In Search of the Holy Grail (of Branding)

In Search of . . .

Customer Loyalty!

Why is this quality so very important . . . and the ultimate goal of all branding activity?

Once you achieve customer loyalty, consumers will:

  • Choose your product or service over others . . . regardless of your competitors’ behavior.
  • Select you without price shopping . . . and perhaps even be willing to pay a bit more.
  • Become repeat buyers – often for years and potentially crossing multiple generations (an impressive brand success).
  • Recognize your product by your logo and other branding elements without a reference to your name. 
  • Become your best sales force – promoting your product/service through word of mouth.
  • Expect you to make good on brand promises – those qualities you have promoted that have resonated with your audience.
  • Present you with growth opportunities – in part through cross sales.

In other words, once you have achieved customer loyalty, your sales acquisition costs should decrease significantly because less marketing and sales expense should be required to generate the desired revenue.

So . . . How Do You Create Brand Loyalty . . . and Avoid Getting Lost in the Crowd?

While I’m sure you’ve heard about (and probably been pitched) loyalty/incentive programs, such tools are just one of many that are available.

Note:  Loyalty programs encourage shoppers to return to stores where they frequently make purchases. Some of the incentives may include advanced access to new products, additional discounts, or sometimes free merchandise. Customers typically register their personal information with the company and are given a unique identifier, such as a numerical ID or membership card, and use that identifier when making a purchase. (Investopedia) Want to learn more?  Check out these seven examples of some of the best:  https://www.leadquizzes.com/blog/7-examples-of-customer-loyalty-programs/

That said . . .

Instead of focusing on those prepackaged plans, you really just need to expend your energy on building a great brand and consistently promoting your strengths via consistent implementation of the basic branding elements you’ve put into place. Specifically, you should:

  • Provide a customer service experience that reflects your brand. 
  • Utilize social media to establish an online presence.
  • Build a visual brand identity that reflects your products/services and overall operations . . . so the message you are trying to send reflects reality and stands a chance of resonating with your audience.
  • Establish credibility (and trustworthiness) by making good on your brand promises.
  • Incorporate best practices in all that you do AND be the best.
  • Know your audience and make sure your products/services satisfy their needs . . . even as those needs may change.
  • Maintain strict consistency in your spoken, written, and visual message – enhancing recognition.
  • Focus on creating loyal, repeat customers who will continue to frequent your business.  (Why so important . . . ?)

THE LAW OF THE VITAL FEWThe Pareto Principle states that 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from 20% of your current customer base, making it imperative that you focus on creating loyal, repeat customers that will continue to frequent your business. (Written by the Forbes Agency Council)

  • Make positive contributions to society part of your culture.  (To do so can enhance the environmental, social, and governance aspects of your operations, which in turn, enhances the sustainability of your success.)
  • Add extra value above and beyond the basic product/service provided.
  • Check in with your customers regularly via surveys, conversations (research groups), calls, etc. AND really listen to them.

Don’t Be Brand X!

If your business has achieved customer loyalty, you’ve mastered one of the key measures of success – your products and services are no longer generic (. . . and interchangeable) in the eyes of you audience.  You are no longer just another Brand X!  You have a personality and identity; you’ve established a relationship with your customer.

As this article suggests, this goal is accomplished in many ways, including a consistent, well-developed branding program that sends a clear message to your intended audience.

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

FREE Pictures Are Also Worth a 1,000 Words (and Can Help Promote Your Brand)!

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

So . . . where do you find those free pix?

The preparation of branding materials involves a strong visual element — both your own carefully designed logo AND very often a context-specific supporting image.  While customized artwork is almost always best (whether you are talking about a photo taken to mark an occasion or a specially designed illustration), such efforts typically involve so much time and effort that supporting “stock” pix and drawings are often the only practical alternative to satisfy time-and-financial constraints.

