Everybody has the answers to every problem these days … it’s crazy. Google any question you have, and you will likely find thousands of answers from so-called experts.
So how is this article any different? Well, it’s based on my more than 25 years in the branding and marketing industry and more than 1,000 completed client projects for businesses of all sizes and across all industries. I am going to bare all here. The secret is all in the execution … and that’s the tough part. So let’s break it down into four simple steps:
Strategize & Plan
Most companies don’t have a strategy or a plan in the beginning. They start with word-of-mouth success and grow from there. At some point, they hit a brick wall and are successful enough to know that they should seek help. While there are many great brand strategists out there, all of whom are worth their salt, my recommendations for small and midsize businesses are simple. I’ve seen companies spend six figures on 500-page marketing and branding plans that never translate into any type of practical change and are largely ignored. So here are the strategy must-dos that make my short list:
- Prepare a simple corporate overview that touches on core data such as corporate history, mission, value proposition, benefits of products or services, industry spotlights and trends, competition, threats, and your plan for growth. If your overview gets too long, it becomes too cumbersome. Stay nimble, my friends.
- Determine your goals. List general goals as an organization and then specific goals for your website, sales team, offline media, advertising, marketing, support team, etc. You are going to want to track this stuff.
- Determine and list all the tools you will need to fulfill your goals. We focus mostly on the online experience, and most of your customers will go online before they contact you, so make sure you have great tools on your website. Provide incredible content that people want to share, guides and white papers to download, an email list to join (and be sure to give ’em a real reason to join), videos to download and watch via a gateway, infographics, eBooks, and a form so they can schedule a meeting or request a demo or a quote. Come up with a list of at least a dozen online tools, and then label each as “primary” or “soft” — soft conversions will go into a nurturing cycle, which will become your favorite marketing tool ever.
- Determine which marketing vessels will help you use the above tools, based on your industry and your budget (see budget guidelines here).
This is enough about strategizing and planning for now. You can add a lot later because plans are never static; they evolve. But it’s important to focus on what you can actually change in the near future — not over the next decade.
Improve Your Brand Image (and Customer Experience!)
Our clients always ask us how we can ensure that their businesses will grow and what specifically we will do to make them grow. What makes us so special that we can help them achieve exactly what they want? I’m no marketing savant à la Steve Jobs, but simple logic goes a long way here. If you are doing X amount of business with a less-than-stellar brand image and user experience, think about how much your business would grow if you did the following:
- Impressed more customers in the initial five seconds of their first interaction with your brand.
- Encouraged customers, through your brand image and messaging, to WANT to learn more about your products and services because they saw value in doing so.
- Told a story more compelling than the “About Us” you wrote (or commissioned years ago while drinking a Venti latte).
- Gently guided and reguided prospects to key value points aligned with your planned conversion goals and calls to action that elevated leads into viable prospects.
- Created customers who were so impressed with your brand that they didn’t even want to talk to your competitors (price wouldn’t be an issue because your brand’s perceived value would’ve blown away that concern).
And those are just some points off the top of my head.
OK … so what should you change? Here is my short list … and it all can be done at a reasonable cost. (Don’t think “offshore pricing.” Think about your bottom line, and spend what it takes to get it done right.)
- Fix your logo! That outer-glow, shadow 3-D effect in a free font is old. Not cool. All credible brands realize their image must evolve over time. Nike, Apple and AT&T have modified their logos numerous times over the years. If you look dated, you are dated — fast. Don’t become dated.
- Update your website’s look and feel. Make the user experience impressive and engaging. You can create a new custom site, optimize your current site or start with a template. It all depends on your budget and goals.
- Tell a new story. Say it well, say it often. I’m a firm believer that content alone can drastically change the public’s perception of a company. Most content is not good at all. Most is boring and cumbersome. Commit to creating provocative content that is benefit-oriented and aligned with your conversion goals. Make it easy for visitors to scan content to find what they want and discover more than they expected.
- Update all your offline communications. Look at the copy and the graphics, and then make them more impressive. Make sure that they match your online image.
- Commit to a content marketing strategy. Getting the word out and positioning your company as an innovative thought leader and/or expert are essential to good branding.
- Create new media. Videos and infographics explain who you are and what you do, to demonstrate the value of each service or product, and to help prospects understand how you can solve their problems.
Plan & Launch Marketing & Lead-Generation Campaigns
So now you have an awesome brand and a strong strategy that will help you achieve your goals. Great!
But your business won’t succeed if people don’t know about it.
