Brand marketing is something that has very much been on our minds lately here at Level343. We’re updating our brand for the first time in thirteen years, starting with our new logo that we just unpackaged and put up, and it’s like being a teenager with a new crush. Palms are sweaty, hearts pounding, half excitement and half trepidation… fun times are to be had by all.
Building Your Brand from the Ground Up
Coca-Cola started as a “cure all” in 1886, had actual cocaine in it, and was created by a pharmacist. It was a “tonic for most common ailments.” In 1891, another pharmacist bought the first one out and incorporated the Coca-Cola Company. Today, it’s one of the most well-known American brands in history.
In 1863, John A. Frye opened the doors to the first brand of shoes, named after himself. They made their first boot in 1888. In 2018, they celebrated 155 years. In between those years, they grew a lot, did a lot, and become really well known.
Band-Aids started back in 1920 because of a newly married woman who didn’t know how to cook. She burnt or cut her finger so much that her husband invented the first Band-Aids just to help her. The brand has become so famous, it’s now considered a generic brand. In other words, not all adhesive bandages are actually Band-Aids, because Band-Aids is a brand, but that’s what we call them anyway.
All of three of these brands, and many more, started at ground level. -And there’s one good thing about ground level. There truly is no way to go but up. Each company took their own route, but they’ve all lasted over 100 years and are still going strong.
The Truth About Your Business and Brand Marketing Power
While these brands and brand stories can be looked at for inspiration, it’s important to remember a very significant fact. There just wasn’t as much competition as there is today. There also wasn’t as much regulation (witness the fact that there was actual coke in the Coke). In other words, recognition is a lot harder than it used to be, which is what leads us to our first tip of the day.
You can’t compete with big business.
When you run a brick and mortar company, it’s easy to keep your head out of the clouds and your feet comfortably situated on the ground. However, there’s something about taking your business online that tells you, “I’ve made it! I can conquer the WORLD!”
You start dreaming about taking business from places like Wal-Mart, Overstock and JCPenny’s. You begin to think you’re bigger than the biggest dog on the block – until reality comes crashing down. Nothing worked the way you thought it would, and you’ve spent more money, time, or both to find this hard truth out.
That’s because you think you’re in competition with these mega corporations. You aren’t, because you don’t have:
- their massive marketing budgets,
- the millions of satisfied customers,
- the years of brand name building,
- their infinite (or close to) resources.
You simply can’t compete on their level! Don’t throw your arms in the air and give up, though, because there is something you can do.
Dream Big, In Small Doses: Branding & Inbound Marketing
You’re small, yes, but you’re not insignificant. You just have to tweak your thought processes a little. You have to learn how to dream big, but in small pieces. No matter how big your dream, remember the following:
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your brand won’t be either. It takes time to build a brand. It takes customer satisfaction, authority, and the knowledge of who you are. People will have to learn what your business is all about, and you start with things like:
- A strong brand statement
- A plan for managing your reputation
- Content development strategies to increase your authority and brand recognition
You have to start somewhere. Rome started with some dirt…
Your website is just a business card.
If you’re new to the online world and your site barely has the bubble wrap off of it, it’s nothing more than an online business card at the moment. It has a chance to grow, but it takes time. You’re not going to get online and receive tons of traffic the first day – life isn’t that neat, nor is it that convenient. Just as you would with a brick and mortar store, you’re going to have to work to build up visitors.
- Create a blog, and decide how much time you have to put into it. How often will you be posting? Be conservative; once you start a schedule, people will very quickly learn to expect blog posts from you on those days.
- If you don’t have enough time for blogging, pinpoint a few places for posting occasional articles to share your particular expertise with others.
- Showcase your services or products, much like you would in a department store. How visible are they on the site? Did you just throw up a picture (or worse, a one-line description), or did you put thought into how the product looks on the page? The art of proper display is still everything!
- Make sure your site URL and social info is on everything you put out that pertains to your business: business cards, letter heads, emails, and any trade show products, for example. Don’t miss these great opportunities to turn offline meetings into potential customers and relationships.