I remember my feelings of panic the first time I had to complete a project without the benefit of a corporate stock image subscription and had a deadline but no budget – and just a single question to be answered for myself:

WHAT DO I DO?!?

Ever Explore Wiki Commons?

Wiki can very often provide a great alternative place to find supporting A/V files – both audio and visual.  As the illustration below suggests, these 50 million plus images are stored in well-catalogued and easy to find locations at various technical specifications.

What you need to know . . .

“Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language. It acts as a common repository for the various projects of the Wikimedia Foundation, but you do not need to belong to one of those projects to use media hosted here. . . .

Launched on 7 September 2004, Wikimedia Commons hit the 1,000,000 uploaded media file milestone on 30 November 2006 and currently contains 58,541,226 files and 57,473,117 media collections. . . .

Unlike traditional media repositories, Wikimedia Commons is free. Everyone is allowed to copy, use and modify any files here freely as long as they follow the terms specified by the author; this often means crediting the source and author(s) appropriately and releasing copies/improvements under the same freedom to others. The license conditions of each individual media file can be found on their description page. The Wikimedia Commons database itself and the texts in it are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License. More information on re-use can be found at Commons: Reusing content outside Wikimedia and Commons: First steps/Reuse.”

While much free content is available, you need (as mentioned above) to familiarize yourself with copyright or attribution issues that could be relevant to a specific image.  Often, the creator will allow usage at no charge but will very reasonably want to be given credit for authorship.  To be safe and in full compliance, study the licensing information made available at the Wiki site.

Other Places to Look

Frankly, the Internet provides access to an unbelievable wealth of image resources.  For example, I recently searched for the term: “Best Free Images of 2019.”  The following list was produced:

As you can see, a combination of “stock” photos, illustrations, videos, and sound files are available, and the resource can be more than adequate in addressing your needs.  (You can also find that some paid stock sites offer some very reasonable terms, especially for single images that might be the most suitable for a specific situation.)

While I have not had a chance yet to explore all of these sites at great depth, the very first resource I (gratefully!!) stumbled upon was “Unsplash,” which I highly recommend and found to be quite extensive and well organized with a good search function.  While free, optional attribution is appreciated but not required.  The images themselves are of an excellent quality and professionally prepared to meet most technical specifications you’d encounter.  As I go through others on the list, I expect to find many of them capable of meeting and/or exceeding your typical requirements.

When using these images, I presume most of you have an application  that can handle (and manipulate) these files.  If not, note the vector-based page-layout program Carole recommended in her article on logos – “Design Your Own Logo” (https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/09/08/brand-basics-part-2-design-your-own-logo/).  Almost all computers now come with a package for manipulating photos (for example:  Microsoft’s Paint program).

A Picture Is (Sometimes) Worth a Thousand Words

 A visual element is always an extremely useful tool in almost any activity involving branding.  Images contain content that reinforce your message to your target audience . . . while artistic aspects of the image offer a message of their own about your style, expertise, and sensibility. 

Note:  The criteria you use for selecting images is sufficiently important to your brand to become part of your “Style Guide.”  That portion of the document should spell out image do’s and don’ts to be sure pictures reinforce the brand message you are working to create.

That said, never overlook the opportunity to incorporate custom artwork by taking photos (your phone likely has a great camera always available for that purpose) or even building an illustration of your own!!

WIN-WIN!! Charitable Contributions as an Opportunity for Branding

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.

The requests for donations of time and/or money never stop.  (I know – because the need never stops!) 

Generally speaking, the causes asking for help are very worthwhile, and you’d really like to do your part . . . but didn’t that agency just make the same request last month? 

While this blog can’t suggest ways to cut down the number of times you are approached, we do hope to help you view these solicitations just a bit differently – as chances “to get” as well as “to give.”

Charitable contributions take many forms.  Sometimes, you are asked to sponsor an event.  Maybe someone wants you to take out an ad in a program book – often honoring an individual for community service.  Or, have you been given a chance to underwrite the cost of a little league team (who will wear the name of your business on the backs of two dozen kids several times a week for many months)?  Or, perhaps you’ve been asked to support a high school sport, a public broadcasting station, a local church, etc.

