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/.

Branding Through Customer Service

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/.

Most business owners appreciate the importance of customer service, but far fewer recognize the connection between the service they provide and the brand they represent.  Your customers’ experience with your business should reflect and reinforce your brand (or the personality of your company). 

Let’s look at two extreme examples. 

Amazon

amazon-vision-statement-mission-statement

Amazon’s customer-centric focus is a part of their mission and vision statements.  They are known for free two-day shipping (now with same-day options sometimes available), one-click purchases, and their virtual assistant (i.e., Alexa; lovingly known as Lexie in our house . . . or dumba@#$!, depending on the day and how well she’s performing her virtual assistance role). 

While having to wait ten minutes to speak to another company’s customer service representative may be annoying, most people probably wouldn’t be surprised.  However, we have different expectations for Amazon.  We expect to communicate with someone right away when we have an issue, and we expect that individual to capably handle the problem . . . and that’s only for those situations in which we can’t fix the issue ourselves (for example, “returning” a product without ever even interacting with customer service).  Quick, tech-savvy, and capable are qualities associated with Amazon’s brand, so we expect their approach to customer service to embody those same characteristics. 

Amazon also uses service interactions as opportunities to reinforce their brand.  They thank you for shopping with Amazon over the phone or via chat.  Afterwards, you’ll receive an email message from customer service, asking for feedback on your experience.  In that email, you’ll see the company logo, an email layout consistent with the company’s style, and a reference to the company building “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” 

Amazon’s brand is reflected and reinforced throughout the customer service experience.

On the flip side, sometimes customer service that isn’t customer focused or service focused is actually an important part of the brand, too.

Ferrari

This company’s product is associated with luxury, quality, and exclusivity.  For the most elusive Ferraris with very limited production, you don’t simply order one from the new flashy and convenient car vending machines.  You don’t simply order one at all.  You “request” to order one, and those requests are not fulfilled in the traditionally expected “first-come, first-serve” manner.  If you have money, fame, and an existing collection of Ferraris, you will probably make the cut; no guarantees though. 

Robert Herjavec, the businessman turned celebrity on ABC’s Shark Tank, spoke about ordering a Ferrari in Wired magazine, “The funny thing is, you never really know if you’re getting one until you’re actually getting one.”

(Note that most of the cost is required in advance of being guaranteed your requested Ferrari!)

“. . . You wait for a while, then you kind of get a date range, then you get a closer date, then you get the actual date. Then it’s definitely Christmas,” said Herjavec.

If you happen to request a paint color for your new car that Ferrari deems to be in poor taste, you can be denied said paint color. 

So, you make an order (with payment) without guarantee of getting the product, you wait an extraordinarily long time IF you are given the privilege of being promised the product, and customization choices aren’t always yours to make.  All of these customer service attributes reflect the exclusivity that is Ferrari’s brand and actually add to the allure of their products.

While I am not quite Ferrari’s target demographic and haven’t been involved in this process, I would expect that their brand is reinforced at each stage of the way – indirectly and directly portraying the characteristics that define them (luxury, quality, and exclusivity), including visual brand components as well whenever possible (for example, the prancing horse).

Customer Service Characteristics that Represent Your Brand

While the two brand examples highlighted are extreme ones, all aspects of your customer service do communicate qualities about your business.  Below is a list of some different customer service opportunities to consider.  The way your company handles each of these items contributes to a brand experience . . . one that hopefully reflects your perception of your brand. 

-The amount of time taken to answer phone calls/emails

-The way customers and potential customers are addressed in person as well as via phone/email

-The extent of information available to potential customers

-The level of assistance provided to a customer when experiencing an issue

-The way customer input and suggestions are handled

-The background information included with a product or service

-The amount of detail provided with any instructions included with a product or service

-The inclusion of contact information in promotional materials and product documentation

-The extent of customer follow-up provided post-purchase

-The inclusion of your logo and tag line in all possible service interactions (e-mail, letters, etc.) and documents

-The adherence to your company’s style guide in all possible service interactions (e-mail, letters, etc.) and documents (If you haven’t developed a style guide for your business yet, read The Role of a Brand Style Guide.)

If upon looking at this list, you feel like your customer service experience is fully in synch with your brand, pat yourself on the back!  That is no small feat! 

Want an even stronger evaluation?  Ask a few of your customers to do the same review on your behalf. 

If one or more attributes could use some tweaking to either better represent your company or to better take advantage of the branding opportunities that exist, you’re not alone.  The good news is that you can make important changes over time that can have a big impact on your business and your brand.

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!!

WIN-WIN!! Charitable Contributions as an Opportunity for Branding

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.

The requests for donations of time and/or money never stop.  (I know – because the need never stops!) 

Generally speaking, the causes asking for help are very worthwhile, and you’d really like to do your part . . . but didn’t that agency just make the same request last month? 