Online Marketing and Branding Takes Drive
You own a small business. You aren’t Wal-Mart, K-Mart, or any other Mart. You’re just you. –And yet, it takes a special kind of person to take the steps needed to become a small business owner. It takes your drive, ambition, courage and dedication to keep it going.
Online marketing is more than “selling a web presence”. It’s a combination of several disciplines, including optimization (search engine and conversion), copywriting, strategic content development and much, more. No matter what type of campaign you embark on, you have to keep the power of brand in mind.
Actually – you have to keep the power and the story of brand in the very front of your mind.
Have you heard that saying, “Character is what you do when no one is watching”? Well, brand is sort of like that, but it’s more like, “Brand is what you do when you think no one is watching, but in reality everyone is, and your bottom line is going to take a hit for that really bad PR move you just made.”
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “I didn’t make a bad PR move. My public relations are just fine.” Well, that’s what McDonald’s thought… and Toyota… and Woody Harrelson.
The fact is that, no matter how bright and shiny you think your brand is, its character may be more tarnished than you expect. Unfortunately, the only way many companies find out the depth of distaste is publicly, once it’s too late to back out.
While you really can’t please everyone all the time, there is something you can do to “put a little spit and polish” on your brand character’s halo.
Develop the ultimate brand message guide.
First, this exercise isn’t as simple as writing out a sentence, or even a paragraph. Throughout the life of your business and online marketing efforts, you’ll be developing content, creating social campaigns, building links, drafting meta descriptions, page titles and so on. Depending on your industry, you may publish case studies, white papers or ebooks. You might create infographics, videos and podcasts.In other words, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to deliver a positive brand message, or destroy the one you have. With this in mind, your guide will be in depth documentation on your brand. You’re creating a document that will be the ultimate resource for your entire team of marketing professionals to follow.
This document should contain things like:
- The ways your company/brand should be referenced in all outgoing material (i.e. BrandMessage, Brand Message, brandmessage, BM).
- Guidelines for images.
- Guidelines for videos.
- Guidelines for written content.
- Guidelines for website development.
- Guidelines for social activity.
- Contact information for the company’s Editor in Chief. This should be the person’s main job – to look over every piece of content that goes out.
Create a master content development guideline.
A master content development guideline doesn’t cover “what’s being posted where”, because that information changes depending on technology, available sites and company growth. A master guideline answers issues such as:
- Chain of command in the content development department
- Process of content creation for each type of content
- Pre-post checklist for blog post scheduling
- Editorial calendar
- Author bios, verified and approved by chain of command
- Minimum and maximum word count
- Clearly defined descriptions of the company’s activities
- Calendar for updating, recycling, repurposing content
Create a master brand guideline.
Your brand includes things such as logos, colors and tag lines. You can’t afford for these things to get skewed by an overeager intern. How do you combat this? By developing a master brand guideline. This document contains:
- All approved sizes of the company logo, including black/white and color versions.
- All approved colors, along with hexadecimal values.
- Company and CEO bios, verified and approved by chain of command
- Trademark information (if any)
Changing With Your Company
Now, your company may not have services. Your company may have products, and thousands of them. How does that work to keep your brand’s power growing? How do you add/change the documentation we’ve outlined to support that growth?
Well, you know your company best and, as we’ve said countless times before in regards to optimization, “There’s no cookie cutter solution.” The same applies to all aspects of marketing. Therefore, you have to be willing to put in the thought it takes to tweak the guidelines so they fit your business.
For example, if you have thousands of products, a master guideline on how these products should be displayed would be helpful:
- What backgrounds are to be used with the product images?
- How big should the images be?
- Do you put your company name in the corner, just your logo, or nothing?
- Are the product images on the left, or the right of the page?
- What’s the allowable word count for product descriptions?
Social media activities are another example. If your business is highly active on Twitter, a good master guideline would be what formats are allowed for links, or the approved hashtags. As a hint, having a specific set of hashtags (#) to be used makes social tracking much, easier!
Unlike the documentation you’re about to create, this article is a brief guideline, just to give you a starting point. The key is to make whichever documentation you create as in depth and useful to your marketing team as possible. Providing a unified front in all your online marketing efforts is the best way to keep your brand power going strong!