What Comes Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Last year, we published a Small Business Saturday article that provided an overview of the history of the event as well as the potential importance, offering a glimpse at some of the strategies that could be used by small businesses to link this celebration to their brand.

That was last year, which now seems like a decade ago! 

Over 50 million confirmed Covid-19 global cases later, including over 10 million in the United States (see data), most small businesses have had to face incredible challenges as many countries closed down their economies in order to slow the progress of the pandemic.

While a truly unfortunate number of smaller operations have now permanently closed their doors, we need to take a moment this Small Business Saturday to celebrate the survivors . . . and support them in whatever means are available to us.

Expanded Internet activities.  Free delivery.  New products (maybe even including personal protective gear).  Go Fund Me initiatives.  Special Governmental programs.  All of these strategies and so many more have been essential to the continued existence of the survivors.

While statistics clearly indicate that a second wave of the pandemic is upon us and caution that the upcoming holidays will require us to practice some self-restraint, we feel confident that small businesses will survive while still managing to practice governmental safety standards.  Hopefully, by Small Business Saturday 2021 on November 27th, one or more vaccines will have been released and administered to a sufficiently large number of people to put this pandemic behind us for once and for all.

In the meantime, we will not use this article to do more than serve as a cheerleader for small businesses (including that of my blogging partner – Instant Invitation).  Instead, we will invite you to reread our story from last year and to check out some other valuable repositories of information and strategies.

Nicolas Straut, a contributing writer at Fundera, has put together an overview of Small Business Saturday

https://www.fundera.com/blog/small-business-saturday

Similarly, American Express, which founded the day and holds the registered trademark, makes a wide variety of useful resources available, including a Shop Small campaign:

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/shop-small/

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/merchant/shop-small.html#toolkit?linknav=us-loy-homepage-visittheshopsmallstudio

Nestled between Black Friday (a tradition which also appears to be undergoing transformations during this time of social distancing) and Cyber Monday, which continues to grow in size and significance, the role and importance of Small Business Saturday cannot be lost.

Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship vs. “Influencer”: Which Best Describes You?

The three categories of activity identified in the headline above have both similarities and differences. 

Since correctly recognizing the term that best describes you could have some bearing upon the way in which you brand your operation, we are using this article to explore these different categories.  That said, be aware that branding does play a key role in each . . . and you should understand that your personal brand may (but does not necessarily have to) play an important part in shaping your company’s brand.

Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship

According to the website DifferenceBetween.com

“The difference between small business and entrepreneurship mainly depends on the persuasion of growth. If the owner/owners of the business are content with the manner in which the business is currently operating and do not wish to engage in more growth opportunities, then it can be categorized as a small business. On the other hand, if the entrepreneur/entrepreneurs operate their business with a clear and creative vision and are interested in expansion opportunities, this type of business is an entrepreneurship. Since small businesses do not pursue growth, they remain small or medium scale throughout their lifespan. However, this does not mean that they are not successful; some small businesses may be cash rich.”

Entrepreneur vs. Influencers

According to a National Geographic article entitled, “Influencers:  The Modern Entrepreneur,” the following applies:

“Entrepreneurs are people who organize, manage, and take on the risks of a business. They often start a new business in response to a perceived need for a good or service. An influencer, on the other hand, is someone who has the power to affect or change people and their behavior through social media—often to get them to buy something. Influencers who start their own business certainly fall under the first part of the definition of entrepreneur, as they are managing their business and taking on risk.”

Brand Building

Typically, small businesses build brands overtime that reflect the product and/or service being provided.  The process involves finding the qualities that set the business apart from others and developing strategies to reinforce those traits and communicate them to customers.  Each interaction with the general public and consumer audience then plays a part in refining the brand to reflect the feedback received via comments, reviews, complaints, and sales.  This process of evolution should be never-ending.  (See our articles designed to help you get started building a brand.)

Very often, the brands of both entrepreneurs and influencers seem to take on the characteristics of the personal brand of the individual(s) involved.  (That said, a strong personal brand can be useful to a small business, too, which may not necessarily be seeking growth but would want strong customer retention – an attribute that could be helped by loyalty to an individual.)

Common Qualities of an Entrepreneur/Influencer

An Inc. magazine article entitled “10 Essential Characteristics of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs,” indicated that these individuals tend to be:  creative; passionate; motivated; optimistic; future-oriented; persuasive; flexible; resourceful; adventurous; and decisive.  In my experience, many of those kinds of words also ultimately end up being among those that define the brand of both the person and the company.

When I first started at GUARD (pre-Berkshire Hathaway days), the company was small (15 employees) and had been founded by a pair of entrepreneurs who had sketched the original structure of the organization on a napkin over lunch.  Frankly, each of the words identified by the Inc. article describe this husband and wife team very well . . . and also became the kinds of words that applied to the culture, products, and services of the company.

In the early days in particular, GUARD was an entrepreneurship that was independent, creative in thinking outside the box in developing unique products and services, flexible in responding to marketplace opportunities, resourceful in stretching available capital, future-oriented in building toward a big long-term goal, etc.