While this blog can’t suggest ways to cut down the number of times you are approached, we do hope to help you view these solicitations just a bit differently – as chances “to get” as well as “to give.”

Charitable contributions take many forms.  Sometimes, you are asked to sponsor an event.  Maybe someone wants you to take out an ad in a program book – often honoring an individual for community service.  Or, have you been given a chance to underwrite the cost of a little league team (who will wear the name of your business on the backs of two dozen kids several times a week for many months)?  Or, perhaps you’ve been asked to support a high school sport, a public broadcasting station, a local church, etc.

Typically, the cost to participate is low (relative to the cost of advertising in the media) . . . and you choose the amount.  Since many of us will “just say yes” very often due to good intentions/guilt/a sense of moral obligation, we encourage you to recognize the value of such local “advertising.”

Frankly, you are associating your business in a positive way with a good cause and promoting an image (and self-image) of community involvement, which can be very valuable (especially for a local retail operation).

However, you must be sure to take full advantage of the quid quo pro benefit you are provided.

  • Always include your logo.
  • Mention as much of your “boiler plate” description of yourself as possible.
  • If you are given ad space in a program, you certainly congratulate the honoree but be sure to also mention your products and services as well in a manner consistent with your branding (so the message gets repeated the same way every time).
  • If your sponsorship includes a t-shirt (or some other imprintable promotional item) or perhaps even a banner bearing your company’s name, spend time on the artwork to make your branding elements as visible and prominent as possible.
  • If the organization you sponsor does all of the preparation, be sure to provide the quality logo needed to produce the best results and request to see a proof of the complete artwork in advance of printing.
  • If accompanying radio or TV advertising for the event includes mention of you, be very specific about the way your name should be handled.
  • If you are in a growth pattern, use these charitable platforms to let people know you are hiring . . . and provide a link to your web site to learn more about the company, the openings and internships available, and perhaps even apply online.

While proper care will enable you to take good advantage of the benefits provided, your branding opportunity does not have to end with the event.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Use your social media platforms to post news about your involvement in the community-based activities.  For artwork, you can often post the logo of the agency sponsoring the event as well as your own . . . and perhaps a picture of the person being honored.  Typically, those images will generate views/readers.

Social media traffic is one factor that can assist getting your name to turn up in Internet searches . . . so your charitable efforts help you in this way, too.

(Note:  Efforts to get your name to appear in searches is referred to SEO – Search Engine Optimization; future articles are planned that address this subject.)


PRESS RELEASES

Very often, charitable acts can be used to prepare press releases that stand a very good chance of achieving publication.  For example, did your employees volunteer at a soup kitchen, watch over a Salvation Army collection kettle, or perhaps participate in a United Way Day of Caring.  If so, let the world know.  In fact, very often the organization you are helping will have created PR (AND social media postings) of their own so you benefit from their mention without requiring the preparation.  However, be sure to request the right to review prior to submission to make sure your branding elements are included and handled correctly.  (Most organizations are used to getting requests of this kind!)

WEB SITE CONTENT

News about your charitable involvements can be good web site content that allows you to reveal a different, less formal side of your culture – the kinds of information that can be very helpful in recruiting prospective employees looking to learn more about you and decide whether yours is the kind of company that s/he wants to join.

So . . . the moral of this story is to recognize the potential of charitable contributions to do good for others . . . and you, too!  A WIN-WIN!! situation.

While you may have to get a little more involved than just writing out a check, the time and effort you devote will not be significant, and the benefit to your branding efforts can be great.  You can become better known . . . and known as a good citizen to society, which will encourage people to think positive thoughts when they see your logo.

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.

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

Since I’m writing this post during that unique period in between Christmas and New Year’s . . . when you have no concept of whether it’s Tuesday, Sunday, or even still December, I figured I would write about something that brings me great joy.  Fonts.  I am a collector of fonts.  I have ones that are beautiful, ones that are classic, straightforward, jovial, and downright odd.  I learned today I have 1,266 of them to be exact.  Most I know I’ll never use, but hundreds of them MAY get used . . . one day.  I am a font hoarder.

As a Christmas present to myself, I decided I would find a good utility for browsing my collection.  When I am trying to decide on the perfect font for a project, this very common, teeny tiny, one-font-at-a-time preview is not nearly sufficient:

I went out seeking a utility similar to google’s font viewer . . . where I could type in my desired preview text and then browse the available options in an easy-to-see size and easy-to-scroll format.

If you are in the beginning stages of forming your brand, having a tool like this — to see your company name and test out body copy in all your currently installed fonts — would be a wonderful luxury.  Once your brand has solidified a bit, you’ll still have instances in which you’ll need to choose a different font for a specific need . . . whether you’re creating a Happy New Year graphic for social media or a “clearance” sign for display in your store. 

