Your brand is being created with or without you

Brands are dynamic. Customers use our products and services. They like or dislike their experience and they say so, publicly. This type of customer engagement directly impacts your brand. In this way, your brand is being created with or without you. You can’t control it. What you can control is how you deal with it.

You’ve probably heard the saying “feedback is a gift”. It’s also a gift that you can’t return or exchange if you don’t like it. It’s yours to deal with whether you like it or not. Since most brands have some sort of an online presence today, customers have a very public option when providing feedback. They can leave their comments on your 1-800 customer feedback line or send their concerns to some anonymous email. More likely, however, they will post their issues to a website, blog or user group.

When customers provide this type of public, direct feedback, we basically have two options:
1. Engage – and hopefully influence the nature of the discussion
2. Remain passive – and let the discussion continue without us

I encourage companies to engage in the discussion. That’s the point of the internet, social media and online communities. We have the capability to have these discussions in real time with many more customers than we could have ever have done in the past.

Yet, there are hundreds of examples where companies have had negative comments appear online about their products and they chose not to engage, or even acknowledge, the feedback.

In most cases this sort of “head in the sand” approach doesn’t work out very well for the companies involved. They appear aloof, disconnected and uncaring. Customers post comments on corporate blogs and social media sites, and the damage is done. Companies then spend a ton of money and time trying to “manage their online reputation” – which usually means feeding good content into these sites in order to push the negative stuff off the first few pages of search results.

While this may work in some cases, it seems to be that it is a lot more effective, not to mention efficient, to just engage in the conversation to begin with! Here are some ideas to help you proactively manage your brand online:

  • Pay attention: create Google alerts for your company name, brand names, etc. Monitor where you brand is being mentioned and in what context. It’s next to impossible to influence how the brand is being represented if you don’t know where you’re being mentioned.
  • Be active: identify the key places where your brand is being mentioned and get involved. Participate in discussions relevant to your brand but not where you are directly mentioned. You will get insights into the tone of the conversations and understand more how to position your brand appropriately.
  • Acknowledge feedback: when someone posts something negative, acknowledge their issue. Let them know you heard what they were saying. Explain your response, but don’t try and justify your position, as you will only serve to annoy them further.

Don’t get caught in the hype

So…you have an exciting strategy; your messages are relevant and consistently integrated throughout your brand and all customer touch points. Now you need an actionable marketing plan that delivers your message to your customers in ways that will increase the chance that they will pay attention, and ultimately buy your stuff.

There is a lot of talk about the latest new trend (Twitter, vblogs or who-knows-what’s-next) and the coolest new technology. However, these things are only useful if they are being used by your target customers. This point bears repeating…these things are only useful if they are being used by your target customers. This is the kind of thing that sounds so simple – it is common sense. Unfortunately, it isn’t commonly practiced.

It is critical to the success of your brand that you identify customer-preferred communication vehicles and prioritize those above things that are “really hot” at the moment. While they may be the latest fad, they might not generate the results you want.

Different marketing tools are good at doing different things – think screwdrivers and hammers. This is, again, why it is so important to know what your goals and objectives are so that you can select the right tools for the job. The right balance between online and offline marketing vehicles ensures that you are reaching your target customers in a variety of ways which will improve your overall results – whether they are to increase awareness or to generate demand.

For example, if you are a start-up just launching your company, you need to generate awareness that you exist. PR is a very cost-effective tool to do this. You also need a website to explain what the company does. To get the ball rolling you might launch an email and/or direct mail campaign with an introductory offer so that customers connect their business problem with your company. If you are a small company trying to generate demand, a combination of webinars and SEO with speaking engagements and telemarketing could prove to be very effective at generating quality leads. It is important to focus on the quality of the lead rather than the volume generated as the conversion rates tend to be much higher.

It is easy to get excited about the latest technology and cool marketing techniques. Be careful, and remember that the end result is to achieve the business objectives – which is typically to sell more of your stuff. This means you don’t need to do everything, but you need to strategically select a few key vehicles and do them exceptionally well.


Important elements of personal branding – the results are in

In a recent survey conducted by Impact Marketing Group, we asked entrepreneurs, business owners and independent professionals about their perceptions of personal brands.  Here’s what they said:

– The most important elements of a brand are Authenticity, Honesty and Expertise.

– Visibility online via events, books, blogs and articles is more important than traditional media coverage.

– Your website isn’t as important as it once was – the focus has shifted to personal presence (both online and offline).

