Brand Control – Do you control your own brand?

This may sound like a ‘Big Company’ question but these days it really does apply to everyone who has a business – even if it is just you. I talk and write extensively about the importance of ‘Brand’ – the market perception of who you are and what your business stands for – and how you can deliver real value to your customers and clients. Brand Control - do you control your brand Unless you operate in a very small bubble with only a handful of long-standing clients that you don’t expect to change (is this actually a ‘business’?), your communication and engagement with potential customers in your wider market is crucial.

Your most important Marketing Collateral

While networking, advertising and direct marketing are examples of tools that can be valuable in your marketing mix, I suggest that there is one piece of marketing collateral that is more important – your website. Your website (or Social Media platform for a few) is your business shop window. Whether you like it or not, it is where potential customers will visit to find out about who you are and what you do – and how you can help them! I have said before that you should be proud of your website. I will now go further: if you really want to be proud of your website and ensure that you stay proud of it, add regular updates. It must continue to reflect your business as it is today and not just as it was when you launched your site. News, case studies, technical tips, advice etc. are all things that you can add regularly. The bottom line is that, in my experience, if you don’t have the knowledge and resources to add regular content updates to your website in-house, this presents the biggest risk of your website increasingly not reflecting your business. To look at it another way, if you don’t have control over your website it is difficult to be in control of your brand. Sure, if you let it slide for long enough you can justify a complete revamp and update of your entire site. This makes the problem go away – for a while – but the cycle soon starts again. What is worse, for most of the cycle you are NOT proud of your website and it doesn’t reflect your business very well – or at all!

How do I take control of my website?

Bottom line, you should be confident to add and update at least the core content and blog/news pages on your website. If your website is built on one of the many Content Management systems that are out there, the facility to ‘log-in’ and make changes should be part of the package. There be a bit of a learning curve but trust me, it is worth it. If your site is built in WordPress, there is lots of information and many tutorials online. If you want a more personal touch, give me a call. We offer one to one WordPress training which means we work on YOUR website and give you the knowledge most useful to you. If your site is older and ‘hard-coded’ with no online editing capability, maybe it is time to think about a change? If you do, make sure that flexible Content Management is high on your wishlist. You don’t need to become a web-wizard and you never need touch the scary code bits of your site but taking some control of your site content is a big step to controlling what people see when they visit – and so controlling your brand.

Back to basics – your Domain Name(s)

Your website may be a vital piece of your brand marketing collateral but it is only any good if people can visit it! Perhaps the most fundamental piece of the online brand marketing puzzle is your domain name.

Do you control your domain name?

Despite what some people think, you never ‘own’ a domain name, you simply have it registered, for anything from 1 to 10 years. Domain name registration is managed by a number of international bodies. Which one depends on the TLD (top level domain). This is the bit at the end of the domain address (.com, .co.uk, .net etc.) – OK, for the techies out there I know that strictly .co.uk is a second level domain! The point is that the registration bodies keep records of who a domain is registered to and it is this Registered Person (or Company) who controls the domain. The issue is that if you ask your web designer etc. to register a domain on your behalf, it is common practice for them to register the domain in their own name – simply because it is easy! It’s something I have done! Most of the time there is no problem with this. However, I have come across cases where a company approaches BSA having ‘fallen out’ with their previous web hosting supplier, only to find that their domain name isn’t theirs at all! Hopefully, the previous hosts will be happy to transfer the domain registration across. However, if they decide to ‘take their bat home‘ things can get messy. It can take a long time to sort out during which you may have no visible website – not good!

Control your domain – control your brand

It is easy to overlook your domain name. It is there, it works. What’s the problem? This may be true but a quick check and, if necessary a quick change in your time and on your terms can save a great deal of grief later! The best solution is to make sure you control your domain name(s). By having control of your domain name you also have control of your online brand. These days, I reckon that’s pretty important! If you aren’t sure of the position with your own domain(s) or have any other questions about domains or content managed websites, drop me an email to davidw@bsamarketing.com and I’ll be happy to help you.

What is your brand?

Mention the word “Brand” and your mind will immediately go to Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Netflix, Innocent, Uber, New Balance etc., but where do brands fit in in the SME arena? The fact is that whatever the size of your organisation, you have a brand. The question is how much effort do you make to ensure that the image you communicate is the one you actually want your customers to see. In reality, if you are looking to build a profitable business, your brand should be your number one marketing concern. But before we look and what makes up your brand, let’s start with what it is not! It is not all about your logo, colour scheme & the typeface that you use. Whilst these can be key is communicating your brand, they should not be the starting point. So when asking the question “What is my brand?” where should you start?

