that would need to be budgeted for includes your sales tools. Examples of sales tools are your Web site, business cards, letterhead, brochures, flyers and other collateral materials needed to fulfill your sales goals. The most cost-effective thing to do is work with a design professional to create a branding package. Service packages will help you manage your budget by knowing upfront exactly what everything will cost.

If your company has the need for many sales tools, then a way to control costs is to create components as you go, but it is advisable that you not cut corners on the design or quality of the tools. Cutting corners on sales tools creates an image of being small and unprofessional to your prospects.

After your logo has been created, then start with business cards, then your Web site and a brochure.

Most businesses can benefit from a highly professional, quality Web site. Be sure you understand the importance of your Web site to your business and the impact it can have on your revenue before you determine the budget. If your primary marketing effort is Internet marketing, you really should consider putting a few more dollars into your Web site and have it developed professionally.

This rule also holds true for your other marketing materials. I heard a quote once from marketing professional that may be harsh but is 100 percent true. “The only way to keep your brochure out of the trash is to have it professionally designed.” Just take a moment to think about that. How many times have you gotten some kind of marketing piece and threw it out because it was not visually appealing, not well written or looked like it came off of an inkjet printer? You formed an opinion about that company in two seconds and decided it was unworthy of your business. You don’t want to be that company.

Working with a design professional can actually save you money. Industry professionals have many contacts for printing, hosting, PR and other services and often can negotiate better pricing because they represent many clients to one vendor. Also, if having a brochure, Web site, ad, postcard, etc., actually entices people to call and do business with you then the investment is well worth it.

Branding

If you are a new business or even an established business wanting to make 2011 your most successful year, you will likely need to put effort towards creating your company brand. Developing your brand image is more than just getting a logo to call your own. However a well-designed logo will be the centerpiece for your branding efforts. Your brand images will be the key components of your marketing efforts, so be sure you work with a design professional to create something that you can use for many years to come. This is not something that changes monthly or as often as the whim strikes.

Marketing Programs

After deciding on corporate branding issues, determining the appropriate sales or marketing support tools, the next step is to determine what programs you are going to execute. All promotional activities fall within the eight categories:

  • Direct Marketing
  • Internet Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Advertising
  • Public Relations
  • Word of Mouth
  • Strategic Partnerships

To identify what programs are the best for your business, you might want to begin by seeing what others—in your industry, as well as outside your industry—are doing. However, don’t get caught up in “copycat marketing.” What others do may not be right for you, and part of why you put a marketing plan together is to differentiate yourself from others, but it is a good start to look at their activities for guidance on where you should invest your dollars.

Once you have established your plan keep in mind that you don’t need to do all the activities at once. Plan them out over the year so you can budget for them and measure their effectiveness. If you have too many things going on at once, you won’t be able to keep track and measure.

Understanding the return on investment on a marketing activity enables you to determine whether to keep it running or stop it and try something else.

Summary

Establishing an annual marketing budget helps you identify the money your business has to invest in its marketing activities. Managed properly, your marketing budget is the best investment you can make in your company. If you wisely invest your marketing dollars, you can get a profitable return on your investment.

 

Building Your Brand: How to Create a Lasting Logo

The most important component of a solid brand is your corporate identity, or logo. It’s the cornerstone of your visual communications and brings together your business name and sometimes a graphic element to establish your business identity. Used consistently, logos help customers remember you when they need your product or service.

A common mistake business owners make is it to think that their logo has to include an image of the product or service they offer. A logo is simply a visual representation of your business. While it can be tempting for a financial planner to use a dollar sign, it doesn’t make for a very original logo. If every other financial planner in town uses the same imagery then your target market can’t tell you apart. The main goal of a logo is to connect with your target market and it can’t do that if it doesn’t differentiate your business from your competitors.

Entrepreneurs on a budget often decide to design a logo themselves. Although this may seem like a smart option, it can cost you in the long run. Not only can it be time-consuming to develop a logo yourself, it can also make your business look amateur. Even if you have a great idea for a logo, you may not be able to execute it properly.

Professional graphic designers have the skills and expertise to create a logo that will last. They understand how to use color, fonts and imagery to create a logo that matches your brand message. A professional designer will also keep into consideration the various uses of your logo and make sure it will look good no matter what the medium, from a business card to a billboard.

