Role of Branding in Direct Mail/E-mail

Approaching Social Influencers: Sample Text

In a recent post on Approaching Social Influencers (read that story here), I laid out components for drafting a pitch to your influencer of choice and said that I would provide some sample text going forward.  Today, I’m making good on that promise.  Below, you’ll find a quick reminder of the recommended components side by side with the corresponding fleshed out sample pitch. . . .

If you’d like, you can view the sample text here in full without the side-by-side explanation.

Hope you’ve found this helpful!  (And in case you were wondering, the Daily Deal group admin did feature the product, so . . . SUCCESS!  I hope you find an opportunity that’s perfect for you and your product as well!) 

If this sample pitch does prove useful for you guys, one or two additional samples will follow (I’m currently working on a pitch for a couple products for Christmas time).  Let me know of any questions or comments in the “Leave a Reply” section below. 

Press Release Generator – Identifying Your Content

So . . . you’ve sat down to write your press release . . . and you’re stuck getting started.

In an earlier article, we discussed Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding.  Specifically, we addressed some of the basic criteria needed to produce a successful PR piece, including discussions about:  Topics, Voice, Audience, Outlets, Format, Quotes and Photos, and Post-Submission Follow-up.  In a second article, we wrote a Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week (in 2020).

Nevertheless, we realize that many of you may still be sitting staring at a blank page after having crumpled up a dozen failed efforts.

In this article, I’m hoping to help you get started writing by encouraging you to identify and assemble the content you need to include to attract the attention of the media and (ultimately) your audience . . . while successfully communicating your message about your brand.

First, ask yourself whether your proposed topic is of general interest to the public and not simply a self-serving grab for attention.  If you are convinced you have the right kind of subject (i.e., a message that’s unique and has a potential impact upon others), then you need to gather up the specific details to include.

The 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why . . . PLUS How)

Answer each of these questions in terms of your press release.

Who

Identify those individuals and/or organizations who are involved . . . as well as people likely to be affected by the outcome.  As you perform this step, consider possible prospects to provide you with a quote.  (In the case of a groundbreaking or Grand Opening, the “who” might be the founder of the business.   Or, perhaps the “who” is the individual behind a new product or key enhancement . . . as well as the consumers likely to benefit.  In the case of an employee being featured to acknowledge an award?, the “who” would be the recipient and maybe the judges (assuming they are well-known public figures).

What

This description should address the unique and special nature of the topic being publicized.  For an employee feature, the “what” might be the winner of an “Employee of the Month” contest and a discussion of the habits and accomplishments being recognized.  In other cases, your “what” could be the description of a new product or service, announcement of a Grand Opening or Employee Recognition Day, or perhaps the explanation of an award won by you.

When

The date and time associated with your topic should always be included.  While this piece of information is very obvious in some cases such as a Grand Opening, others might be a bit more ambiguous such as the anticipated date a new product or service will be introduced.  Occasionally, your “when” could be a timeframe such as “income tax season” or “early this summer,” etc.

Where

“Where” identifies the location in which the topic under discussion is taking place.  In a press release, inclusion of an actual address might be appropriate, but a more general reference such as “at the corporate headquarters” or “in Washington” or “at the satellite location of the store” would suffice to provide the reader with adequate context.

Why

This piece of information in very important because you are highlighting “why” the press release matters.  In some cases, the “why” gives you the opportunity to outline the criteria for an award while explaining the reason you were chosen as winner – one of the rare opportunities to be totally self-congratulatory in an acceptable objective way.  “Why” might be your opportunity to explain the reason a new product or enhancement matters to consumers.  “Why” could be the reason an “Employee of the Year” plaque is given, which offers you an opportunity to expand upon your company’s brand while highlighting the ways in which the recognized person embodies those desired characteristics . . . while also calling attention to the ways in which the consumer benefits.

How

“How” (like “why”) often gives you a bit more opportunity to expand upon the branding of your business.  This information can range from “how” the winner of an award was determined to “how” a company has elected to participate in some national holiday such as Small Business Week.  In crafting this piece of information, remain very sensitive to opportunities to highlight the company’s brand characteristics and the way those qualities made the “how” possible.

