Recently, I saw a reference to National Blogger’s Day being October 27th. While I have never celebrated such an event (or frankly even heard about that one), I’m always interested in another excuse to have a good time . . . so I decided to look into the matter further.
I understand that we can now find 570 million blogs on the Internet with over 30 million of those in the United States. (See the First Site Guide article Blogging Statistics 2021: Ultimate List with 47 Facts and Stats by Ogi Djuraskovic that was last updated on August 26th, 2021.) Therefore, a National Blogger’s Day certainly seemed somewhat between possible and likely!
According to one of the keepers of such information (i.e., WhatNationalDayIsIt? (whatnationaldayisit.com)), their algorithm did pick up October 27th. However, the most recent reference was almost five years ago, and you’d be more likely to have heard of the event in Indonesia.
So . . . why bother asking the question or writing this article?
With about 7 million blog posts per day (see Blogging Statistics 2021: Ultimate List with 47 Facts and Stats), perhaps the bloggers of the world deserve a little bit of extra attention and should unite in adopting this date themselves to enhance the general recognition and raise the profile of the many bloggers sharing information and providing a valuable public service – often without much (or any) personal financial gain.
What Is a Blog?
According to Merriam-Webster, a blog is defined as:
“1 computers: a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer
also: the contents of such a site
2 a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors”
Blogs may take the shape of successful journalism such as the Huffington Post or range from personal diaries to business columns posted on corporate web sites to:
- Humanize the people and products of a company.
- Communicate a desired message directly to the public.
- Improve the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) of a company’s web site.
- Provide customer service tips.
- Further develop and promote a corporate brand!
Regardless of the type of blog, the time, effort, and resources expended to communicate a message to an intended audience are considerable, and such commitment does deserve recognition (even those bloggers who may be motivated by less than completely pure and altruistic intentions).
What Can Be Done to Get October 27th Properly Recognized?
Well . . .
If all the bloggers in the U.S. chose to adopt this holiday as their own, that would be a pretty good start of 30 million people – 570 million upon recruiting fellow bloggers worldwide. If each of these bloggers then communicated their desire to celebrate to their audience, the total acceptance increases exponentially . . . and would demonstrate the power and credibility of blogging today!
(Sound far-fetched? Then read: Finally! Here’s How Cyber Monday Even Became a Thing.)
Clearly, such a process takes time measured in years, not days. That said, a famous Lao Tzu quote says “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” so . . .
- Post a blog article acknowledging October 27th as a day you choose to celebrate.
- Send a press release to your own audience and perhaps the local media.
- Buy a cake.
- Have a drink.
- Toss a little confetti.
- If you’re a company, stage an event.
- Report on the results from the prior year – year after year during your annual celebration.
- Keep providing quality content to your readers.
If enough bloggers were to take such steps, perhaps October 27th might one day become a recognized “thing” like cyber Monday. If not and the suggestion fails to capture the public’s imagination and attention, we’ve at least given ourselves a platform for increasing awareness about the ground swell growth of activity and increasing importance of that discipline called blogging.
Note: In doing some research for this article, I came across the following: What is a Blog? – Definition, Information, Articles, Tools (marketingterms.com), which I have decided to pass along as some interesting extra reading, which can – perhaps – be saved until October 27th to add a little additional insight to your reflections on that day.
Our blog – Brand Building for Small Business – has now existed for two years . . . so the time seemed right to stop and perform some self-examination AND (even more importantly) ask for some feedback.
When we defined OUR brand, we determined that our focus would be providing a useful tool to smaller businesses – the kind of largely under-appreciated entrepreneurs who form such an important portion of the American business landscape. (Also – in retrospect – a group that has been hit particularly hard by the recent pandemic of 2020-21 and in need of every possible competitive advantage that can be made available.) Having worked many years for a company that targeted this same audience (a company that was – in fact – a small, underdog start-up at the time I was hired), Carole and I felt we brought some meaningful knowledge and expertise to the table. Hopefully (two years later), you – our audience – agrees.
