competition

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.

Research PART II: Competitive Analysis: Secret Weapon – The Mystery Shopper

In our last blog we discussed Market Research – Your Roadmap for Success. Today I’m going to delve into competitive analysis and more specifically, using mystery shopping to conduct competitive research. This blog will explain the importance of mystery shopping as a key approach to learning about how your business can be differentiated and why it’s equally important to hire a professional to conduct mystery shopping research.

Do you know your competition? How are they different from you? What are they doing that you’re not? How are they perceived in the marketplace? More than any other marketing approach, I have found that conducting a competitive analysis for our clients has proven time and time again to be so crucial to the success of a marketing strategy. Mystery shopping is a tried and true research method used to conduct competitive research.

What is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is a research methodology that uses trained, professional mystery shoppers (not your mother, your aunt or your junior marketing assistant) acting as prospective customers to ascertain particular aspects of your competitors’ businesses. While posing as customers, mystery shoppers perform a series of assigned tasks designed to elicit a particular type of behaviour or information. They observe, measure and report back on their findings.

Types of mystery shopping

Mystery shoppers may employ several techniques to achieve their goals.

  • Visit in person
  • Make phone calls
  • Send emails
  • Create custom ‘customer’ websites

How mystery shopping can benefit your company

In order to fully understand how to compete in the marketplace you must first understand your competitors:

  • What are they offering?
  • What are their prices?
  • What is their value proposition?
  • What is their brand experience like?
  • How is their online experience?
  • How effective is their customer service?

Once you understand your competitors you can make informed business decisions on how to differentiate your company. And you can use mystery shoppers to see how your company fares against the competition using the same set of criteria.

Use a professional agency to conduct mystery shopping research

It’s very important to use a professional agency when conducting mystery shopping research. There is a strategy to competitive research. Based on the information you’re trying to elicit, you pre-assign tasks to the mystery shoppers. They must be professional or they will be detected, wasting whatever time and money you’ve invested in the effort. The information they return needs to be analyzed and a marketing plan created on the basis of those results.

Marketing Resolutions To Keep for 2015!

HNYWith the New Year upon us, most of us are taking the time to reflect on the past year and look towards the next. Everyone will soon be talking about how 2015 will be the best year yet – without it actually having happened yet! But it doesn’t have to be all talk. Here are four resolutions to keep in your marketing plan for the coming year:

  1. Check out the competition: See where your competition is spending their money, you could learn something! Are they focusing on branding themselves? What keywords do they use on their website? Knowing this information will inform your marketing strategy and will help find ways to help you stick out from your competition.
  2. Explore your social platforms: Find what platform works best for you and engages your target audience the most. If your subject matter is image heavy, don’t be disappointed if you’re struggling with success on Twitter – it may not be where your best audience is. Try Instagram instead!
  3. Invest in measurement: Whether you’re looking to launch a national campaign, book an ad in a magazine, or start a blog, make sure that wherever you choose to spend your marketing dollars on has the best ROI.
  4. Increase your curiosity: Never stop trying and testing new campaigns or messaging! You will not only keep your content fresh, but over time you will refine messages to your current target markets, and find new ones. Digital advertising is one of the most flexible mediums for messaging and testing new content. Get out there!

2014 wouldn’t have been the kind of year it was for CreativeWorks without my incredible clients! Thank you. Your businesses inspire me and I look forward to working with you in 2015.

To those of you following this blog or engaging in my discussions on LinkedIn who are not my clients, thank you for your interest and engagement. In 2015, I will continue to bring you hands-on, thought-provoking insights and case studies based on my personal experiences as the owner of a Canadian marketing agency.

On behalf of all of us at CreativeWorks Marketing, I wish you and your family the very best for the holidays and New Year!

Are there any topics you’d like me to write about in 2015? Please share your questions and comments below.

Looking In with Marketing Analysis

ContentImageHandler.ashxWith the last of the fall leaves falling from our trees, this last quarter is one of the best times to review your marketing plan with a tried and true business tool, the SWOT analysis. But let’s focus on a marketing SWOT, which is a great way to review your marketing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It provides insights that can guide you in revisiting your marketing strategy, giving your company a stronger edge in the marketplace.

I have outlined below a few tips on conducting a marketing SWOT analysis, which will enable you to quickly see any missing gaps and revise your resources or plan as needed.

How do I get started with a Marketing SWOT?

Outline or summarize what you have planned for your organization: strategic direction, target audience, what you are known for, sales figures, internal and external resources, and a marketing budget breakdown including web, campaigns, online and media spends.

Strengths:

Here you should make note of significant advertising spends that you may have that your competitors do not, brand name recognition, and a proven, loyal customer base. Also consider your proven brand value as it relates to your customer (engagement of your audience).

