Jun 19 2017
In our last blog we explored the 6 steps to establishing an effective brand. The subject of branding is far too large to capture in one blog, so we reserved our last submission primarily for the process of designing a brand identity and developing a style guide.
This time we dig deeper into the topic of brand development – specifically brand messaging. It’s our goal to further unpack the concept of brand messaging so you can formulate your own positioning statements and tagline.
As stated in our previous blog, brand messaging starts with a deep understanding of your Why, How, What and Who.
Why does your company do what it does?
How does it do it?
What specifically is it you do, and What products or services do you provide?
Who buys your product and services?
If you patiently research the market and objectively analyze your company, your messaging framework should naturally emerge. There are three perspectives to explore as you attempt to answer those questions:
1. The Customer Perspective
2. Your Company’s Perspective
3.The Marketplace Perspective
To understand the Customer Perspective you should spend an extended amount of time getting to know your buyers. Research as much data about your customers as you can find. If data isn’t available, survey them yourself.
Your goal is to learn as much as you can about their pain points, their defining characteristics as a group, and how your product or service solves their problems. Once you have information about your ideal customer, develop persona guides that allow you to quickly make marketing decisions in the future.
The Company’s Perspective is often overlooked. If you’ve started with the Why, How, What, and Who, you’ve already developed the foundation for a Company Perspective. Go even further in this step. Ask your employees, your sales team, and your operations team how they view the company and what resonates with the customers they encounter. This is vital information. Your client-facing employees frequently have the greatest amount of real world intelligence about your company’s place in the market.
Lastly, what does the competitive landscape look like? In our last blog we described the process of surveying the terrain before embarking too far on a branding journey. In this case, what is your company’s unique value proposition compared to the other businesses with whom you will be competing? This Marketplace Perspective gives you the insight to make your company fit in OR stand out in the overall business ecosystem.
Create Your Messaging Building Blocks
By now you should have discovered the important features, benefits, values, and strengths that define your business. These are the foundations of your messaging upon which you build your strategy.
With this foundation in mind, how would you describe your company using 5 or 6 words (or short phrases)? If you are working with a team, everyone should write these key terms onto sticky notes. Compare all the descriptions and see what patterns emerge. Place them into columns or groups and then distill them into focused messages. These are your building blocks.
For example: a company might describe themselves as…
From these specific key terms you could surmise their values. They are reliable, researchers, advisors, and performers. They are problem solvers.
Constructing a Messaging Strategy
In November we wrote about the lessons you could learn from political campaigns. Given that politics is a giant exercise in brand strategy and messaging, campaigns and political parties are the wizards of spin. They know their buyers (voters and contributors), they speak their language, and they touch a small handful of critical pain points for each type of voter.
Campaigns (brands) create messaging statements for advertising, printed collateral, promotional products, and talking points in interviews. Once they’ve discovered a winning formula, they repeat, repeat, and repeat the messaging until it’s time to start over.
Let’s look at this from your perspective and apply it to the messaging you need.
You know your buyers. You’ve explored your competitors. You have a great understanding of your vision, mission, and the company culture you hope to create. You have the building blocks, or key terms, that define your company. From this knowledge you should develop the following:
Tagline – The commitment or challenge you make to your customers, maybe even yourself. It’s an old rule in billboard advertising that your message must be no longer than 10 words or less. The same goes for your tagline.
“Think Different” (Apple)
“Problems Solved” (Divining Point)
Positioning Statement – In a crowded or competitive marketplace, a positioning statement defines how your company is unique compared to other companies. It may look like a tagline, but consider it more of a statement about the niche or space in the market served by your company.
“The Document Company” (Xerox)
“The Uncola” (7-Up)
Tone – Tone is a conscious decision about how your company communicates with the world. If your company had a personality, this would be the biggest way it’s conveyed. Is your company confident, bold, provocative, and innovative? Or is it defined by a humble service, calm, and sincere? Does your company use humor or passion?
“We drink all we can. The rest we sell.” (Utica Club)
“Eat Mor Chikin” (Chick-fil-A)
There are other messaging materials you can create, like an Elevator Pitch, Company Pillars, and the explanation of your company’s values and history – known online as your About page.