In establishing our brand, we also decided that we wanted to have a DYI (Do-It-Yourself) focus – believing that many small business owners would of necessity be taking on the challenges of building their own brands. Consequently, we have tried to offer a blend of the conceptual framework needed to build a successful brand as well as practical tips and instruction. Specifically, we offer thoughts on:
- Identifying your audience
- Establishing (and communicating) the philosophy that guides your development of products and services
- Embodying a strong customer service orientation
- Creating mission and vision statements to serve as a reminder of your brand and your short- and long-term goals as an organization
- Building the visual elements of your brand (such as your logo, letterhead, envelopes, business cards, etc.)
Note: Learn more about these brand “building blocks.”
In fact, we have focused on providing concrete tips and instruction (and sometimes even templates) to assist the budding entrepreneur in being successful in creating a brand without having to break an already tight budget. Basically, we’re trying to share some of the knowledge that we acquired the hard way through trial and – all too often – error! To enable you to avoid some of our missteps, we’ve tried to help you define your brand and create the tools needed to have a unique visual identity. We have tried to emphasize and demonstrate the importance of creating an attitude toward customers that gives real life and substance to your brand and shows that you both “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.”
In addition, we have sought to help you recognize the importance of seizing every opportunity to promote your brand to the public. Toward that end, we discuss some of the many chances an entrepreneur has while still maintaining a DYI focus. For instance, we offer instruction on creating and inexpensively disseminating press releases as well as creating sales collateral, web sites, direct mail materials, ads, thank you cards, editorial calendars, and more. In particular, we have sought to impress upon you the importance of using such platforms to highlight your brand . . . while simultaneously using your branding experience to enhance the effectiveness and results of such opportunities.
About a year ago, we started supplementing our longer, more in-depth, instructional materials with some Quick Tips and Monday Motivational messages to serve as fast, easily absorbed reminders that might help keep the subject of branding at the forefront of your minds and consciousness.
While we have been gratified to watch our audience grow, we are always hoping to reach even more of you even faster . . . and are particularly appreciative when we recognize a regular, repeat reader. You’d might be surprised to know that some of you who have consistently “Liked” our content have actually become quite important to us and are even part of the way in which we measure the success of a specific article. When we have NOT seen you “Like” a post or comment upon our content in a while, we miss you and feel like we have left you down!
All that said, we do plan to keep keeping on . . . but would love to receive some more feedback about how you think we are doin’ so far . . . as well as some requests about where you would want to see us head in the future. Such interaction would be extremely helpful and would better enable us to help you even more. You can use the Comment box below to get a message to us or you are welcome to send us a private e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We promise to consider your input carefully.
Meanwhile, good luck with your branding efforts . . . and keep checking out AND SHARING our newest content at www.brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com.
I recently realized the 50th Anniversary of one of my favorite albums (i.e., vinyls for those under 30) is upon us – Blue by Joni Mitchell.
While that fact has little to do with this blog, hearing the song did get me thinking that the time had come to write a piece that offered a reminder about the potential importance of color selection in building a brand . . . and also reminded me that I have spent a disproportionate amount of several decades staring at various shades of the color blue while at work!
To quote information cited by Jill Morton at the Colorcam website in an article entitled Why Color Matters:
“ 1. Research conducted by the secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo documents the following relationships between color and marketing:
92.6 percent said that they put most importance on visual factors when purchasing products. Only 5.6 percent said that the physical feel via the sense of touch was most important. Hearing and smell each drew 0.9 percent.
When asked to approximate the importance of color when buying products, 84.7 percent of the total respondents think that color accounts for more than half among the various factors important for choosing products.
Source: Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo 2004
2. Research reveals people make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.
Source: CCICOLOR – Institute for Color Research
3. Research by the Henley Centre suggests 73% of purchasing decisions are now made in-store. Consequently, catching the shopper’s eye and conveying information effectively are critical to successful sales.”