Weaknesses:

A company could suffer because it has poor brand recognition or customers regard the company’s products or services as unreliable or overpriced. Weaknesses are important in a SWOT because they suggest how best to position a company against a rival that is stronger overall.

Opportunities:

Here you should illustrate any move your company could make to enhance its position. You might want to list extensive cash resources and financing as a chance for your company to quickly grow market share by spending more money on advertising and promotion. You could also consider any recent expansions or new services/products that could provide a strong future opportunity.

Threats:

These are similar to weaknesses, but show how your company is vulnerable to developments in the marketplace. For example, an established company that has always relied on traditional advertising in its marketing could face threats from new, entrepreneurial companies determined to build market share through social networking.

Once completed, you can review your current strategy against the SWOT and see if there are any gaps that you can address. You can also use the SWOT to help determine how best to use the company’s marketing budget given other factors in the marketplace and the competitive landscape.

Have you ever heard of a marketing SWOT? If so, when was the last time you conducted a one? How did it help you strengthen your marketing strategy? If not, do you see the value in doing a marketing SWOT for your company? I look forward to hearing your stories in the comments below.

The Mystique of SEO

SEO-mystiqueIt seems like SEO is big business these days – it’s the “buzzword” de jour! With more and more SEO consultants, online SEO experts, SEO packages, SEO promises, and SEO professionals popping up every day, I find myself and many of my clients bombarded with the pointed message: “Your business will die without proper SEO” (I am paraphrasing of course).

With many web companies, online providers and marketing companies all providing SEO, how are you to know which one is offering the right SEO for you? Should you buy that SEO package online or use the consultant from that SEO Company everyone is talking about? I certainly understand all the SEO confusion that exists in the marketplace.

SEO by its shear nature is continuously evolving which is why there seems to be a mystery around what it is exactly. Let’s demystify it: SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, plays an important role in your customer’s research and buying cycle. It attracts potential buyers to your website through critical and relevant keywords and phrases ranked high in search engines where searchers are already looking for information about them. SEO is about being where your customers are, and directing them towards solutions you offer them.

SEO is so important, in fact I would say it is absolutely essential to helping you grow your online business, but like other marketing tactics, SEO needs to be part of your marketing strategy.

A good marketing strategy will provide an indication of which marketing tactics should specifically target your audience. The tactics will complement SEO and in combination, strengthen and reinforce each element to grow your business exponentially. To be clear, SEO alone (i.e. without brand awareness, and a strategy) cannot help you reach your highest marketing potential.

How much you should invest in SEO, what type, and who implements, are great questions for a discussion to have with your trusted marketing agency or advisor. Although they may not be SEO experts, they should be able to help you understand why you need it, what type of investment you might be looking at, and point you in the direction of a professional SEO specialist.

Does your marketing agency provide you with SEO services? What type of successes have you had with your SEO? How long did it take for you to see results? What investment have you made? I look forward to your comments below.

Would you play football without a strategy?

Marketing StrategyAs I watched my son’s football game this weekend, I was struck with how important it is to have a solid strategy to win the game.

I know many would debate whether the game is won by good defense or a strong offensive line, but these are mere executables – the game, very few can deny, is won on the best game strategy.

Imagine a game with no strategy, with players not knowing their position or their objective. I can’t imagine that game being very successful.

Growing your company requires having a winning marketing strategy, yet surprisingly not all companies have one. Instead, many have a list of tactics or “plays” they should have and then execute on them. Often through sheer luck, the “play” or marketing tactic is successful in the short term, but over the long term of a game or of a business quarter, the tactics run thin and the result is a loss.

To win the season, coaches will set a strategy, which will be tweaked depending upon the battle on the field. Similarly in business, if you want long-term gains, then creating a strategy is the only way to go.

Your marketing strategy should be to influence both existing and prospective customers that your business offers something unique or special – differentiating you from the crowd. If you fail to persuade people that your service is unique or offers “additional value”, then your customers’ buying decision may simply come down to price alone.

A focused marketing strategy depends on continually explaining and emphasizing how and why your business is not only reliable and represents good value, but is also different (read better) from the competition in subtle and genuine ways.

With a strategy in place, you could have a year like the Patriots did in Super Bowl XXXVIII! In business, your marketing strategy will lead you to create and implement marketing campaigns and tactics that stay focused on the needs of the target customer, with an emphasis on continuously communicating the benefits of your services over those available from the competition. Do I hear touchdown in your future?

What do you think? Do you have a professionally written marketing strategy that you follow in your business? If not, what’s stopping you from creating one? I look forward to your comments below.

Why Stop-and-Start Marketing does not work

start stop

 

 

We’re just over halfway through the summer – how has business been? If summer is a slow time for your business or industry, you might be looking for ways to shave some costs before the boom September hits. Take my advice from this previously posted piece, and ensure that you don’t compromise branding in the name of saving a couple of bucks.

