Category Archives: Marketing Communications

How can small businesses build their brands?

Super brandsI can understand why many small business owners believe that their brand is just another term for their logo. In fact, I tend to glaze over when terms such as brand essence and brand voice get bandied around by agencies. But, if as a business owner, you fail to recognise what branding is really all about you are almost certainly missing a trick.

When we talk about branding we tend to think of big companies with even bigger budgets; so what can small companies do to build their own brands?

I received a fantastic, yet stunningly simple, example of good branding from a small local company today in the form of a basic door drop. The leaflet invited me to an open day at a local bespoke curtain makers. Here’s why I thought it was so great in terms of branding:

  • The materials used for the invitation were in keeping with the brand – high quality card with a glossy laminate finish which oozed luxury
  • The images reflected the product – professional and creative images which shouted ‘attention to detail’
  • The overall design was clean and precise – much like the bespoke products they produce I expect
  • The message was confident and clear – we are here, come and meet us and look at our work
  • The trade body logo was displayed – telling me that they are serious about what they do.

By aligning every aspect of this simple piece of marketing material to their brand and really focusing on getting the detail right they have succeeded in getting their message across brilliantly.

It’s not often that a simple piece of card can actually give you confidence in a product before you have even seen it…I wonder if the open day will live up to expectations?

It doesn’t take any more money to create a great piece of marketing material that will really enhance your brand than  to create a mediocre piece. It does take time, thought and attention to detail though; but isn’t it worth it?



Why you should use infographics

InfographicInfographics  are my new marketing best friends! They are appealing and useful on so many levels.

I see infographics used most frequently in the content marketing arena  and they do work particularly well in the place of wordy blog posts. They are very versatile though and I have used then to great effect in awards submissions, proposal documents and strategy presentations; in fact in any situation where you need to convey key information quickly and clearly.

Here’s why I love them:

  • they can convey information in a user-friendly manner; appealing particularly to people with a visual learning style
  • they can provide focus and clarity  to complex subjects
  • they can convey lots of information in a relatively small space
  • they are memorable
  • they can bring  potentially boring or mundane subjects to life
  • they are easy to share.

Here’s a nice example of a seasonal infographic that inspired my post today.

How could you use infographics in your business?


How to keep your marketing campaigns relevant

I received a number of totally irrelevant email shots this week which got me wondering why ‘common sense’ seems to be lacking in many marketing campaigns.

The first was a fantastic buy-one-get-one-free offer on dog biscuits – great…if you own a dog that is! I am (slightly) sympathetic to this campaign as I do currently buy pet supplies from the company in question and, statistically speaking, there is a 30% chance I have a dog. Although, looking at it another way, there is a 70% chance I don’t have a dog, so why bother trying to sell me dog food without finding out first?

The second was another discount offer, this time on nursery furniture – brilliant, but 12 years too late. The third was announcing a new range of clothes for toddlers which again, was totally mis-timed. Getting the timing of a marketing campaign right can be tricky, but surely anyone can work out that whilst baby products would have been relevant to me some years ago, they aren’t now.

Companies like Tesco are masters of using transactional data to match up the right offers with the right customers, but many smaller companies simply don’t have access to mountains of data or the ability to act on it. So what can they do?

Here are a couple of common sense ideas that may help make your marketing campaigns more relevant:

  • Map your customers buying process – including the time period over which your products are likely to be relevant to your customers
  • Know your customers – a research programme or engagement through social media may help you get closer to their needs
  • Keep your data clean – it’s worth taking the time and effort to keep your customer data up to date
  • Take calculated risks – use the data that you have to make an educated guess about what additional products your customers might buy (in the pet suppliers example I’m sure the company could have narrowed my pet ownership down to a rabbit, guinea pig or other small pet).

If your marketing campaigns are relevant they are likely to be more successful and produce a better return for you. Better to spend the time planning the right campaign than irritating customers with irrelevant marketing.


Speak the language of your customers

I cooked goulash last weekend and the recipe called for chuck steak. Hmm. Now,  I know my sirloin from my rump and fillet, but my knowledge of individual cuts of meat doesn’t stretch much further than that.  Still, I knew that the recipe called for slow cooking over a long period so I went in search of, what I knew as, braising steak.