Typically, the cost to participate is low (relative to the cost of advertising in the media) . . . and you choose the amount.  Since many of us will “just say yes” very often due to good intentions/guilt/a sense of moral obligation, we encourage you to recognize the value of such local “advertising.”

Frankly, you are associating your business in a positive way with a good cause and promoting an image (and self-image) of community involvement, which can be very valuable (especially for a local retail operation).

However, you must be sure to take full advantage of the quid quo pro benefit you are provided.

  • Always include your logo.
  • Mention as much of your “boiler plate” description of yourself as possible.
  • If you are given ad space in a program, you certainly congratulate the honoree but be sure to also mention your products and services as well in a manner consistent with your branding (so the message gets repeated the same way every time).
  • If your sponsorship includes a t-shirt (or some other imprintable promotional item) or perhaps even a banner bearing your company’s name, spend time on the artwork to make your branding elements as visible and prominent as possible.
  • If the organization you sponsor does all of the preparation, be sure to provide the quality logo needed to produce the best results and request to see a proof of the complete artwork in advance of printing.
  • If accompanying radio or TV advertising for the event includes mention of you, be very specific about the way your name should be handled.
  • If you are in a growth pattern, use these charitable platforms to let people know you are hiring . . . and provide a link to your web site to learn more about the company, the openings and internships available, and perhaps even apply online.

While proper care will enable you to take good advantage of the benefits provided, your branding opportunity does not have to end with the event.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Use your social media platforms to post news about your involvement in the community-based activities.  For artwork, you can often post the logo of the agency sponsoring the event as well as your own . . . and perhaps a picture of the person being honored.  Typically, those images will generate views/readers.

Social media traffic is one factor that can assist getting your name to turn up in Internet searches . . . so your charitable efforts help you in this way, too.

(Note:  Efforts to get your name to appear in searches is referred to SEO – Search Engine Optimization; future articles are planned that address this subject.)


PRESS RELEASES

Very often, charitable acts can be used to prepare press releases that stand a very good chance of achieving publication.  For example, did your employees volunteer at a soup kitchen, watch over a Salvation Army collection kettle, or perhaps participate in a United Way Day of Caring.  If so, let the world know.  In fact, very often the organization you are helping will have created PR (AND social media postings) of their own so you benefit from their mention without requiring the preparation.  However, be sure to request the right to review prior to submission to make sure your branding elements are included and handled correctly.  (Most organizations are used to getting requests of this kind!)

WEB SITE CONTENT

News about your charitable involvements can be good web site content that allows you to reveal a different, less formal side of your culture – the kinds of information that can be very helpful in recruiting prospective employees looking to learn more about you and decide whether yours is the kind of company that s/he wants to join.

So . . . the moral of this story is to recognize the potential of charitable contributions to do good for others . . . and you, too!  A WIN-WIN!! situation.

While you may have to get a little more involved than just writing out a check, the time and effort you devote will not be significant, and the benefit to your branding efforts can be great.  You can become better known . . . and known as a good citizen to society, which will encourage people to think positive thoughts when they see your logo.

Social Media: One More Reason to Bother! (Betting on the Long Shot)

Recently, my blogging partner published an article about getting started on Facebook, and she also set up a page for our blog – Brand Building for Small Business.  If you followed our lead and did similarly (creating your own site), you’ve probably posted several messages by now . . . and seen little tangible reason for continuing this exercise.

Well . . . the entire message of this article is “Stay the Course!”; you never know who might be paying attention and the kind of impact that person might have on your ultimate success.

Who knows? One day, you just might get kind words from the Oracle of Omaha or some other noteworthy individual that you’d like to pass along!!  Keep posting to get your social media platform ready.