Pick Wisely for Many Reasons
During my decades of working in the field of communications, over 90% of my time was spent with the corporate color of blue – most recently PMS 301/C-100 M-43 Y-0 K-18/R-0 G-109 B-168 . . . but more about those cryptic codes later. Admittedly, the exact hue and tone have changed three times, but blue has paid a particularly large role in my professional life. Frankly, my only non-blue moments came from work done for a variety of business partners, subsidiaries, or off-shoots of my main employers. When I would finally get to do green for a bank or a burgundy red for a data encryption company – the new sense of freedom was an enormous guilty pleasure!!
So . . . How Was Blue Chosen?
The initial selection was far enough back in time that branding had yet to become a separate phenomenon and discipline. As a result, I’m inclined to think the choice was mostly a matter of good instincts or dumb luck or perhaps a bit of both on the part of my employers at that time. You see, the company was involved in insurance and financial services – an industry that now seems to disproportionately and not coincidentally favor blue as a corporate color.
Much has been written on the characteristics and impact of various colors, so I won’t reinvent that wheel but will quote from one such example while letting you know that countless others are available with the similarities far outweighing the differences in message.
At the Canva website in an article entitled Understand What Colors Mean, the following overview is provided:
“A lot of research has gone into color theory. You can definitely get lost down the rabbit hole finding the story behind each color, however, here’s a quick summary to give you an idea:
Red is associated with danger, excitement, and energy. It’s also known for being the color of love and passion.
Pink is feminine, it’s sentimental and romantic. Different shades, like hot pink, can be youthful and bold.
Orange, like it’s namesake, is fresh and full of vitality. It’s also creative, adventurous, and associated with being cost-effective.
Yellow is optimistic. It’s a color associated with being playful and happy.
Green is natural, often used to demonstrate sustainability. But it can also align with prestige and wealth.
Blue is trustworthy and reliable. It’s calming or often associated with depression.
Purple is royalty and majesty. It can be spiritual and mysterious.
Brown is down-to-earth and honest, often used for organic wholesome products.
White is pure. It conveys simplicity and innocence, often with a minimalistic feel.
Black is both sophisticated and elegant. It can be formal and luxurious, but also sorrowful.
Multicolor is united or open to anything. It’s great for capturing the spirit of diversity.
Of course, within this spectrum, there is a raft of additional colors. Different hues, such as baby blue or navy, also contribute to the color story.”
Also, I suggest you look at an article entitled The Business of Color by vistaprint, which associates specific industries with particular colors and includes a useful graphic for quick reference.
More About Color
While I have been describing color in terms of broad generalities such as “BLUE” – be aware that an almost infinite number of tones, hues, and variations exist . . . and every time you use or reference the color you have chosen for your brand, you must be sure to reproduce the exact same variation regardless of the media, which can be challenging!! Fortunately, a number of color systems (i.e., palettes) exist that allow you to successfully match exact colors AND communicate with potential vendors (like web site designers, printers, novelty manufacturers). Furthermore, becoming familiar with these industry-standard systems of identification at the time of selection can prevent some later headaches. For example, I was once involved in choosing a color, and we based our selection exclusively upon look . . . only to find that we had picked a specific tone with no 100% match under two of the most common matching systems!
Remember my earlier cryptic reference to: PMS 301/C-100 M-43 Y-0 K-18/R-0 G-109 B-168? Well, PMS refers to a color matching system produced by Pantone and universally recognized as one industry standard. CMYK is a system based on mixing Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black to produce essentially any color imaginable and is the method most commonly used by commercial printers and imprinters. Similarly, RGB is a Red-Green-Blue based system most frequently used to identify colors for onscreen use like websites, a/v presentations, etc. And yet, still other variations such as HEX exist, each with strengths and weaknesses for specific applications. Ideally, you want to select a color that produces a specific matching value under each of the most common systems. (In that instance I mentioned earlier, the fact that the color we had chosen did not have an RGB and CMYK value that represented the exact same color – a fairly rare circumstance –resulted in continual headaches that could have been easily avoided. )
As you have opportunities to use these systems in specific applications, you will begin to appreciate that color matching is as much as art as a science . . . but we’ll save further exploration of that topic for a future article.
Where Will You Use Your Corporate Color?
Everywhere. That repetition is the essence of good branding – building quick, positive, and familiar recognition.
