Are You Ready To Hire A Marketing Firm?


Every business owner is faced with the similar options and approaches to handling their communications strategy and campaigns.  Most start by trying it themselves, because they believe they know their business best, and want to give a try at the “fun stuff” – like marketing and advertising.

Like many businesses, you might also consider hiring a full or part-time marketing assistant or consultant.  Before you do…ask yourself this: When your business needs electrical work do you do it yourself? Hire an electrician to be on staff full-time? Or ask your plumber to handle it?

Bring in the Experts.

Though simple marketing and advertising might seem simple enough to do yourself, nothing hurts as much as a costly misfire.  Not only will you send the wrong message to a very busy public, but your budget will likely suffer and you’ll be in no position to recover or redirect the funds and time wasted.  The fact is, no one can do the job as effectively and efficiently as someone who lives and breathes the industry everyday.

Seeing the forest and the trees.

With any luck, the consultant you hire will bring with them an objective opinion and a fresh perspective.  It’s easy for many business owners to lose perspective on their brand as they become immersed in daily operations.  When you’re managing the minutia of business, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.  Often, a business’ marketing will reflect this, and the actual benefits of a product or service is lost to a detailed description of its functions and product details.  All emotion is lost in the pitch, and as such, isn’t received by the intended audience.

If you add another ball, technically it is juggling.

Even if you give the added tasks of marketing to an employee, attention is being taken away from other important responsibilities and projects.  Consultants on the other hand, are dedicated to one, and only one, important portion of your business.  The right one will stay focused on your brand’s image and sales – allowing you to keep your attention on other important development projects and goals.

Be Like Gumby.

The right consultant will remain very flexible, and should be ready to take on an assignment at a moment’s notices.  The ease of getting a project started is just a phone call away from being put into production.  Conversely, hiring a new employee to handle your marketing takes time to advertise, interview, and sort through candidates – often to find you may or may not have committed to the overhead of an employee.

The C- Word

Hiring a marketing consultant or firm may not require a long-term Commitment.  When a marketing firm completes a project, they have the flexibility to move into whatever position you need, from quarterly analysis, to basic maintenance, to completely out of the picture while remaining on the sidelines when you’re ready to take a new step forward.

Whatever your stage in business, it’s worth your time to set clear strategic goals for your marketing budget – and spend it wisely.  Investing in a professional or team of consultants to help you execute your campaign will not only save you money in the long run, but deliver greater results for your investment.

Do you work with a marketing firm?  If so…we’d love to hear about your experience!

Have You Connected To Your Cause?


Brands today strive harder than ever to rise above the din of conversations to make lasting impressions on their target audience.  Aligning your brand with a social cause that is in sync with your values and goals has become an important way to attract and keep a growing fan base of followers.

After presenting to an organization of non-profits last week on the importance of branding for their marketing efforts, it occurred to me how many of them try to reach a broad audience with their specific appeal, rather than align themselves with business or personal brands that could elevate them faster to broader recognition.

Companies that are successful in partnering with their customers for social causes share similar traits.  They start by considering their consumer’s purpose and needs (not just theirs), then engage them in a series of truly meaningful experiences that make an impression for a lifetime – not just a moment.  That life-long impact creates a more meaningful bond with the brand, and ultimately results in benefits directly to the bottom-line.

Social cause marketing isn’t just another marketing fad, it’s an opportunity to re-think how you connect with your customers, and how you might create a process that delivers truly meaningful communications that have an impact forever.

Mutual Values

If your brand is clearly defined, you’ll have a core set of values you can easily communicate.  When you align those values with another cause that people already support, it’s another important validation that your part of their tribe and culture.  Social media allows us to show our support with a simple click, which is a perfect opportunity to open the door to a much deeper relationship.  By creating messaging and online resources that align with the right cause, you’ll not only increase your brand’s awareness, but you’ll drive action and inspire others to follow your lead – which in turn strengthens your brand’s online appeal.