Once you’ve undertaken the hard work of messaging, all of your copywriting, ad copy, and written collateral should naturally flow. The tools above will allow you to infuse all written content and messaging with the key words and qualities that properly represent your company and speak to your customers. Given that content is still king in today’s crowded media landscape, you will have a leg up on your competition by having quality content that exudes your core values. Every ad, commercial, social media post, white paper, or blog will continue to positively drive your brand.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
Mar 11 2017
If you own a business or have built a company from the ground up you’ve been told you need a logo and messaging. After that came a color palette, typeface, a slogan, a style guide, and more, and more, and more. It’s dizzying.
You’ve been told that your brand should make an indelible mark in the minds of your customers and speak to them on an intimate level. Your brand is the personality, identity, and voice of your company. It conveys the values and perceived benefits of your products and services. When done correctly your brand will build a bond with a customer that produces long-term loyalty.
Sounds really exciting, right? Maybe not. Unless you have a background in psychology and human behavior, which we do, this probably sounds like psychobabble.
Most business owners are so intensely focused on operations, delivery, and customer service they have no time to dig into the “touchy feely” world of branding. They know they want a logo. They may even have an idea about company values. But for many business owners, brand identity and strategy seems like a difficult task without a clear, immediate ROI.
Frankly, that’s true.
Your Brand Is Everywhere
An investment in branding doesn’t translate to revenue the way that, perhaps, two additional delivery trucks do. It doesn’t bring in new sales opportunities like an outside sales team or automated lead generation. It doesn’t process orders, it doesn’t make widgets, and it doesn’t answer customer service calls.
Instead, branding is the first impression your business makes when a customer discovers your products or services. It’s also the second impression, the third impression, and the fourth, and so on in perpetuity. Every time your customer engages your product your brand makes an impact. Every phone call, every visit to your website, and every packaged good conveys your company’s value to the client.
Branding builds the trust your client feels when they see your product on the shelf versus your competitors’.
Branding is the difference between printed brochures that actually engage the customer versus ones that gets tossed in the trash.
Instead of seeing a mysterious white van outside of a customer’s house, they see a professional service vehicle with your brand on it and suddenly feel at ease.
The customer’s decision-making process begins with your brand. For companies that don’t invest wisely, it’s also your brand that pushes customers away.
Branding Is Insurance
In essence, branding is a tactical method to reach and retain customers. Think of it as a sophisticated net that keeps the customer engaged. Your company’s brand identity, messaging, and underlying strategy have as much of an effect on keeping customers as it does on why, when, and how they buy.
Your brand also affects employees and company stakeholders on a deep emotional level. Your company’s mission and values should permeate throughout the organization as much as it radiates away from it. As executors of the company’s service, your brand must motivate and resonate with your employees. It is the glue that binds them together as well as to your company and to the customer. History is full of legendary companies whose brands lost their soul and in turn lost their employees. Equally, there are companies who changed the world by staying true to their brand.
Our advice is to think beyond the logo and the slogan. Don’t get hung up on the cost. The cost of developing your brand is relative to the magnitude of the losses from getting it wrong. The risk of losing your customers to a swift competitor should be reason alone to invest wisely. If your brand could sink the ship why would you try to cut corners? It’s also your brand that keeps it afloat.
Want to move your business forward?[nbsp_tc]Let’s talk.
Nov 29 2016
Let’s face it. The 2016 election was historic.
Never in American history has a candidate battled sixteen primary opponents, his own party, the opposition party, the media, the pollsters, international corporations, and the outside world and still managed to win. Analysts and history buffs will study this election for years and still be unable to figure it out.
But let’s not debate politics. We’ll leave that to the professionals and the armchair commentators on social media. Our goal is to help you determine what your business can learn about marketing from political campaigns.
Let’s start with some ground rules.
Political parties are brands. Their candidates are products, but each candidate is also a brand unto itself. Think of the relationship between Nabisco and Oreos.
Each brand conveys values and benefits to its target market, aka voters. As consumers, voters buy the brand through voting. They also buy the brand through campaign contributions and purchasing products, but that’s only a small part of the puzzle. The ultimate purchase is a vote.
A political campaign is an organized effort by the brand and its partners to motivate voters to buy. Political operatives, spokespeople, and party members are the Sales and Marketing team.
We assume some people will take issue with the grounds rules above. We even expect a challenge to the analogies. Furthermore, we expect some people to miss the point altogether. But if we stop right here, we can understand how this applies to small businesses.
There are three critical things political campaigns do that you should, too:
1. Know Your Buyer
Political parties and campaigns constantly assess the shifting interests, concerns, and demographics of the voting population. As a brand, the parties have values, features and benefits. They pour vast amounts of money and resources to fully understand which voters are more likely to embrace those values, want those features, and profit from the benefits.