Specifically, your chosen color will become part of your logo, web site, advertisements/ad campaigns, novelty items, store decor, product displays, clothing/uniforms etc.
Color does matter. Frankly, I can’t imagine Joni Mitchell’s classic album Blue would have lasted 50 years had another color – such as red – been chosen!
Whenever you are conducting a sales campaign, you are certain to have a “pitch” about the differentiating qualities of your product or service that results in a call to action such as a request to buy from you. In our experience, a simple, well-executed, Internet landing page can be the most effective vehicle for accomplishing that task . . . and your landing page can provide an important opportunity to reinforce (and capitalize upon) your brand.
What Is a Landing Page?
According to “Unbounce” (a developer in the field):
“In digital marketing, a landing page is a standalone web page, created specifically for a marketing or advertising campaign. It’s where a visitor ‘lands’ after they click on a link in an email, or ads from Google, Bing, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or similar places on the web.” (https://unbounce.com/landing-page-articles/what-is-a-landing-page/)
That said, landing pages are of course web pages . . . but unlike home pages or other content pages on your site, these have a very dedicated function and are constructed differently. Whereas home pages – for instance – are created to communicate lots of information and encourage exploration, landing pages basically:
- Reinforce your sales pitch as concisely as possible.
- Offer supporting evidence (such as testimonials or research data) to help clinch the sale.
- Provide a simple form to complete the transaction.
- Include a logo that links to your home page (but just that) for those who need more information to finalize the sale.
- Reflect the branding of the company to take advantage of past efforts to establish a readily recognizable identity that adds value to the product and/or service being sold. (IMPORTANT: Be sure your web site/homepage, sales vehicles, and landing pages all reflect the branding elements decided upon in your Style Guide to gain maximum value from each of them.)
Whether you are building your landing page from scratch . . . or are simply customizing one of the many templates now available, we have found a few key points worth remembering during your development:
- Your goal is to be as simple, direct, and concise as possible.
- Your headline and any body copy should reflect your sales pitch (i.e., differentiating sales qualities) being used at that time in ads, direct mail pieces, social media, mass e-mails, etc. (Remember: Landing pages are for TRANSACTIONS so keep copy and content short. If a bullet point or two will suffice, use them. Save your long, persuasively written copy for your web site and sales tools.)
- Include art/graphic elements but limit the quantity to one or two mirroring the images of your sales pieces and consistent with the elements of your branding Style Guide.
- Typically, a form will be used to complete the sale or other transaction. Keep your requests as lean as possible with the absolute minimum number of fields required to accomplish your mission. For example: If your ultimate goal is to collect e-mail addresses to build a data base, just get that piece of information and use that at a later date to gather other details. Your goal is to enable the interested party to complete the transaction as quickly and easily as possible, guarding against losing them along the way.
- As part of incorporating your brand, plan (as previously mentioned) to include a copy of your logo that links back to your home page. However, other navigation that does not fulfill the call to action should be excluded. (Why risk the distraction?)
- Sales campaigns usually use multiple media such as ads, direct mail, social media, etc. Employing the same landing page for each of them can facilitate tracking efforts . . . but you want to be sure you can identify the source that generated the lead. While a number of alternative strategies exist, one way to accomplish this objective is to use multiple copies of the same page with an identification such as “1” for ads, “2” for mass e-mails, “3” for snail mail, etc. With all of your results arriving via your landing page, you get a very clear picture of your most successful sales vehicles AND have a bit more control over the closing of the sale, including any necessary follow up of now qualified leads that might be required. Since so much time, effort, and expense is invested in developing a warm lead, you can’t afford to have any fall between the cracks. (In my past life, we felt so strongly about this issue that our landing page was the only contact information provided on our sales vehicles; we did not include a phone number because we wanted to make sure all telephone contact was as timely and structured as possible.)
A Word About Testing
Like other sales materials, landing pages can be constructed in a number of different ways. In our experience, running a controlled test of multiple versions before a limited audience should reveal which elements work best and which version should ultimately become part of your sales campaign.