Finding The Right Fit

Your cause doesn’t need to come by an already established formal organization or nonprofit.   The key is identifying a cause that your brand and others can eagerly support.  The key is to find a connection  between your brand and a cause that makes sense – especially to your specific audience.

Start by asking yourself what are the things your service or product is invested in for the long run.  What do you really believe in?  What type of belief would inspire others to buy your products/services and support a cause at the same time?  While the process may seem a little callous at first, it’s critical to take into consideration how to partner with your cause in a way that benefits everyone – especially your brand.

Align The Messages

Ask yourself a few key questions before you commit to a cause.  Where is your brand now, and where does it want to be? By aspiring to what you want to become, you begin the motivation for uplifting the partnership between your brand, and your cause.  Focus on becoming inspirational and sharing stories that can resonate with your specific audience, and entice them to share with their circles of friends.

What can your cause engagement do to really inspire people?  What stories can you create that will undoubtedly be shared with your friends and their friends?

Resist the temptation to insert your message into the cause.  Authentic cause relationships must be honestly transparent.  Once your audience gets an inkling of an idea that you’re using the cause simple to benefit your brand – the benefits vanish.

However, once you engage the right partnership and align your campaign messaging with their cause, you’ll create something that resonates with your audience…not simply more information for them.  Be sure to stay focused, and don’t forget to exercise control to keep your messaging on task.

Here’s Your Chance To Think Big – Really Big

The smallest campaign can catch a wave of support if it’s properly positioned and delivered.  Social media enables even the smallest cause campaign to go viral – and it doesn’t take much other than transparency and honesty to reach thousands of supporters with very little investment.   While you’re building that relationship, don’t forget to dream big, and inspire others to follow that dream.

Now is not the time to think solely about your brand’s engagement – dream of how big you might grow your cause related campaign and how best to work toward that together for everyone’s mutual benefit.

What causes is your brand aligned with?  Can you share an example of how cause marketing has worked for your brand?

Building A Smarter Brand


If you’re an entrepreneur in today’s market – my hat’s off to you.  You possess the power to see opportunity where others see obstacles, and you know how to act quickly to take advantage of that window to success.  Time, in today’s economy, is more precious and fleeting than ever as our lives move faster with technology and communications.

Besides endless hours of hard work getting your business financed and established, today’s entrepreneur wears an additionally daunting cap – broadcaster and market leader.  Building a loyal following of customers and fans is more important today than ever before – and the channels to reach them are increasing in complexity and reach with each passing day.

In the heat of the hunt for immediate results, many new (and existing) businesses dash past the brand development stage, and march quickly into delivering logos, websites and collateral from limited or multiple resources.  Who has time to ponder the personality of the language used to describe your product or service?  People just want to know about it, and hopefully stop long enough to pay attention.

Breaking that pattern of rushing to market is a key component to building a solid communications foundation that will serve you and your growing business for years.  Spending the time creating and defining your brand platform with a team of professionals will not only save you precious time, but precious funds in the short and long-term.  If done right, your brand platform will influence every single business decision you’ll make today, and in the future.

So what are the real bottom-line benefits you’ll get from establishing a solid brand platform and strategy?

1. Stand Out From The Competition

So much competition, and so little time to compare for too long, the window of opportunity to connect with today’s consumer is ever decreasing.  We multi-task on a variety of devices, all while maintaining several streams of conversation and potential distraction.  “New and Improved” simply isn’t enough to attract and keep consumer’s attention today; you have to prove your real, authentic value in competition with everyone.  Truly standing out in today’s market is harder than ever – and reaps even greater rewards when done well.

2. Communicate Your Value Quickly And Clearly

With a solid brand strategy and well-defined personality and language, you’ll be able to  speak with clarity and speed.  While speeding down the highway in your car, your billboard will have but a few seconds to be attracted and memorable to a stream of potential customers.  The internet is like a highway as well; with similar rules of quick and clear attraction requirements.  Keep your message concise and most importantly – make it memorable.

