Give Your Brand Away

We all love something for free, but valuing the return on a giveaway is not always the easiest metric to measure.  For many marketers and business owners, the value proposition for free giveaways is hard to justify the investment.  Bur who doesn’t want a free iPad, t-shirt or promotional item?

If you want to build a loyal following of brand advocates, freebies can be an enduring and affordable way to create and keep brand loyalty.

Everyone loves a freebie, which is why giving products away is an excellent tactic for anyone in marketing who wants to create brand advocates. Whether you want to improve the number of online conversations about your brand, or reduce customer complaints, a free product is a great place to start.  So where do you start?  How far do you go?  What can you ask for in return?

Seek out bloggers

Pepsi wanted to raise awareness of its updated logo, so the brand  turned to bloggers to help spread the word. Rather than taking the typical path of sending out press released, Pepsi assembled it’s history of logo iterations since it’s beginning – and sent one can with each logo type to bloggers.  Soon after, the bloggers received another set of Pepsi cans with the new logo.

Photo courtesy

Not only did this help bloggers understand the development of the new logo, it also helped them to appreciate Pepsi’s long history in the market place.

The result?  Bloggers enthusiastically endorsed the change, having experienced it personally – and spread the word creating a viral message that Pepsi could leverage for its release for months.  Win.

What can you do to follow the Pepsi model of success?  Research bloggers already in sharing information in your brand category – no matter what it is.  Start at  Google Blog Search to find them, and send them samples of your products or services for them to review.  Simple.

Engage community voices

There’s no question that social media has changed the landscape of finding your community voice.  Twitter is filled with conversations in your specific industry, which enable you to build connections between your brand and your customers.

Give  Follower Wonk  a try to Twitter profiles for keywords specific to you, and in turn, connect to people who are truly passionate about your brand niche.

Reward loyalty

Like many American markets, free clubcards have become the staple of brand loyalty rewards.  From grocery stores to restaurants, providing an incentive for return customer’s loyalty is one of the strongest ways you can build an army of brand fanatics. Even if you don’t have an existing loyalty program now, you can find a forum of conversations just right for you on Board Tracker.

Free works

Walk down the aisle at any farmer’s market, and you’ll be offered a wide variety of fresh fruits or vegetables to sample.  By the end of that walk, if the samples are good, you’ll likely buy more than you ever anticipated at the start – and for good reason.  Free sells.

Even if your product or service is fairly expensive to give away, you can leverage your brand via the web in competition to get it for free.  Giving away your brand is a great way to build lasting loyalty, reach bloggers and reward loyal customers.  At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all really want?

What are some of the best free giveaway campaigns you’ve ever seen?  What brands are you loyal to because they offer free samples?

Branding For Social Media

No matter what stage in your business or career you are currently in, social media can help you achieve some of your goals.  Establishing yourself as an expert with credible authority will help you gather a willing audience if you build and maintain a positive online reputation.

I ran across these five easy steps to consider that were originally posed in one of my favorite online resources – 30-Minute Social Media Marketing.  I think you’ll agree that they apply equally to your personal brand as well as your professional reputation.

I’m not going to revise or alter the original content because I think they are right on point:

1. Begin with Branding
The first step to joining the digital age and starting your journey on the social Web is to evaluate your own brand promise. How do you want to position yourself in the marketplace and in front of your target audience? A focused brand is a strong brand, so determine your niche and use it as your primary brand message and image.

Your audience needs to develop expectations for your brand in order to develop loyalty to it and feel secure enough in your brand message to talk about it with their own friends and connections, particularly across the social Web. You must meet customer (i.e., audience) expectations in every brand interaction or people will feel confused and turn away from your brand in search of another that does consistently meet their expectations. Don’t let your audience get away. Determine your brand promise and position and stick to it at all times.

2. Create Your Branded Online Destinations
Once you know how you want to position your brand in the minds of your audience, you can create your own branded online destinations. The destination you choose to start with is up to you and depends on the types of tools you enjoy using and feel like you can stick with for the long-term. Start a blog, create a Twitter account and get on Facebook, and then play with the features and get a feel for which tools you actually enjoy using. Those are the tools you should focus on using as your original branded online destinations.