Land on Your Brand!
Just for emphasis, we will close this article by repeating the importance of making your landing page reflect both the branding elements and the design and pitches used in the corresponding campaign. Since your landing pages are designed to “seal the deal,” failure to fully reflect your branding wastes the time, effort, and resources spent shaping your identity and misses the last opportunity to have a positive impact upon the sales process.
Note: To further develop this theme, a future article will be devoted to creating a landing page for our blog that further illustrates these principles in action. For now, those interested in learning more can check out the writings of Neil Patel: https://neilpatel.com/blog/beginners-guide-to-landing-pages/.
As a small business entrepreneur, you’ve probably had one or more of the following needs to prepare a business plan. To:
- Help start up a new business.
- Get capital for an existing business to fund growth.
- Recruit investors.
- Obtain a grant.
- Develop strategic alliances with potential partners.
- Sell a company.
- Expand into a new area of operation.
- Attract employees.
- Plan for the future.
If so, you already know that most templates and discussions about appropriate content seem to contain similar advice.
For example, Indeed.com offers the following:
“10 essential components of a business plan
Effective business plans must contain several key components that cover various aspects of a company’s goals. The most important parts of a business plan include:
- Executive summary
- Business description
- Market analysis and strategy
- Marketing and sales plan
- Competitive analysis
- Management and organization description
- Products and services description
- Operating plan
- Financial projection and needs
- Exhibits and appendices”
(See https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/parts-to-a-business-plan# for more information.)
If you go to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_plan), you will find a very similar general outline, though with a few variations such as a separate subsection for the company Mission Statement. However, I personally have not found that many of these discussions and templates have chosen to overtly incorporate a discussion about branding.
Frankly, mine have, and yours should!
Specifically, consider including a section labeled “Branding” that incorporates a discussion of the current status (showing any research done) as well as plans and expectations for the future. These days, brand has a very real and monetary value. I’m sure all of us have heard of someone buying another company “for the name” because the reputation associated with that entity has value in the marketplace. These days, I believe you should think of brand similarly.
Although I do believe brand can be appropriately included as a separate named section, you can also build your content into several of the sections traditionally included in most Business Plans.
Business Description – Since your brand encompasses both your product and the services used to deliver that product, any Business Description will benefit by including a discussion of this kind. Also, the process of defining your brand identifies your audience which, in turn, clearly suggests the needed distribution channels.
Market Analysis and Sales Plan – Your chosen niche within the marketplace is defined by the way in which you identify and communicate your brand. By discussing your market in this way, your analysis will be more precise and your strategy will be more persuasive.
Competitive Analysis – A well-formed brand communicates the way in which you’ve chosen to differentiate yourself from others and highlight the sales advantages you’ve carved out for your operation. If you try to write this section without incorporating your brand (i.e., who you are), a clear description of your competitors (those who share some of the same products and services) will not be possible.
Products and Services – This section generally includes additional details about the products and services provided by your company, so highlighting the qualities that distinguish them (i.e., their branding) is both appropriate and useful. Also, a discussion of your brand can illustrate some of the “spin offs” that can evolve to take advantage of the existing audience of your brand. Furthermore, part of the brand of your company is your underlying service philosophy and the standard of excellence you establish. Such qualities are the ones that help create a corporate culture associated with your brand in the eyes of both your customers and your staff.
Operating Plan – In discussing the day-to-day operations of your company, including how you go about delivering your products and services to consumers (number of employees, equipment required, etc.), be sure to highlight the ways in which a strong, branded corporate culture supports those activities as well as describing any visual clues you might be using to help define yourself. For example, will uniforms be required? What kind of signage will support operations? What form of communication will be put into place to set customer expectations and ensure smooth trouble-free operations? If a separate section for Risk Factors is not included, that content might become part of this section, and the success and failures of your branding play a huge part.