It Starts with a Vision

Often, the starting point is an idea of what you and your company are trying to achieve. I am sure that when you set up in business, you had a vision of what you are trying to create. In the corporate world, this is often translated into a “vision, values or mission statement“, but whether formally written down or not, it is this vision that should be the basis of your brand. Interestingly, in researching this post I found a copy of BSA Marketing’s value statement. It was written over 10 years ago. BSA Marketing has changed significantly over the intervening years. Whilst we don’t formally refer to the document on a regular basis, these values are still at the heart of the BSA Brand.

So you know what you stand for as a company - What next?

From here, the key is to ensure that every communication put out either implicitly or explicitly communicates this message. This is where the marketing tools come in to play:

  • Website
  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Offline Marketing
  • Blog Writing

Whilst these tools can often be the starting point, from a marketing perspective, they are simply tools to communicate your brand, and tell your story. Whether it is a blog post, a tweet, or a post on LinkedIn Pulse, every communication should be re-enforcing your brand, and telling your story. If it doesn’t, then don’t publish it! This article will tell you more about keeping your marketing joined-up

Even big brands were once small

When it comes to Brands, probably the best modern day example is Apple. I would recommend that anyone interested in Brand Marketing should add Steve Jobs’ biography to their reading list. Ever since Steves Jobs & Wozniak started Apple in a garage, Steve Jobs’ obsession regarding what Apple stood for, and on turning ground breaking ideas into great products (yes the value of offering you have is important too!) has driven Apple to be the most valuable brand ever. Couple this, with a look at the Apple share price over the years, and how it has performed with (Brand focused) and without (no brand focus) Mr Jobs, perfectly demonstrates the importance of a focus core values when it comes to brand. But remember, Apple wasn’t always the Global Behemoth it is today, Their Focus on the brand started when they were a startup SME in a garage. It was the focus on the “brand” back then that laid the foundations for what Apple is today.

5 Content tips to keep the ideas flowing

Content tipsOne of the biggest hurdles to maintaining a consistent content marketing programme is coming up with the ideas for what to write! Knowing that you need to produce a couple of blog posts when the creative juices simply aren’t flowing can become very stressful when you have a newsletter deadline approaching. Regularly driving and writing new content is at the heart of BSA – both for ourselves and our clients so maybe we see the issues more than many. This said, we have developed a number of tips and techniques to help keep the content flowing. Here are some of our favourites…

1. Maintain a “Content Calendar”

Pretty much everyone talks about the value of planning in business and content is no different. Time flies so quickly and deadlines seem to appear out of nowhere.  Having just a couple of hours to come up with content ideas is never a good thing. This pressure can impact on the quality of what you produce. A Content Calendar can help you plan ahead. It needs to be no more than a spreadsheet outlining your ideas for articles along with a date when you are planning to publish them on your website, or elsewhere. I suggest you try to look 3-6 months ahead and then review your calendar every month adding new ideas each time. Remember to keep a historic record of if your calendar too. You will find that you can reuse and adapt ideas you have had in the past. This can be especially helpful if there is a seasonal nature to your business. …and another thing… By planning ahead with your content, not only is there more time to produce it, you can structure things so your ‘story telling’ becomes more fluid:

  • Give a theme to a newsletter with articles focussing on a particular aspect of your business.
  • Develop a series where you build a message through a collection of articles across 3 or 4 e-newsletters.

2. Nurture your “Content Radar”

Content can come from anywhere.

  • Your own ideas drawn from your experience
  • Something you read or see
  • Collaborative discussion
  • Comments from customers or suppliers

You never know where the next idea might be lurking! Developing your content radar’ means that whatever you are doing, the possibility of a content opportunity should be constantly at the back of your mind. If you can nurture and develop your own content radar it’s amazing how often something in your day to day business will make you think

 "There's a blog post in that".

Make a note, and build it in to your content calendar.

3. Collaborate

There can be nothing worse than being faced with a blank piece of paper (or screen) and being expected to fill it yourself. Thinking up ideas for marketing content can be a challenge, particularly if you are trying to do it on your own. In my experience, a brainstorming” session with colleagues in the business can be a great way of developing ideas. Even better, you can share them out. If several people have a go at producing content which you can then discuss and refine is normally a much less stressful route to content. Even better, if it is easier, it is more likely to continue.

4. Look out for guest blog opportunities.

We all have suppliers, customers and other people we engage with as part of our business. Maybe they might be up for writing something that would be of interest to your readers? Don’t be afraid of offering them space on your blog to write a guest article. It can also be a great way of developing relationships with business partners. Even better, if they do their own newsletter of other content marketing, perhaps you could offer some of your own carefully crafted content for them to use.