Understanding that personal and company brands tend to merge can be important in either choosing to intentionally build a personal brand OR in making sure steps are taken to separate the brand of the entrepreneur from that of the company.  Very often, this choice should be one of the first made by small businesses.

Ways to Enhance Your Personal Brand

Patrick Ambron in an Entrepreneur magazine article (“Is Your Personal Brand Losing You Business?”) identified four fundamental steps that could be taken to have a strong on-line foundation for a personal brand.

  • Claim your domain name.
  • Build a personal website.
  • Set up profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Do some basic search engine optimization. 
    (i.e., Use your actual name wherever possible and link all your various pieces of online content to one another.)

Taking these steps can be very inexpensive and (using readily available tools) should be relatively easy.  (Learn more about personal branding.)

And So . . .

If you are an entrepreneur or influencer (or perhaps both), assume your personal brand is going to become part of your business.  Therefore, you better start paying close attention to the kind of statement you are projecting.  If, on the other hand, you are a small business, ask yourself whether customer sales/retention would be improved by linking your identity to that of your company brand . . .  or whether you want the two to make a different statement.

Ooooops!! My Personal Brand Was Showing!!

I first encountered the term “personal brand” over a decade ago.  At the time, I worked with an individual who could always be counted upon to incorporate the latest “buzz words” and concepts into his daily interactions.  The two of us were meeting with our boss at the time, and he made a passing reference to the personal brand I had established for myself, which included certain work habits we had been discussing in general terms.  After the meeting (and getting over my initial reaction of, “Huh?!”), I went back to my desk and started running some Internet searches to better understand the way in which working long hours, caring about grammar, and having a certain overall love of words had created a so-called personal brand for myself that apparently led other employees to expect to see those qualities in me even before I was formally introduced to them.

What did my search results yield?

Identify Your Personal Brand

Note: If this article is seeming familiar, you are right. We published the same piece under a different headline recently (see the original). We are republishing under a different one as part of a test to see which approach attracts the most attention. Feel free to offer any comments at the end of this story.

My co-workers were right.  A person can, indeed, consciously and/or unconsciously create “personal brand” qualities by regularly professing belief in those values and trying to support those words with accompanying actions on a regular basis.

In this instance, I was very fortunate because I was not the least bit uncomfortable with my so-called brand profile, which (while hardly very charismatic or exciting) was nevertheless useful in an occupational environment and had me liking the description well enough to try my best to sustain this image over time. 

The lesson to be learned from this message?

Whether you are aware or not, you may already have a personal brand.  If you do, learn what the brand is.  If you are content with the brand you discover, find ways to reinforce that image in people’s minds.  If you are not happy with the perception of you, begin to plot a strategy to create a more desirable personal brand.

Just remember – as is the case with all branding – the one you attempt to create must resonate with others and be consistent with their experience of you.  Otherwise, the brand won’t be “sticky” enough to last.

Official Definitions (as found on personalbrand.com)

Personal Brand: “A personal brand is a widely-recognized and largely-uniform perception or impression of an individual based on their experience, expertise, competencies, actions and/or achievements within a community, industry, and/or marketplace at large.”

Personal Branding: “The conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning them as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility, and differentiating themselves from the competition to ultimately advance their career, increase their circle of influence, and have a larger impact.”

BTW – Yes, I know the above definitions have some grammatical agreement issues, but using a direct quote means you reproduce as is.  (However, I’m including this thought to show you one of the ways in which I can reinforce my personal brand, which includes being a bit of a grammarian!!)

Why Bother?  What Can a Personal Brand Do for Your Small Business?

When someone is closely identified with a company, the personal brand of that individual and the brand of the business tend to interact and merge.

For example . . .

When I hear the name of the international corporate conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, I see the face of Warren Buffett, not any of the names and logos of the hundreds of companies owned by the parent.  Consequently, Berkshire’s brand has become – at least in part – synonymous with the personal brand of Mr. Buffett (a no-nonsense image based on facts and accomplishments, a brand willing to live by results . . . not expectations, a brand that embodies basic fundamental values, and a brand that is not swayed by transient fads).

Just check out the web site at www.berkshirehathaway.com.  Simple.  Basic.  Not self-Important.  Relying upon substance, not style to win audience.

Need another example?

Apple and Steve Jobs.  If Microsoft and Bill Gates define the mainstream, Apple and Jobs were the contrarians that carved out a place – in part – by excelling at qualities not associated with the mainstream, including personal style and individual ease of use.  In other words, Jobs’ personality merged with Apple’s identity.

Consider the small businesses you have known.  I suspect that many (if not most) of these companies have a brand that reflects many of the same qualities as the owner.  Therefore, efforts to build your company’s brand can be enhanced by attempts to establish your own personal brand.

How Can You Go About Building Your Personal Brand?