All businesses see fluctuations in their revenues. And it is understandable that when faced with “cash flow” issues, many businesses owners look to cut what they deem to be “unnecessary expenditures”. However, I can tell you from my many years of marketing experience that marketing is an integral part of your business, and stopping marketing activities can have a dramatic impact on your business.

A good example of this in practice is the 2008 financial crisis. Many businesses were faced with huge revenue challenges, and although some decided to stop their marketing and withdraw from their consumers’ radars, there were those that looked at it as an opportunity to “market smarter”. They continued to invest in their marketing, and not only survived the crisis – they actually thrived. Fueled by a strong marketing presence, these companies pushed forward with bolder strategies, and thereby gained a competitive advantage.

The reason that marketing is so important to businesses is that marketing is your main lifeline to customers and sales. Without it, you can’t be sure that customers know who you are, and what you are selling.

I’d like to share with you a few tips to consider, if you are ever in a situation where you are contemplating stopping or “pausing” your marketing activities:

  • Sync your business operations to be in line with your marketing strategy, so that if you have a “weak” month, you can pick up sales leads and revenues via another avenue.   For example, if you know that August is traditionally a bad “cash flow” month for your business, plan to combat that with a campaign running in July and August. Your marketing strategy plays a key role in your success.
  • Stop the marketing activities that are using non-measurable tactics, and replace them with other more measurable marketing practices.
  • Focus your advertising campaigns on lead generation instead of simply brand recognition.
  • Leverage social media strategies to increase engagement, audience and potential leads.
  • Find more ways to connect with your customers, so that you will be “top of mind” when they are making a buying decision.

I understand why, when faced with a crisis or dip in revenues, companies look to cut marketing budgets. But, simply stated, as “marketing” encompasses everything you do to place your product or service in the hands of potential customers, your marketing really needs to be continuous.

With markets becoming more competitive, it is more important that you get ahead of your competitors – by any means necessary.  That should start with a great marketing strategy, and continue with “smart”, measurable tactics that attract customers to your business.

Have you ever contemplated stopping your marketing?  What impact did this have on your business?  Please share your experiences on the importance of continuous marketing in the comments below.

Knowing your Competition

This past week, my team completed a large proposal, which required us to conduct some preliminary research about the competitors to our client and how to “fill the gaps” between what is being done and what has not yet been attempted.

I was reminded how valuable it is to understand your competition in order to highlight your unique selling point, and so I decided to pull this week’s blog from the archives on getting to know your competition. As the old expression goes: “Keep your friends close and your enemy even closer”.

As a small or medium business, knowing what your competition is doing will help you to define your competitive edge, determine your marketing strategy and plan for what types of tactics will be successful for you in increasing your sales and long term growth.

Competition research and assessment doesn’t need to be complicated, but it can be tricky and time consuming, so you might want to consult with a marketing expert to help you. If you have the time and resources, here are a few tips I’d like to share with you on what should be included in any good competitive analysis.

Write The Names Of Your Competition

Write out who your direct competitors are that largely mirror the products/services you offer. You cannot strategize and learn about your competitors if you don’t clearly establish who they are. Consider adding companies that may indirectly compete with yours, but offer products/services that address the needs of the same target audience.  Also, include here where your competitor is located, as geography also plays a role in direct competition.

Perform a SWOT Analysis

No competitive analysis would be complete without a SWOT analysis to analyze the Strengths (S), Weaknesses ( W ), Opportunities (O) and Threats (T) of your company and competitors. “Strengths” facilitate business growth, whereas “weaknesses” are factors that hinder business growth including low quality products or services, poor customer service, etc. “Opportunities” and “threats” are external factors that can hamper your business’s performance, including (1) economic forces; (2) social, cultural, demographic and environmental forces; (3) political, governmental and legal forces; (4) technological forces and (5) competitive forces.  Take the time to look at if the company is expanding or cutting back.

Examine Their Materials

What are the company’s marketing activities?How do they market and advertise their businesses? Look at materials like their quarterly and annual reports, press releases, interviews, website, and SM sites. The annual reports will give you an idea as to their annual sales, and possibly their pricing structure. Check out their SM networks, and see who they are talking to, and what they are talking about.  You should be able to determine what their target audience is and what their competitive advantages and disadvantages are compared to your business. All this valuable information will help you form a clear picture about your competitors’ objectives and strategies.

Research The Market

You will have covered some of this in the SWOT analysis, but make sure you’ve looked at the growth potential of the market. Consider whether you have the technical, marketing, or engineering expertise to capitalize on the market’s opportunities to grow your business.  Is the market concentrated or fragmented?

