Do You Know Your Competition?

You can only build a strong brand if you set yourself apart from your competition. But you can’t do that if you don’t really know what the competition is doing. Too many marketers ignore this – and weaken their own brands in the process.

Luckily, this is an easy problem to solve. Start by visiting your competitors’ websites. How’s their content? Are they blogging or posting videos? Is the site updated regularly or out of date. How’s their SEO?

Next, follow them. Download and read their whitepapers. Subscribe to and read their emails. Watch the videos they post. Follow them on social media and pay attention to their audience and their social success.

Set up Google alerts about their companies and their key products and people. You’ll know every time they’re in the news – and why.

(By the way, this is perfect work for an intern. It’s meaningful and valuable to your organization, and it helps them learn quickly about your industry.)

What are the benefits of all this effort? Not only will you know what your competition is doing, but you’ll be able to see how you stack up. Where are you ahead of the curve? Where are you falling behind? What are the opportunities you’re missing?
Most of all, you’ll have a much better idea of how to successfully position yourself against everyone else. That’s the essence of brand-building, and the ticket to making your marketing more effective.
(Don’t have time to do all this? Idealogy can help. Engage us to take a close look at your competitors – and you – and let you know how you compare, and where the opportunities are. Reply to this email to get details.)

5 Ways Websites Undermine Brands

Is your website working for or against you? Here are five telltale signs that your website may be killing your brand instead of building it.
A Starving Newsfeed.
No news is not good news…at least on your website. If you have an “In the News” tab with no recent posts, it’s actually doing the opposite of what you think. It’s telling people that you’ve been out of the spotlight for some time – that you haven’t done anything newsworthy. There are two fixes. Use the “News” tab to share your own news about products, people, etc. Or simply drop the tab from your site.
A Bare Blog
Everyone begins with great intentions about blogging. And a blog is good for SEO. But without committed, consistent content generation, it can be months or more between posts. That makes site visitors think you’re not very relevant – and undermines claims of expertise or thought leadership. Make the hard call. Use it or lose it.
Broken Links
Nothing screams “apathy” like website links that don’t work, or images that are missing. And if those links are supposed to go to the pages most site visitors come to see, the damage is far worse. So practice preventative maintenance. Once a week, go through your site from top to bottom, and click every link to make sure things still work.
Flash? Seriously?
Back in the day, websites that used Flash were all the rage. Back in the day. Now, Flash is gone, and most devices no longer support sites that use it. So all visitors see is that something’s missing. Time to refresh the design without Flash, and give visitors an experience consistent with your brand.
Dated Design
Your website is like your closet. Every so often, you need to say goodbye to what’s gone out of style and freshen up your look. Websites with a dark background and white type are the worst offenders. What else should go? Stock photos that now look dated. Buttons that look like gel caps. Clutter. And every variety of cheese.
First Things First
Is your website responsive (the content rearranges itself based on the size of the viewer’s browser window)? Is it mobile (looks great on a smartphone, rather than just looking like a tiny version of itself)? Since most sites, and especially consumer sites, are viewed on mobile devices, this needs to be fixed first.
For first time visitors, your website is you. So bring it up to date, and make the impression you want.
(Need a fresh pair of eyes on your site? Reply to this email to ask about our website audit. You’ll get a thorough to-do list of everything your site needs to be on-brand and up to speed.)

Where Sales Meets Marketing

Anyone who’s been successful at sales will tell you that listening is a lot more important than talking. What you hear has at least as much impact than what you say.
Great salespeople ask open-ended questions, then listen to the answers. Only then do they think about whether they can solve the prospect’s problem, and what the solution might be.
This should be the rule for marketers, too. But it’s not, is it? Mostly, marketers think about what to say, how to say it and who to say it to. Yet there have never been more ways to listen before you market. And when you do, you spend smarter.
Take social media. It’s all about content. Except that it isn’t. It’s about engagement. That’s a two-way street. Which means marketers should think less about pushing product information and PR in the social sphere, and more about asking questions that get fans and followers commenting and sharing.
What questions should you ask? Start with two. What do they love? And what do they hate? Find out what drives customers in or drives them away – or just what drives them crazy. Then you earn the right to talk about how you fit into that picture.
Then there’s digital. Use all that targeting technology and tracking data to talk with prospects. Did they find what they were looking for? Why did they abandon that purchase? What could have gone better? Click here to help us get better – and you could win.
Email works this way, too. Instead of impressing recipients with what you’ve done or what you’re selling, think about asking a question or three. Maybe even invite them to get together in the real world to share their experiences, expectations and disappointments.
This works across all media. Sponsor a call-in session on the radio to let people vent about your industry. Throw an opinion hotline up on a billboard. The possibilities are nearly endless. And so is the wealth of information you could harvest.
And here’s the biggest benefit. When you’re a good listener, you broaden and deepen your appeal. That’s what brand-building is for. As a truly great salesperson once said, to make your sales go up, shut up and listen up.