Hiring a professional designer does not have to break the bank. There are many talented freelance or boutique firms who can create a professional, lasting logo for a lot less than the large design firms.

Whether you decide to design your logo yourself or hire a professional, here are some things to keep in mind as you choose a logo for your business:

Design: Choose a design that reflects the style and personality of your business. And, almost more important, your logo should be appealing to the people your target market. For example, the logo design for a children’s clothing boutique would be vastly different from that of an accounting firm.

Scalability: When choosing a logo, make sure it will look good no matter the size. Your logo needs to be something that can be reproduced on both a business card and billboard. Logos that have too much detail can be difficult to recognize when distilled to a thumbnail.

Less is more: Some of the most recognizable logos, Nike, Mercedes, Coca-Cola and all have very basic, iconic designs. Simple logos are often the most effective as they are easy to digest and can more quickly communicate the essence of your business. They are also easier to reproduce in a variety of mediums like apparel or promotional items.

Uniqueness: As mentioned throughout this series, your logo should represent YOUR BUSINESS. Avoid using clip art, templates or other generic images.

I would love to get your comments…

Did you hire a designer to design your logo? Why or why not?

New Gap Logo – Branding Gone Wrong

OK really what were they thinking. The original Gap logo was an icon in American fashion. Whether you liked the clothes or not is another issue, but  pretty much everyone knows the gap logo. It’s right up there with Nike.

This is big branding mistake and clearly a display of corporate suits messing where they shouldn’t. I’m sure they thought since sales were down that they needed to rebrand themselves. A company with the brand equity they have does not need to do that. They can wade out the economic storm in tact if they stay strong to their brand. But they decided to make a change and now I think they will lose even more market share with this rinky dink, mess of a logo.

I’ve seen high school design students do better. The gradient of the logo really cheapens the overall identity and it lacks any sort of strength or visual interest. The font says nothing, well it does say something… boring.

I’m struggling to understand how this new logo came about, what’s its purpose and why it fails miserably. Even the original gap logo created in 1969 has more character than this new one.

I’m really hoping this is some kind of joke they are playing to get everyone to talk about them.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

5 Things to Talk About in Your Email Marketing

WebI resell an amazing email marketing system that I customize for each client. They can get a branded template without the advertising at the bottom like those other email marketing services. You know who I’m talking about 😉

Clients get very excited about the system, I make the template, get them all set up and then they don’t use it. I started seeing this trend so I asked a few of them what was going on. They all said, “I know I need to reach out to my clients on a regular basis but I don’t know what to say.”

I know it can be tough to talk about our companies and ourselves but we all have something to talk about. I actually create an editorial calendar for my email newsletters and blog. I have to admit I don’t always stick to the schedule but I do stick to the topics.

One thing I find my clients like are tips on marketing and design. They find them very helpful and usually share the newsletter with someone else. I do keep them relevant to what I do but I try to put myself in their shoes to see what they would be interested in and actually take a few minutes to read.

Presenting interesting and relevant information is imperative to subscriber retention, and beyond that, the transformation of prospects into customers. Here are some ideas on how to get the writing flowing:

  1. Answer a question: I’m sure you get questions from clients that you end up answering over and over. Use your newsletter to answer the questions that pop up and get to all your clients at once.
  2. Give a tip: If you have a business that lends itself to tips/tricks then pick one of your favorites and write about it.
  3. Industry update: You may be in an industry that has updates that you can share with your clients. For instance, a PC Tech can write about the latest software, hardware or even new viruses we should watch out for.
  4. Discounts and Specials: If you sell a product, email newsletters can be a great way to get the word out about specials and discounts. Studies show that people do respond to sales incentives received via email.
  5. Ask for feedback: Include a survey or a link to a place where customers and prospects can leave comments about your company, your website, the industry, your email marketing campaigns, or whatever topic you wish to learn about.

Ultimately, there is no reason why you can’t send out a consistent email marketing campaign, even if you initially feel you have nothing to say.

Rather than fall into the motto of “if you have nothing to say, don’t write,” come up with something to write…but be sure that it’s interesting and relevant to both your business and your subscribers.