You start by making sure you live the qualities you want associated with you personally.  Otherwise, the brand won’t resonate and won’t stick.  Then, you can consider taking some very conscious actions to cement your brand:

  • Embrace networking.  Use every opportunity to meet people and introduce yourself and your brand.
  • Grow your online presence.  Use blogs, forums, and social media (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to create a voice and personality for your brand.
  • Ask for recommendations.  Testimonials are a great way of creating trust and enhancing the authenticity of your brand.
  • Get featured in the media.  Position yourself as an expert in your field and make yourself available to reporters.  Over time, more and more will turn to you for comments.
  • Participate in forums, conferences, and events that feature your area of expertise.  Personal contacts of this kind will get your name and face out and into the public eye.

Remember, you must live your brand consistently and practice these strategies regularly.  Some people even find the act of creating personal vision and mission statements to be useful.  Regardless, your goal is to create an identity that will stay associated with you over time, though you should make sure your personal brand continues to evolve and change as the world does.

Bottom line – A Quote from Pia Silva

“With so much content and so many small businesses popping up online, a brand that connects to a person’s face is much easier to trust faster.  It takes less time and effort to build a relationship with a personal brand as compared to a business brand.”

Personal Brand(ing) – Another Way to Build Your Small Business

I first encountered the term “personal brand” over a decade ago.  At the time, I worked with an individual who could always be counted upon to incorporate the latest “buzz words” and concepts into his daily interactions.  The two of us were meeting with our boss at the time, and he made a passing reference to the personal brand I had established for myself, which included certain work habits we had been discussing in general terms.  After the meeting (and getting over my initial reaction of, “Huh?!”), I went back to my desk and started running some Internet searches to better understand the way in which working long hours, caring about grammar, and having a certain overall love of words had created a so-called personal brand for myself that apparently led other employees to expect to see those qualities in me even before I was formally introduced to them.

What did my search results yield?

Identify Your Personal Brand

My co-workers were right.  A person can, indeed, consciously and/or unconsciously create “personal brand” qualities by regularly professing belief in those values and trying to support those words with accompanying actions on a regular basis.

In this instance, I was very fortunate because I was not the least bit uncomfortable with my so-called brand profile, which (while hardly very charismatic or exciting) was nevertheless useful in an occupational environment and had me liking the description well enough to try my best to sustain this image over time. 

The lesson to be learned from this message?

Whether you are aware or not, you may already have a personal brand.  If you do, learn what the brand is.  If you are content with the brand you discover, find ways to reinforce that image in people’s minds.  If you are not happy with the perception of you, begin to plot a strategy to create a more desirable personal brand.

Just remember – as is the case with all branding – the one you attempt to create must resonate with others and be consistent with their experience of you.  Otherwise, the brand won’t be “sticky” enough to last.

Official Definitions (as found on personalbrand.com)

Personal Brand: “A personal brand is a widely-recognized and largely-uniform perception or impression of an individual based on their experience, expertise, competencies, actions and/or achievements within a community, industry, and/or marketplace at large.”

Personal Branding: “The conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning them as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility, and differentiating themselves from the competition to ultimately advance their career, increase their circle of influence, and have a larger impact.”

BTW – Yes, I know the above definitions have some grammatical agreement issues, but using a direct quote means you reproduce as is.  (However, I’m including this thought to show you one of the ways in which I can reinforce my personal brand, which includes being a bit of a grammarian!!)

Why Bother?  What Can a Personal Brand Do for Your Small Business?

When someone is closely identified with a company, the personal brand of that individual and the brand of the business tend to interact and merge.

For example . . .

When I hear the name of the international corporate conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, I see the face of Warren Buffett, not any of the names and logos of the hundreds of companies owned by the parent.  Consequently, Berkshire’s brand has become – at least in part – synonymous with the personal brand of Mr. Buffett (a no-nonsense image based on facts and accomplishments, a brand willing to live by results . . . not expectations, a brand that embodies basic fundamental values, and a brand that is not swayed by transient fads).

Just check out the web site at www.berkshirehathaway.com.  Simple.  Basic.  Not self-Important.  Relying upon substance, not style to win audience.

Need another example?

Apple and Steve Jobs.  If Microsoft and Bill Gates define the mainstream, Apple and Jobs were the contrarians that carved out a place – in part – by excelling at qualities not associated with the mainstream, including personal style and individual ease of use.  In other words, Jobs’ personality merged with Apple’s identity.

Consider the small businesses you have known.  I suspect that many (if not most) of these companies have a brand that reflects many of the same qualities as the owner.  Therefore, efforts to build your company’s brand can be enhanced by attempts to establish your own personal brand.

How Can You Go About Building Your Personal Brand?

You start by making sure you live the qualities you want associated with you personally.  Otherwise, the brand won’t resonate and won’t stick.  Then, you can consider taking some very conscious actions to cement your brand:

  • Embrace networking.  Use every opportunity to meet people and introduce yourself and your brand.
  • Grow your online presence.  Use blogs, forums, and social media (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to create a voice and personality for your brand.
  • Ask for recommendations.  Testimonials are a great way of creating trust and enhancing the authenticity of your brand.
  • Get featured in the media.  Position yourself as an expert in your field and make yourself available to reporters.  Over time, more and more will turn to you for comments.
  • Participate in forums, conferences, and events that feature your area of expertise.  Personal contacts of this kind will get your name and face out and into the public eye.