How Low Can You Go?

There’s a paradox that plagues every marketer. People are reading both more and less.
They’re reading web content and whitepapers. Blogs and tweets. Reviews and articles. Billboards and emails. Magazines and Facebook posts. In fact, people are spending more time reading than ever.
But they’re also reading less – or trying to. Shorter attention spans demand shorter copy. So if you want to make your point and make a sale, make it faster. Here are four ways to lower your word count without losing impact.
First, lose the clichés. Each and every one of them. (See what we did there? Slipped in a cliché. Don’t do that.) Instead, print out the copy you need to trim. Now grab a highlighter.
Highlight every cliché. Every overused word or generic expression. Every phrase that takes up space without adding depth. All of them. Now delete those and read the copy again. Then repeat. You’ll find that you’ve lost empty words and regained readers’ attention.
Second, make every sentence shorter. Every one. Trim words away until each is as short as possible. Be especially ruthless with industry jargon and technical terms. You may feel better including them, but they rarely help readership.
Third, make every paragraph shorter. What’s the key point? Drive it home. Get in, hit it and get out. Add spaces between paragraphs. Add subheads to add clarity.
Finally, strategically ignore what your English teachers told you. Or at least some of it. Write closer to the way people talk. Use contractions. Punch things up with sentence fragments. Lots of them. End a sentence with a preposition if it makes sense. And start with conjunctions. Write to be read.
One note about SEO. Yes, your website needs to include search terms and key words. But that doesn’t mean you should bury them in long sentences.
Now go get short. And make some more money.
(Need a hand? Idealogy can help. Just give us a shout.)

Printing Money with Your Marketing

What if there was a marketing tactic that was proven to boost recall of your brand?  One that caused prospects to spend more time with your message?  One that led to increased sales?

There is.  But there’s a problem.  Even though it’s scientifically proven to move the needle in big ways, there’s a good chance you won’t take advantage of it.

Why?  Because it’s not the newest, coolest, sexiest tech.  In fact, it’s almost the opposite.  It’s print.  And it works better than you imagine.

According to Scientific American, “People understand and remember what they read on paper better than what they read onscreen.”  Go ahead.  Read that again.  Better yet, print this out and read the hard copy.

Here’s some proof.  Many retailers who switched to online catalogs watched their sales plummet.  That’s why you’re seeing catalogs in your mailbox again.  Magazine readership is up, too, as are book sales, as people rediscover the joy of a literal page turner.  Sales literature is in demand as well, especially for complex products or services.  And the ROI for targeted mail is as strong as ever – or stronger.

Best of all, you can crank up your ROI with a few tactics that make print work even harder.

For example, you can inexpensively add augmented reality and turn any print piece, from a sales brochure or direct mail piece to a magazine ad or sales tag, into an interactive marketing machine.  It takes your message off the page and brings it to life on the viewer’s phone, in the form of video or an alternate view.  It can even take them to a web page, where you can capture their device for retargeting.

Using variable data printing, you can personalize direct mail using all kinds of information from your own database or a purchased list — not just names, but age, gender, neighborhood, college, likes, dislikes, past purchases and future interests.

You can easily choose from a jaw-dropping variety of textures and special effects during the printing process.  The added tactile dimension will boost the amount of time a reader spends with your piece — and even get them to pass it around.

Of course, none of this matters if your print piece is poorly designed or off message.  So be sure you’ve got an offer that’s hard to resist, and that the design of your print pitch is one your prospects will find appealing.  Then use some of the many approaches available to add elements of interactivity, and watch your return soar.

