advice

Building a Cohesive Brand Identity

489783302I know companies understand that they need to have a brand, but many miss the mark on creating a cohesive brand identity. Although many may see this as ‘fluff’, creating a strong brand identity can be a complicated process that’s difficult to master.

As I tell many of my clients, brand identity is not just a logo; it’s the entire visual language that your company uses to communicate with its audience. It’s the art of portraying the right message and making a lasting, first impression.

Brand identity answers the questions what do you want your story to be and how do you want to be perceived in the marketplace? I’ve outlined below 7 steps that will I hope will help you in developing a cohesive brand identity:

  1. Review your current brand and your competition: Think about how your brand is being perceived in the marketplace and whether the message you’re delivering is clearly understood and reaching your target audience. It’s not enough to just review your brand; you need to understand what you’re up against. Have you done your market research? If not, now is the time.
  2. Audit your audience: Know your audience! Build a brand around what they want (not what youwant). It’s a competitive world out there. If your customers don’t find what they’re looking for from you, they will find it from someone else.
  3. Choose your theme: Choose your theme wisely. A well-conceived theme creates a powerful and effective communication platform which will deliver a higher ROI. A theme is compelling and engaging because it’s able to communicate your brand identity more effectively. It takes brand identity to a whole new level.
  4. Develop a consistent colour palette: Your colour palette is typically defined by the colours in your logo and is the foundation of your visual brand identity. The colours don’t have to be identical to those in your logo but should complement them. Very important – your colour palette must work well with your website and printed material.
  5. Don’t go overboard with fonts: There are hundreds of fonts to choose from but don’t go overboard using too many fonts that may look creative but are difficult to read. Less is more. You can use a different font for headlines than for body text, but the font must be easy to read, and be consistent across your website and print materials.
  6. Use custom design elements: Looking off-the-shelf isn’t going to help you stand out. Custom design elements can be a huge asset to your brand identity. A professional graphic designer can create your logo and various elements of your website. The images don’t have to be the same throughout your website and print materials but all of the visuals should contribute to a consistent look and feel.
  7. Use a consistent tone of voice: You can’t tell your story without words. It’s important to give a great deal of thought to what style of writing will be consistent with the image that you want to portray in the marketplace and mesh well with your imagery. Consistency is key to a successful brand identity. A professional writer will be able to understand your voice and produce work consistent with it.

Every company needs a cohesive brand identity to compete in the marketplace but many miss the mark because they attempt it on their own. You need a professional marketing agency with strategists, graphic designers and professional writers. CreativeWorks Marketing has over 20 years of experience helping companies like yours build cohesive brand identities. Give us a call today and maximize your return on investment.

Content Contempt

At the end of last year, I wrote a blog about the lessons we learned from marketing in 2016. One topic I touched on in that blog was about purchasing content on the Internet. I’d like to delve deeper into this issue because as a marketer, content creation is one of my main responsibilities.

So what exactly is content marketing? The Content Marketing Institute describes it as “the technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience.”

Content marketing is key to the marketing process because it adds value to your business in the eyes of your customer. Your business’ page is not just a website where you can purchase a service, it’s a website where people can go to learn about your business and what you stand for. That’s why I was surprised when I started noticing a lot more pay-for-content websites appearing online. These websites are essentially content stores; a user can go in and purchase a generic blog or a video while gaining the usage rights. Who is writing the content about your business and for your customers seems to be not too relevant or valued. Although you can pay extra for it to be “customized” content, the writer does not know your voice, your brand, your company, you, or the value you bring to your customers.

While this content is quick and easy, as a professional marketer, I know how important it is to know my customers before I can write for them. Whenever I finish a blog or an article, I have to look at it and say, “Would my client say this?” If not, I have to re-work it. If blogs are used as persuasive text written by an industry authority to inform a targeted audience about an industry issue, then that content needs to be an informed and educated one.

The blog writing process can be lengthy and it can be difficult to fully capture someone’s voice and opinion on a subject, which is why bloggers often interview, create outlines, have many conversations, discuss topic ideas and angles before writing the first word. This process is not part of the “buy a blog” dot com experience; in fact it is quite the opposite.

I have personally tested many of these online content sites, only to find spelling mistakes or generic content that adds no value to the conversation online. I have downloaded a blog on LinkedIn, only to find LinkedIn spelled incorrectly. If small business owners were to simply buy and post the content, what would be the result?

I have heard that from a Search Engine Optimization perspective, these online sites offer great content, but blogs contain SEO based on the sheer fact that they are online content, not just based on keywords thrown in. More importantly, I don’t feel a quest for SEO results should detract from the value of a good blog.

I work with a lot of small businesses, and one of the main things they want to promote to their customers is the personalized quality of their service. I am not convinced that any online content provider site can create this level of quality prose, simply because there is no investment in understanding exactly what the client’s value is to their audience.

When it comes down to it, marketing isn’t a commodity. It’s about the relationships you form with your clients and the work you produce for them to get them the results they want. I love the feeling of writing something amazing for my clients, because I know that both themselves and their clients will get value from the message.

So next time you are shopping online for content, remember: if you don’t value the content on your site, how can you expect your clients to?

Finding Your Own Marketing Path

As the owner of a marketing agency, I hear it all the time: “If my competitors are on social media and writing blogs, or hosting webinars, then I need to as well, right?” On the surface this seems like a slam-dunk “yes!” answer, as we’ve all been taught that you need to be where your competitors are. While I would agree to this on some level, I vehemently disagree on a more fundamental basis with this belief because good marketing practices will tell you that each business is unique and has to offer a unique value proposition to its customers. Therefore, your customers are not exactly the same as your competitors’, and you might want to consider delving a little deeper into what sets you apart, who your audience is and what services/products are relevant to that specific audience.

For example, a car is a car is a car, until Tesla came out with a “car experience”. They could compete, and do compete on some levels with high performance, expensive cars, or some may argue with the “green cars”, but what Tesla did is carve out their own brand, unique placement and experience that sets them apart from the rest. Tesla did what Porsche had done before them, and are forging their own way, creating their own marketing path and winning the hearts and dreams of millions of daydreamers around the world.

Not every company needs a website or social media to be successful, as these are simply tactics, but what they all do need is a service/product brand that is unique. This uniqueness is what will set you apart from your competition and dictate where and what you should invest in to win out your competition.

Is your marketing based on placing your marketing investments where your competitors are? Has this strategy worked well for you? How might you change this moving forward?

For CEOs of SMBs Facing Marketing and Sales Challenges: Seeing is Believing

https://i0.wp.com/medcitynews.com/wp-content/uploads/bigstock-Jumping-Over-A-Challenge-To-Ac-8850217.jpgThe day after one of the most heightened elections in Canada’s history, where the “underdog” came through to win the election and become our second-youngest Prime Minister, I felt it apropos to draw an analogy to CEOs and sales and marketing.

Canada had a need for change. We were calling out for change as many did in the U.S. before Obama was elected, and when it came time for our elections, the need was answered with a new direction and a different party.

When I recently read a study conducted by the BDC that said that one of the most challenging business functions for business leaders in Canada is Sales and Marketing Strategy, it validated my experience working with CEOs of SMBs: they have a need.

The study breaks down this sales and marketing challenge further into the following areas:

  1. Increasing the number of customer prospects (58%)
  2. Developing and executing a sales and marketing plan (54%)
  3. Converting prospects into customers (52%)

There were other sales and marketing challenges including conducting market research, integrating or improving the use of social media and other digital channels, understanding the competitive market, and developing an online presence.

As a CEO myself, I know that most of us wear multiple hats and are responsible for many of our businesses’ key functions in addition to sales and marketing, including HR, operations and finance. When we know we need help in these areas, we hire accountants, Human Resources consultants, and business advisors. Why would sales and marketing be any different?

It spells out in this study that business leaders prefer to hire an external expert to help them to resolve their sales and marketing challenges, so why is it so difficult for a CEO to have faith and to trust a marketing expert promising them that they can help them with their marketing and sales challenges?

Ultimately, hiring an external provider will come down to a few key factors: their reputation, references, price – but the essential factor is whether as a CEO you feel you can trust this candidate – whether you believe they can deliver on their promises. Once you have that, you have a winner.

As a CEO, have you been approached by an external marketing agency? If you decided not to work with them, why not?

5 Tips to Evaluate Whether an App Adds Value to Your Brand

CWM_Sept 22When we talk about apps, we often focus on the consumer application. Without a doubt, apps have provided a lot of value in the B2C market, but as a business owner who deals mainly with B2B clients, I wanted to address the value of utilizing an app for the B2B market.

If you’re a B2B owner thinking of creating an app for your business, in addition to asking yourself if there is something specific that you can accomplish with a mobile app that you can’t with your website, you’ll want to evaluate the need for an app in terms of adding value to your brand.

I’ve outlined below a few areas to consider when evaluating whether an app will bring value to your brand:

  1. Provide a direct marketing channel

A mobile app essentially narrows the gap between you and your customer. It reduces the steps that your customer has to go through to reach you. You can use an app to make it easier for customers to pay bills, place orders, book meetings, or get rewards.

  1. Showcase products and services

You can use an app to showcase your products and services. This would be especially useful if you have a comprehensive product offering. Customers can shop for parts, accessories, and features through the app. The great thing about apps is the ability to send notifications to the user’s smartphone or tablet device. The benefit of that is that you can increase the likelihood of your customers discovering featured products and services.

  1. Customer service and support

An app can also be used to provide customer service and support directly to your customers. You can build a messaging feature that allows customers to reach you directly. You can also offer resources, such as instruction manuals or help guides, which can help your customers access your products or services.

  1. Brand extension

Increasingly, mobile phones and tablets are becoming the primary tools for accessing the Internet. The change has been most profound in the consumer market, but as these mobile computers become more powerful, businesses are increasingly relying on them to do work. An app can extend the reach of your brand by making it easier for these mobile users to access your business.

  1. Stand out from the competition

Mobile apps at the small business level are still rare. If you can add value through the app, then the app can be leveraged as a point of differentiation from your competitors.

The greatest benefit of an app in the B2B space is the ability for customers to engage with your brand by offering them a benefit that they then tie to your value proposition. An example of this is through reward apps. Reward apps allow businesses to know more about the buying habits of their customers by giving them reward points towards free merchandise or services. If there is a perceived value of your app by the customer (i.e. reward points), then there is a greater likelihood that it will succeed!

Do you see the value of creating an app for your business? If so, will you take the next steps to creating one? If not, what is holding you back?

3 Things to Consider to Overcoming Privacy Concerns of Cookies

CWM TuesdayYou may have heard of the term “cookie” or come across it in your online experience. But what does it mean? What does it mean for consumers? And what does it mean for you as a business owner or manager?

Have you ever noticed when booking travel destinations online that the next day or time you are on the internet, ads or messages will appear from other travel sights? This is not a coincidence – this is as a result of cookies tracking your purchasing and surfing behaviours.

Cookies are therefore a key tool that we marketers can use to track customer behaviour and purchasing choices. They can help your business understand your customers so that you can provide them with tailored content specific to their behaviours.

From a marketing perspective then – cookies provide us with a pull-push approach, but the challenge is we need to make sure our campaigns are transparent and therefore we need to utilize cookies in a way that the customer does not consider invasive of their privacy.

I wanted to share with you a few tips that will help you overcome privacy concerns raised by cookies when planning your next online marketing campaign.

  1. Show transparency

The most important thing to consider when using cookies is that privacy is the biggest concern. Let your customers know when they visit the site that you are using cookies to provide them a tailored experience.

One popular approach is to provide a notification on your website. For example, a website will post a notification like this:

Company X sites use cookies and similar technologies. By using company X sites, you are agreeing to our revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our cookie policy.

A simple notification like this serves to provide both knowledge and consent. The choice is then on the consumer to continue using the service. Your customers will appreciate that you are being transparent with them, and that they are being given a choice.

  1. Value-added, permission-granted

Make sure you have a strong value proposition. Based on consumer behaviours in downloading Apps, if you can provide them with the tailor product/service they need, and the value is there for them, they will grant you permission to track them.

  1. Make it part of a larger strategy

For a cookie to be effective, it should be used as part of a larger marketing automation strategy. Just simply placing cookies on your site only tracks users on your site, and does not give you much “intel” on what your customers are doing and where they are going online. You’ll need to track them across many sites, to gain a richer understanding of who they are and how you can push them targeted content.

With all of the exciting automated marketing technology that is available to us today, we need to always put our customer first and ensure they are not feeling their privacy is being compromised.

Do the benefits of cookies overcome its potential danger to privacy? Do you have other online strategies for understanding your consumer behaviours?

What Should I Be Getting From My Marketing Expert?

 No matter what realm – fie-marketingnancial, legal, health or business – we rely on experts to provide us with answers that we otherwise couldn’t come up with on our own.

Marketing is the one thing all business owners know they must invest in to be more successful. In fact, this is why most CEOs hire internal expertise through their marketing staff, externally via a marketing agency, or do a combination of both to ensure they are getting the knowledge, insights, guidance and solutions to help them achieve their marketing and sales goals.

Whether your expert is internal or external or a hybrid, you’ll want to make sure your “experts” are taking care of your marketing to ensure you meet your objectives and goals. I have outlined below a few tasks you’ll want to make sure your experts provide you with:

  • They have created a strategic marketing plan based on your business goals and reaching specific objectives you have outlined for your business (this may include increasing revenues from a target audience, introducing a new service or product, increasing sales by a certain percentage, etc.)
  • The strategy clearly identifies your audience, your brand, messaging, your revenue streams, approaches for implementation, and measurement approaches
  • They have created a detailed marketing plan, with determined messaging, what area your marketing team is going to focus on, what objectives they are hoping to achieve, what marketing mix they are going to use, the number of campaigns, and what the projected ROI will be for each
  • They have created a detailed tactical plan to execute and implement the marketing strategy including clearly identifying individuals, roles, timelines, outcomes, ROI
  • They have outlined documents for each campaign to identify who will monitor results, tweak as necessary, and ensure that your company gets the best results from their marketing efforts
  • They have included you as part of the process (if appropriate) prior to, during and upon completion of every campaign. This could be a quick meeting with your team, a call, or an email.

As a CEO or CMO, your team needs to be able to not only think creatively but analytically. They must be able to not only be creative, but to be able to gain results from that creativity.

This is your business, so make sure you really have the right team at the table to help you achieve your business results and growth. Your relationship with your marketing advisor(s) should leave you always feeling secure in their expertise so that you can focus on running your business. Trust that they only have your best interest in mind and that your success is their success.

#1 Piece of Advice For SMBs… a Marketing Strategy

Marketing-Strategy-851x400As a follow up on last weeks poll when I asked you for the most valuable piece of advice for SMB owners, we received the highest number of votes on – create a marketing strategy.

In the next few weeks, I will focus my blog posts on providing some insights and advice on the top answers resulting from this online poll.

A marketing strategy is your road map to help you obtain your business results, and it is shaped by your overall business goals. It includes a competitive analysis, a profile of your target audiences, development of your unique selling proposition (who you are and why you are unique), description of your products or services, and an outline of possible strategies to help obtain your business goals.  As a result of a strategy, you’ll have a map telling you who you are, why you are different (based on research), who your target audience is and how you can engage this audience.

If you are not comfortable writing your own marketing strategy, or feel overwhelmed or under resourced with the amount of information required, you may want to consult a marketing agency to help you create your strategy.  These are skilled professionals who not only bring insights and experience, they’re also dedicated to helping businesses realize their goals through the creation of successful marketing strategies.

To get started in developing your marketing strategy, you’ll need to do a little homework. Here are my top 10 questions I feel you need to answer before developing a marketing strategy:

  1. How would you define your business?
  2. Have you conducted a competitive analysis? If not, why?
  3. What is your unique selling proposition versus the competition? (The answer should not revolve around pricing)
  4. Why is this unique selling proposition compelling to your audience?
  5. Who is your target audience for each of your services or products?
  6. Is your pricing inline with your competitors or at parity?
  7. How do you promote or advertise your product or service?
  8. What is the ROI for your marketing tactics (advertising, posters, website, etc) to date?
  9. How have you measured the success of your marketing activities?
  10. Do you have any client testimonials or conducted client surveys?

Your marketing strategy will help get you to where you want to be. It is often the case that a client has a fabulous idea for a product or service, but without going through the steps of a strategy, they go to market only to find that there is no interest or the marketing tactic they are using is not engaging their audience.

Do you agree with having a strategy first? Have you run a business without a strategy and if so, what were your results?  I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

The ABC’s of SEO

seopuzzleWe all know the Internet is becoming increasingly competitive and it can be tough these days to get noticed on the web. This competition has spurred many changes to how we write, design and list websites. It has also introduced the need for ongoing web support to ensure your site is indexing properly and staying on the first page of search engine results.

As a SMB owner it seems as though companies who perform SEO have a decided advantage in visitors and customers, so how does a SMB get seen these days?

Before I go any further let me briefly describe what SEO is: SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page, key words in your site tags and descriptions to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand.

Search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing are only as successful as their ability to provide a user with links to the best websites related to the user’s search terms.  If your site uses those search terms then it has a higher chance of being listed by a search engine. The trick and all the buzz about SEO is that there are literally thousands upon thousands of companies all doing the same thing; competing for the same key terms. Your job is to find a way to show search engines that your site belongs at the top of the heap.

As the owner of Creativeworks, a marketing agency dedicated to increasing marketing results for SMB owners, I have a few SEO tips I’d like to share with my fellow SMBs to help you better understand and ensure you’ve covered the SEO basics on your website.

Write for SEO

The most important component of SEO is excellent content. Without strong content, SEO tips and tricks will only provide a temporary boost in your site’s ranking (at best). That said, your site won’t rise to the top of every search engine’s results based on content alone.

Get Listed

If you have a new website, submit it to the major commercial search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo!  If your site cannot be found by search engines, or if your content cannot be put into their databases, you’ll miss out on incredible opportunities available to websites provided via search.

Create Search Terms

Search terms (or key word terms) are the words that users type into the search box at Google, Bing or Yahoo and they carry extraordinary value. Search engine traffic can make or break an organization’s success. Investing in SEO, whether through time or finances, can have an exceptional rate of return when compared to other types of marketing and promotion.

Organic vs. Paid

In the world of SEO, organic does not refer to the use of toxic and persistent synthetic pesticides and fertilizers! It refers to listings that will appear because of their relevance to the search terms. Paid SEO is using key search terms tied to adverting which may have your website appear on the first page as well, but as advertisement listings. A common Pay per click (PPC) (also called cost per click) advertising tool is Google AdWords.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another term gaining popularity these days: content marketing.  Many companies who have been practicing SEO for years and want another approach to help increase their rankings are now turning their attention to content marketing.  I’ll discuss this in more detail in next week’s blog.

Depending on your time commitment, willingness to learn, and complexity of your website(s), you may decide you need an expert to handle things for you. But no matter if you hire a SEO firm, marketing agency or handle your SEO yourself, the right SEO can net you thousands of visitors and attention.

I am always interested in hearing from you. Is your website optimized?  What types of rankings have you experienced? If you are not listed on the first page search results, is that acceptable to you?  Let me know in the comments below.

Client Referrals: Don’t Ask… Don’t Get

Many SMB owners describe client referrals as one of the hardest things they have to do. No matter if they receive client emails thanking them for their service and singing their praises, very few see that feedback as marketing opportunities to ask their clients for referrals.

With November drawing to a close this week, I can’t think of a better time to set up face-to-face meetings with your existing clients to wish them well for the holidays, discuss their plans for the new year, and ask them for a referral.

I am not suggesting in any way that we substitute client referrals with other lead generation tools such as social media, landing pages, online marketing, QR code campaigns, etc., but there is no better lead than a “warm” lead or “endorsed” lead from an existing client.

Although many business owners feel comfortable asking their clients for a testimonial, when it comes to referrals they seem to steer clear.  I’m not sure if it’s that they are shy or just afraid of the client reaction, but referrals are not only a fantastic source for lead generation, they are “free” and therefore should be included in every marketing strategy.

Here are a few tips I’d like to share with you to help you approach your clients and get the business referrals you deserve:

  • Book a face-to-face meeting with your client. People will always be more likely to do something for someone else if the person is standing right in front of them. Although it is acceptable to ask for referrals by email or phone if you’re in a situation where a face-to-face is not possible, you will have greater success when meeting in person.
  • Use the upcoming holidays as an opportunity to set up this face-to-face.
  • Make it a more casual setting – since it is holiday time, a lunch offer would be nice with the idea to thank them for their business and also to connect on plans for the new year.
  • During your holiday lunch or coffee, and after you have discussed their business needs, be as sincere and direct as you can be and say something such as, “I’m really glad that you’re pleased with my work. I’m always looking for referrals and wonder if you know anyone else who might be interested in _______ (what you do).” If they do offer names, take them down and ask the person if they mind if you contact the people directly or if they would prefer to pass your information along to them yourself.
  • Another approach might be to add: “May I leave a few of my business cards with you in case someone comes to mind?” Leaving extra business cards with a person makes it easier for them to pass your name and contact information to someone else.
  • Keep this meeting upbeat and never ask for a referral when presenting your client with their invoice.

It does take some effort and possibly courage to approach your clients for referrals, but the effort promises great rewards.

How have you asked for referrals? Do you have any approaches you would add to this list?