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 FEW – The 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/.
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.
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!!
Letterhead can be one of the easiest components of your brand . . . and have a significant impact, presenting your business to the world with professionalism and credibility. Still, people are often intimidated because they don’t realize the difference between a letter on a new, blank document and one on professional-looking letterhead requires just a few simple steps (three actually). You can have yours ready to use in about ten minutes, assuming, of course, you’ve already made the hard decisions about your brand identity and:
already have a logo;
have your chosen fonts; and
have selected your color palette to use with your logo.
1. From within Microsoft Word, go to File > New > Blank document. Start by preparing the main section of your letterhead and set the font properties; no text needs to be entered or selected to do this. Just choose a font and font size (I went with Calibri in size 10).
2. Then, click the Insert tab, press Header, and choose Edit Header.
Press Ctrl + E to set your alignment to centered. Then, press the Insert tab again, click Pictures this time, navigate to a high-resolution image (PNG, JPG, etc.) of your logo, and press Insert.
You’ll probably need to adjust the sizing of your logo as this point. If so, just click on a corner of the image and drag DIAGONALLY to increase or decrease the size as needed. (If you drag other than diagonally, you could resize your logo disproportionately.) Then, click in the open space to the right of the logo and press enter to add a line space. You’re now done with your header!
3. Scroll down to the footer and click within that area. Press the Home tab to set your font properties. (I went with Calibri in size 12 Centered.) In the footer, you can include your company name (or omit if you’d like since your company name is most likely already included in your logo), your tag line (don’t waste any opportunities to educate people about your business), your web site address, email, address, phone number, etc.
I included our business name, tag line, and web address; I also added some dashes above the web address for visual separation. And, voila! Done! Double click the space above the dashed line labeled footer to exit the header and footer and return to the main document. (At this point, the header and footer content will be grayed out, showing that you are editing the main body of the document. To return to the header and footer section, simply double click in either the header or footer sections.)
Before calling it a day, be sure to save your template. Go to File > Save as; then, Browse to your desired location, name your file something that will be clear to you in the future (like “letterhead”), and save.
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
Direct mail/e-mail is not for the faint-of-heart . . . OR for the
impatient. When a campaign is working
well, results tend to be measured in single digits with the difference between
success and failure often just tenths of a point. (Try explaining that to someone and
justifying the value of the effort.)
Despite the negative sound of my opening remarks, I am, indeed, a
strong proponent of direct response tools.
You have a blank page just waiting to be filled with a refined, well-branded message that can include a sales pitch as well as a reminder about who you are and plan to be – providing a glimpse into your culture.
Direct mail and e-mail are extremely inexpensive and can be repeated many times without a loss of effectiveness, which aids branding through repetition; in fact, by sending your message over and over again to the same list, you ensure your message is heard at the right time – buying time . . . which, in turn, can occur as often as every day or so . . . or as infrequently as once or twice a year.
While the numbers measuring results tend to be low for any single mailing, the cumulative impact can be great as you produce small gains on a very regular basis and retain those new customers over time.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, the
average response rate for direct mail house lists is 9% and 5% for prospect
lists. However, if your direct mail piece is advertising an expensive or
complicated product, a response rate that is less than one percent is not
unusual. (Responses / Pieces Sent =
While the quality of your “creative” (i.e., text, art, branding,
etc.) DOES matter as well as the quality of your mailing list, timing may be
the single most important factor in determining your success.
More About the
Direct marketing provides an excellent blank tableau for you to
communicate who you are, what you sell, and the company you hope to
become. Furthermore, you can express
this information in a manner consistent with your culture and the image you
want to project. Beyond that, your
self-portrayal needs to reflect reality to resonate with your audience and,
therefore, be more memorable.
The Headline – Headlines matter and create your first (and often only) chance to grab the attention of your audience. Short, memorable, and descriptive works best . . . but ain’t easy to accomplish!
I developed my first appreciation for the potential impact of the
headline many, many years ago. The
company I worked for had bought an old furniture store and was disposing of the
contents via flash sales conducted by their small group of employees, most with
The first two weekends went great and all of the big, expensive,
and nicer items were sold pretty quickly.
Clearly, we had gotten the word out.
By week three, however, only lots and lots of odd accent items were left
. . . and we weren’t having much luck selling them out.
Our solution: we took out a
large full-page ad in the newspaper (which people actually read back then) that
ran under the headline “Adopt an End Table or Be a Foster Family to a Few
Good Lamps and Chairs!”
Something about the line struck a chord because the crowds
returned the very next weekend, and the majority of the remaining merchandise
was moved. Since then, I always pay
close attention to the headline, very often using that as my starting point
when creating an ad, flyer, or direct mail letter.
Copy (The Message and Offer) –
This point raises one of the great disputes of all time. What sells best? Long copy or short. If you can conclusively answer that question,
your name will be entered into the annals of the direct marketing hall of fame.