Build Your Brand With Video

You’ve seen the numbers. But just in case, here are three more. About 80% of all global consumer web traffic comes from video. You read that right…80%! Facebook alone racks up over 8 billion video views daily! And in spite of the way it devours data, mobile video is expected to consume more than 75% of mobile data traffic by 2020.
Why should you care? Because when it comes to marketing, video is a powerful tool.
• 80% of internet users can recall a video ad they’ve seen in the last 30 days.
• Nearly half of those people took some action after viewing the ad.
• Using the word “video” in an email subject line boosts open rates by 19% and click-through rates by 65%.
• Videos improve social media engagement by 28%.
• YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google, reaching more 18-34 and 18-49 year-olds than any U.S. cable network.
So…now what?
If you don’t have a plan in the works for video marketing for 2019, now is the time to get the ball rolling. Here are three easy things you can do to get started.
First, brainstorm video ideas. And don’t sit in the office and do it. Grab your crew, head out to a favorite restaurant or pub, and throw out as many ideas as you can come up with. The bigger the list, the better. Don’t worry about whether they’re good or bad. The only criteria is whether they have something to do with what you sell and who you sell it to.
Next, edit the list. Of all the ideas, which have the most potential to make your brand, your products, your services or your people memorable? For each one that makes the cut, write down three things:
• What’s the point of the video? What do you want a viewer to take away?
• What’s the arc of the video? The beginning, middle and end?
• What time of year should that video hit?
Third, start shooting. Put those final ideas in order, create a calendar and do one a week – or several at once.
Now, let’s tackle the excuses you just came up with in your brain for putting this off.
1. You don’t need expensive equipment. Phones have cameras. Computers have cameras – and screen capture! Many digital cameras shoot video. GoPro cameras get cheaper all the time.
2. You don’t need video expertise. There are four zillion college students looking for internships right now who know how to edit video.
3. You don’t need to pay to distribute them. Just put them on social media and throw a link in your emails.
4. They don’t need to be long. Attention spans have shrunk. Under a minute is fine.
In conclusion: Video is big, and you’re late to the party. So grab those glass slippers and get to the ball!
(And if you need a hand putting that list together or getting this organized – or even shooting a few videos to get you started – we can help.)

The Well-Dressed Brand.

Imagine this.  You’ve finally gotten a chance to present to the one prospect you really want for a customer – the one who could be a game changer for your company.

You prepare for the pitch for days, obsessing over every detail of your proposal until it’s perfect.  Then you show up to make your case…in a Pink Floyd t-shirt, board shorts, bedhead and flip-flops.

Or try this.  Your company expends enormous effort and finally gets that big sales meeting, this time in your own offices.  Again, your presentation is pristine.  But when the prospect arrives, the landscaping is untended, the office is dingy, the furniture is worn, the carpeting needs cleaned and light bulbs need replaced.

Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it?  But something just like this happens every day.

A company works hard to provide a terrific product or service backed by great people at a price that offers real value.  But the elements that should showcase that ingenuity and value have the opposite effect.

The company website, designed by the owner’s nephew or by the low bidder, is six years old and feels older.  The company’s logo looks like clip art, while its salespeople hand out business cards ordered from whichever online printer was cheapest, so none of them match or hold up well.  Sales literature feels slapped together, and features bad photography and typos.

In short, everything about the way the company presents itself undermines its credibility.  And that makes it nearly impossible to persuade that elusive prospect that they really are the provider of choice.

Here’s how to prevent this brand dissonance.  First, write either a collection of words or a couple of sentences that describe what you want prospects and customers to think of when they think of you.  Be detailed and thorough.

Now do a brand audit, where you gather everything that faces prospects and customers, and compare it to those standards you just wrote.  Look at your graphic identity: your logo, cards, letterhead and email signatures.  Review your website.  Your sales materials.  Your Powerpoint decks.  Your advertising.  Your signage.  Your vehicle and trade show graphics.

If everything is in sync, you’re good to go.  But if not, take note of which items don’t convey the brand you need to present.  Then use those notes as a checklist, and build an action plan to resolve any issues you found.

When prospects are considering you, they need reassurance that you are who you say you are.  So as you head into fall, use this time to get every aspect of your brand in shape for 2019 and beyond.

(And if you need an independent brand audit to give you an outside perspective at what’s working and what isn’t, give Idealogy a call at 812-399-1400.)

The Secret Ingredient for Marketing

If you read the emails, or watch the webinars or skim the books, it’s tempting to believe the “experts” who tell you that there’s one thing you can do – one secret ingredient you can add to the mix – that will transform your marketing and have an outsized impact on profits.

In fact, marketing is a lot like cooking.  If you want a dish to be truly memorable, you need all the right ingredients, in exactly the right measure, combined in the right way.  (Even the Colonel needed 11 herbs and spices.)

And the recipe depends on your goal – what you want to accomplish.  That’s where marketing should always begin.  Who do you need to reach?  And what do you want them to do?  The answer to each question affects your choice of media.

If you’re selling something simple, especially if the purchase can be completed online, then online tools like PPC ads and email might make a lot of sense.  That’s assuming a younger audience.

Selling something more complicated, especially a service?  Media like targeted direct mail or targeted TV might give you the time you need to make your case, especially with an older audience.

Building brand awareness over time so that when a prospect needs what you’re selling, they think of you first?  Targeted print and outdoor advertising might be the ticket.

If you keep drilling down, focusing on your prime prospects, you’re likely to find that some combination of media is the perfect recipe.

And remember, as with fine dining, presentation is everything.  Once you’ve chosen media and a schedule, focus on the way you deliver your message.  If you can’t make it stick, nothing else matters – so be sure it’s memorable, and clearly conveys the benefit you offer in a persuasive way.

Backing Into (Or Away From) A Brand

Right now, as you read this, hundreds or even thousands of companies are doing something completely weird but widely accepted.  They’re working on their strategic plans, and when those plans are complete, they’ll (maybe) look at how the plan impacts their marketing or brand.

That’s totally backward.

Before anything else, a strategic plan should focus on what makes your company or organization unique — what differentiates it from all its competitors.  That’s the essence of branding.  And it’s where every strategic plan should begin.  But they almost never do.

So try this.  Whether it’s your own organization, or a nonprofit on whose board you serve, the next time strategic planning time rolls around, challenge yourself and everyone else to begin by answering the brand questions.  Why us?  What makes us better?  Is that difference relevant to today’s buyers?  Is it worth a premium price?  Can it be easily copied by our competitors?  What will we do then?  Or what will we do to be one step ahead of that?

It’s impossible to set realistic goals for growth, expansion, product development, talent acquisition or anything else if you don’t know – and can’t articulate – what makes you worth the consideration of prospects, investors or team members.

But when you begin by tackling this question – and it’s probably the thorniest one you’ll deal with – the answers to all of those other questions become much more obvious.  And when you either discover your true brand or commit to creating one, you find that your strategic goals become bolder, and the people charged with meeting them become more engaged.

Here’s another benefit.  Putting your brand at the center of your strategic plan puts appropriate emphasis on marketing.  And marketing is one of the few budget items that’s an investment rather than an expense.  Done strategically, with a powerful brand as the engine, it generates a real, measurable ROI.

So the next time you roll up your sleeves for one more SWOT analysis, begin with your brand – or lack of one.  Is it a strength (be honest) or a weakness?  An opportunity (always) or a threat (often)?  Because getting your brand right adds a sharper focus to your entire strategy – and increases the likelihood that your plans will reap the benefits they should.

Big Brains, The Bee Gees, Bravery and Branding

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”  Albert Einstein

When the movie Saturday Night Fever was in the works, company executives visited the Bee Gees to hear some new songs they had written, hoping that some could be used in the soundtrack.  According to the band, the executives (who were planning to call the film Tribal Rites Of A Saturday Night) had little good to say.

They thought “How Deep Is Your Love” should be sung by a woman.  They wanted to change the title of “Night Fever” to “Saturday Night,” even though there were many songs with that title, including a recent hit by the Bay City Rollers.  One of them sneered that “Stayin’ Alive” sounded too much like “Buried Alive.”  None of them heard a hit.  And when the band suggested changing the name of the movie to Saturday Night Fever, they were told it sounded like the title of a porn film.

The executives, of course, were proven wrong.  The soundtrack sold 25 million copies – still the record – and won a Grammy for Album of the Year.  And the Bee Gees scored four Number One songs, owning the top of the pop charts for months, and kickstarting a long string of Number One hits for the group.

So what does all this have to do with marketing?

When management looks at marketing, they’re searching for something safe and familiar.  There’s comfort in knowing that your website, your ads, your sales literature or your TV spots look like others in the industry.

But what made the Bee Gees’ songs so popular, and Einstein’s ideas so game changing, was the exact opposite. They weren’t like anything else.  And so they rocked their respective worlds.

If marketing is going to succeed in building your brand and making you stand out, the marketing itself has to stand out.  It can’t look or sound or feel like everybody else.  To quote another cultural icon, it has “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

And management has to be able to move past the nervousness that truly creative work always instills in all of us, and give it a chance.  Most great moments in life begin with a case of nerves.  Reward requires risk, as in all things.

If you’re going to invest in marketing, invest in ideas that will break out and move the needle.

(And if you need a hand developing those ideas, we’re here to help!)