Most importantly, choose one branded online destination to be your core branded online destination. This is the place where all of your online content and conversations will lead back to. It will be the central hub of your online presence and will become the go-to place for people to learn anything and everything about your brand and writing business.

I recommend a blog for a core branded online destination because blogs are so search engine friendly and flexible, but the choice is yours.  The most important factor is that your core branded online destination is kept fresh with new content that effectively represents your brand promise and invites interaction and sharing.

3. Find Your Best Audience
Who do you want to connect with online in order to build your business and/or career? You can engage with existing and potential clients, online influencers, experts, customers, and more on the social Web.  You simply need to determine who you want to talk to and go out and find them. Visit and type in the keywords your audience is likely to use to find brands, businesses, content and conversations like yours. Follow the links. Chances are you’ll end up finding multiple sites where your target audience already spends time.

When you find your target audiences’ online hangouts, spend some time listening to the conversations happening on those sites. What topics are important to them? What gets them excited? This type of information-gathering is extremely valuable and allows you to create your own content strategy to best meet your target audience’s existing wants and needs.

4. Join the Conversation
Look for social destinations such as blogs, Twitter profiles, Facebook pages, forums and so on where you can interact with other people by publishing comments, asking questions, and answering questions. However, you must avoid self-promotion. No one will want to engage with you if you spend all your time trying to sell your writing products and services.

Instead, apply the 80-20 rule of marketing to your activities, and make sure at least 80% of the time you spend on social media activities is not self-promotional and only 20% is self-promotional.

In time, those audiences will get to know you and develop expectations for your conversations. Eventually, you can lead them back to your own branded online destinations through links to related content. There you can deepen relationships. It’s this type of relationship-building that enables you to develop a band of brand advocates online who will talk about your brand and defend your brand against naysayers. There has never been a more powerful form of word-of-mouth marketing, and you can tap into it thanks to the social Web!

5. Publish Shareworthy Content

How do people find information in the 21st century? Do they pick up the printed Yellow Pages directory or go to the library? No. They log into their computers or pick up their smart phones and visit where they type in keywords related to the business, product or information they want to find. You need to be represented in search results when people search for keywords related to your business or area of expertise!

One way to make sure you’re effectively represented is by publishing amazing content that people want to talk about and share with their own connections. In time, you’ll benefit from what I call the compounding effect of social media. The more content you publish, the more entry points there are for Google to find, index and deliver in search results.

If your content is amazing, people will read it and talk about it on Twitter, their own blogs, and so on. This conversation not only boosts word-of-mouth buzz about you, but it also creates more incoming links to your content. More incoming links mean more ways for people to find your content across the web and higher search rankings from Google.

Coming Full Circle
Your social media participation cannot be one-sided.  You need to focus on building relationships, getting on people’s radar screens, and indirectly marketing yourself, your brand, and/or your business. Remember, quality trumps quantity, so don’t spread yourself too thin. Organic growth of quality followers will deliver the best long-term growth results. Every day that you wait to join the online conversation is a missed opportunity.

What do you think about these points to begin your mission to build a solid online brand?  What would you add, change or delete?

Drive By Branding

I ran across this post (no pun intended to the image above) from fellow blogger Pam Moore, and thought it was so on target that you might enjoy its serious levity as well.
Brands, as we may both know, are not just logos – and they certainly aren’t built as quickly as a logo might be designed.  Beyond your company’s basic marketing platform, your brand represents the goals, objectives and unified identity that you want your customers and partners to be able to clearly identify and understand.  Great brand strategies have plans and purpose – just like great businesses have a business strategy for their products and services.

Definition of Brand:

A brand is the identity of a specific product, service, or business. A brand can take many forms, including a name, sign, symbol, color combination or slogan. The word brand began simply as a way to tell one person’s cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. A legally protected brand name is called a trademark. The word brand has continued to evolve to encompass identity – it affects the personality of a product, company or service.

Pam Moore’s 15 Hints You are Guilty of Random Acts of

Branding (RABs)…  or what I like to call “Drive By Branding”:

1. You make midnight changes to your logo and launch the next morning on Facebook.

2. Your new logo does not match any of your other colors or fonts… yet you launch the lame  midnight logo anyway.

3. You leave a networking group and feel some competitive pressure, so you decide it’s time for a website overhaul which lead to the logo change.

4. You have no plan for your new website or logo overhaul.

5. You developed your new logo and/or brand elements in Powerpoint. You did a screen capture

of the image from Powerpoint because you don’t know how to create a .jpeg or .png file.

6. You have no idea how you are going to modify the rest of your brand elements to match your now launched but terrible logo.

7. You don’t know what to do with your ugly logo you launched. Nobody responded to the email asking for feedback.

8. You don’t really have good Adobe Photoshop or design skills yet you do all of your own graphic design work.

9. You have no formal training or real business experience on brand, marketing or design yet you do all of your own plus your clients design and brand work.

10. It doesn’t really bother you that all of the above is true. Your thought is “it’s just colors, people know what I can really do.”

11. You think it’s cool to be just like your competitors. You also figure it’s easy to copy them so why not do it.

12. You think your market will think you are the same as your competitors if you just copy/paste their experience and make it your own.

13. You think it would take too much time to put a real brand strategy together.

14. You think by copying your competitors brand people will think you’re just like them even if they double your experience, have twice the team and real branding skills.

15. I am annoying you with all of these statement because they are true. You want to think I am wrong, but you know deep down in your heart I am right.

Ok… let’s be honest.  Are you guilty of any of these villainous acts of branding?    Can you imagine how much time and money you might save by taking the task of branding seriously before you begin marketing or advertising your product or service?  We have branding process that works…every time if you’re in need of any help.

How to Interpret the Language of Branding

Branding professionals, like so many other types of work, often use terms that are both confusing and unknown to many of their clients.  While it’s true that branding terminology can be its own language, it’s not hard to decipher – just type “branding terms” into any browser for a bit of research.  But really, who wants (or needs) to rush to a computer in order to understand anyone who’s job is, in part, clearly communicating basic values?

I’m going to make the assumption that you’d rather have a quick overview of branding terms, rather than spend the hours it might take to review the (literally) millions of results you’ll get from an online search of brand terms:

Brand: There are many ways to express the concept of “brand”, but basically – they’re all the same.  A brand is a promise about who you are and what benefits you deliver.  This “promise” is one that needs to be reinforced each and every time people come in contact with any facet of you, your product and/or your business.

Brand Identity: In more common terms – a logo.  This mark can be made of many parts that represent the values of your brand.  It might include a specific logo design, color scheme, symbols and typeface(s).

Brand Image: Brand image is simply the set of beliefs about what your brand is…what it stands for…what your customer associates with you and your brand’s name.

Branding: Is the process of building positive perceptions in your customer’s mind.  Note: (not YOUR mind…your customers).

Brand Position: How your compares to (and perhaps collaborates with) other brands that are in your competitive market.

Brand Management: Is the process of controlling your brand’s identity and message throughout your entire organization, and through the all communication channels (including the media)

Brand Equity: Is the value of your brand’s assets – its qualities, reputation and recognition – and the demand it creates.  A brand with great equity creates loyal customers that carry their loyalty through to future revenues.

Ther are many, many other terms you’re likely to encounter when you enter a conversation about brands.  Brand message, brand strategy, brand revitalization, rebranding or even brand extension – just to name a few.  You don’t need to worry about these at first – as the basics will help guide you through.

Is Branding Important? Really?

From our experience, far too many companies jump to developing a logo or website before they really have a full understanding of the foundations of their brand.  Too many companies just want to rush to develop award-winning logos and impressive website or  launch materials only to have their sales go sideways when the customer has an actual brand experience.

You and I both know this – false promises don’t work in the end. Your brand must honestly, accurately convey who you truly are each and every time the customer encounters you, and every single other “touchpoint” every other of your brand.

It really doesn’t matter if your selling and marketing a product or service.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re a small company, or a large corporation – the branding process applies to you along with the same benefits you’ll receive from getting it right at the start.

Branding Your Bottom Line

When was the last time you took time to consider your brand?  If you’re thinking about your logo, you’d only be partially on track.

Your company brand isn’t simply what you appear (or want) to be, its what you do, and how your perceived.  One of the easiest ways to understand this is to simply replace the work “brand” with an alternate word – “reputation”. Your company brand includes every touch point by every stakeholder that’s in contact with you, including your internal resources such as management, employees, vendors and most importantly – your customers and prospects.  Crafting your brand’s communications at the beginning of your outreach will save you money, while substantially increasing your effectiveness – especially in comparison with your competition.

Brand Faults

Poor brand development can results in many losses to your bottom line.  Here are a few you might consider avoiding:

No Point of Differentiation

Contrast and compare your product or service with your competition. Besides obvious factors like price, what really makes you different?  WHY should YOUR customer care?  With a strong positioning statement and strategy, your customers will want to build a relationship with you that could last a lifetime.  If price is the only factor that sets you apart, you’ll not gain a significant part of the existing, or future market potential.

Lack of Brand Image

You know how the logo on your card is different than the one on your sign or in your recent ad?  Perhaps the font your using on your letterhead isn’t the same as what you use on your website?  Or that shade of green that you like on your brochure just isn’t the same as your logo?   This inconsistency within your brand will certainly create confusion.  With the few precious seconds that you have to establish your brand in the mind and heart of your prospects, you can’t afford to cause any confusion that might cost you business.

Unreal Brand Values

If great customer service is one of your brand values, then leaving a customer on hold for more than a few brief moments isn’t consistent with your promise.  And if your customers can’t trust your business promise, then how can they trust you enough to buy from you?   Ignoring your brand’s core values will cost you loyal customers and new prospects – and you may not even know it’s a problem if you don’t look carefully at your brand.

Lack of focused offer

If you’re good at providing one singular product or service – then focus on that without trying to become “all things to all people”.  Competition, especially in today’s challenging economy, is more aggressive than ever.  If you’re an accountant, would you consider adding another line of work to your office and provide legal counsel?  Of course not.

But too many brands fraction their efforts early in the process of determining their specific brand niche – and bring so much competition to their door, that they can’t survive the crush of competitive brand messages.  Be the brand leader in your category – no matter how narrow that category may be.

In addition, it’s far more cost effective to market a specific product to a target audience than to shotgun a series of products or services to the general public.  Get specific, and you’ll get results.

Poor Internal Communications

When employees can’t get real information from management – they make it up for themselves, and develop rumors that take more time to address than resolve.  Rumors have “legs”, and can easily become a perceived reality in the marketplace – to your current customers and prospects as well.  If your stability is in question, you’ll feel the money leaving your hands before it even gets to you.

Leverage Your Brand

Branding is critical for every business, and even for nearly every professional personally.  Whether your launching a new business, or have been in business successfully for years – addressing your brand will provide you with the foundation for continued growth, or to gain the necessary market share that you’ll need to be successful.  Build you brand as a competitive asset – as you would your legal and financial status and systems.  As a core value that’s often overlooked, don’t be one of the many businesses who invest in every aspect of their operations – with exception to their most valuable asset – their brand.

What have you done to codify your brand?  Do you have it written down in detail so that you can share it with your staff, customers and prospects?

What’s in a brand name? Everything.

A great product or service name requires little or no introduction, explanation or advertising to give it power.

Of all the powerful forces in branding, marketing and advertising, a memorable brand name ranks one of the highest in importance.  It immediately connects your audience with an emotional tug, while helping define what makes you uniquely different – all in just a word or two.

Truly great brand names only come through a powerful positioning strategy – one that focuses in on the emotional appeal that can stir the hearts and minds of your market.  A great brand name can do all this by itself, and take a center place within an industry.

Because brand names, whether old or new have so much riding on them, I wince when it’s left to a few employees or friends as they toss around ideas – or worse yet…enter a contest to find the right way to communicate all the values in a brand.  While well intended, they’re not equipped to take the time to account for all the important aspects of landing a truly great name.  What about it’s memorability?  Positive or negative associations?  Competitors and trademarks – and especially domain name availability?

What do I think a great brand name does (in part)?

  • Easily communicates your brand strategy.
  • It should literally roll off the tongue.
  • Like the last puzzle piece, a good brand name fits perfectly.
  • And as most importantly, a great brand name is the ambassador of your company.

What your specific target market thinks of your brand name is much more important than any opinion of  any branding, marketing, advertising or naming expert (even us!).  And so, any great naming effort must utilize some fairly advanced methods to enable the market to react to your name before you decide on it.