So I went looking for the best available font viewer.  I read a number of articles reviewing the options, and I sampled a select few of them based on the reviews . . . .

CPS Font Viewer
This program was my absolute favorite, checking all the essential boxes on my font viewer wish list, excepting the very important fact that my computer would freeze for about a minute every time I interacted with the program, which is designed for a 32-bit version of Windows.  (I’m guessing this is an important fact.)  Frustration prompted my uninstalling the program before even taking a screen shot for you, but I was able to grab one from the software provider:

If your computer is a rare gem running 32-bit Windows, this program is a great choice. 

FontBase

I initially really liked FontBase, performing the requisite job in a clean and modern interface.  I also like that you can easily switch from your fonts to Google’s selection of 2,533 free fonts as desired.  However, I really wanted to better utilize all that wasted screen space and increase the number of fonts I could peruse at a time.  Unfortunately, the ability to switch from a row view to grid style, along with a number of additional options, requires an upgrade and at a pretty hefty price tag at that.  Many seemingly functional buttons annoyingly transport you to this screen, where your options are $3/mo, $29/yr, or $180 forever. 

Since I try to resist the low-price allure of ongoing subscriptions whenever possible, I was left with the $180 option, which was about $100 more than I was willing to spend.  Goodbye, FontBase. 

If you don’t mind the free row layout and can quickly learn which buttons to avoid OR you’re willing to pay for the upgrade, this program is a solid choice.

Wordmark.it

Another modern and clean interface that can also easily switch from your installed fonts to google’s free fonts, this viewer is a big step up, providing a grid layout entirely free of charge.  In fact, this is the only utility I sampled that is browser-based and didn’t need to be installed.  Your only required payment comes in the form of one font block dedicated to an advertisement every other screen or so – a very reasonable price to pay in my book.  However, this utility scans and previews your installed fonts using Adobe Flash Player, outdated software that Adobe has announced will no longer be supported as of December 2020.  I noticed a bit of a lag on the web page itself and even more inconveniently in my other software while accessing Wordmark.it.  (So going back and forth from discovering a possible font option on Wordmark.it to trying out the font in my project was not a smooth flow.)  Hopefully, the company will find a more current way to make this utility available, because it’s pretty slick otherwise.

AMP Font Viewer

This program has an old-school feel.  The installation process and program interface are reminiscent of the good old days . . . Windows 97, 56k modems, and floppy disks.  I almost immediately wrote the program off as a result. 

Upon browsing all the options in the program’s menu, I found that the view is almost completely customizable, and I was able to scroll through my 1,000+ font options with ease. 

Unlike the outdated Flash Player, this program’s age adds to its allure . . . not modern and clean but user driven and quick.  I happily declare my unlikely victor!

Do you have a favorite font viewer?  Let us know in the comments below.  Did you have an opportunity to try out one of the reviewed options?  I would love to hear your experience.

Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding

Press releases – specifically articles prepared for the media (print or online) to announce noteworthy news – represent a great opportunity to promote your brand . . . FREE OF CHARGE.  However, creating legitimate, credible press releases is more difficult than the average businessowner thinks.  For a submission to succeed, you need:

  • A topic of general interest to your audience (and not just yourself).
  • A writer who understands that most adjectives and adverbs have no place in a press release (and who can pretend to maintain the objectivity of a journalist).
  • An understanding of the ultimate audience being targeted and the media outlets best suited to reach them.
  • An appreciation for proper press release formatting (so you don’t automatically send a signal of amateurism and get rejected unread).
  • The ability to generate quotes and photos to make the piece more sales worthy.
  • A commitment to perform various post-submission steps that can be taken to get the best possible impact.
  • Proper integration of standard “boilerplate” language repeated in each and every release.

While our ultimate plan is to develop separate blog articles for each of these bullet points, I will provide a brief commentary about each for this overview.

TOPICS

Your press release stands the best chance of getting picked up when the editor believes your piece will be of interest to the largest possible number of people.  If you are a company like Apple, almost any subject will get and sustain the attention of editors and readers.  When you are ABC Hauling, you need to work harder.  Employee promotions and hiring can be newsworthy as well as accomplishments.  Awards or recognition by the company or individual staff are good subjects, too.  If your industry has a national day or week-long celebration, find a way to tie into that recognition.  Conversely, don’t assume that some small change to your product or facility has a wide enough appeal to be publicized.

VOICE

When you write a press release, you want to pretend to be a reporter writing a news story, including the way in which third-person pronouns are utilized.  Drop all adjectives and adverbs like excellent product, great staff, wonderful service, etc.  unless such words have been embedded in quoted material attributable to a specific speaker.  A newspaper will not print such language, which marks you as an amateur.  Remember, the media must serve your competition just as well as yourself.