My best real-world example that offers proof of the wisdom of this advice happened just a few short years ago.  I was working for GUARD (my employer at the time and an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway).  We were just getting started with social media (an intentional delay on the part of our company), and we were experiencing slow growth in the numerical results usually used to measure success – likes, followers, visitors, shares, etc.

We had established a regular schedule (at first weekly; then twice a week shortly thereafter) for posting new content.  At that time, my employer was in the middle of a five+ year stretch of 25% per year growth and had new infrastructure needs to accommodate hiring.  As part of that process, the company had applied to the state for a significant economic development grant.  While that request seemed to have a decent chance of success because many new jobs would be created, lots of viable projects were competing for the same dollars.

Fortunately, we had just closed the books on a very good year. In fact, our run of success had been good enough that the Chairman of our ultimate parent company (Berkshire Hathaway) had elected to give us a “shout out” by name during the heavily publicized and well-attended Annual Meeting of the Shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska.  Turns out that when that gentleman, an individual by the name of Warren Buffett, chooses to praise you, people stop and take notice.

Recognizing an opportunity, we transcribed the sound bite and posted a social media mention of the message, quoting Mr. Buffett’s generous remarks.  While this content generally got more attention than our low norm at that time, the first person to “like” our message was the individual who would be responsible for evaluating our worthiness for the grant we were seeking!

Did our social media posting make a difference?  While we will probably never really know, I can’t help but believe some good was done that more than justified the entirety of the time and effort we had devoted to date to social media.

So . . . the moral of the story (especially during the early stages) is this:  you don’t have to produce eye-popping numbers for your effort to be worthwhile and totally justify the invested time and energy.  You just have to keep using the platform you’ve created to communicate your message (. . . AND YOUR BRAND!) in a number of new ways . . . and hope that somewhere along the line the right set of eyes will read your words.  (Rem:  Strong preparation creates opportunity.) 

Frankly, I’m an optimist . . . so I’m always imagining all sorts of interesting people reading my words on the other end.  Every once in a while, the imagined even becomes reality (and that IS fun)!! 

I hope you have a happy and successful New Year in 2020.   My partner and I would love to hear from you and explore suggested ways in which we might be of help.

Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding

Press releases – specifically articles prepared for the media (print or online) to announce noteworthy news – represent a great opportunity to promote your brand . . . FREE OF CHARGE.  However, creating legitimate, credible press releases is more difficult than the average businessowner thinks.  For a submission to succeed, you need:

  • A topic of general interest to your audience (and not just yourself).
  • A writer who understands that most adjectives and adverbs have no place in a press release (and who can pretend to maintain the objectivity of a journalist).
  • An understanding of the ultimate audience being targeted and the media outlets best suited to reach them.
  • An appreciation for proper press release formatting (so you don’t automatically send a signal of amateurism and get rejected unread).
  • The ability to generate quotes and photos to make the piece more sales worthy.
  • A commitment to perform various post-submission steps that can be taken to get the best possible impact.
  • Proper integration of standard “boilerplate” language repeated in each and every release.

While our ultimate plan is to develop separate blog articles for each of these bullet points, I will provide a brief commentary about each for this overview.

TOPICS

Your press release stands the best chance of getting picked up when the editor believes your piece will be of interest to the largest possible number of people.  If you are a company like Apple, almost any subject will get and sustain the attention of editors and readers.  When you are ABC Hauling, you need to work harder.  Employee promotions and hiring can be newsworthy as well as accomplishments.  Awards or recognition by the company or individual staff are good subjects, too.  If your industry has a national day or week-long celebration, find a way to tie into that recognition.  Conversely, don’t assume that some small change to your product or facility has a wide enough appeal to be publicized.

VOICE

When you write a press release, you want to pretend to be a reporter writing a news story, including the way in which third-person pronouns are utilized.  Drop all adjectives and adverbs like excellent product, great staff, wonderful service, etc.  unless such words have been embedded in quoted material attributable to a specific speaker.  A newspaper will not print such language, which marks you as an amateur.  Remember, the media must serve your competition just as well as yourself.