3. Attract Both Customers And Investors

Ask any budding young entrepreneur today who is just beginning to develop business ideas, and they’ll confirm that a strong brand is something they must have to secure funding.  “Build It And They Will Come” is notorious as a poor rationale to develop a product or service.  As humans, we want to believe that our realm of experience is similar if not exactly like our target market’s… which is often not true.   Spending the time to clearly define your target market, and give them reasons to buy from you from their perspective and experience is a critical step to financial returns.

4. Enjoy Lasting Marketing Returns

A well-defined brand platform is one business strategy that gives back for years if executed correctly.  As the company grows, so do you expand on the foundation that was established through a formal branding process.  Without that foundation, you’ll likely change messages and tactics enough to never gain traction in any specific market; and waste critical resources of time and money while doing it.  Developing a solid brand promise also translates into better information for creative expression; saving you time, money, and the sapping effort of going through rounds of creative attempts and evaluation.

5. Grow Faster With Purpose

One of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is to stay on track. It’s hard to know which opportunities to pursue, and which ones to pass on. Particularly when you don’t have the structure and decision-making processes of a large company. A well-defined Brand should be used as a continual, actionable filter to review everything: products, partnerships, people for fit to your core values. If they don’t fit, even if they have merit, then pass.

Brand platform building, especially defining your target market and your unique positioning is a powerful need for every business.  Many businesses see the branding process as a challenge, and not an advantage.

How do you see branding in your business today?  Is your brand platform clear to you and your market?
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Focus Your Branding For Success


One of the important challenges we face as a communications team is convincing new and old companies that having a formal, written, focused marketing strategy is and essential foundation for success.  You’d think this wouldn’t be all that difficult to accept from a logical perspective; planning is key to reach any of your goals.  Yet, we’re constantly surprised at how few do have one, and how many say they do… but really don’t.

Focus, in marketing, is critical.  The risk of losing focus is failure, and often signals the end for a brand.  But how do you go about focusing and developing a cohesive, integrated brand marketing strategy?  Our advice (obviously) would be to hire a professional to help you… unless you have a strong background in marketing; let alone advertising, public relations, social media, and web development.  All of these important brand strategy tools are there for you to consider, and strategically plan into an actionable list of tactics and to-do’s.

If you don’t have the experience or funds to invest in a professional’s guidance and help, strategizing and defining your unique communications is more than challenging – it’s nearly impossible for many entrepreneurs and emerging brands.  Although you may not have the resources to hire a professional or agency, the need remains, and many businesses close their doors because of scattered and unfocused brand strategies.

There are a few mistakes that continue to reveal themselves when investigating our client’s unique brand stories and goals.  If you can identify any these trends in your communications, consider that it might be time to adjust your thinking and plans:

Serving Too Many Masters.  Focus your attention on one, possibly two messages at any given time.  Consistency is key – in both appearance, tone, and frequency.  If you can’t clearly communicate your value in various time frames you’ll encounter from the elevator pitch to the hour long lunch, you’ve not defined your brand clearly enough for anyone to easily understand.

Not Everyone Is A Fan.  In fact, few people will be fans as you introduce and continue to communicate your brand’s services or products.  If you’ve not defined your target market with extreme precision and detail, you’ll not spend your time or money wisely with a shot-gun approach.  Your unique enthusiasm for what you do, and who you serve needs to be carefully tailored to be in the tone and mode your very specific audience is welcoming.

Cheap Is Not Always Good.  That 150,000 coupon booklet opportunity might seem like a great media buy – until they scatter your brand in the wind after delivery to your neighbors doorstep.  Randomly choosing media options that appear to be a good deal is not part of a targeted media campaign.  While great deals happen, you need to have a media and communications plan (PR+Social Media+Advertising) that broadcasts your message to a very specific audience. Start with a 90 day commitment at a miniumum with good frequency for that specific media channel.