Unfortunately our local butcher has recently retired so I had to turn to the supermarket shelves. Here I was faced with endless packs of meat all simply bearing the label ‘cubed beef’. They were helpfully under a banner marked ‘casseroles’…so I knew I was in roughly the right place. I tried, through a process of price comparison,  (logically braising steak would be more expensive than stewing steak so I thought) to find what I wanted, but that all fell apart when I realised that the English beef was more expensive than the Irish (or was it the other way around?). The organic beef was the cheapest of all which totally blew my theory out of the water!

I finally plumped for a nice looking pack of lean meat which simply said ‘beef’ but went away feeling disgruntled that the decision had taken so long. I felt somewhat patronised too and wondered if I was just simply out of date with the language of meat.

In my view, the supermarket had gone too far in their effort to simplify the buying process for the consumer; so far in fact, that they had actually made it more complicated…for some of us at least.

It’s not an easy one for us marketers; customers don’t all use the same terminology and language clearly changes over time. What is important is to put yourself in your customers shoes, keep it simple without assuming your customers are all stupid and test your messages to make sure they really make sense to your target audience.

What is the difference between and stew and a casserole by the way?


Why entering awards is good for business

I went to a FSB Business Awards ‘meet the judges’ event on behalf of a client a few months ago …and ended up entering the awards myself! Why?

The benefits of actually winning an award are pretty obvious, and I have to admit that my eyes were definitely on the prize, as I visualised  myself at a glittering ceremony with the champagne flowing! However, as I began  to put my submission together, I realised the  inherent value of simply going through the entry process. 

To enter a business award you will probably be asked in-depth questions about your business plan, customers, products, marketing methods and financial success; giving you the opportunity to cast a critical eye over your own plans. How often do you give yourself ‘permission’ to spend time simply thinking about your business?

In my view, even if you don’t make it to the shortlist, entering an award is time well spent. If however, your business is chosen as a finalist, here are some of the benefits you will enjoy given a little effort and a good publicity plan:

  • Having your business reviewed by an independent panel of judges adds credibility which in turn helps to cement relationships with existing customers and build alliances with new ones
  • Being a finalist gives your business a point of difference
  • You can use the award to raise awareness of your business with your target market
  • Being a finalist is great for staff morale as well as your own motivation.

Competitions like the FSB Business Awards are obviously designed to give small business a platform on which to promote themselves, so why not make the most of them?

PS. I’m delighted that I’ve been shortlisted in two categories and, if nothing else, have an excuse to buy a new outfit for the Gala Dinner next month!

Don’t waste your money on advertising

I saw an, almost perfect, advert in a local magazine the other day. So, almost perfect in fact, that I contacted the advertiser  immediately and almost purchased!

This is why I think the advert worked:

  • It had a great headline which promised to solve a problem for me
  • The text was backed up by simple and relevant images which told me, at a glance, what the service was
  • It had a strong call to action
  • It was perfectly targeted; the adverts was appropriate for the publication and was extremely relevant for the target readership
  • Not only was it relevant but it was also well timed.

So why did I only almost purchase off the back of a seemingly well thought through piece of marketing? You guessed it… lack of follow through.

I googled the company in question, sent them an email enquiry littered with buying signals …and then…heard nothing. A couple of days later I phoned the number in the advert and got the response ‘ what advert is that then love?’

Will I buy from this company? Unlikely. Don’t waste your money on advertsing, however good, if you can’t get the rest of the sales process right.

So what? The question you should always ask

I received a random email today from a design agency which, I assume, was touting for new business. I say assume…as I’m not really sure why they sent the communication to me or indeed what they wanted me to do having read it. 

The email contained a number of cryptic questions that, the writer told me, I should be asking myself about my business brand. The content didn’t give any real  insight or  offer to answer the questions for me; it didn’t even tell me where to go to get these questions answered. In short I was left wondering what the point was. I took the inevitable course of action and simply pressed the delete key.