As a result of your businesses competitive analysis, you can identify competition, what their planned strategies are, and how to capitalize on your business’s distinctive competencies to achieve business growth.

If you invest in marketing without performing a competitive analysis, you run the risk of creating marketing tools, and product/service offerings that are way off the mark. This can cost you valuable time and money.

Another great saying comes to mind: Knowledge is power. Knowing what your competition aren’t focused on can be very powerful by helping you develop a strong marketing strategy, and dynamic branding with targeted activities that will increase your sales and ROI.

Do you have any questions about how to conduct a competitive analysis? Have you ever conducted a SWOT analysis for your business? If so, was it helpful? What has your experience been in gaining the competitive edge? Please share your questions and comments below.

Strategy is Not Just for New Years

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany SMB owners take the start of a new year as their signal to think about their marketing strategy; about creating, adjusting or revising their strategy, but why do we think we should only think strategically once a year?

If you think strategically only once a year, and watch and see how the execution of the strategy plays out by the end of the year, then you are relying on one strategy to carry you through the year.  What about constantly looking at reacting to the execution with strategic responses?

With competition constantly biting at your toes, being successful means stepping up your game and constantly thinking strategically.  You might win a battle with execution, but you’ll win the war with a strong strategy.

Strategically thinking means make sure to stop and take the time to find a strategic response to what’s being implemented. If you can continually measure, track and react strategically to the execution of your plan, you can build this into your strategy.

Ultimately, this means tracking results of your campaigns and strategies and using this information to better understand your demographic, and all subsequent ways you intend to target this audience. It is reacting to what truly works for your business and taking advantage of the information you’ve uncovered.

Do you constantly revise your strategy?  If not, why not?  Do you have any stories that might be helpful for others?  I look forward to reading your comments below.

Get To Know Your Competition

Following last week’s blog about how to increase sales, I received some great feedback, specifically regarding checking out your direct competition, and so I decided to focus this week’s blog on getting to know your competition. As the old expression goes: “Keep your friends close and your enemy even closer”.

As a small or medium business, knowing what your competition is doing will help you to define your competitive edge, determine your marketing strategy and plan for what types of tactics will be successful for you in increasing your sales and long term growth.

Competition research and assessment doesn’t need to be complicated, but it can be tricky and time consuming, so you might want to consult with a marketing expert to help you. If you have the time and resources, here are a few tips I’d like to share with you on what should be included in any good competitive analysis.

Write The Names Of Your Competition

Write out who your direct competitors are that largely mirror the products/services you offer. You cannot strategize and learn about your competitors if you don’t clearly establish who they are. Consider adding companies that may indirectly compete with yours, but offer products/services that address the needs of the same target audience.  Also, include here where your competitor is located, as geography also plays a role in direct competition.

Perform a SWOT Analysis

No competitive analysis would be complete without a SWOT analysis to analyze the Strengths (S), Weaknesses (W), Opportunities (O) and Threats (T) of your company and competitors. “Strengths” facilitate business growth, whereas “weaknesses” are factors that hinder business growth including low quality products or services, poor customer service, etc. “Opportunities” and “threats” are external factors that can hamper your business’s performance, including (1) economic forces; (2) social, cultural, demographic and environmental forces; (3) political, governmental and legal forces; (4) technological forces and (5) competitive forces.  Take the time to look at if the company is expanding or cutting back.

 

Examine Their Materials

What are the company’s marketing activities?How do they market and advertise their businesses? Look at materials like their quarterly and annual reports, press releases, interviews, website, and SM sites. The annual reports will give you an idea as to their annual sales, and possibly their pricing structure. Check out their SM networks, and see who they are talking to, and what they are talking about.  You should be able to determine what their target audience is and what their competitive advantages and disadvantages are compared to your business. All this valuable information will help you form a clear picture about your competitors’ objectives and strategies.

 

Research The Market

You will have covered some of this in the SWOT analysis, but make sure you’ve looked at the growth potential of the market. Consider whether you have the technical, marketing, or engineering expertise to capitalize on the market’s opportunities to grow your business.  Is the market concentrated or fragmented?

As a result of your businesses competitive analysis, you can identify competition, what their planned strategies are, and how to capitalize on your business’s distinctive competencies to achieve business growth.

If you invest in marketing without performing a competitive analysis, you run the risk of creating marketing tools, and product/service offerings that are way off the mark. This can cost you valuable time and money.

Another great saying comes to mind: Knowledge is power. Knowing what your competition aren’t focused on can be very powerful by helping you develop a strong marketing strategy, and dynamic branding with targeted activities that will increase your sales and ROI.

Do you have any questions about how to conduct a competitive analysis? Have you ever conducted a SWOT analysis for your business? If so, was it helpful? What has your experience been in gaining the competitive edge? Please share your questions and comments below.