What does this mean for you?  First, it means we all need to evaluate who we are and what we stand for in business.  As a whole people are tired of promises made and broken.  We see it in politics and big business, and it is clear that our customers expect more from us, the entrepreneurs and business owners.  We need to be true to our customers and keep our promises.  Remember that we all sell something – whether it is a political message, bookkeeping or graphic design – that helps our customers improve the ways they do things.  They want to hear from us and it is our responsibility to tell them who we are and what we do to help them.

Second, it’s time to start talking to your customers, not the media.  It’s time to start taking part in conversations that are relevenat to your customers.  Hear what they are saying and find out what’s important to them.  Chime in and share your thoughts, expertise and experiences.  Don’t sell them during these conversations – just talk, and get to know them.The time to sell will come once you have gained their trust and become a known entity.

Finally, it isn’t just about your website anymore.  The focus has shifted to a more dynamic type of communications where your personal presence is more important than your webpage.  By personal presence, I mean, your message and presemnce on and off line.  If someone Googles your name, what will they find?  FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn accounts all sharing different parts of an integrtated story? Or, more likely, wil they see some stuff here and there that doesn’t help them to get to know you.  Websites are about credibility, but they aren’t what people need to make a decision to do business with you.  People need to know that you’re the real deal, that you’re a real person with experiences to share and ideas that might help them.  Blogs, articles, videos, speaking appearances can all work to help you build your personal presence.

Here are the details for anyone who’s interested in seeing more:

Brand Perceptions




Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

In the world of Real Estate it is all about “location, location, location”. In the world of marketing it is all about consistency. In conjunction with a sound brand strategy, you need a clear and concise message that resonates with your customers. These messages need to be integrated across your brand and into every customer touch point. Now, you don’t need to use the same words over and over. However, each communication needs to reinforce the key messages that have been developed to support the brand. It is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – when the brand are consistently conveyed across multiple touch points, the customer is left with a clear understanding of what the company, product, service, or solution is and how it solves their problem. Simply put, they know what your brand is about.

Unfortunately, as marketers we often get bored with the messages we’ve developed. We’ve spent hours fine-tuning them and testing them. Finally, our campaigns launch and the messages are out there, but by that time they feel old and stale to us. There is a difference between a “fresh” message (with unique language, a clever play on words, a connection to a current event) and a “different” message (not aligned with strategy, not related to existing messages, different for the sake of being different). Research shows that it takes anywhere from five to nine impressions for an individual to actually internalize a marketing message. That means they need to see it over and over again. Not the same words, but the same idea supported by the same brand.

For example, an article in a trade publication mentions the company and their new product; the customer sees an online banner ad, they click on it, and get to a landing page with a compelling offer; they do a Google search to see what else comes up and there is a link to your latest white paper; at an industry tradeshow the company has a booth and is hosting a panel discussion…and the story continues. With consistent use of key messages across multiple touch-points your customers comes away with the sense that your company is worth their consideration.

Now you have a place to start engaging and driving purchase decisions. This model holds true for consumer and business marketing. People are people, whether they are buying high-end mission-critical software or a new plasma HDTV for their living room. They have a problem. Through your consistent messages, you have convinced them to consider your product or service as they evaluate their options. You still have to convince them that your product or solution is really the only one that really addresses all their needs – from technical specifications to user support, maintenance and financing (again, these apply to consumer and business purchases.)

Again, consistency is key. You customers need to see and feel that your company is honest and trustworthy. If there is a disconnect between what you say and what they experience, you will lose the sale, and probably the customer. So, while consistency in messaging is important…consistency in execution is critical. Both pieces of this puzzle need to be addressed in order for the whole thing to work. If you only focus on the messaging, then your experience will fall flat. If you don’t explain your differences and benefits, then you won’t get the chance to display your stellar experience. No matter how you look at it, consistency is the key to growing you brand and your business.

FaceBook, Mashable and a good headline

I just did a quick check on my TweetDeck and what do I see….5 tweets within seconds of each other with links to the same article. It must be good right? So, I click to see what all the fuss it about. The headline:

“Facebook Now Consumes 5 Percent of Our Collective Internet Time”

“Nice,” I think to myself with my marketing hat on. What have FaceBook and Mashable done in this singular headline? They got our attention. Apparently they got lots of people’s attention. So far this single article has had over 488 Retweets, 32 Shares and 503 reactions. Wow…all in the space of a few seconds.

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What can we learn from this? Here are a few of my take aways.

  • Regardless of the type of media (New or Traditional) headlines still matter. Alot.
  • The length of an article or post doesn’t matter as much as quality.
  • People share things they think are important

In the time it has taken me to write this post (about 10 minutes), the article was retweeted 148 more times.