 AUDIENCE

For your story to have the best possible branding impact, pick topics and articles suitable to your demographics.  If you serve an older crowd, don’t tie your piece to topics aimed at teenagers and pick the places for your submission with an eye to audience. (You want information more likely to be picked up by AARP than Seventeen.)

OUTLETS

As suggested above, demographics are one consideration.  However, a number of others come into play.  For example, does the topic warrant national or regional reach . . . or is strictly local more appropriate?  Are you trying to connect with other businesses or the retail marketplace?  If the former, trade magazines might be your target.  Do you have personal contacts that could be useful in making sure your submission gets proper attention?  If so, reach out to them.

As a small business owner, you might not believe you have options other than your local newspaper or your most familiar trade magazine, but other alternatives for extending your reach exist.  Services like PRNewswire or BestWire can be used to get your message placed in many online outlets and get your story into the hands of a wide range of print contracts, too.

I remember many, many, many years ago when I was still at my greenest, our company achieved a special rating that was worthy of being publicized to our targeted audience.  I wrote a press release that got placed locally . . . but my boss received a message from a friend in another state who passed along the rating agency’s version of the press release that had been distributed nationally.  My boss asked me why her friend got the one from the rater but not ours delivered to her desk.

At that point, I had just learned about national distribution services that release information in a very broad manner for a price . . . but had not yet experimented with the process.  Still, I was able to tell my boss that – if she was willing to spend several hundred dollars – I thought I could deliver similar results, too.

Fortunately, the experiment was a success.  Her contact got our story delivered to her desk via the same “google Alert” criteria she already had in place that picked up the Internet placements that had been made.  She passed our version along to my boss, who was pleased.  (We’ll also eventually do a piece on the use of “Alerts” as electronic clipping services.)

While PR distribution specialists such as these can provide some very gratifying immediate results . . . and get your name and story to appear in Internet search results, the impact tends to be transitory.  Don’t expect more than one or two of those search “hits” to still turn up even a few weeks later.  For sales purposes, that may sometimes be enough.  For branding, a bit more “stickiness” would be desirable.  (In deciding whether the benefit is worth the expense, best to be aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of the process.)

FORMAT

To maximize your chances of success, observe a few very basic formatting requirements to make sure your story does not get flagged unread as being prepared by an amateur.  These conventions evolved to help busy editors who get inundated with requests.

QUOTES AND PHOTOS

A press release should always include some quoted material to make the story more immediate and give you an opportunity to include some of the more subjective material not permissible in the body of the article.  For instance, you can quote your CEO making a statement about superior service due to the excellence of the staff . . . while such a statement would otherwise be inappropriate.  That said, show restraint; you’ll stand a better chance of success.   (Future plans are also another good opportunity to introduce quotes.)

If photos of products, places, or quoted parties are available, include them or at least reference their availability. 

POST-SUBMISSION FOLLOWUP

While this subhead could certainly refer to checking back with an editor when a submission has not appeared after a suitably long period of time, our intention was to further discuss the branding potential of press releases due to conscientious follow-up activities.  

Five Ways to Get the Most Mileage from PR Activities

  • Post copies of press release on your web site.  (People will check them out.)
  • Mail or e-mail copies to your customers and business partners.  (Keeps your name in front of their faces in a desirable way and often includes content that serves the same purpose as a testimonial.)
  • Prepare reprints for use in sales presentations with prospects.
  • Prepare social media postings that link to published copies of the story (or at least to your own online repository).
  • Share your published release with your staff to reinforce your brand with them.

The branding that has been incorporated into your well-crafted press release can have much greater and longer impact by taking these few easy and inexpensive steps.