Remember, you must live your brand consistently and practice these strategies regularly.  Some people even find the act of creating personal vision and mission statements to be useful.  Regardless, your goal is to create an identity that will stay associated with you over time, though you should make sure your personal brand continues to evolve and change as the world does.

Bottom line – A Quote from Pia Silva

“With so much content and so many small businesses popping up online, a brand that connects to a person’s face is much easier to trust faster.  It takes less time and effort to build a relationship with a personal brand as compared to a business brand.”

Creating Ads that Communicate Your Brand

With the rarest of exceptions, advertising does not sell your product/service.  While you can strike gold every once a millennium (think – Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” campaign) and actually author an ad that creates a need and desire to make a particular purchase, the typical role of advertising is much more mundane (and less satisfying) –communicating the availability of your product/service to the right targeted audience via a well-chosen media vehicle at the right time (i.e., buying time).

That said, everyone who has ever created an ad dreams of producing the perfect one that entertains, sells, evokes a brand identity, and remains memorable years after the campaign is done.

As these remarks imply, good advertising involves a combination of contributions (especially at large companies) ranging from those who correctly identify an audience to those who understand the media outlets that best serve that audience to those that finalize the right cost-effective media buys that balance the often conflicting demands of size, frequency, cost, and placement.  Of course, the final contributor to the process is the person or teams of people producing “the creative.”

As the typical small business owner, you will often be the party wearing all of those hats!  Therefore, you may be comforted to know that most ad designs encompass a handful of typical elements, which – when known – will be helpful in creating your ad copy and deciding upon the ways in which these elements interact . . . and perhaps even enable you to determine the ones that must be eliminated on a specific occasion for a particular reason.

How does brand factor into this equation?

Well, advertising is one of the many ways in which you can promote your brand.  Conversely, your brand generally provides the vast majority of the content to be included in your ad copy while also defining the visual elements that get incorporated into the design.

The basic parts of an ad include:

  • Headline
  • Illustration
  • Caption (and/or Sub-Head)
  • Body Copy (including the Sales Pitch)
  • Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action

That said, understand that the only real rule is that the art of creating a successful ad has no real rules, only exceptions.  While 90% of the ads I created probably involve most or all of the elements mentioned above, my favorite one broke all of those rules.  Specifically, I created a half page black-and-white ad done in reverse (white text on a black background) that basically included a single, huge, lowercase word (i.e., because) as a well as a logo and contact information.  While I could write volumes about the reasons I like that ad, I’ll simply explain that lots was communicated very simply in a manner that captured the attention of a person leafing through the publication.  While the piece did rely upon some prior brand presence to automatically communicate certain details to the reader upon seeing the company name, I also believe the ad helped define our style and attitude . . .  and, therefore, became part of the brand.

 The ad was (as I already mentioned) very much an exception.  The vast majority included the various traditional structural elements that I will now briefly describe.

Sample ad for our blog that highlights the basic elements. (I used CorelDraw to create this ad for reasons previously discussed in other articles; however, many other graphic arts programs will work equally well!!)

Headline

With the competition for attention very intense across all media, the first job of your ad is to be seen (not passed over), and your headline and illustration are probably the elements best suited to the job.  Three quarters of all my ad designs have started with a headline I thought was capable of grabbing our share of the readers’ attention.  (Yes, I’m tempted to list the top 10 headlines I’ve created that succeeded . . . but decided to spare you that exercise and move on to the next key element.)

Illustration

The photo or drawing included in your ad is obviously key to grabbing attention.  Some people – particularly graphic designers – would argue that the illustration is the most important factor. That said, the artwork can be essentially descriptive and show an attractive image of your product or service in action, OR the graphic can grab attention by being clever or arrestingly different in some way – perhaps even relying upon humor  (i.e., “Where’s the beef?”).

If you personally have artistic skills, this element of the ad can be great fun.  If, on the other hand, you are more of a writer or pure businessperson, you can still create a successful ad on your own – using photos or artwork available from some of those free sources already discussed in earlier blog articles.  (See FREE Pictures Are Also Worth a 1,000 Words (and Can Help Promote Your Brand)!

If you are going this route, be prepared to spend lots of time paging through stock images until you’ve found just the right one to make your point.  (Also, don’t forget that most phones now include cameras able to produce sufficiently high-res images that can be the key to capturing your product/service in action;  if you have the eye, the equipment is already in your pocket.)

Caption (and/or Sub-Head)

Your caption obviously relates to the illustration you’ve chosen and generally provides a key opportunity to introduce brand qualities most likely to result in a sale.  That said, you will no doubt find times when the caption is eliminated either because the artwork is self-explanatory or does not offer the opportunity to highlight your brand. If people are shown, the caption may be the best chance to provide identification and further humanize the brand while giving a face a name that might be memorable to all or a portion of your audience.

The ability to include sub-heads is obviously dependent to a large degree upon the size of the ad.  For a half page or less, chances are you will skip this element.  For larger sizes, your sub-head provides an extra opportunity to grab attention.  Or, perhaps the sub-head just gives you a chance to continue your major headline further down the page – pulling the reader into your content.