In common conversation we are familiar with the demographic, socioeconomic, and behavioral features of each party’s voter. In general, we could accurately predict which voters are more likely to vote for one party over another and the nature of their lifestyles and spending habits. For example:
Urban, single female between the ages of 25 to 34 with a college degree and a white-collar professional occupation.
Pretty strong chance that voter is a Democrat.
How well do you know your buyers? Have you identified your target market?
Your marketing strategy depends on how well you understand your product/service and the detailed persona of your typical buyer. Use data to inform your next marketing decision. Even a simple report on the last 12 months of contracts can tell you what sells, who’s buying, and how long the sales cycle takes. From there you can set a course to make overall improvements.
2. Speak Their Language
Make America Great Again
Change We Can Believe In
Nothing is more deliberate than a campaign slogan. It is forged from the drafts of dozens of slogans. It is focus-tested. It is given an early “trial balloon” reveal.
Sometimes it hits the mark. Sometimes it fails to connect with voters. Sometimes it is scrapped and replaced altogether.
Once decided, the slogan is everywhere. It’s on placards. It’s on podiums. It’s on yard signs. It’s on hats. Oh, those hats!
But what goes into a campaign slogan? It is an amalgam of concerns, feelings, and values captured in the language of the voters. A slogan is totally useless if it doesn’t speak to the voter, if it doesn’t resonate with them emotionally.
From the slogan comes all other messaging. Website. Commercials. Mailers. Emails. Speeches. Everything revolves around this central theme – the central brand value.
If you speak the language of your buyers and address their concerns you will be well on your way to attracting new clients.
3. Pick A Couple Pain Points and Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Whether we like it or not, Americans don’t enjoy difficult purchases.
Think of a candidate’s platform. The most successful campaigns offer a limited list of policy positions, under which exist a myriad of other campaign promises. The list typically covers 2-3 main topics:
Each main topic is a Problem. Each sub-topic is a Solution. A topic like the Economy is further divided into Trade, Jobs, Taxes, and the like. For example:
Main Topic: The Economy is a mess, and unemployment is at an all time high.
Sub Topic: We will lower the corporate tax rate in order to spur the return of American jobs and stimulate spending.
From this point a campaign repeats this Problem-Solution messaging until it fails to deliver measurable results with voters. Every speech. Every interview. Every commercial. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Does your company offer a Solution to a persistent Problem? Can you break down the Problem and the Solution in bite sized portions? For example:
Aging homes have poor insulation that costs homeowners thousands of dollars each year.
XYZ Company can install energy efficient upgrades that will immediately save you money.
Bonus Point: Use A Consultant
Look at every political campaign and you’ll notice a team of paid consultants, strategists, advisors, and operatives who help the campaign promote the brand to voters. These specialists offer valuable guidance, assistance, and insight to connect with voters, manage the media, and set overall strategy for promoting the brand. You would be wise to do the same.
Calling for backup is never more important than when your company is struggling for growth or transformation. An objective opinion and analysis gives your company a second set of eyes to see what needs to be done and when. In that regard, professional help can help you avoid making terrible decisions or help you uncover the best next step in achieving your goals.
Want to move your business forward? Let’s talk.
Jun 15 2016
All too often, companies don’t know who their buyers are.
Sounds hard to believe, right? How can you sell something if you don’t know who is buying? Yet, it’s not uncommon to run across business owners who are so busy selling they don’t have a deep understanding about who is buying or why.
The cash register keeps ringing and orders are moving, so everything appears just fine. But ask them to describe, in detail, the characteristics and motivations of their best buyers and watch their faces turn blank.
As we’ve explained before, owners find themselves in deep trouble when they fail to solicit feedback from their clients. Buyer feedback is critical for learning how to improve every facet of your company. By understanding buyers, a company can quickly fine-tune their marketing strategy, bring greater value to the client, and efficiently increase sales.
It all starts with personas.
Let’s dissect this further:
“Research-based”. That means getting to know your buyers.
Through the use of surveys, interviews, sales and demographic data, you can determine broad facts about your clients. What do they buy? How long does it take them to make a decision? How many people are involved in the decision-making process. What need is being met with your product or service? How old, what gender, and to what socioeconomic group they belong?