Exhibits and Appendices – Among the typical exhibits you might find in the appendices are brief bios of key staff, organization charts, flow charts, etc. Similarly, you should consider including any research done to support the success of your branding. For example, results of a survey that suggest a high degree of name recognition within the community would be very useful as well as commentary from focus groups that suggest your brand has positive connotations. I would also consider adding a page about your Brand Style Guide or perhaps a copy. (See https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/09/17/brand-basics-part-3-the-role-of-a-brand-style-guide/.) Finally, your Brand Plan should be addressed similarly. (An upcoming article will be devoted to the creation of this separate document.)
As these examples suggest, a company’s branding can play a part in virtually every section of your business plan. When drafting a section, you just need to continuously remind yourself to consider whether some thoughts about the role of branding should play a part. Nine times out of ten, the answer will be “yes,” though the references can range from the incidental to the extensive.
Let’s start with a quick quiz. Ever see these images?
What does this picture of a red elephant mean to you?
- Less government intervention (i.e., small government).
- Donald Trump and George Bush.
- The Republican Party.
- . . . and perhaps more?
How about the blue donkey?
- Government-funded programs (i.e., big government).
- Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
- The Democratic Party.
- . . . etc.?
In other words, simply seeing these logos immediately brings to mind a wide range of adjectives and accompanying images . . . as well as an emotional response! That said, we recently had an opportunity to witness the practice (and impact) of this very successful branding in action during the American presidential and legislative elections.
Frankly, we waited until the election was over (and the votes had been counted) to avoid getting lost in endless partisan digression over details when our reason for bringing up the matter is to highlight these examples of powerful branding while the specifics were still front and center in people’s minds.
In politics, branding is sometimes the only basis upon which individuals vote (and brand loyalty plays a huge role). Since the issues tend to be numerous, complex, frequently boring, and very often as clear as advanced calculus or nuclear physics, people tend to rely upon simplified measures that allow them to cast a vote that will – they feel – provide a shortcut to their approximate philosophical position. When a Republican or Democrat votes along party lines, that choice generally assures that certain basic qualities will be present and criteria met by the candidate. For their part, politicians benefit by closely aligning themselves with their chosen brand . . . rather than get lost in platform details.
In general, the most successful politicians not only align themselves closely with their party’s brand but also manage to enhance that foundation with a strong personal brand through use of campaign slogans, colors, and spokespeople-influencers who, in turn, lend their personal brand to the candidate’s.
Questioning whether a campaign slogan really makes a difference? Then, check out these seven examples that appeared among the “Top 15 Presidential Campaign Slogans” identified by Martin Kelly (updated February 21, 2018):
Don’t Swap Horses in Midstream
“This presidential campaign slogan was successfully used two times while America was in the depths of war. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln used it during the American Civil War. In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt won his fourth term using this slogan during World War II.”
All the Way With LBJ
“In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson used this slogan to successfully win the presidency against Barry Goldwater with over 90% of the electoral votes.”
Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago?
“This slogan was used by Ronald Reagan in his 1976 bid for the presidency against incumbent Jimmy Carter.”
Happy Days Are Here Again
“In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt adopted the song, ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ sung by Lou Levin. America was in the depths of the Great Depression and the song was chosen as a foil to candidate Herbert Hoover’s leadership when the depression began.”
Give Em Hell, Harry
“Both a nickname and a slogan, this was used to help bring Harry Truman to victory over Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 election. The Chicago Daily Tribune erroneously printed ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ based on exit polls the night before.”
I Like Ike
“The quintessentially likeable hero of World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower, rose handily to the presidency in 1952 with this slogan proudly displayed on supporters’ buttons across the nation. Some continued the slogan when he ran again in 1956, changing it to ‘I Still Like Ike.’”
Change We Can Believe In
“Barack Obama led his party to victory in the 2008 presidential election with this slogan often simply reduced to one word: Change. It mainly referred to changing presidential policies after eight years with George W. Bush as president.”
In addition to the slogans identified by Kelly above, another recent example would be Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan (MAGA) modified to “Keep America Great” for re-election. An expert brander, Donald Trump produced a wide range of paraphernalia bearing the phrase . . . and used the words to incite supporters at rallies.