5. Don’t feel you have to come up with all your ideas in-house

Whatever your business, other companies operating in your field (not necessarily competitors) will be writing content on similar subjects to you. By keeping your ear to the ground, you can find articles written by others that trigger ideas of your own. There are a few useful tools in this area including:

  1. Google Alerts – alters you wen pages including a given keyword are added to the Google index
  2. Content Gems – Another tool which scans a range of content sources for items containing a given keywords, and emails you a periodic summary of articles that it finds.
  3. Sector newsletters – Sign up to receive newsletters relevant to your business. They have some great and relevant content
  4. LinkedIn Groups – If you can find an active LinkedIn Group that fits with your business you can draw from (and join in with) relevant discussions

Ideas are half the battle

Keeping up a stream of content ideas is half the battle. In practice, if you put your mind to it and develop a structured approach to your content it doesn’t need to be the challenge you might at first think.Hopefully the ideas above will help keep those ideas flowing. Hopefully the ideas above will help keep those ideas flowing.

E-newsletters – the heart of joined-up Brand Marketing

e-newsletters at the heart of brand marketingRegular readers of our blog will know how much value we place on keeping in touch with your contacts and using this engagement to build awareness of your products and services, and confidence in your ability to deliver. We also stress the effectiveness of e-mail and e-newsletters as a communication channel. Sending regular e-mail newsletters delivers much more than simply engaging with your contacts. In fact, it can be the heart of a joined-up business marketing process. In a recent post here I talked about the spectrum of marketing and the relevance of Brand Marketing in building real value in your business. Having a commitment to sending regular e-newsletters means you will be regularly communicating with your market to spread the word and also have a sustained focus on regularly coming up with content to put in your newsletter. This focus on content can be the driver for a whole range of marketing planning and communication opportunities which combine to deliver a consistent and joined-up approach to Brand Marketing – the heart of real, effective business value growth. Let’s take a look at some of them…

Business Planning – Understanding your Proposition

Do you really understand your business? What is the true value benefit you deliver to your customers? These might seem pretty basic questions but, in my experience over many years, many, possibly most, SME business owners are so focused on day to day business management and sales promotion, they rarely take time out to look at their own business. To stand a decent chance of creating relevant and engaging content, it is important to have some idea of what you are writing about, and why. If you don’t understand your business proposition your messages are likely to have little or no focus which, in turn, will make keeping your communication programme rolling ever more challenging. Conversely, if you build business planning into your overall approach you wil;l have one leg of a stable and effective platform for business growth.

Content Planning – Telling your Story

So, your business planning gives you the essence of the core proposition messages you want to get out there. The next step is Content Planning – deciding what to say and when. Have a written plan (a spreadsheet can be a great tool here) looking at least 6 months ahead and setting out what messages you plan to send out and when. Having a plan also helps to develop a structure to keep your marketing coherent.

Team Working – Don’t feel you have to do everything yourself

Don’t feel you need to do everything yourself. Get staff, clients, even suppliers to contribute. They are all part of your story. By allocating tasks on your plan to different people and getting their ‘buy-in’ to the process is  a great way of  spreading the workload and helping avoid the perennial issue of things being left until the last minute.

Spreading the Word – Make the most of your content

Content is the achilles heel of SME brand marketing. Coming up with engaging content month after month is a challenge but if you have cracked it, you are well ahead of the competition. What is more, your content can help solve their problem – and give you the chance to spread your word even wider at little or no effort or cost. Offer your content to customers and suppliers for use in their newsletters etc.If they are giving you content too, as I talked about earlier, it’s win:win. You can also offer your content to relevant business publications and the wider press. In all cases, it is critical taht what you are saying will be interesting and relevant to readers. A sales pitch simply won’t cut it. By leveraging your content and getting things published 2, 3, 4 or even more times really boost the value you get from your efforts which in turn should make it easier, or at least more rewarding, to stick at it!

But is it worth it?

Short answer – Yes! But there is a caveat. When businesses undertake marketing, it is incredibly difficult not to raise your expectations as to what you will get out of it in the short term. This, in turn, makes it tempting to give up too quickly when things don’t turn out quite as you had hoped. Don’t let this happen to you – and here’s how….

1. Have a plan

Make sure you have a plan. If you have given though to your preparations, you will have a solid base of conviction as to the value of what you are doing.

2. Don’t dig a hole for yourself

If you are uncomfortable with the time, effort or money you are putting in to your marketing you are likely to be too ready to stop. As  part of your planning, be honest with yourself about what resources you are committing. If it’s too much, recognise the risk you are taking and think again.

3. Be flexible – but persistent

Brand marketing needs a sustained approach but this doesn’t have to be proscriptive. Take time regularly to review what you are doing and make sure you are comfortable with your plan. If you find you are uncertain about part of your plan as things progress, be ready to change or adapt but the important thing is DON’T STOP! Communication with your market and contacts is ESSENTIAL.It is better to have some communication going on, even if it isn’t perfect, than none while you try and decide what to say.

4. Find what works for you

With so many communication channels out there, there is no right or wrong way to get your message across.

  • Words
  • Pictures
  • Video
  • Face to Face
  • On-line
  • Offline

These are all offer great marketing opportunities but just because they are there don’t feel you need to use them. Typically people feel more comfortable with some than others, so find out what works for you, and then stick at it.