Tag 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?

Image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

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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?

Image: freedigitalphotos.net

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.

Image: www.tomfishburne.com

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?

Image: www.freedigitalphotos.net

Turning conversations into sales

I had yet another telesales call this week that reminded me why some of the basic sales training I undertook in my early days is still valid today. It went something like this…

  • Telesales guy : Can I speak to the business owner?
  • Me: Yes, that’s me.
  • Telesales guy: Oh good. Do you have an epos machine?
  • Me: No
  • Telesales guy: Would you like to have an epos machine if the monthly charges were lower?
  • Me: No
  • Telesales guy: Oh. Wouldn’t it help your business to have an epos machine?
  • Me: No
  • Telesales guy: Oh. OK. Bye then.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that you won’t get very far by asking a series of closed questions, yet we all fall into the trap from time to time. I watched an experienced newsreader just last night trying to interview an eight year old boy using closed questions. It was painful. The boy, who was clearly dying to tell his story, was prevented from doing so by the interviewers ineptitude.

Closed questions do have their place of course, and they are great for:

  • Gaining factual information, as in: Am I speaking to the business owner?
  • Clarifying that you have understood a situation, as in:  So am I right in thinking that you don’t currently have a marketing plan?
  • Getting a desired positive answer, as in: Would you like to generate more business?
  • Seeking to close a deal or teasing out an objection, as in: Would you sign today if I were able to deliver next Tuesday?

If ultimately you are trying to sell something, you will need to use a mix of open and closed questions to really develop the conversation. The good news is that most of us do this naturally in a social situation, which is perhaps why people who are genuinely interested in others often make good sales people. With a little self awareness and preparation you can hone the questioning techniques that you are probably already using and start to turn your conversations into natural sales opportunities.

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.

I’ve started so I’ll finish

I have been undertaking some research on behalf of a client this week and am amazed by the number of websites showing out of date blogs. The most recent blog posts on about 60% of the sites I researched were over 3 months old.

I know that there are no definitive ‘rules’ on blogging frequency but I’ve never heard anyone advocate blogging once a quarter!

What did this make me feel about the companies I was researching? They were lazy, busy or just plain disorganised? It certainly didn’t make me want to rush out and do business with them.

Social media seems like an easy marketing option, especially for small businesses, not least because there is little direct cost involved. This is not a good enough reason to set up a Facebook page, sign up for a Twitter account or start a blog though. Social media, like any other marketing activity, needs to be built into your marketing plan. It’s not a quick fix and takes time and effort.

If you want to include social media into your marketing mix it is essential that you understand why, how and when you will use it;  including how it will integrate with your other marketing activity. Don’t be too ambitious, we all have limited time, and plan for contingencies such as busy work periods. Be realistic about what you can achieve and enlist help if you need to. Above all plan your activity and finish what you have started.

Well executed direct mail can still work

I don’t know about you but I still receive mountains of paper through my letter box each day. Virtually all of it is unsolicited and most is irrelevant, confusing or just plain dull. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to pick up a door drop that avoided all of the usual pitfalls. It was from a local pet shop and here is why I think it actually worked:

Good design – it was immediately obvious what the leaflet was about. Yes, it had lots of really simple and obvious (you might even say cheesy) images but that’s what you need when you only have a few seconds to catch someone’s attention.

Relevant – since 1 in 2 households own a pet the leaflet had a 50:50 chance of hitting the right target! Plus, I live within a mile of the pet shop so I am pretty likely to fall into their target audience.

Clear call to action – the headline actually told me what to do. ‘Pop in and see us’. All the other contact information (website, email, ‘phone) was contained in the leaflet, but it is totally clear what they really want the reader to do.

Great offer – the leaflet contained a discount voucher. In fact there were actually four offers encouraging return visits to the pet shop.

Extra marketing value – the discount voucher allowed the pet shop to gather invaluable customer information (name, email, type of pet) which could be used for future marketing campaigns.

By following a few simple guidelines there is no reason why all marketing communications shouldn’t do a great job for you.