Not Following The Herd.  Investing time mingling in social circles that your brand should be known is, including networking events and social media channels, may be one of the most effective use of time and money for your brand’s success.  Even the largest national brands maintain strong social presences in their specific industry’s circles.  Once you’ve got a solid brand strategy and communications plan in place, it’s critical to network your way to larger circles of connections – and opportunity.

Don’t forget – the 80/20 rule still applies in brand marketing today, especially with tighter budgets and more communication channels to choose.  Time is still money – and spending both are critical first steps for any brand – no matter what its age.  If you find you’re in need of direction with this critically important step in branding, please contact us.

Focus your brand’s strategy on an innovative, integrated communications plan – and get started on the path to greater rewards for your investment of time and money now.

JC Penney Rebrands For Success


In their third attempt to reinvent a classic American brand, JC Penney has forged a new approach in all of their communications.  As for the company’s new red-white-and-blue logo, the new brand image evokes our nation’s flag and promises a commitment to treating customers “Fair and Square”. The square frame imagery is prominent  throughout all of the company’s marketing to remind customers to frame the things they love.

Needless to say, it’s critically important that the company solidify it’s relationship with decades of loyal customers while appearing new enough to attract new brand fans.  To help do this, the company will begin delivering millions of copies of its new monthly book, including nearly 100 pages of highlights for that month.  JC Penney stores across the nation will undergo a complete overhaul of in store signage and retail presentations.

The company’s president Michael Francis notes some important aspects of this critically important brand relaunch:

“We are redefining the JC Penney brand so we become a store for all Americans, by offering an experience they cannot get anywhere else. This will start by freeing consumers from the barrage of promotions and undifferentiated shopping experiences they have become used to and replacing it with something entirely fresh and new that is evident in every aspect of our store – new brands, new marketing, unique attractions, and much more. Beginning on February 1, our customers will see immediate changes that give a sense of how we will transform JC Penney over the next four years. It will be a breath of much-needed fresh air and give them reasons to visit JC Penney more often than ever before. Our objective is to make our customers love to shop again and across JC Penney, we’re very excited about the changes to come.”

In what could only be considered a brilliant move, the retail giant aligned itself with an intensely popular celebrity that reaches a younger, female demographic – Ellen DeGeneres:

Beyond a series of light-hearted spots, the brand focuses its efforts on providing value again to its consumer base.  The promise of “Fair and Square” has become the company’s brand promise – reflected in every aspect of their marketing.  While the promise is more than serious, the approach has been fun and engaging – putting a truly new spin on an old retail brand.

Beginning this August, the company will begin a month-by-month, shop-by-shop strategy to update all stores with new and exciting merchandise and presentation. Two to three shops will be installed monthly, each and every month, over a four-year transformation period, including the debut of “Town Square” during 2013. All of these re-branding initiatives will  complete the company’s physical transformation by the end of 2015.

Response to JC Penny’s new brand position has been largely popular…but what do you think about it?  Will it create the kind of interest to reshape your thinking about the brand, and get you to give it a try again?

Publishing Your Brand


If you listen very carefully, you might hear it… the groans from small business owners all across the land when the phrase “Content Is King” is mentioned to them.

As true as that saying may be, most of today’s consumers go directly to search engines to answer even the slightest of trivial questions.  The mistake that most businesses make today is that they churn out content every day, but without making it part of their overall communications strategy.

Content publishing should focus on two simple goals: educating and building trust.

Content strategy is delivered through very specific content forms, and not volume alone.  Every business today is publishing content, and today is the day you need to think like a publisher.

How best to build trust with your audience?
Blog: There’s no doubt that blogs are the best starting point for content strategy as they allow for simple content production, and syndication of your message.  Search engines gobble up blog content.  Blog content can easily be delivered through other channels like e-books, workshops and guest articles.

Social Media: Step one – claim your stake with profiles on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.   But don’t let that stop you.  Take it to the next step by claiming your place on communities like Entrepreneur, Inc., or even Business Week.  Creating these profiles and optimizing links back to you site plan an important role in content strategy publishing.