So, You Have Your 5 W’s . . .

So, you’ve dutifully filled in the blanks for each of those categories.  (Please note that we have provided a Word template with each of these components laid out to help make that process easier.)  Next, actually write down the two or three quotes you plan to use.  At least one of those sources will typically be from a high-ranking company official and the other should be a person with some recognizable expertise in the subject.  Similarly, one of the quotes should be devoted to the main theme of the press release while the other can merely mention the topic while making remarks that reinforce the general branding of the company.  If you can get a consumer to make a statement, that content can be very effective.  Government officials can also be useful, especially for items like awards and Grand Openings.

Next, locate or create any needed photographic artwork, being sure to supply an appropriate caption and perhaps citation.  If you do not have the necessary images, you can take the pictures.

The final preliminary content to highlight in this collection of information is the “branding boilerplate” language you want to include.  For instance, we chose the following message for our blog:

“Produced by two experienced communication professionals, Brand Building for Small Business is a blog that aims to provide practical, do-it-yourself advice about creating a brand identity from the bottom up.  Expect, simple, straightforward tips that can be executed by a single person or a small group on a very tight budget.”

As a result, we try to incorporate at least the substance of this message (if not the exact words) into any press release, knowing such content is the most likely to get cut by an editor.

Finding Your Lead . . . and Shuffling Content in Order of Importance

Now that you have assembled all of your content, you must begin to incorporate the elements into a cohesive story.  The first step is to identify your lead.  Specifically, read through the 5 W’s you’ve collected and decide which one is the most important.

For instance, “what” and “who” would probably be the elements you introduce first for an employee press release with “when” and “where” being secondary.  For example . . .

“The ABC company recently named Mrs. Mary Smith (your “who”) the “Employee of the month” (your “what”).  She will receive her official reward on June 14th (your “when”) at the annual company meeting at the ABC corporate headquarters (your “where”).  She is being recognized for outstanding customer service (“why”), which reflects ABC’s philosophy of putting the customer first (using this portion of the “why” to tie back very directly to the company’s branding statement).

Once this lead is in place, I’d include a paragraph of biographical detail about Mary’s background and history with ABC.  I’d add a quote from Mary about being surprised and honored as well as another from her supervisor about the reasons Mary is worthy and reflects those qualities that are part of the ABC brand.  Information about past recipients might also be included.

Finally, I’d explain the process of selecting the Employee of the Month (the “how” in this case), which could create a further branding opportunity by indicating the choice was made by fellow employees or perhaps the company’s customers.

Then, I would insert a paragraph that describes ABC and highlights some of the company’s accomplishments.  Within this section, I’d include the quote from the high-ranking company official that is pretty much exclusively about the organization.  (The inclusion of this statement will probably increase the chances of the company information surviving the final cut.)  Very often, a paragraph such as this one would reflect your company’s boilerplate.  If not, I’d incorporate that as part of my closing.

For this particular story, I’d be sure to include a photo of Mary and/or the award ceremony as well as photos of other quoted parties and perhaps an image of the ABC corporate headquarters (assuming the place is closely associated with the company and perhaps a bit iconic).

As I hope this one example above suggests, each collection of details will have an intrinsic order of importance that hopefully makes the progression of the press release both obvious and easy to write.  For instance, “what,” “when,” and “where” would probably be the lead of a “Grand Opening” with “who” being used to mention the dignitaries expected to attend. “Why” would almost certainly incorporate some statement about customer convenience that would provide a point of entry into a recap about branding.  An image of the new location would be essential.

For a press release about a new product, “what” and “when” would probably provide the essence of your lead with “who” being secondary unless a specific individual was instrumental in developing the new product.  Once again, “why” would provide an opportunity to expound upon branding and the ways in which customer needs were being better served.  The “how” in this case could talk about the process of development and perhaps incorporate some discussion about the ways in which customer feedback came into play.

As you can see, the 5 W’s are pretty much a part of any press release you’d choose to create.  By using these elements to gather and organize your content, your narrative will be half written – you’ll just need to figure out the correct order for presenting the information for maximum effect.  Generally speaking, most press releases will be less than 500 words, so taking this approach should be very useful in getting you close to a finished product.

To make sure no information is overlooked, we’ve created a template listing all the important components from this post to help you put together your content.  You will ALWAYS have some details to plug into each section.  Once gathered, the ultimate order will most often become fairly obvious.

 Note:  In a future article, we plan to create examples of simple common press releases such as the kinds mentioned in this article (i.e., Grand Opening, New Product Rollout, Employee of the Month Award, etc.).

Web Design: Everyone has to Start Somewhere

Recently, my blog partner did a post urging any small business owners holding out on creating a web site to take the plunge (read that story here).  He assured anyone feeling intimated that every “first try” typically lacks polish and suggested going to the Wayback Machine (a digital archive of the World Wide Web) if in need of evidence.  I thought that sounded like a super fun experiment.  So in the name of confidence building, let’s look at some big companies and their humble on-line beginnings. . . .

LEGO

Certainly not without charm (because who doesn’t love minifigures?!), but I’m guessing the individuals in charge of this design can’t look back now without cringing.

HOME DEPOT

I love a web site with a cartoon mascot that introduces himself before presenting the content of his page.  Homer from Home Depot.  Priceless.

MACY’S

Where pink, purple, and red and a dash of stars meet function.

GOOGLE

I rememberd Google always being just a logo and a search box, so I was amused to see this early weightier version. 

MCDONALD’S

More cartoons.  I’m lovin’ it.

PEPSI

This one may be my favorite.  And I’m not going to lie, I wish I had the Shockwave plug-in.

UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE

Look at all them clouds! 

AMAZON

Not too shabby, right?  I even kinda remember this design.  I knew I needed to keep looking. . . .

Here’s the gold!  This relic wasn’t available on the Wayback Machine.  Their earliest functional crawl of Amazon was 1999, and I had a feeling that an older, humbler version existed somewhere.  Thank you, versionmuseum.com.  (In amazon’s defense, this design was among the oldest within this collection with a July 1995 release date.)

FACEBOOK

Welcome to “the Facebook.”

In conclusion, I restate: everyone has to start somewhere. 

I hope one day your business grows so big that someone like me searches its origins to see the beginning of your journey.

Attention Small Business Owners: Yes, You Need a Web Site!

These days, every small business needs to find a suitable spot to launch an Internet site on the web.  You may think you are exempt because you:

  • Are already well-known in your community.
  • Deal exclusively in walk-in sales.
  • Have a procedure in place for responding quickly and effectively to customer needs.
  • Are very satisfied with your amount of year-over-year growth.
  • Have established a very hands-on identity as a brand that emphasizes personal service.

If this description fits you, I can understand that you might feel the web is unnecessary, but you are wrong.

NOT!!
DIY Small Business Owners do not have to become expert programmers or web site designers (i.e., masters of the content shown in the books above). Lots of user-friendly WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) tools exist that can help you launch a simple site for your business.

Web Sites Come in a Variety of Sizes . . . and Can Be Complex or Simple

First, let me point out that contemporary web sites encompass a broad spectrum from the highly sophisticated ones that allow you to accomplish all aspects of a sale from presentation of the product/service to payment and follow-up  . . . to the simplest variations that exist primarily to establish an on-line presence.

Recently, the WordPress Newsletter published a story about “Building Single-Page Web Sites on WordPress.com.”  Frankly, seeing this article got me thinking that the time had come to post an entry on web sites for our blog because the development of your on-line presence creates an important vehicle for branding . . . while positioning you (should you someday choose) to consider taking advantage of Internet Sales.

As the pandemic of 2020 has taught us, small businesses must be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances, and on-line operations can provide a very useful alternative.  Assuming you are not ready to (or do not need to) take that plunge, having the beginnings of a web site can only help create that flexibility if and when the day arrives . . . and you’ll already be establishing some history that can be helpful at a later date.

Convinced . . . ?   Not Yet . . . ?

Frankly, most consumers fully expect every small business to have at least a basic Internet presence . . . and become suspicious about the solvency and reputation of a company that does not.  At a minimum, you can simply put together a small web site that could have your:

  • Name plus a photo of your operations.
  • A brief bio of you and your staff to attach a face to a name and a voice.
  • Contact information, including physical address (needed for people looking to ship items to you or customers looking to use a GPS); phone number; e-mail; and (preferably) an on-line form to submit questions/comments and collect e-mail addresses.
  • Directions to your physical location (ideally tying into existing mapping services).
  • Days and hours of operation.
  • A clear statement and reflection of your brand and those qualities you want associated with your business – being sure to stay within the parameters you established in your Style Guide.  (Click to access our article on that subject.) 

Remember, this first on-line impression will start to set the tone for your brand in people’s minds . . . so choose meaningful content indicative of whom you are!

How Do I Get Started?

WordPress can actually provide many tools for developing web sites of all kinds and degrees of complexity.  If you are just starting out, you really should check out that article mentioned earlier.  However, lots of alternatives exist.

Consider using an existing simple template.  Many web hosting services and software packages provide a wide variety of perfectly acceptable ones that are easy to use and appear fairly customized once your content and images have been added and fonts, colors, etc. have been adjusted to reflect those already chosen for your brand.  Also, those same sources frequently provide widgets (i.e., application programs that can be easily incorporated to handle basic tasks like forms or searches) that you might want to include on your simple site.

Still a bit too hands-on for your taste and comfort zone (even though the camera on your cell phone can be used to generate all of the artwork needed)?

Consider hiring a local vendor or even a college student to give you a hand . . . but don’t allow yourself to accept any excuse for inaction!

In building a basic web site that incorporates the items mentioned earlier in this article, you:

  • Provide a service to your existing and potential customers who search for you on the web.  (You’d be surprised by the web traffic your brick-and-mortar operation will generate.)
  • Have created a valuable opportunity to further define and promote your brand.
  • Gain a potentially useful tool for sales prospecting.
  • Feature a new method of interacting with your clients.
  • Get access to a platform that can be used to experiment with expanding your operation to encompass on-line sales.  (In 2020, many small business – including restaurants — displayed impressive agility in shifting focus – of necessity – in this direction.  “Take-Out anyone?”)
  • Can help customers engage in self-service 24/7, which can increase their satisfaction . . . while reducing your expenses.

Don’t Be Intimidated!

I was involved in building my first web site over 30 years go.  The world wide web was a relatively new phenomenon, and the Internet was just graduating from the world of Archie and Gopher servers at colleges used to give users a way of communicating.

Frankly, I was too dumb and the process was too new to me to be as intimidated as I should have been though – over time – I learned better . . . and grew suitably threatened by the task of developing a good, highly visible web presence.  (Besides, getting intimidated is always much easier as demands and expectations grow more sophisticated.)

While our early efforts were just “brochureware” and were hardly an important source for sales or the delivery of services, we accomplished some very important goals that served us well over time.  We positioned our company as one of the first to embrace the Internet, helping to create a brand that incorporated technical sophistication as part of our calling card.  As more and more operations embraced technology, became involved in web-based sales, began featuring on-line processing and service, and adopted paperless operations, this branding was extremely useful in defining our company as an innovative leader across several decades.

Remember, all beginnings lack polish so don’t be intimidated.  Regardless, your early efforts are sure to embarrass you at a later date.  (Need proof?  Just take a trip via the Internet Archive “Wayback Machine” in about five or ten years to see some of your early versions and compare them to the current. 

So, take a chance and take a plunge into the web but be sure to always keep your eyes focused ahead when defining your brand.  Try to incorporate who you are now but also who you want and expect to be tomorrow.  Your dreams and aspirations are as much a part of whom you are today as any current limitations that you plan to overcome along the way.

Note:  We plan to address higher-end, more complicated web sites in future articles.

Approaching Social Influencers

As I shared with you in a recent article, I have learned that social influencers rule the world . . . or at least the small piece of the world in which they reign (read that story here).  My goal now is to harness this great power – for the benefit of my small business as well as yours.

Replicating Success

My direct experience with social influencers was limited to one feature in which I had no impact on the course of events. (In other words, I had absolutely nothing to do with the success I reaped.) 