Clearly, catchy statements such as these have been used to define the brand of a candidacy and get voters to identify with the candidate’s cause – tapping into existing associated emotion. Certain songs have also been employed for branding purposes. In fact, the artists – recognizing the power of branding – have sometimes ordered campaigns they did not support to stop using the tune – obtaining legal “cease and desist” intervention.
So, what is the lesson to be learned about branding from the masterful uses employed by politicians?
Branding is the best – and often only – way to simplify complex content for a consumer audience in a way that attaches an emotional response and builds a sense of allegiance to a product. Furthermore, political branding must (as always) be executed consistently and across all media from billboards to speeches to commercials to ads to pamphlets and flyers to promotional items and more. The further a brand can be simplified and identified via a short phrase, use of a color, a few bars of a song – the better!
Small businesses can learn much by mimicking the example (however seemingly unsophisticated) of their local politicians building a base of support . . . a constituency. Frankly, they tend to know their audience well and have found an effective way of appealing to them . . . and those people all represent your existing and potential customers.
Ever wonder about the origin of the American political symbols – the elephant and the donkey? The first appearances of both symbols are credited to the artist Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly during the late 1800’s. (Frankly, some of his cartoons were “Nasty.”)
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:
- 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.
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.)
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, ________________________.
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!
Before a business owner invests the time, energy, and resources to systematically build a brand, some skeptics need to be persuaded that all this talk about branding is not a scam on the part of ad agencies and other marketers out to make money.
For starters, no less an authority of the business world than renown entrepreneur Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame was recently quoted as saying about the power of brands: “Give me a $10 billion budget and ask me to bring out another Coca-Cola that makes a dent in Coca-Cola and I can’t do it.” By inference, this statement seems to suggest that the branding of Coca Cola has a value of at least $10 billion (perhaps more).
Frankly, branding has a longer history than most people realize.
Do an Internet search for the term “history of branding,” and you get an extremely wide variety of responses. Some talk about the cattle branding done in the 19th century wild west. An organization called Skyward traces the origins back further, saying, “The term derives from the Old Norse word brandr or ‘to burn,’ and refers to the practice of branding livestock, which dates back more than 4,000 years to the Indus Valley.”
Most sources seem to agree that some form of the concept can be attributed to the Egyptians (and ancient B.C. times) with some credit being given to the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, and more due to the marks put on items such as pottery to provide information about the creator and creations. (For a good historical overview, read Skyward’s essay, “What Is Branding? A Brief History” found at https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/branding-brief-history/.)
Obviously, the term branding has assumed a much different and more complex identity during the second half of the 20th century. As Taylor Holland notes in the Skyward essay, “The meaning of the word has evolved so much over the centuries that even people who do it for a living have never made the connection between modern marketing and livestock.”
Contemporary branding is a 20th century phenomenon. The advertising industry is generally credited with broadening the definition to include establishment of a corporate identity and promotion of sales. During the “Golden Age of Advertising” in the 1950’s and 60’s, the concept started to encompass the creation of a unique personality for products – giving them qualities that often elicited an emotional response that helped foster brand loyalty.
More recently, we have seen the concept expand even further to focus on something called “the brand experience” with customer service and ease of use playing increasingly prominent roles in effective branding. (For a quick overview of this process of evolution, see “20 milestones in the history of branding” – https://www.creativebloq.com/branding/milestones-history-branding-91516855.)
So . . . What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?
If the act of branding is, indeed, an elaborate scam, the charade is one that dates back thousands of years, has hoodwinked one of the 20th century’s most astute businessmen, and has evolved to reflect the needs of a changing world. While the act of branding has certainly become more complicated (as has the modern world), the process still involves quick identification of a product through visual symbols such as a logo and the association of those symbols with positive attributes. These characteristics will, in turn, always be useful to companies that must continually reprove themselves to their existing customers . . . while constantly being on the lookout for new ones.
Perhaps you are one of those people who need some numbers before you can believe. For instance:
“Consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23%.”
From 80+ Branding Statistics You Should Know For 2020
– Ryan McCready, June 19, 2019.
If you are one of them, check out these 80 facts and many others found in articles made available by searching “data proving the importance of branding.”