Just search long copy vs. short copy, and you’ll get the general
Frankly, I’ve used both successfully. Cop-out?
No. My personal preference has
always been long copy . . . and I have identified substantial amounts of expert
opinion in support of the long-copy case (ex:
David Ogilvy in Ogilvy on Advertising – an industry
standard). However, my professional
career has mostly involved parties who believe “no one reads anymore!” . . . so
“bulletize” (another way of saying “dumb-down the content”), though the words
used to express the sentiment are generally more like “keep the wordiness to a
minimum.” (Just writing this paragraph has kicked up my stress level a notch or
two.) In the end . . .
If you are preparing a direct mail piece and answering only to
yourself, I suggest using as many (or few) words as are necessary to make your
point persuasively, remembering that one or two pieces of carefully chosen and
cited data can be the key to establishing credibility and making your point in
the most convincing possible way.
Artwork/Graphical Visual and Format – Your need
for (and selection of) artwork will depend upon whether you are sending just a
letter, just a flyer, or both.
Traditionally, multiple pieces were recommended (though current
conventional wisdom is far more flexible).
Personally, I’ve used all of those approaches in format and have not
noticed a significant difference in the outcome. Other factors – such as the quality of the
list, effectiveness of the message/offer, and timing – seem to be the
That said, artwork – when included – can be an attention-grabbing
element. As a result, choose the most
compelling OR familiar image available.
If you have some well-known quality with a high degree of
recognizability (perhaps your physical location), use that to your advantage
and stick to a picture that capitalizes on a good address. Humor can be successful as well as art that
in some form presents the unexpected.
To state the obvious, always be sure your logo and any byline are
prominently displayed as part of your basic branding of the piece.
Note: While the choice of
traditional mail vs. e-mail will affect your selection and use of some of the
items discussed in this article, your choices can be easily tweaked to work in
either environment. In fact, these
elements should be similar to ensure consistency across various media.
Snail Mail vs. e-Mail – So . . . which works better?
The answer may ultimately depend upon the nature of your mailing
list (with the first question being whether or not e-mail addresses have been
Needless to say, e-mail solicitations are faster, less expensive,
and very immediate – all very attractive qualities. You can:
Link to large volumes of supplemental
Create custom “landing pages” that
provide an easy (and very trackable) opportunity for immediate response
expressing an interest.
Repeat the process many times.
Get immediate feedback about mailing list
names that are no longer valid and are now undeliverable.
However . . .
In this era characterized by inundations of
electronic messaging and spam e-mail, you can be easily ignored AND DELETED
Spam and junk mail filters can keep your
messages from being seen by the intended party.
While one might logically guess that the cost, time, and immediacy
of e-mail would doom snail mail to extinction, I have found that certain (often
demographically older) audiences pay more attention to physical mailings. Interestingly, the traditional approach also
has the added benefit of a longer shelf life with parties interested but not
currently at “buying time,” causing them to set aside the printed letter or
flyer for a quick review at a later date closer to the actual time of need,
which gives you the best possible chance of success.
My proof? I’ve had mailings
that produced a response that could be absolutely traced back to a physical
mailing occurring six months before.
While an electronic equivalent to setting a piece of paper aside clearly
exists, I’ve seldom seen evidence of that occurring.
A Direct Response
Project for Our Own Blog
Well . . . one of our goals for this blog is to build an audience. As a result, we searched for (and found) a list of associations, agencies, and affinity groups that appear to have a connection to small businesses (https://smallbiztrends.com/2018/05/small-business-associations.html). As a result, we are planning to systematically approach at least some of them via e-mail and/or mail with a request to link our blog from their web sites. Unlike some mailings, our intention is to do just a few at a time to properly manage the kind of follow-up required.
Since our blog is still in the early stages of development, we
will wait until we feel we have accumulated a sufficient amount of
content. (Perhaps 20 or so
articles?) Also, we realize we do not
yet have any meaningful performance data (i.e., visitors, followers, likes,
etc.). So, the letters will initially
have to be created without those key elements that will be added upon becoming
Nevertheless, we have drafted the text of a message and included an offer with the intention of sending out the first few inquiries in the upcoming weeks with plans to revise our message as time passes based on new feedback, performance results, and early results. (We’ll keep you posted. Until then, feel free to comment upon our draft.)
Looking for More
Concrete DIY-Type Information?
At least two more direct response articles are planned for the
Detailed instructions on preparation of a Word
Mail Merge document that can be linked to an Excel address spreadsheet to
generate your own mailing.
An article explaining the various alternatives
that exist for generating a mass e-mailing, including the use of vendors vs.
your own word processing and e-mail programs.
Until then, good luck moving forward with your campaigns.
For information about the typical elements of a direct mail package, see: