Your Brand’s Biggest Secret: It’s Not About You.

It’s a little hard to swallow, but it’s true.  Prospects don’t care about your brand.  Not at all. That’s the big secret, and the bad news.

Here’s the good news.  Prospects care very much about what you can do for them.  If you can do something no one else can do, or do it in a way no one else does it, or do it faster, or easier, or smarter, or greener, or prettier — if you can do it differently and better — they want to hear all about it.

What does that mean for you?  For starters, talk less about yourself.  Make it all about your prospects.  What are their goals or challenges or opportunities?  What’s frustrating about the solutions they’re using now?  And how can your people or product or service fix it for them?

Here’s a simple exercise.  Go through your website or social media content or sales literature.  Print it all out.  Take a black marker and cross out everything that talks about you and your company (look for pronouns like “we” and “us”).

Now take a highlighter and highlight everything that talks about your prospect and their wants and needs (look for “you”).

Those highlighted parts are what prospects read and care about.  The blacked-out parts?  That’s the stuff they’re skimming or skipping.  Now refine your content until the highlighted parts outnumber the rest by three-to-one or more.

Here are three questions to jumpstart your thought process: *

  1. What do you offer that no one else can?
  2. What’s a recognized weakness in your industry that you can exploit or eliminate?  (Think about waiting for the doctor or the cable guy, as examples.)
  3. How can you make life or work easier for your prospect?  More convenient?  More fun?  More efficient?  Better?

*  Use these for strategic planning, too, by imagining what you could do.

(If you’re ready to pivot and make your prospects the focus of your branding, Idealogy can help.  We can facilitate a planning session to help your team reimagine your products and services, or simply help you refocus your messaging on what your prospects need and want.  Just reply to this email to learn more.)

Stephen Hawking on Marketing

The late, great Stephen Hawking was a noted theoretical physicist and author whose book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes became an improbable bestseller.  The reason?  Hawking was really good at explaining complex ideas in a way that the average person could understand.

But the truly remarkable thing is that Hawking accomplished the bulk of his life’s work, which was massive, while all but immobilized by motor neurone disease.  And when he was diagnosed in 1963, his doctors gave him two years to live.  He passed away in March of this year, 53 years after his doctors (all of whom he outlived) said he would.

So there’s a lesson or two here for marketers.  When you can only type 15 words per minute – and eventually a single word per minute – it makes you very selective, choosing your words carefully and using only what you need.  And when you believe time is severely limited, you embrace simplicity and clarity.

Now think about how placing limitations on what you do could improve your marketing.  You may already have financial limitations, especially if your marketing budget has been reduced.  What kinds of tactics could you use that require a lower investment but might be even more effective in getting your message out?

Try asking yourself this.  If you suddenly couldn’t use any of your current marketing channels to get your message out, what would you do?  What new tactics would you try?

Now go a step further.  If you had to make everything you did 50% shorter – every email, every ad, every billboard, all your web copy – what would you lose?  How could you trim everything down and still keep your core message intact?

Finally, if you could only tell prospects one thing about you – give them a single reason to choose you over your competitors – and you had to do it in as few words as possible, what would you tell them?  Remember that it has to be focused on them, not you.  And it has to offer a clear benefit that they can’t get from anyone but you.

Hawking, without the use of most of his body, wrote over a dozen books, advanced our understanding of black holes, showed how relativity and quantum mechanics were interconnected, had three children and appeared in countless films and TV shows.  Let’s go.

The 2 Times Marketing Matters Most

While marketers might complain that they never get a big enough slice of the budget, there are two times when marketing often gets too few resources when it really matters.

The first is when the economy – or even just the company – is on a downhill slide.  And at first glance, it seems to make sense.  With fewer resources available, everything gets shifted to life support.  The question that drives everything becomes, “How do we stay alive until things rebound?”

But it’s not that simple.  An investment in marketing is the one thing that can actually bear fruit and put money back in the bank.  It can produce income in excess of the expense.  So if you need more business, investing in marketing makes a lot of sense, even if it means you have to forgo something else or tap a line of credit.

Of course, that amplifies the need to be extremely selective about how and where you market.  The emphasis has to be on those activities with the highest likelihood of resulting in sales (as it always should be).

There’s one other advantage of marketing into a downturn, and it’s longer term.  It keeps you top of mind during the time when fewer people are spending.  Once the faucets get opened again, there’s pent-up demand for what you offer, so your recovery comes faster than it might otherwise.

The other time the marketing purse strings are tighter than they should be?  When business is booming.  Again, the logic here can seem sound – why put money into marketing when we have all kinds of business walking in the door?

The answer has at least two parts.  First, you should market into momentum.  Make that wave crest as high as you possibly can.  If you have a larger share of the market in boom times, you’ll keep a larger share when things tighten up – and that can sustain you.

And second, things will slow down, even if they don’t fall off a cliff.  The marketing you do right now is probably going to bear fruit some time in the future, just as much of the business you’re enjoying right now is driven by marketing you’ve done in the past.  To keep customers coming, keep marketing.

In fact, when business is brisk, consider setting funds aside that you can tap into when things slow down.  Because they will slow down.  And boom or bust, the companies that market consistently over the long term are better equipped to ride out the valleys and take advantage of the peaks.

Help Wanted? Now Hiring? Good Luck!

Business owners and HR managers all face the same dilemma: good people are hard to find, and getting harder.  But some of this is almost certainly a marketing problem.

First, think about those “pitches.”  Help wanted.  Now hiring.  Positions available.  Operators needed.  Not very sexy, are they?  Flip that around for a minute.  If you received an inquiry from a potential hire, and all it said was, “Looking for work” or “Job wanted” or “Available for hire,” you might not be too enthused.  So why should potential hires get excited about your generic appeal?  If you want your message to resonate with potential employees, you have to give them something to get excited about.

Start by pitching every great thing you have to offer.  Is the position a stable one?  Does it offer a path to promotion?  Here’s where the real opportunity lies.  Can you take ordinary things and turn them into benefits?  For example, if you want delivery people, try, “Never be stuck indoors again!”  Or, “The perfect gig for people who like to move.”  Likewise, if it’s an indoor job, make that sound like the best thing ever.  Desk job?  “Take a load off your feet.”  Lots of time on your feet?  “Sell that treadmill.”  Third shift?  “Join the rest of the night owls.”

Now think about the kind of workplace you can offer.  Again, remember that little things make a big difference, so make the little things bigger. Maybe you can brag about a “drama-free department.”  Or promise that prospects will “Never be bored at work again!”  The possibilities are truly endless.

Finally – and probably most important – think about your brand.  Would your reputation make someone more or less interested in working for you?  If more, sell the heck out of that.  Reinforce all the awesomeness that is your company.  If less, tell them you’re the best kept secret around, and tell them why.

The bottom line?  Think about recruiting the way a marketer would, and you’ll attract more of the prospects you need to succeed.

The Push and Pull of the Right Brand

The point of a strong brand – a unique position in the prospect’s mind – is to make it easy for those same prospects to find and choose you when they have a need.  But a strong brand should also repel some people.  Here’s why.

Unless you’re Amazon, you don’t want everybody in the world for a customer.  And for most companies – especially in the B2B space – there’s a particular group of prospects who are potentially much more profitable than the rest.  Those are your ideal prospects.

To make the most of your marketing resources, your brand should be positioned to attract a high percentage of those prospects – and to repel the rest.  When it is, your lead generation becomes exponentially more potent and profitable, with far less waste.

If you’re resisting this idea right now, you’re hardly alone.  Most companies don’t think about pushing away prospects.  It’s all about sales volume.  So pushing prospects runs contrary to our natural impulse to sell, sell, sell.

But it isn’t just about sales volume.  It’s about profitability.  And some clients or customers are simply more profitable than others.  Sometimes far more profitable.  The more of those you land, the healthier your organization becomes.

And keep this in mind: this is about the brand you need to build, and about your inbound marketing.  You can still accept and serve those “B” and “C” customers when they come to you, as long as they’re somewhat profitable.  They just shouldn’t be the focus of the marketing and branding efforts you’re spending time and money on.

So look at every aspect of your marketing.  Seriously – all of it.  Your website, your social media efforts, and every marketing message, from digital to traditional – even your facilit6ies and point of purchase material if you see prospects in person.  Is it designed to appeal to those specific prospects you most want as clients?  What do you need to change to make your messaging magnetic for those “A” prospects?  Make a list, and make it a priority.

Are Your People Making – or Breaking – Your Brand?

Your brand is the perception people have of your company.  And among those people are two really important groups: the ones who work for you, and the ones you need to work for you.

Ever wonder why some companies just have an easier time recruiting and keeping good employees?  It could be a couple reasons, both brand-related.

First, they could have a brand that appeals to the people they want to recruit.  We may not like to admit it, but some companies are seen as cooler than others.  And those companies attract more potential employees.

The second has to do with a workplace’s reputation.  And while it might seem less obvious, this is a brand thing as well.  Your reputation as an employer is created, cultivated and spread by two groups: people who work for you now, and people who used to work for you.

Let’s talk about that second group first.  If people leave because the work environment is harsh or hostile or demeaning or uncomfortable, they talk about it.  And with social media and online rating sites, they have more ways to rant than ever before.

That has two big implications for your company.  First, you have to be aware of how your reputation as a workplace impacts your brand, and make any adjustments you need to make to improve it.  And second, the way you handle an employee’s departure – even if that employee had performed miserably – will get around.  So do your best to ensure graceful exits, even under the most trying circumstances.

Now consider the people who work for you.  They have a disproportionate impact on your brand, because they affect it in two ways.  First, the way they execute their responsibilities either builds the brand in your customer’s eyes or tears it down.  And second, the way they talk about their workplace – with family, with friends and online – shapes the perceptions people have of you.

That suggests a couple of steps to protect your brand.  First, create and monitor processes to ensure that every employee serves every customer – even an internal customer – well.  Encourage customer feedback, and reward outstanding performance in very visible ways.  Second, encourage employee feedback, and deal with issues as they arise, rather than letting them simmer.

You can present your brand to the world any way you like, but that brand is really a product of what people believe about you.  So look for ways to impact those perceptions by impacting your team members in a consistently positive way.  Not only will your brand be stronger, but retention and recruitment will get easier.

Is Digital Killing Your Brand?

Your brand is the perception people have of your company.  And there’s a good chance that your digital advertising is eroding your position in the marketplace.  Here’s why.

First is the intrusive nature of so much of digital advertising itself.  In its relatively short lifetime, it has become the antithesis of permission-based, opt-in marketing.

If you start searching for rants against digital, you’ll be reading for a very long time.  The fact that ad blocking software followed so quickly in the digital wake, and has been embraced with such velocity, speaks volumes about how people feel about the medium.  Over half of all online consumers – and nearly two thirds of millennials – use some form of ad blocking.  And that number is still rising.

The astonishing fact that anti-ad blocking tools are being deployed so swiftly shows the blind spot many advertisers have in this regard.  Their near-complete disregard for consumers’ hatred of pop-up ads and the slower page loading times they’re forced to endure is accelerating the eventual demise of the medium.

Second, and perhaps more insidious, is how completely math has trumped marketing.  So much energy is expended on getting messages in front of prospects, yet little or none is devoted to making those messages engaging or entertaining.

This complete disregard for creating anything that an online consumer would actually want to see makes digital unique among media.  In television, email, print, direct mail, outdoor and all the rest, the emphasis is on engagement.  Not in the digital world.  This disinterest in doing the hard work of earning your prospect’s attention is reaping exactly the whirlwind of consumer distaste it deserves.

Third, in spite of the ability to generate metrics around digital, its ROI is hardly the stuff of dreams.  Too many advertisers seem to confuse the low cost per impression or click with an actual sales.  While digital makes a lot of sense for some online retailers, its return for those who transact business offline or who have a longer path to purchase often fails to measure up to other media and marketing methods.

So what to do?  If digital is the right tool for the job, use it the right way.  Target with relentless focus, so that your ads are more likely to be encountered by people who are really looking for what you do.  Try greater frequency and shorter length.  Above all, get creative.  Engage.  Enlighten.  Entertain.  Include a call to action.  And remember that digital is just one tool among many.  Use it judiciously.

When Should You Send Email?

Email is still one of the most effective — and cost-effective — targeted marketing tools available.  But knowing when to send is nearly as important as what you send.  Luckily, a review of several different studies conducted by companies as diverse as HubSpot and MailChimp revealed a few patterns.

Three metrics matter most to email marketers.  First is the open rate.  How many people read your message?  Open rate is significant because it represents action.  Somebody made a decision to read what you sent them, so they think there’s value in what you send, whether it’s an offer or information.

Second is the click-through rate.  How many people clicked on a link in your email to visit your website?  These are people who are either curious or potentially have an interest in doing business with you.  If you sell a product on your website, you’ll also want to know how many of these clicks turn to purchases.

Third is the bounce rate.  How many of your emails are actually reaching their destination?  A hard bounce is permanent — the address no longer exists, etc.  A soft bounce is temporary — their server is down, their mailbox is full, the email is too large, and so on.  If emails continue to bounce from an address, you should verify that address or drop it from your list.

The goal is to find the day of the week and time of the day that results in the highest open and click-through rates, because those can lead to new business.  Be aware that different kinds of companies get different results, so you’ll want to experiment.

First, consider the days of the week.  Virtually every study shows that open rates and click-through rates are highest in middle of the week.  Tuesday seems to come out on top most often, with Thursday running a close second, and Wednesday a not-too-distant third.  This is especially true if your customers are other businesses or professionals.  If you’re selling retail consumer products online, you may find that weekends provide higher open and click-through rates.)

Next, think about the right time of day.  These make sense when you think about them.  The top time for opens and clicks is 10 a.m.  People have gotten to work, cleared out their inbox, said their hellos, put out their fires and are settling back in, so now they’re more likely to be seeing emails as they arrive.  For much the same reason, 2 p.m. is an effective time to send.

The two surprises are earlier and later.  It turns out that 6 a.m. gets a good share of clicks and opens, probably because a lot of people check email first thing in the morning.  Its counterpart is 8 p.m., when people are winding down for the evening and taking one last look at email.  Proceed with caution here, though.  If you want to send email at a time when someone could contact you as a result of reading what you sent, sending during the workday makes more sense.

What works for you?  Try it and see.  Since the costs to distribute email are so low, you can afford to experiment, and see which day and time earn you the highest number of opens and clicks.  And remember the basics.  Your message matters.  Don’t be boring.  Write compelling subject lines.  Be sure your email is mobile – that it’s easy to read on a phone.  Know the average open and click-through rates for your industry, and try to beat them.

(If you’re looking for ways to grow your email program, from list-building to content generation and tracking, Idealogy is here to help.  Just reply to this email and let us know what’s on your mind.)

Are You Asking the Wrong Questions?

Imagine an organization that provides its members with professional development workshops.  After each program, they survey the participants to get their feedback.  So far so good.  But in actual execution, they make three mistakes that make the responses they receive almost completely invalid.

First, they ask all participants to rate the event.  If the event gets high marks, high fives all around — the event was a success!  But not so fast.  What if only ten people attended when the goal was fifty?  And what if only six of the ten completed a survey?  Was that event really a success?  Probably not.  But interpreting it that way ensures that the organization is likely to repeat a program no one wants or needs.

Second, they overlook an obvious audience for their survey: the members who registered but didn’t attend.  What if fifty people registered but only thirty showed up?  The 40% who stayed away might have some insights to offer.  And since the organization has to plan — and pay — for all the people who register, it hits the bottom line.

Why did they stay away?  Is this the first time they registered but didn’t show, or are they habitual?  What’s the normal percentage of no-shows for your type of organization?  What would have made them attend?  How can the organization improve its confirmation and reminder process?  Is there a correlation between those who don’t show up and those who don’t renew their membership when it comes due?

Third, what about the members who never registered?  It’s worth finding out what motivated them to stay away.  Was it the topic?  The presenter?  The time or day?  The location?  If you charge, was it the price?  Was it so high it kept them away — or so low that it devalued the program?  How easy is the registration process?  How fast?  If it’s online, does member information autofill when they begin, especially if they’ve attended other programs?

Finally, how do you determine what programs interest your members?  If they have to get approval from supervisors, how different are their interests from their supervisors’?  Do you just ask them to suggest program ideas, or is it more methodical?  Do you list potential programs and ask members to rate their interest?  Do you experiment with special programs that cost more but offer more?  What if you began with broad areas of interest, then let them rank specific topics based on their responses?  If they don’t take the survey, do you re-send it?  Do you follow up with a phone call?

Of course, all of this applies to any business.  How does your company or organization get the feedback it needs to create smart products, services and programs.  Are you nimble enough to drop underperforming offerings and double down on what people want?

Remember that your brand — and customer loyalty — depend on continuing to remain relevant in your customers’ eyes.  And the key to that is getting, good, actionable information on a regular basis, then acting on it.

(If you could use a hand establishing a continuous feedback program for your organization, Idealogy can lend a hand.  Feel free to give us a call today — and get the data you need to do what you do more profitably.)

The 3 Barriers to Becoming a Brand.

People talk about branding a lot.  And they should.  A strong brand gives you enormous advantages.  But before you can have a brand, you have to find your unique position in the market — a niche that belongs to you and no one else.  And very few companies own a position, for at least three reasons.

Time

Identifying the place only you can occupy is time-consuming.  It can’t be done over a staff lunch.  Here’s why.  Each time you have a position you think will work, it has to pass this test: is it something that only your company can claim, at least in the markets you serve?

And it has to be specific.  Your position can’t be, “We offer the highest quality product backed by the best service available.”  That’s a generic claim that almost anyone else in your space would make.  That level of specificity takes time to find.

Companies are extremely reluctant to set aside time for positioning, because there isn’t an immediate payoff, and because it’s so intangible.  But the long-term payoff is huge, and the benefit to the bottom line is as tangible as it gets.

Money

Staking out a position requires an investment.  There’s no way around it.  You have to let prospects know what your position is and why it matters.  When someone is looking for exactly what you do, you have to make sure they think you’re the first choice provider.  And that isn’t cheap.

It starts with your website.  It should shout your position, not just in a tagline or home page copy, but in case studies, in testimonials, in demonstration videos — from every corner of your site.  The SEO on your site should focus on your position with laser intensity.

And it goes beyond your site, to business cards and sales literature, training processes and promotional materials.  The only way to leverage a position is to invest in it.

Surrender

This is the biggest challenge of all.  Most companies want to be all things to all people.  But owning a true position in the marketplace means giving all that up.  You have to focus relentlessly on your niche — to the exclusion of all the other things you could do.

That sounds like leaving a lot of money on the table.  In fact, the opposite is true.  It’s focusing on your most high-value, high profit margin prospects.  That’s a more profitable business model.  And it’s more sustainable, because it allows you to devote more resources to customer service, which reduces customer turnover and boosts profitability.

The First Step

With 2018 looming, start building a real, durable brand today by deciding what your position will be.  Then make a commitment to devote the time, the talent, the resources and the sacrifice required to make it happen.

(Need a hand?  Idealogy has developed a step-by-step process for helping companies of all sizes determine their position in the marketplace and then build a brand around it.  Let us know if we can help!)