No naming project is ever identical. There’s no set formula to arrive at a winner. The only thing you can really control is the kind of work you do to come up with a name. If you do the right kind of work, you’ll likely come up that one special word or phrase. Brand Identity Guru Inc. knows what “the right kind of work” is and has the skills necessary to follow through on that work. Hence, our motto, “Pump Up Your Brand.”

Although every brand or re-brand name process is unique, SmartBrand conducts a few key steps to help our clients review, assess, develop or rename their brands:

  • We’d start with an analytical survey of your competition. Which ones are a hit with the market?  Which miss…and why?   This information will help the naming team determine the specific positioning strategy for your brand’s name.
  • Positioning. Perhaps the hardest aspect of all, we’ll have to target your brand’s core values and create a foundation of messaging and ideas from which a truly winning brand name can emerge.
  • Truly great name development takes the positioning strategy, and look again at it from multiple angles to find ways you might leverage marketing and advertising to convey it in a truly unique and memorable way.
  • Consider Trademarking. We can screen a series of promising names with our legal counsel to find if there’s a feasibility of using them as brand names.  This is an important step to help avoid legal action by unknown competitors in the future.
  • Then the fun begins with some creative concepts and drafts. We might even consider some advertising treatments… all based on the stories we’ve helped create around your ideal positioning.
  • Finally…it’s time for a well though-out deliverable. We’ll give you a most important  short list of final, legally feasible names with an in-depth positioning strategy for each.

Once this foundation is established, the entire marketing, advertising, social media and public relations efforts fall easily into order.  Without a truly sound foundation to your brand name, you’ll struggle to find the right way to explain what you do – and find those who can be excited about buying from you.

What are some of the great brand names of our time?  Tell us who you think has succeeded in this important first step today?

Building Your Website On A Solid Foundation

No matter how your  message is distributed, the core function of branding remains the same: communicating to customers who you are, what you do and how you do it.  One of the easiest, most direct channels to convey this today is the web.

Nearly every brand needs an online presence to compete in today’s marketplace.  The cost of developing a truly effective website has dropped dramatically in the past few years, although many who build their own, or attempt to have another company or employee do it for them are at a disadvantage before they even start.

Organic search results can still drive traffic. Many consumers search online for a company’s service or product, and all you really have to do is be found. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a small retailer and can’t afford the time or expertise to drive traffic to your site – most customers may be looking for directions to your store of office anyway.

However, websites serve very different purposes for different companies.   Your goal might be to generate new business, or sending new messages to existing clients, or even just defining (or redefining ) your brand’s image.  No matter what your specific purpose, consumers tend to want to visit your website to find out more information about you before they contact you physically in person.  Your website is the central storefront of all your messaging – including a home base for all your inbound and viral marketing efforts.

The challenge is communicating your brand’s identity in quick, broad strokes of messages.  Your prospect will only give you seconds to succinctly communicate your purpose and value before the vanish for good.  If you make a poor impression in the first five seconds, you may have lost your opportunity to engage your prospective customer or client in a more meaningful, lasting conversation.

One of the most important components of successful online branding is appealing to the human element that seeks a story they can relate to.  Consumers want to feel as though they know who they’re buying from, and that they can both like and trust you.  That needs to be communicated quickly – and your unique values have to be upfront, and personal.

Social media has helped put this “human face” at a very cost-effective investment level for most businesses.  In addition to Facebook (and perhaps Twitter), blogs can be an excellent channel to develop content that expresses your unique values and expertise.  Blogs are also a great way to explore local topics that help your community understand your unique brand values.

One of the foundational pitfalls we see is the inability to clearly communicate your specific and unique values to your prospective clients and audience – the very core of your brand’s message.  While it’s not always the most popular way to go about creating your brand’s foundation, I can’t stress how important it is to take the time to define your brand in writing, and decide exactly who you are to your customer or client.  Without this basis, many companies rush to creating a website or logo that they feel communicates what they’re truly about – but without really digging in the dirt of who their competitors are, how they’re perceived now, and what their true values are in business.

Taking the time and effort to establish your brand’s messaging foundation will save you money and effort in the short, and long term.  Don’t rush to the fun activities of creative design before you can clearly communicate your unique value.  You, and your customer, will be thankful that you did.

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