Body Copy (Including the Sale Pitch)

You use your body copy to describe your product or service to the audience, being sure to employ language that highlights those qualities that define your brand.  Frankly, repetition of that information in circumstances like advertising is one of the ways in which brand identity is created.  In selecting the words to include, you want the most sales worthy qualities of your brand and repeat them in every ad you create.  Also, be sure to use this space to highlight and explain any special promotions that might be happening at the time.

How many words should you use?  Frankly, long copy vs. short is one of the age-old debates in advertising among designers, business owners, experts, and amateurs.  You’ll find everyone has a firmly held opinion . . . and the jury is still split even among the luminaries in the field – all of whom are recognized as the best and most reliable source of information.

Frankly, I’m a word person . . . so I tend to think “more” has a better chance of being effective than “less.”  In support of this position, I’ll turn to David Ogilvy – one of the founding fathers of advertising – who was an advocate of long copy, especially for more complicated, technical, and expensive products.  He stated:  “All of my experiences say that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short.  I have failed only twice with long copy.”  (David Ogilvy – Ogilvy on Advertising.)

 My preference/bias duly noted, I’ll offer the following to balance my prejudices:

  • My favorite ad that I’ve created has (as already mentioned) basically one word (without further explanation) as the focus.
  • My blogging partner probably has a belief that (at least in comparison to me) less is more when talking about ad copy.
  • More of my ads probably ended up having less copy than I preferred because my bosses generally believed that more words than could be counted on 10 fingers were probably suffering from “wordiness.”

In the end, my advice is to include just the amount of language that seems right for a particular ad.  I believe each will be a bit different, and you will inevitably have a sense of the right quantity to make your point and pitch your product or service because – in the end — sales and reinforcing brand identity are the point of this exercise.

Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action

The final elements of your ad are very basic ones that should never be forgotten.  Include your logo, address, phone, fax (WHAT’S THAT??!!??), e-mail, and/or web site.  (Exception:  If you are channeling all responses in a certain way, all other contact information can be excluded.)

You should also make some sort of statement that clearly tells your audience what to do next.  For example:

  • For more information, contact us at ____________________.
  • For more information, visit our web site at _______________________ and be sure to submit a customer service request form.
  • To order today, please __________________.
  • To speak with a live representative, ________________________.
  • Etc.

You get the idea.  Worth mentioning is that the nature of responding to any advertising and promotion should be determined in advance and used in all situations.  Perhaps, that process will involve setting up a special phone extension, a post-office box, or web landing page used exclusively for that purpose.  The advantage in taking such a systematic approach is better collection and assessment of data resulting from your efforts and immediate recognition of an inquiry coming from a sales lead that, therefore, enables a high level of customer service to help close a potential sale.

Branding and Your Overall Design

The elements discussed above are the ones at your disposal to mix and match in creating your ad.  When employing them, you must be absolutely certain to remain consistent with the rules described in your Style Guide, which will outline the fonts, colors, and perhaps even available types of illustration as well as highlighting key boilerplate language to be included.   Your ad must always conform to these rules while expressing the brand qualities you want to highlight as memorable and sales worthy. 

While much of the discussion in this article is applicable to both print and electronic advertising (especially electronic ads that basically mirror print equivalents), be aware that e-banner ads have typical very small sizes that create their own special challenge . . .  and call for a separate future article to discuss some of the techniques to be employed and pitfalls to be remembered.

Meanwhile, good luck and have fun.  Ads provide you with a great opportunity to explore your creativity and to benefit from customer responses/sales leads!

Role of Advertising in Successful Branding

When some people hear the word branding, they automatically picture advertising campaigns aimed at familiarizing the world with the merits of a specific product (i.e., a brand).  While advertising can certainly play a part in successful branding, this article will start by asking a basic question that should help provide perspective: 

Do you need to run ads to build a successful brand?

The answer, of course, is “NO.”

In fact, traditional advertising can be a pretty expensive proposition – the equivalent of using a cannon to kill a mosquito.  (Well-known national magazines can charge six figures per placement for an ad.  According to The Balance Everyday, “The cost of running a full-page, four-color ad in Vogue is $180,324 as of 2019.”)

That said, a consistent, modest, investment in an ad campaign overtime can make a difference in the success of branding your small business.  You just need to be smart about the way you pick and manage your effort.