Testimonials:  Third party testimonials may be the most powerful tool in your publishing arsenal.  Seek testimonials in a variety of forms including written, audio and video.  Share them on sites such as YouTube and Google+ to continue to build your publishing portfolio.

Reviews:  Depending on your specific business, sites like MerchantCircle, CitySearch and Yelp! can offer positive user referrals.  While never in control of reviews, overlooking them may prove more harmful than bad reviews.  One thing is certain, you’ll need to actively monitor these channels at all times.

Consider these two easy ways to educate your customer with content.

Seminars:  Today’s consumer wants their information neatly pre-packaged for easy consumption. Seminars, workshops and presentations are everywhere – both online and offline.  Once engaged, these channels provide a great opportunity to really engage your audience.  Taking your white paper or ebook and turning it into a 30-45 minute, value-packed presentation may be the most cost-effective way to both engage and convert casual leads into loyal customers.

White Papers & Ebooks:  In communicating their brand story, documenting the values and views are effectively done in the form of a white paper or book.  This content needs to highlight the businesses truly unique values including why it exists, what it will accomplish, and ultimately – it’s special purpose.

This is certainly a short list of ways and channels for you to reach new, actively engaged customers. What are others you might be using that are working for you?

Once you’ve developed your specific system of content publishing that works in unison for your brand, maintaining and growing our channels becomes a fun and welcomed task, instead of one to dread and avoid.

Gather ‘Round The Brand Fire


Since the very dawn of man, we have gathered around fire to share and communicate.  Today’s complex network of media channels have replaced the tended campfires of old, but the process of communicating via emotionally engaging and meaningful stories has never changed.  Even with today’s technological advances, we crave the basics of meeting our needs through sharing the emotional journey of a good story.

Everyone can agree that, at its deepest core, great marketing and advertising is basically good storytelling.  The most memorable ads whisk us along a journey that appeal directly to our wants and desires.  The fire in messaging is sparked by connecting your product or service with the desires and emotions of your specific audience.  When that emotional connection is made and the timing is right… the story brings a flood of emotion into their reality.  Reality is much more than an advertising promise – it’s an experience they’ll come back for time and again.

Today’s marketer has a much bigger toolbox at their fingertips to help communicate these engaging brand stories.  In combination: online/offline ads, events, websites, retail spaces, public relations and social media, all play key roles and share the brand story telling experience.  Really understanding exactly how and where to target your customer…where they routinely and comfortably consume media and would welcome your story, is key to effectively positioning your brand’s story.

How do you craft a successful brand story?

First…you must understand how your brand’s services or products really connect with your customer’s basic emotional needs.  Everyone has deeply rooted emotional needs on a variety of levels, your job is to connect the benefit of your brand directly to that deep desire.  Even if the need is not physically oriented, nearly everyone seeks prestige, acknowledgement or pride.

Once you honestly understand the subtle values and emotions you’re connecting your story to, research to learn two things:

1) What media your potential customer may physically be exposed to your story, and

2) What is their emotional state is at the time their engaged with that media. This is critically important, because no matter how engaging your message may be, if it’s not delivered at a time that is open for reception, the message won’t resonate at all with your target audience.  It’s one of the simple, basic needs we all increasingly have in today’s mash of brand stories.

Finally, make sure your brand story is consistent about your story – no matter what campfire you may be gathered around.  Inconsistency in the subtle nuances of your story degrades the power and impact of your emotional connection – especially if it’s changed again and again over time.

Every brand has a story… including your personal brand as well as your business’ product or service. Engage your customers with an captivating, emotionally connected story that speaks to their specific desire, and you’ll begin a conversation that will develop loyal fans, referrals and sales for years to come.

Do you have your brand’s story written out in detail?  Is it as concise and engaging as it can possibly be?  Do you really know if it’s resonating with your audience? Or are you honestly just guessing because it resonates with you? 

If you’re confident you can consistently engage your audience with an emotionally connecting brand story  – you’ve taken the first important step toward building a growing community of loyal fans and customers.

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