A social influencer made a video showing her followers how to create and package vanilla extract (using my label template) as a suggested Christmas gift (watch the full video here). 

However, my logic in formulating an approach to being featured by another social influencer is to try to repeat (as closely as possible) this past success.  I have a play book so to speak, but I need to do all the work this time to get the players in place. . . .

STEP ONE : Make sure your product or service is set up for affiliate marketing.

Since paid placements with social influencers can get pretty pricey, my route of choice is affiliate marketing, in which “an online retailer pays commission to an external website for traffic or sales generated from its referrals” (Oxford Languages).  Make sure whatever venue you use for sales supports affiliate marketing.  All of the big ones (like Amazon, Walmart, Etsy) do.  If you sell your products or services through your own channel and don’t already have an automated commission structure in place, you may want to consider utilizing a popular third-party for that purpose.  (The reason the third-party should be a popular one becomes clear in step four.)

STEP TWO : Decide on the right product or service for the time period.

Given our current, heightened focus on hygiene (which I think will last for years to come), I’m thinking DIY hand soap might be an equally popular Christmas gift for neighbors, teachers, mail carriers, etc. 

Always think about holidays.  Of course, Christmas is an obvious one (and you can’t start your planning too early), but lots of other holidays have great potential.  Last week’s Super Bowl Sunday (whether people are quarantining or not) increased sales for many different types of businesses, and this week’s Valentine’s Day is another cause for lots and lots of cha chings.

Relating your product or service to current events is another boon. 

STEP THREE : Seek out a social influencer who is a good fit for your product or service.

A social influencer typically has a brand all of their own, and you want to be sure your two brands are a good match for one another.  For instance, my son’s favorite social influencer plays Roblox on YouTube.  I have an in-depth knowledge of this individual (having overheard many hours of his videos, getting to know him and his favorite games), which is a great bonus, but he unfortunately would not be a good fit for my hand soap labels.  Don’t get me wrong; he’s a resourceful guy, and I’m sure he could make it work, but I’m also sure he gets heaps of partnership offers and would be apt to pick a more ideal choice.

I focused my search by narrowing in on the related item.  I searched google for “diy hand soap recipe” and found a number of influencers who had posted one.  I looked for one that had a good following and had posted the story a while ago . . . and, therefore, could justify re-posting the story in the fall with a Christmas tilt.  

STEP FOUR : Make sure they’ve used affiliate links for your platform before.

Since you’re approaching a quasi-celebrity, you want your proposal to be as easy for them as possible.  Therefore, scan through their previous posts, videos, etc.  Do they ever include affiliate links?  If not, they’re probably not going to start doing so for you.  If they do, what types of sites do they promote?  Have they worked with your third-party before?  If so, you have a much greater likelihood they’ll consider your product or service.

STEP FIVE : Temper your expectations based on the individual’s following.

The problem with the truly famous social influencers is that they are most likely not going to respond to unsolicited proposals.  They already get a ton from big brands, so your average small business isn’t going to be able to influence them.  However, the possibility always exists that you will just happen to be suggesting a product that they were planning to promote in the near future.  Kismet.  Probably not . . . but never entirely dismiss good old fashioned luck working in your favor.  If you’re dying to work with a certain famous someone, give it a go; just don’t get your hopes up. 

(Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/influencer-marketing-report)

If you can get a macro or mega influencer to include your affiliate link, you’ve hit the jackpot . . . though your likelihood of doing so could be just as slim unfortunately.

The mid-tier is your sweet spot.  You want the person to have enough followers that your product or service will have a substantial audience but not so many that they’re completely inundated with requests just like yours.

I certainly wouldn’t disregard micro or nano influencers, but you’ll need to focus on quantity in order to get a similar bang for your buck (in this situation, your effort being your “buck”).

STEP SIX : Spend some time getting to know your chosen influencer.

Once you’ve set your sights on your target (or targets), it’s time to become his or her biggest fan.  Get to know the influencer better.  I wouldn’t just recommend spending a concentrated period scanning previous posts, though that is a good idea, too.  You need to become a follower and immerse yourself in their world for a period of time.

STEP SEVEN : Plan how you will send your pitch.