  • Find ad vehicles that specifically serve your targeted audience. For instance, trade publications are frequently less expensive than general-interest vehicles . . . and typically speak more directly to your audience. (Think of a three- or four-figure cost per placement as opposed to five or six.)
  • Don’t see the costs stated on a rate card and assume that’s the amount you must spend.  Special packages can often be negotiated that reflect considerable savings – especially in return for a long-term commitment.  (Worst case – You have nothing to lose by asking!!)
  • Have realistic expectations.  Since advertising is not cheap, you naturally expect a sizeable return on your investment.  However, conversion rates tend to be low.  (Just search the Internet for the term “ad conversion rates” to glance through some of the discouraging measures being discussed.)  If you have a clear sense of what an ad can and cannot contribute to your business, you will manage the effort more successfully.
  • Set up systems to track the performance of your campaign.  Unless you have a way of identifying those leads originating from your ads, you’ll never know whether or not you’ve been successful.  For example, use the contact information included in the ad to channel responses (perhaps offering a specific phone extension appearing only in an ad to route calls or creating a special Internet landing page to collect ad inquiries). 
  • Understand that size matters . . . as well as frequency and originality in determining just how well an ad campaign performs.   For example, don’t expect to reach a significant portion of your potential audience from a single appearance of an ad.  Perhaps after three placements you can assume you’ve been seen by everyone likely to pay attention.  Rem:  Every ad faces a tremendous amount of competition and clamor to gain even part of the attention of your audience.  Frequency, including duration, can help ensure that your message is eventually seen as well as size (much harder to miss a full-page ad than a quarter!).  Furthermore, the quality of the creative does play an important part – you want an ad that refuses to be ignored perhaps because the headline or artwork is so arresting that a person just cannot flip the page without looking.
  • Contemplate the use of different media, knowing that tastes vary greatly.  Some people will only see or hear a video or audio ad, totally oblivious to messages in print.  Similarly, you probably want to include a mix of print and online advertising to reach the greatest possible audience.  Typically, you should plan an ad campaign, not just an ad.  In other words, build a multimedia effort for the greatest possible likelihood of success.  Run ads that are reinforced by web site messages, supported with direct mail, enhanced by telemarketing and events, etc.  You want to get your message out in as many ways as possible to ensure the widest possible reach AND support your investment of ad dollars.
  • Follow through.  Ads alone seldom consummate a sale.  Typically, an ad will generate some interest that requires further contact in a timely way with additional information and the superior customer service needed to close a sale.  The success of your ad campaign may, in fact, hinge on the careful orchestration and preparation given to your follow-up efforts.

So . . . how much of my annual budget should be devoted to marketing in general and advertising in particular?

I will not even try to offer a general answer to that question.  (If you search the Internet, I’m sure you’ll find a percent of gross revenue quoted as a recommendation of the Small Business Administration.  However, you’ll also see lots of opinions that state that benchmark is not good enough in all circumstances.  However, be aware that your marketing budget must cover a multitude of activities:  advertising, public relations, promotions, social media, sponsorships, collateral, events, etc.)

That said, I will offer an example from my personal experience.  I worked for a company that – during a period of 25% per year growth in sales – had a modest advertising budget that was national in scope, relied heavily upon regional trade publications (over three dozen in fact), and never came close to the kinds of expenses I’ve seen associated with ad budget recommendations.  So, you CAN make advertising work for you by being careful and managing all aspects of the process.

Since much more can and should be said about advertising, we have two additional articles planned on (1) the basic elements needed when creating an ad and (2) the preparation of content for on-line advertising, including a breakdown of the various sizes you need to accommodate when developing your ad copy.

Optimal Resolution for Optimal Output

You’ve been inspired.  You produced a magnificent design accompanied by meaningful words . . . so you expect to be able to create an epiphanic moment for your audience, right?

Unfortunately, all too often the answer is “wrong” because something went awry in the final stages of production – a bad print job, a poorly executed poster, a botched banner on the day of the trade show, etc. 

An old cliché says that the path to a successful project is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration (including the required follow through).  In my experience, that saying has a lot of truth.

One of the most common causes of a job to get really screwed up in the very last stages is the incorrect handling of images – specifically, providing images that have an incorrect resolution to reproduce properly or maybe (as in the case above) a disproportionately sized image.

I’m pretty sure everyone has encountered requests from a vendor for either “high res” or “low res” photos.  Unfortunately, such requests are seldom accompanied by an explanation of what that means.

Resolution

For the sake of this article, the images being discussed are all “bitmap” files such as jpg’s, png’s, gif’s etc.  All of these have a similar construction and are the most common file types used.  We’ll save a discussion of vectors (the other common method of construction) for another day . . . and will eventually devote an entire article to eps (encapsulated postscript) files.

That said, I’ve sat debating the amount of time and space to devote to trying to explain the concept of resolution . . . and have decided to keep explanation to a minimum.  Much has already been written by sources far more technically expert than me (feel free to google the term and check out the first 25 pages of highly technical search results)!

Instead, my focus will be to discuss the right resolution for various types of output.  However, you DO need to know that image size (as measured in terms like inches or pixels) and resolution are related, mutually dependent concepts.  Meaning – you can’t just increase the physical dimension without the resolution (ability to reproduce detail) also being affected.   If you try to make a picture bigger, the resolution will get lower and – go low enough – and the image will be blurry because of the extent of the detail lost – messing up your masterpiece!

Resampling (Fancy Word for Resizing) – Basic Rule of Thumb

Note:  While the example mentioned below will be expressed in terms of Corel Draw, all graphic arts packages will have similar features.  If you’re a graphic designer by trade, Corel Draw may not be your graphics editor of choice.  If you’re a small business owner without a lot of graphic design experience choosing to do your branding in-house, Corel Draw is a great choice.  You can pretty much address all your web and print graphics needs for a faction of the price of the typical designer preference, Adobe.  Currently, I am using Corel Draw 16. As long as you have a version in that same vicinity, your view should look pretty similar.