“Representation”. Not a perfect snapshot, but a detailed caricature of your ideal buyer. You must examine the facts around your client base and create a broad stroke description of the buyer. This representation becomes the blueprint, or profile, to which you can refer when planning your approach.
“Ideal client”. Fairly obvious, but this is certainly unique to your business. Sometimes half the battle is defining what, exactly, qualifies a buyer as your ideal client. Is it a buyer of a certain product? Or is it someone who makes a large investment? Perhaps it’s a combination of total spend and potential for referrals.
Similarly, a persona can be developed for your least ideal client. Who are the vocal opponents most likely to trash you on Yelp? Why? How can that be avoided? What is your plan for damage control?
Going even further, a persona can be developed for influencers. This is someone who may not directly buy from you, but who affects the decision-making process of your ideal client.
How is all this important to you?
A well-planned sales and marketing strategy should improve your abilities to attract, capture, and convert your ideal buyers. But first, you need to know who it is you hope to bring into the pipeline. As the old saying goes, you fish where the fish are. How do you know what bait to use if you don’t know which fish you’re seeking? Seems easy enough. Or is it?
Ask yourself these questions:
What need does my product or service fulfill? What needs aren’t being met?
What kinds of clients do business with us? From what industry do they come?
What is their position or role in their companies?
What age? What gender? What other important demographic information is relevant?
Dig deeper into their interests or preferences if it makes sense to do so. In some cases, you could even give them a name. Satisfied Sam. Buyer Brenda.
Expound upon this profile until you feel you’ve listed all the characteristics that, in your mind, define your ideal buyer. Then prepare yourself for the hard part.
Test this hypothetical persona.
Ask your real clients the same questions you answered on your own. How does the reality match up against your previous understanding? Isolate those areas where your preconceived ideas don’t comport with reality. How has that affected your business or brand? How will it affect your future decisions?
Ultimately, with this knowledge, you can categorize your clients, identify them in the context of a sale, and develop unique offers for each category of buyer. Personas are a powerful tool that can be used to set company objectives, focus your efforts, and ultimately help grow your business.
Maybe you need help or prefer the guidance of a professional who can steer you through the process, probe further, and formulate the personas that will guide your future efforts. Contact us, we’re here to help.
May 30 2016
“Brevity is the soul of wit” – William Shakespeare
“Words may show a man’s wit, but actions his meaning.” – Benjamin Franklin
Blight. Visual pollution. Sewage on a stick.
I’ve heard it all before. After 9 years in the out-of-home industry, I’ve encountered every attitude and opinion, positive and negative, about billboards.
For now, let’s put aside those feelings and discuss what you can learn from out-of-home advertising: Messaging.
The cardinal rule of billboard design is to keep the ad copy brief and direct. With finite space, environmental distractions, and a rate of approach that lasts only a few seconds, a billboard design must summarize the message, connect with the reader, and inspire action all within a single sentence.
An engaging image, well-designed layout, and a powerful message will leave a lasting impression that can sway an entire industry. The best billboards achieve this goal beautifully. Who doesn’t remember Apple’s Think Different?
The worst billboards inspire confusion and widespread derision. Seriously. Don’t be these guys.
What does all this mean for you and your business?
The most powerful marketing messages contain 10 words or less.
A brand’s core value is best conveyed with consistent, easy to digest statements that resonate with its audience. Compelling and effective marketing messaging can be crafted by identifying the emotional reasons a buyer (voter, supporter) would choose your brand over the other options in the marketplace.
Sounds easy, right? Wrong.
Think of all the unique qualities of your product or service. List out the reasons a buyer would choose you over the competition. Does your product or service solve an emotional need for the buyer? Is there a pain or pleasure, desire or demand, aspiration or ideal that can be achieved as a result of the purchase? Write all of these concepts on a sheet of paper and start brainstorming over ways to summarize your unique value proposition to the buyer.
One good exercise is to cut sheets of paper into thirds horizontally. These are your billboards. On each slice of paper write a value statement in 10 words or less. The goal is to capture your brand’s identity, the benefit of your product or service, and to solicit an emotional reaction.
This is no small task, and the learnings will be immense.
You might be thinking, “Yeah, but how does this help me? I own a mortuary. You can’t briefly capture something so serious on a billboard.”
Once you’ve made a billboard, the rest of your marketing messaging strategy can be expanded to inspire action across multiple mediums, content sites, and collateral. Along the way, you may even come to respect the sewage on a stick.