It’s time to start driving customers to and raising awareness about your products and services. So what works? TV? Radio? Internet? Well, every business and market is different, but research shows these are the most effective marketing strategies in 2014:
- Analytics programs – Well, let’s start by making sure you have one, such as Google Analytics or Crazy Egg. You’ll need it to test designs, user engagements and landing pages.
- Organic search engine optimization – Many people have written books on this … but the gist of it is that it has to be done by experts and in alignment with Google’s latest algorithms. The idea here is to achieve rankings for multiple terms your customers use when searching for products and services.
- Blogging and content marketing – “Content marketing” is a buzzword now, and it translates into creating great content that positions your organization as an expert and/or thought leader. Because it takes five to 10 touches to build enough equity to create serious interest, content marketing should be high on your list of marketing tactics to employ in 2014 and beyond. Other types of content you should regularly publish include press releases (paid, syndicated), infographics, explainer videos, slide show videos and white papers/guides.
- Online advertising – Google is Google for a reason: It dominates. It can deliver customers who are actually already LOOKING for you (inbound). Imagine … you pay only if somebody searches for you AND then clicks on your ad. Similarly, social site advertising and remarketing target customers who have been to your site and left and then visited a major content site such as Amazon or YouTube. Set a budget for this between 2% and 5% of Gross revenue, depending on your size and industry.
- Email marketing – Nothing has a higher ROI. Some studies show it’s almost 60:1. Email marketing needs to be done with tact. If you share something valuable with your customers to help them understand how you can solve their problems, you can use email to remarket and nurture the more than 90% of prospects who fit into the “just looking” bucket.
- Social media marketing – Most effective social media marketing techniques also fit into the blogging and content marketing strategy mentioned above; however, using your various social profiles to interact with and engage your customer base is a vital part of a successful marketing strategy. Try to update your status and share new, relevant and useful content at least a few times a week. Tools such as HootSuite make this even easier! Be careful though: If you post weak content, you will disengage your audience … and people will stop following you. The goal here isn’t as much to sell as it is to drive customers back to your website, where they will (hopefully) convert with one of your primary goals.
- Landing page marketing – Use landing pages to stimulate your audience with the tools mentioned in Section 1 — special offers, downloadable content, webinars, videos, guides and eBooks. The best thing is that, because these are all micropages, you can use your online analytics to figure out quickly what works and what doesn’t. The idea here is to balance helpful, engaging content with free offers, trials, and even discounts or coupons.
Evolve Your Brand
No brand is ever “done” — not Nike, IBM, nor Apple … and certainly not any small business. Your customers crave new content and better ways for you to explain and show how you can help them. Web trends change drastically every three to six months, and if you fail to evolve, you will become dated, and eventually your message and image will damage your brand equity. How do you avoid this?
- Study your analytics. Identify pages where people don’t spend much time or that have higher bounce rates. Start with your home page. What could be done better? What would create a better user experience?
- Identify new trends and tactics. Interact with your customers. Videos? Slide shows? Infographics? HTML5 animations? Timed calls to action?
- Look at all your media. Start with your logo. How could each medium convert more people? What new media do you need to create?
- Look at all your marketing and advertising strategies. What’s working? What needs tweaking? What has the best ROI? How could you capitalize on the best tactics?
- Determine what’s getting old. What should you take down? Are the categories you’re using connecting with your audience? Do they expose their subcategories effortlessly so users can find the content they seek?
These are just some basics. We constantly look at everything to do with branding and marketing for our clients … and I’m amazed by how many times we’ve had to REDO our ideas that we had thought were so awesome when we created them. Trends change. Buying habits change. Customers evolve. And so too must your brand.
I realize this is a lot to chew on, and I hope it sparks some ideas you can use. As I said at the beginning of this article, the execution is the tough part. Get started on what you need to do — today. If you would like to ask a question, you can reach me via the usual social channels, but for the fastest response, connect with me on our website, www.imageworkscreative.com and mention that you read this article. While you’re on our site, look around. You’ll find information about all things branding, web design and marketing. Now get out there and make 2014 the best year ever!
Scott C. Margenau
Founder & CEO
ImageWorks Creative is an award-winning branding and marketing agency located in Chantilly, Va., with remote offices in Washington, D.C., and Southern California. Since our founding in 1996, our mission has been to provide best-in-class branding and marketing solutions to small and midsize businesses by focusing on measurable revenue growth, without the big agency price tag. The ImageWorks team comprises local designers, developers, copywriters, search and social media marketers, specialty vendors, and project managers who are all committed to creating awesome user experiences for our customers.