Start by setting the size (the width and length) to the required dimension, being sure to keep boxes checked for “maintain original size” and “maintain aspect ratio.”

If you have those boxes checked, set the larger dimension you need (could be either width or length) to the desired amount . . . and changes will occur.

The dimension you did NOT alter will change to reflect the adjustment made to the larger one, and you may find that secondary measure is either longer or shorter than the amount required.  If longer, you can generally crop the image to the amount needed.  If shorter, you may have to find a different image (or go through a complicated process of adding more material to the picture.  For example, you might be able to successfully add some sky on a fairly cloud-free day to make the height of an image big enough.  However, chances are you should just keep looking for an alternative picture.

Next, you need to look at your resolution.  When you checked the box to “maintain size,” that meant any adjustment made to the width or length would increase or decrease your resolution. 

Often, jobs and, therefore, output devices have different resolution requirements.  Below are some of the common ones you might encounter.  (All are based on having the correct physical dimension of length and width.) 

Download a pdf of the chart above.

If you’ve set the length and width to the physical size needed and resolution dips below those amounts cited above for the job you are completing, you have a problem.  The image may ultimately appear distorted (even when the on-screen version looks fine).  If the resolution ends up being greater than required, the extra image data will simply be ignored, but the performance of the equipment will suffer.  You can either leave as is or “down sample” – uncheck the “maintain size” box and adjust the resolution downward to the amount required, leaving the physical dimensions the same.  (Note:  When down sampling, you sometimes might want to slightly sharpen your image.)

“Up sampling” involves increasing a resolution to a desired amount by just unchecking the maintain size box and entering the number.  This process isn’t typically recommended (though at some point you will probably try and will see for yourself the very mixed, dissatisfying results).

All professional graphic arts applications will have tools such as those described above that will allow you to correctly adjust the size and resolution to the needs of the situation.  If you are using an app that lacks these tools, you might be looking for trouble and should consider switching to a different program to complete this task.

Remember . . .

While I’ve offered a highly simplified explanation of one way to accomplish common sizing/resolution tasks, you should be able to use this approach to assure the desired quality output without having to delve deeply into all of the underlying theories and permutations.  If someone should say, I know a different way, that person probably does know a perfectly acceptable alternative . . . so don’t go betting a quarter that he or she is wrong.

Resizing the Old-Fashioned Way (For those who like equations . . . )

If you have an image that you want to resize to a specific dimension, you can – while maintaining the original size – (1) change inches (i.e., 1.7) to pixels (i.e., 1000) and (2) divide that number by the desired dimension (i.e. 4 inches).  The result (3) is the amount you should enter as your resolution (i.e., 250). 

As previously discussed, you then have to determine whether that value is sufficient to produce the desire product.

Branding and Marketing, Promotion, or Advertising Campaign (Re)Launches

Whether you are in the early stages of marketing, promoting, and advertising a new business or are about to reintroduce yourself to the world (a necessity that could be created by a variety of circumstances ranging from a great new product or service to a need to come back in a somewhat altered form from a national pandemic), a typical group of activities are usually considered:

  • Advertising via online and/or print publications
  • Press releases announcing your presence and/or highlighting a change
  • Direct mail/e-mail to existing and/or prospective customers
  • Social media postings to highlight important details and communicate news
  • Special events

To reach out to the largest possible audience in a coordinated way with a consistent message and visual component, basic branding practices are key.  As you embark upon your campaign, we suggest you read the following blog entries . . . and keep checking back as we post new material on topics such as:  building your own ads; properly preparing artwork for various print and online media outlets; understanding the role and use of paid search and ad words as an advertising tool;  etc.

When read together, the articles shown below provide a branding tutorial relevant to marketing campaigns. (By the way, we are always interested in hearing from you and will carefully consider special requests to cover specific topics; either use the form at the bottom of this page to deliver your message or send us an e-mail at brandbuildingforsmallbusiness@gmail.com.)

General –

Important Branding Background

The Role of a Brand Style Guide

BEFORE YOU BEGIN YOUR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING EFFORTS, take the time to create/review a style guide that puts into writing the most basic rules that must be observed to properly build the visual elements of your new campaign.

  Note:  Helpful downloadable tools/templates are included.

Create a Branding Activity Calendar (Template Included)

Your marketing/advertising campaign is almost certainly going to involve a variety of multi-media components – many of which are already included on our sample Branding Activity Calendar that could also be used to coordinate the various elements you’ve incorporated into your promotional campaign.  (The template we’ve provided allows you to add the specific activities associated with your effort.)

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Branding)

Why does branding matter when your current focus is to launch your new sales campaign?  Why get distracted by the time, effort, and resources needed to make sure your advertising and marketing efforts reflect your chosen branding?  This article (as well as the one below) answers that question!

Free (and Needed) Tools

Design Resources

These articles provide tips on finding some of the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) tools needed to build your own ads and other marketing and promotional materials.

