Creating Ads that Communicate Your Brand

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

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

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

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

How does brand factor into this equation?

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

The basic parts of an ad include:

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

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

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

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

Headline

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

Illustration

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

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

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

Caption (and/or Sub-Head)

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

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

Body Copy (Including the Sale Pitch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Information, Logo, and Call to Action

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

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

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

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

Branding and Your Overall Design

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

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

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

Role of Advertising in Successful Branding

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

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

The answer, of course, is “NO.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Optimal Resolution for Optimal Output

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

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

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

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

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

Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download a pdf of the chart above.

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

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

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

Remember . . .

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

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

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

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

Crises Management: Messages Sent Now Will Define You Forever

Branding is about who you are and who you want to be . . .
and the steps to take to make that happen!

I sat down to write an article on the preparation of electronic files for various purposes – commercial printing, publications, the Internet, electronic ads, novelty items, etc.  However, we are in the middle of a world-wide health and financial emergency, and my partner and I felt we’d be remiss not to address that subject instead.

When a crisis occurs, you have an opportunity to demonstrate that you are a good corporate citizen and simultaneously cement and communicate your brand to current and potential customers in a positive way.

Developing Your Message

One of your first priorities as a small business owner when trouble strikes is to send your employees and your customers a message about the situation.  You need to be empathetic to their circumstances and emphasize that you are all facing the same difficulties because (most of the time) you will be.

You need to provide an overview of the steps you are taking to manage the crisis and (if relevant) explain any modifications being made to your products/services to deal with the situation and address special needs.  Finally, you must emphasize the importance of good communication and outline in detail the best ways to contact you with any problems or concerns – phone, e-mail, text messaging, social media etc.

Needless to say, you have to prepare your employees for any changes to their roles due to the crisis, and you should coach them on the proper information to communicate when dealing with the public.

Once you have figured out the correct content of your message, you need to prepare versions for all of the various media you will be using:

[   ]  e-mail

[   ] letter

[   ]  web site posting

[   ]  social media posting(s)

[   ]  signage for physical location (including any changes to usual hours) and instructions for getting in touch

[   ]  PSA (Public Service Announcements) for local media

[   ]  Press releases communicating information of interest to the public

While not all of these vehicles will be appropriate for everyone, every business will need to utilize more than one, remembering that different customers have very different preferences for receiving information.

Memories Are Long

Part of being a good corporate citizen is to honestly assess the part your product/service plays in the community.  Are you essential . . . or a luxury?  If you are the former, you will need to reassure people that you will continue to serve them with the least possible disruption.  You want to be sure to stay away from any language or unintentional suggestion that you are exploiting the situation for profit or gain.  Conversely, any steps taken at such times to offer charitable assistance and lend a hand to the community at large are important.  While your business might be suffering from a less profitable moment, too – chances are others are dealing with even more difficult circumstances and could use your help.

Memories are long.  When conditions improve, your customers will remember your behavior.  Did you lend a helping hand . . . or just help yourself?

Be Honest

In all of your communications, be honest and truthful.  People have an innate ability to recognize when you are being evasive and less than forthcoming.  While we certainly understand that some information is private or cannot be shared due to the likelihood of being misunderstood, you will do your business and your brand the most good by developing a reputation for being the kind of company a person can trust.

While honesty can be difficult in the short-run because hard messages sometimes have to get delivered, the long-range benefits will be worthwhile.  People will be inclined to believe ALL of your messaging, which is one of the key benefits of building a good brand.

Be safe.  Be well. 

Observe the guidelines implemented for our collective good!!

Note:  In the midst of a crisis, future planning is probably the furthest from your mind.  Nevertheless, planning is also an act of faith and optimism for the future.  An upcoming article will explore the reasons all of us should be developing contingency plans for portions of our business that can be conducted online. 

Is Brand a Scam . . . or the Real Deal?

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.

Not Convinced?

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.”

Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week in May

In an earlier article (Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding), we promised to do our first press release on Brand Building for Small Business, using the occasion of National Small Business Week May 3rd through May 9th to formally announce our blog – believing we now have enough content across many basic business areas to warrant introducing ourselves.

brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/12/26/press-releases-as-another-opportunity-for-branding/(opens in a new tab)

With the dual hook of this national celebration plus the rollout of our site as a free resource to the targeted audience, we believe we have enough substance to interest an editor. 

Selecting our media targets on a budget was not easy.  For this initial round, we have contacted about a dozen business journals (all of which serve a substantial small business readership) and an inexpensive distribution channel – IssueWire.com – that also circulates the first press release free.  Clearinghouses such as this one can be very useful in getting the message out to a broader audience, though in a less targeted way than developing your own list of carefully selected publications.  That said, this approach makes the processing of releases much easier, and feedback about the distribution is tracked and easily accessible.  In addition to the most basic level of distribution, several special promotions can be added (at an extra cost) that target social media connections and Google search.

Our goal – we hope to gradually increase the readership of our blog and gain some valuable reader insights.

We will keep you posted about our results . . . and will write a follow-up article on the analysis of the results.  Until then, feel free to review our press release piece and provide us with any feedback in the comment section below.

Read our press release.

https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/celebrating-national-small-business-week-in-may-new-branding-resource-for-small-businesses-issuewire.pdf

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/.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Branding)

In Search of . . .

Customer Loyalty!

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

Once you achieve customer loyalty, consumers will:

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

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

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

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

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

That said . . .

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

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

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

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

Don’t Be Brand X!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DO I DO?!?

Ever Explore Wiki Commons?

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

What you need to know . . .

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

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

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

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

Other Places to Look

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

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

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

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

A Picture Is (Sometimes) Worth a Thousand Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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