 AUDIENCE

For your story to have the best possible branding impact, pick topics and articles suitable to your demographics.  If you serve an older crowd, don’t tie your piece to topics aimed at teenagers and pick the places for your submission with an eye to audience. (You want information more likely to be picked up by AARP than Seventeen.)

OUTLETS

As suggested above, demographics are one consideration.  However, a number of others come into play.  For example, does the topic warrant national or regional reach . . . or is strictly local more appropriate?  Are you trying to connect with other businesses or the retail marketplace?  If the former, trade magazines might be your target.  Do you have personal contacts that could be useful in making sure your submission gets proper attention?  If so, reach out to them.

As a small business owner, you might not believe you have options other than your local newspaper or your most familiar trade magazine, but other alternatives for extending your reach exist.  Services like PRNewswire or BestWire can be used to get your message placed in many online outlets and get your story into the hands of a wide range of print contracts, too.

I remember many, many, many years ago when I was still at my greenest, our company achieved a special rating that was worthy of being publicized to our targeted audience.  I wrote a press release that got placed locally . . . but my boss received a message from a friend in another state who passed along the rating agency’s version of the press release that had been distributed nationally.  My boss asked me why her friend got the one from the rater but not ours delivered to her desk.

At that point, I had just learned about national distribution services that release information in a very broad manner for a price . . . but had not yet experimented with the process.  Still, I was able to tell my boss that – if she was willing to spend several hundred dollars – I thought I could deliver similar results, too.

Fortunately, the experiment was a success.  Her contact got our story delivered to her desk via the same “google Alert” criteria she already had in place that picked up the Internet placements that had been made.  She passed our version along to my boss, who was pleased.  (We’ll also eventually do a piece on the use of “Alerts” as electronic clipping services.)

While PR distribution specialists such as these can provide some very gratifying immediate results . . . and get your name and story to appear in Internet search results, the impact tends to be transitory.  Don’t expect more than one or two of those search “hits” to still turn up even a few weeks later.  For sales purposes, that may sometimes be enough.  For branding, a bit more “stickiness” would be desirable.  (In deciding whether the benefit is worth the expense, best to be aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of the process.)

FORMAT

To maximize your chances of success, observe a few very basic formatting requirements to make sure your story does not get flagged unread as being prepared by an amateur.  These conventions evolved to help busy editors who get inundated with requests.

QUOTES AND PHOTOS

A press release should always include some quoted material to make the story more immediate and give you an opportunity to include some of the more subjective material not permissible in the body of the article.  For instance, you can quote your CEO making a statement about superior service due to the excellence of the staff . . . while such a statement would otherwise be inappropriate.  That said, show restraint; you’ll stand a better chance of success.   (Future plans are also another good opportunity to introduce quotes.)

If photos of products, places, or quoted parties are available, include them or at least reference their availability. 

POST-SUBMISSION FOLLOWUP

While this subhead could certainly refer to checking back with an editor when a submission has not appeared after a suitably long period of time, our intention was to further discuss the branding potential of press releases due to conscientious follow-up activities.  

Five Ways to Get the Most Mileage from PR Activities

  • Post copies of press release on your web site.  (People will check them out.)
  • Mail or e-mail copies to your customers and business partners.  (Keeps your name in front of their faces in a desirable way and often includes content that serves the same purpose as a testimonial.)
  • Prepare reprints for use in sales presentations with prospects.
  • Prepare social media postings that link to published copies of the story (or at least to your own online repository).
  • Share your published release with your staff to reinforce your brand with them.

The branding that has been incorporated into your well-crafted press release can have much greater and longer impact by taking these few easy and inexpensive steps.

BOILERPLATE

As discussed in our Style Guide, “Boilerplate” language is a short paragraph included in press releases, sales literature, marketing ads, etc. to ensure a consistent, properly branded message gets incorporated whenever possible.  The language should always be included and in the exact same way, knowing repetition is one of the most basic keys to a well-branded product.  (That said, expect editors to frequently cut your “boilerplate,” though you want to keep including the passage both for those occasions when the message is not cut AND to continually help brand yourself in the eyes of the publication.)

More to Come . . .

In the upcoming weeks, we will be doing dedicated articles to each on these aspects of creating press releases and (as is our custom) we will be preparing a press release about our blog that we will submit to several media outlets in conjunction with National Small Business Week in May.  Since we are well aware of the long lead time involved in getting press releases read and published, we are targeting a draft in January for February submission with the hope of some placements for May. (Publication’s schedule vary from weekly to quarterly and several increments in between, so be sure to know the frequency of the ones you are targeting.)

FYI — More information is available about preparing press release from a variety of sources (just do an Internet search on the proper preparation/formatting) . . . so you might want to check out the thoughts of organizations like CBS:   https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-to-write-a-press-release-with-examples/.