As a business owner it is very easy to get caught up with your own  ‘story’ and forget to think from the readers perspective. Don’t  fall into the trap of  being too clever with your marketing messages; not everyone has the time or inclination to guess what on the earth you are talking about. There is no doubt that a well thought through ‘teaser’ campaign can work but, generally speaking, it’s best to keep your message simple and clear.

A simple way to review the clarity of your marketing message is to put yourself in your customers shoes and ask yourself …what does the message really mean for me? If you can’t answer the ‘so what?’ question then I’m pretty sure that your potential customers will be thinking the same and will probably consigning your message to the bin.

Greed and fear: should they be used in your marketing message?

I have been struck by news of the growing, so-called,  ‘compensation culture’ in Britain. The debate centres on the current system that allows insurance companies to  benefit from passing on details of customers involved in accidents to solicitors specialising in compensation claims.

Having recently been contacted by such a firm of solicitors I have first hand experience of their marketing tactics. I have swayed between wonder, at the power and subtlety of their marketing message, and discomfort, that I could actually fall for it.

In trying to persuade me to make a claim they are preying on my fear of the unknown, of what unseen damage could have been caused that may have long-term effects. I like to think of myself as a pretty rational person but, such was the power of the language used, I came away questioning my own convictions.

Fear is known to be effective as a marketing message and if used carefully, appropriately and morally, it can be valid –  for public health messages for example. It also has the potential to offend, upset and destroy customer goodwill if used in the wrong context.

Creating the right logo

I’ve spent an interesting couple of days working with a client on their new logo this week. As a lover of marketing planning and process the more creative side of marketing can prove a bit of a challenge. All that subjectivity makes me nervous. Choosing yellow for your corporate colour just because you once owned a pair of fluorescent leg warmers as a child has never, in my view, been a very satisfactory form of decision-making.

Luckily, this particular client is also high on objectivity, so we got along just fine.

When developing a new logo here are a couple of points to think about:

  • Is it versatile? Check what your logo will look like at a very small size, on a business card for example, as well as across all the media you intend to use it on (websites, Facebook, promotional items etc). Also check what it looks like in black and white; not everyone has a colour printer so you aren’t always in control of how your logo is seen.
  • Is it recognisable and memorable? Even small companies who aren’t planning a heavy-weight brand promotion need a logo that their clients will recognise.
  • Is it appropriate? This is where you put yourself in your clients shoes. Fonts, colours and imagery all have meaning and associations; make sure they are the right ones for your client base and your product.
  • Will it endure?  Avoid the need for frequent redesign exercises by choosing styles that are not too ‘fashionable’.
  • Keep it simple. Often the most versatile, recognisable and enduring logos are the most simple.
  • Love your logo! Assuming you are planning to be in business for sometime, it is important to be proud of your own logo. If subjectivity slips in at this point then so be it – we are only human after all!

How to choose the right mailing list

It was with some relief that I opened the sixth, and final, direct mail piece from a certain Scandinavian book printing company today. You may be  wondering why I have received no less than half a dozen different mailing packs from a seemingly unrelated business over the last two months – I certainly am!

I can at least take an educated guess. Though I have never had the need for a book printer, I did  publish a magazine (until I sold the business some 6 months ago). My details have obviously been captured and ‘plonked’ into the generic category of ‘publishing’ and the data sold on to some poor unsuspecting marketer hoping for a list of relevant prospects!

Here are some of the questions you should ask before agreeing to rent or buy, what looks like, a relevant database?

  • Where has the data come from and how is it kept up to date? Has the data originated from a legitimate source, has it been verified and on what basis is it kept up to date?
  • Can you buy the relevant portion of the data and how can it be segmented? If you are looking to target businesses in a particular sector can they be easily identified?
  • What level of detail does the database contain? It is essential that you have a named contact and you may also want a ‘phone number and email address.
  • On what basis can you use the data? You can rent lists for one-off use or multiple use or you can buy the data outright. Be clear about what you need and what you are getting.
  • How will the data be sent to you? The format in which you will receive the data is particularly important if you are using an outsourced mailing house. Make sure it is compatible. 

There are lots of good databases out there – by asking the right questions you can make sure you choose the one that will work for you.