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

Finding the Right Font: A Review of the Best Available Font Viewers

Overview of
Marketing and Promotional Activities

Direct Mail/Email

These pieces discuss the content and crafting of your direct mail message (including the document to be mailed/emailed) as well as the mechanics of obtaining your list and building your database of recipients.

Press Releases

These blog entries discuss the topics, voice, audience, format, and outlets to utilize in incorporating press releases into your marketing activities.  Samples are provided.

Social Media

The following articles cover various aspects of building a social media presence – from creating profiles on platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest to strategies used to identify appropriate content.  As an added bonus, we provide tools helpful in promoting your social media accounts, including templates.  (Last but not least, we address tools for requesting customer reviews so you won’t forget the importance of that aspect of social media.)

Worth Another Look at this Time

Branding involves far more than just creating a few recognizable visual elements.  Customer Service is always at the heart of your brand.  Taking a close look at this time helps identify those branding qualities that will resonate with your audience and are, therefore, worth promoting.  Then, be sure to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that your customer service systems are properly tuned to support the front end of your sales efforts.  Once you are successful, remember the value of repeat customers by immediately thanking them for their business.

Branding Through Customer Service

How to Create a Branded Thank You Card for Your Business in Microsoft Word

ZOOM!!

During the pandemic, has anyone not heard the expression . . .

For work.

For family . . . to stay in touch with members during this time of enforced isolation.

For entertainment . . . as celebrities find new ways to reach out to their audiences.  (Everyone catch the cast of Hamilton performing a number with each member in a different remote location?)

What does ZOOMING have to do with brand building?  Well, the app is another tool (a particularly useful one right now) for communicating with employees and customers – either singly or in groups.  Much can be accomplished via video conferencing.

While the term and app ZOOM might be relatively new, various forms of desktop videoconferencing have existed for many years.

About a decade ago, I started supervising several employees who worked remotely from home – in fact, mostly from different states.  Daily meetings using this kind of technology enabled us to keep in touch in a very immediate way – going over current projects, brainstorming, and planning for future tasks.  The application we used (though not ZOOM) featured desktop screen sharing—allowing us to share files and make changes interactively, which eliminated one key obstacle that needed to be overcome for remote activity to be as effective as local.

Similarly, my daughter studied abroad back in the early 2000’s.  Weekly Skype video calls made this period much more tolerable for us.

ZOOM has already made a huge impact upon the off-premises workplace . . . so I suspect every business owner should become somewhat familiar with the powerful potential of this tool and be able to participate in meetings as well as initiate them.  By the way, getting started with ZOOM is free.

Note:  While ZOOM is the app I’ve heard most commonly mentioned during these days of isolation and mandatory business closures, be aware that other programs with similar features are available.  Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Microsoft Teams are just a few.

Getting Started

This brief article is not intended be an in depth ZOOM instructional guide . . . but is designed to provide just enough information to pique your curiosity and perhaps give you enough tips to approach your first experience without trepidation.

If you are being invited to participate in a scheduled ZOOM meeting, you will get an e-mail that includes a link to click to join the meeting.  Upon doing so, a page will be displayed that informs you that a download is about to begin.  When prompted, click “Run”; you will enter a meeting that has been assigned a several digit meeting name.

Note:  If you have already installed a free copy of ZOOM (as explained in the next section below), you will be able to bypass this download by launching ZOOM and “Joining” an existing meeting by entering the multi-digit name.

If you are initiating/scheduling a meeting, you will need to download and install a free copy of ZOOM, which you can do at:  https://zoom.us/support/download

Follow the installation instructions, creating a user name and password.  Once your free account has been created, you will be able to access the screen below.

From this point, you can “Join” a meeting by entering the name provided by the organizer, or you can “Schedule” a new session yourself.  The process is quick and easy and accomplished by completing this form:

If you have coordinated ZOOM with your calendar, you can generate invitations directly.  Otherwise, you can copy the meeting details (including the needed link) into the clipboard and paste the contents into an e-mail to send to the recipients.

When the meeting is due to begin, you’ll be prompted with a selection to start the meeting.  As everyone you invited tries to access the meeting, you will want to select the “Manage” option, which will allow you to admit the requestees into the session.

By the way, ZOOM traditionally limited free account holders to 40-minute meetings.  However, the creators have recognized the growing need for videoconferencing of all kinds during the pandemic and have generously waived the time limit.

BTW — Kudos to ZOOM on some nice branding efforts

And – Once Again – How Does ZOOM Relate to Your Branding Efforts?

During this time of business closures and regulated isolation (a process that seems likely to continue for some time as businesses are gradually allowed to reopen), videoconferencing plays a key role in maintaining lines of communication with your employees (assuming you have some), customers (to provide a means of face-to-face contact when such opportunities are scarce), and third-party business meetings.  As we have seen in recent weeks as whole music concerts and television shows have been orchestrated this way, the uses of ZOOM are limited only by our imaginations.

If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you.  Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Be safe.  Be well. 

Observe the guidelines implemented for our collective good!!