6 Important Brand Strategy Steps


Spring is in the air, and this is the time of year businesses are energized about meeting and exceeding their goals.  I like to call it “new better bigger stronger” season.

It’s also time that many businesses consider a change in their marketing efforts and presentation overall to help reach new prospects and customers.  Many brands go as far as consider developing a refreshed positioning message overall to upgrade and uplift their communications to new potential clients.

If you’re one of those thinking hard about your brand’s real position in your market today, there are a few simple steps you can take that will get you down the path to a good start:

1. Conduct A Comprehensive Brand Audit: Take the time (and a survey) to listen in on how your prospects, customers and employees/vendor really perceive your brand.  This feedback is critical to discover any “disconnect” between what you think you’re conveying, and what they’re perceiving.  Once you find the gaps in your strategy, you can make appropriate changes for resolutions.

2. Take Time To Create Your Brand Architecture: It’s important that you take time to really define your unique value position, and prioritize it’s very specific features and benefits. Now is also a good time to define some important keywords that you’ll target your communications with for search engines and your various audiences.

3. Develop A Brand Strategy: Take the findings of your unique architecture and match that messaging with your various target audiences.  Make a list of where you plan to find and engage them, and what type of media or marketing support you may need.  Consider every possible media channel you can think of, from public relations and social media to traditional and interactive media.  Write them down and make a list!

4. Create Your Brand’s Story: By developing and writing out your compelling story that addresses your brand strategy, you’ll begin to be prepared to communicate with your market.  Be sure to think from your target audience’s perspective, and not from you own as an owner or employee.

5. Determine Your Brand’s Visual Requirements: Now for the fun part – from selecting colors, type styles and logo characteristics, you must visually reinforce your brand at every step of the way. Perhaps it’s a tweak of your existing logo that’s in order to update it, or an entirely different visual brand is needed – now is the time to make and execute on that part of the brand process.

6.  Develop Your Brand’s Operational Requirements: From logo use, to how the phone is answered – it’s important that you communicate the tone of the first five steps to every single person you engage.  Consistency is key to branding – and you now have the power behind your brand to communicate it with confidence.

Complete and document these steps with care, and you’ll not only see how you stand out from the competition, but you’ll be laying the foundation to grow faster than competitive brands in your same category – even in your same smaller community.

The biggest brands in the world know from experience that a well-defined business brand will generate more leads, rapidly accelerate their sales cycle, and create solid returns to their bottom line in faster time frames.  No matter what size company you are, the same principles of success apply to you.

If you’re like most of our clients and need help clearly defining and positioning your brand, we’re here to help.

Building Brands By Blogging


Oh that blogging were as easy as pushing a button on your computer… and voila! – you’re published.  If you’ve ever had a blog, you know it can be a challenge to maintain and keep relevent.  Over time, you’ve likely abandoned it, and felt a little pang of guilt for not tending to it.  If you’ve not – then you are among the very few who have started and maintained their New Year’s resolutions.  Good for you! (However few of you out there).

While it may seem tedious and self-imposed, blogging really does provide a foundation for authority for any brand.  There is no other vehicle quite like a blog to help establish your authority in the market, while providing content that both engages, and excites your specific audience.  Think of it as owning your own broadcast station – and you’re controlling the programming (and advertising).

If you’re not creating content…you’re losing precious time establishing your brand in your customer’s mind, and certainly not keeping up with search engine optimization requirements today.  Everyone has some kind of specific viewpoint they can bring to blogging – and many voices are yet to be heard in this continually expanding part of today’s marketing mix.

Consider this:

You’ve got a uniquely personal brand, but nobody seems to know much about you?
Perfect – blog.  Do it ritually – twice a week for starters, more when news or the Muse strike.  Reward yourself as your audience grows…and keep at it.

Your blog let’s others learn how you can help.
If you simply blog about what you know, what you’re passionate about, and what you’ve done – others will feel as though they know you. Put that in your personal branding quiver.

Great blogs create buzz.  Great buzz creates recommendations.
Connecting to others with content they can share is the key to helping spread your brand with the most powerful marketing tool of all – word of mouth.

Integrate.
Sharing between social media channels today is easy, and a quick way to make your content simple to link back to and distribute.

Writing is cathartic, and authentic.
While often a struggle, writing provides insights into your personality and traits that are difficult to communicate in any other media.  For that, readers may reward you with following you.  What could be better than to have your own army of brand advocates ?

Blogging is here to stay.  Really…it is.
Journalism will not die anytime soon – with blogging taking a key role in the distribution of information and interests.  Don’t be left out of those conversations.  Get your brand’s unique perspectives known to your audience today, and establish a basis for referrals later.

It’s true – you may not have time to blog as much as you need – or as much as you’d like.  There’s a simple solution to that – hire a content developer or social media team to help you do it for you.  It’ll be worth your investment and in the long run, return with big dividends.

Simplify Your Brand


One of the hardest challenges in our business is simplifying our client’s message to its core emotions and values.  It sounds so simple, and so many think they can do it for, and by themselves.  It’s more than a challenge to focus on the simple value of a product or service, than address the complexity of the market environment, and the barrage of messaging customers receive every day.

In 25 years of helping people craft and deliver their company’s message, there’s one simple, important step that is often passed by.  Simplifying the message.  Stepping back for a moment and saying with intent – How can we make this simpler?  Then start stripping away at each and every word and thought until you find the very core basics left.

I can guarantee that your target audience will not only be more responsive, they’ll consider your message a welcome lifeline in a sea of complexity.  What is most confusing to them is a result of giving them too many options at once, then not clearly helping them make a choice best suited to their specific needs.

In order to be simple, you must first go to the extremes of complexity – and peel back the hyperbole and marketing speak until you reach the core message that speaks to solving your customer’s problem – or enhances the basic values of their everyday lives.  Then…the message will resonate like none before.

The difficulty is in taking yourself out of your current thinking – and stripping away the constructs you’ve built about your product or service that you’ve convinced yourself is exactly what your customer wants.   Your perspective counts, of course – but your customer’s counts more.  Without polling or engaging them one-on-one, you’ll only guess at how your brand is perceived – and how best to communicate what can best be sold.

No matter what stage your brand development is currently in – whether a start-up or an established product or service – you’ll be well served by taking a moment to step back, and simplify your messaging.

If you’re challenged in doing that by yourself – call on us – and we’ll help you through the process to your success.

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 Google.com 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 http://www.Google.com 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?

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?

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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