Instagram messages are the worst as they limit your number of characters per message and automatically insert pictures for any links.  Facebook messages and e-mail are good.  You also want to be sure you’re using a venue in which your message will actually be received. 

STEP EIGHT : Create your pitch.

You have your strategy and you personally (kinda) know your social influencer(s) of choice.  Now the time has come to draft your case.  

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Give a specific and thoughtful compliment – what exactly do you love about their personality, blog posts, videos, etc.?  (Bonus if you can tell them that you’ve actually purchased something based on their recommendation.)
  3. Introduce your business and your product or service and explain why you think it’s a match for this individual. 
  4. Include pictures – two should do the trick; maybe a high-quality close-up photo as well as another of your product or service in use.
  5. Describe any tie-ins to an upcoming holiday or current events.
  6. Highlight the benefits for them.  You can include the affiliate commission rate and any sales expectations (based on how well the product has does in similar or even very different promotions).
  7. Give you and your product credibility – include company AND product ratings.
  8. Offer a coupon code or some type of discount specifically for this influencer, if possible.
  9. Make yourself available for follow-up questions.
  10. Thank them for their consideration.

In the near future, I’ll be putting together a couple proposals so you can see a few real-life examples in action.  Stay tuned!

Branding Through Blogging

 If you haven’t considered starting your own company blog, you should, because that vehicle can be extremely useful in developing and promoting your brand.

Specifically, a blog:

  1. Creates a platform for defining who you are to existing and potential customers . . . as well as creating an additional regular need to further define yourself as you produce the ongoing content for your blog.
  2. Provides an opportunity to promote specific products and services while giving you the opportunity to highlight differentiating qualities – your sales advantage!
  3. Gives you a platform for telling your side of any story involving controversy or dispute.
  4. Can help humanize your company – associating a name and face with your operations.  (Toward that end, you might want to consider giving your key employees the chance to guest blog rather than assuming you need to produce all of the articles yourself, an approach that offers the added benefit of showcasing the depth and expertise of your organization.)
  5. Establishes a venue for starting a dialogue with your customers, especially highlighting the customer service philosophy you want associated with your brand.
  6. Provides a tool for generating new opt-in customer leads.  (Collecting e-mail addresses as part of your blog also develops a mailing list to push out notifications of new articles being available.)
  7. Adds valuable content to your website that can help boost your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) because substantial amounts of fresh content have a beneficial effect.
  8. Creates a platform for discussing your community involvements and charitable activities, which are elements of most company brands.
  9. Forces an ongoing process of self-examination crucial to staying on course with your branding strategy . . . while providing useful frequency in keeping the visual elements of your brand in front of your audience.
  10. Encourages the development of your online brand personality and social media presence as you repopulate content across those outlets.

Plus . . . you get to build new accompanying skills learned while managing your blog.

With so many potential benefits, what is the possible downside?

Full disclosure – the company that I worked for across many years never did start an official company blog during my tenure, though I was certainly a proponent and made the suggestion several times.  That said, I understood the reluctance – with the main obstacle being the potential drain on resources.  To be successful, a blog requires regular content;  you have to assume many hours of talent will be spent:

  • Writing the articles.
  • Building and maintaining the web site presence that houses the blog.
  • Updating/removing/archiving out of date content.
  • Responding to any feedback . . . and perhaps retooling operations to address this market intelligence.
  • Monitoring impact upon SEO and social media activities.

Furthermore . . .

If you elect to highlight the efforts and contributions of key employees and make them part of your brand, any loss of talent to other companies (for example, an employee leaves your business to work for the competition) is magnified and becomes even more potentially damaging to your success.

The Bottom Line:  To Blog or Not To Blog – That is the Question

While I understand the possible downside, I suspect the risk of committing to a blog might be greater for large established companies than small ones.  If you have the necessary patience and commitment . . . as well as the required communications skills, I believe a blog can be a very useful tool in building and maintaining your brand identity.  While you will certainly be devoting key resources, the content you create can provide many ancillary benefits, including support of your marketing, social media, and web development activities (among others).  Just know that, like every other worthwhile endeavor – any payback is in direct proportion to the time, effort, and talent invested!