BOILERPLATE

As discussed in our Style Guide, “Boilerplate” language is a short paragraph included in press releases, sales literature, marketing ads, etc. to ensure a consistent, properly branded message gets incorporated whenever possible.  The language should always be included and in the exact same way, knowing repetition is one of the most basic keys to a well-branded product.  (That said, expect editors to frequently cut your “boilerplate,” though you want to keep including the passage both for those occasions when the message is not cut AND to continually help brand yourself in the eyes of the publication.)

More to Come . . .

In the upcoming weeks, we will be doing dedicated articles to each on these aspects of creating press releases and (as is our custom) we will be preparing a press release about our blog that we will submit to several media outlets in conjunction with National Small Business Week in May.  Since we are well aware of the long lead time involved in getting press releases read and published, we are targeting a draft in January for February submission with the hope of some placements for May. (Publication’s schedule vary from weekly to quarterly and several increments in between, so be sure to know the frequency of the ones you are targeting.)

FYI — More information is available about preparing press release from a variety of sources (just do an Internet search on the proper preparation/formatting) . . . so you might want to check out the thoughts of organizations like CBS:   https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-to-write-a-press-release-with-examples/.

Small Business Saturday and Much More . . .

When looking at the above headline, what do you see?

OPPORTUNITIES NO WHERE

Or

OPPORTUNITIES NOW HERE

If you see the latter, you are probably a good candidate to recognize and utilize every available chance to brand your product.

Remember . . .

While branding is certainly a reflection of decisions you make about logo, color, font, byline, etc., branding is more importantly your way of telling the world just who you are, which encompasses all aspects of your daily operations and customer service.

What prompted me to write this article today was a recent great branding opportunity
. . . and my curiosity about the percentage of you that did (and did not) take advantage of . . .

SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY

“What is this event,” you might ask, “and why do I care?”

“First observed in the United States on November 27, 2010, it is a counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which feature big box retail and e-commerce stores respectively. By contrast, Small Business Saturday encourages holiday shoppers to patronize brick and mortar businesses that are small and local. Small Business Saturday is a registered trademark of American Express.” (nicely summarized by Wikipedia)

In other words, Small Business Saturday is a national event accompanied by a considerable amount of publicity and fanfare that you can use as a springboard for your own initiative (taking advantage of ad exposure without having to pay!), which is always an ideal circumstance.  Furthermore, you will be associating your business and your brand with the positive small business characteristics being extolled.

So . . . what can you do to capitalize on Small Business Saturday?

  • Add a reference to the event on your web site.
  • Plan a blitz of social media postings.
  • Have a sale.
  • Write a press release or op-ed article supporting the cause.

American Express, which helped create this nationally recognized day, continues to promote the occasion and makes lots of information and tools available from their web site. (Be sure to check out the section labeled “How to Participate.”)

About now, you are probably pretty annoyed at me for getting you all fired up to participate in Small Business Saturday just a few days AFTER the celebration has passed.

Sorry?

Not really!

Cuz now is the ideal time for you to start thinking about the ways in which you might take advantage of:

National Small Business Week

 (May 3rd – 9th, 2020)

According to the Small Business Association (SBA):

“For more than 50 years, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week, which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.  More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.  As part of National Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Administration takes the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories. Every day, they’re working to grow small businesses, create 21st century jobs, drive innovation, and increase America’s global competitiveness.”

Visit the National Small Business Week page for the latest news and events.

https://www.sba.gov/national-small-business-week

Again, you have an event garnering national and local attention and publicity.   Make your current customers aware and ask them to spread the word further.  Perhaps you’ll want to use this week as an opportunity to request reviews and testimonials from your existing customers.  You might want to recognize your employees and call attention to the local, personalized service you provide on a daily basis – nice qualities to associate with your brand.

Simply stated, countless opportunities exist to promote your brand in a very visible way without necessarily incurring significant expense and very often enabling you to generate new customers and sales.  When no event exists, try to find a creative way to make one, which is, of course, the way in which Small Business Saturday began.

Good luck . . . and don’t forget that holiday cards and gifts represent great branding opportunities, too!!