Your brand is one of your greatest assets. It's not just your logo, slogan and design scheme, but your customers' total experience of your business. Your brand is in your customer promise, your business values, your personality, the way you talk to your customers. It's in the way you package your service and answer your phone.
Communicating your brand clearly and honestly to your customers will spread confidence and goodwill. It is a badge of trust that will set you apart from competitors and can give you a lasting competitive edge.
Your brand should tell your customers exactly what to expect from you. Deliver on your promises and they will come back again and again. How often have you gone to a familiar restaurant chain because you know what's on the menu, what it will taste like and how much it will cost? It's the same for your customers.
But a good brand identity will also attract new customers by stressing the differences between you and your competitors. This is critical if you are in a highly competitive or fast moving market where it is difficult to differentiate yourself on product features alone.
The power of a strong brand is such that it can lift a single company or product above others to become something truly memorable. Think of vacuum cleaners and you think of Hoover; think of MP3 players and iPod will doubtless spring to mind.
Your brand values
Before you can develop your brand identity, you will have to understand what the core values of your business are, what your business mission is and how you differ from the competition.
You must also be sure that what you want to tell your customers about your business and your offer matches what your target customer segments want and what you actually deliver. It's no use developing a premium brand if your target market just wants value for money, for example; and a brand based on friendly service will not survive long if your staff are unhelpful.
Effective branding will give your firm or your offer a personality that suits your customers, and businesses selling the same products can have very different brands. For example, a plumbers' merchant selling to trade buyers will aim for a value-for-money brand image; a DIY store will put more emphasis on providing a welcoming environment for the general public.
Exploiting your brand
This is where your name and logo come to the fore. Good brand design gives you a consistent image that will enable people to recognise you immediately. Trade marking can help ensure that your distinctive brand image is protected against competitors.
Your brand marketing must connect to, and emphasise your brand values across everything you do. This is why luxury goods firms take out full page ads in glossy magazines, and high quality professionals make sure their correspondence doesn't have spelling mistakes.
If you sell a range of products, you'll need to ensure that they all fit together within a brand strategy that makes sense. If you're a luxury goods firm and you decide to produce a cheaper range, it would be wise to develop a separate brand identity so you don't scare off your established customers. While you can stretch your brand to take advantage of new opportunities, your brand will be damaged if you fail to maintain a consistent focus on your core brand values.
Keeping an eye on the competition is essential to stay ahead in business. Knowing a rival's strengths will help you identify gaps in your own offer, maintain competitive pricing and keep on top of developments in your industry.
Gathering competitor intelligence might sound like something out of a Bond film, but no small firm should underestimate the value of monitoring their business rivals.
Tracking others' performance will give you a critical business edge. What you can learn depends on the level of detail you go into, but just by looking at your competitors it's possible to track new trends, corporate positioning and diversity of products or services, right through to customer relationship management and marketing promotions.
It's crucial to understand your sector so you can fine tune your strategy and stay one step ahead. Keeping a close eye is even more important if you're in a particularly aggressive or fast moving business environment.
Before you get started, you need to identify your competitors. They may not just be local to you, consider those firms based abroad, or businesses that offer a substitute or similar product that potentially threatens your offer. Keep watch, too, on products or services currently being developed, that might affect your future market share.
Start by using the internet to check out competitor websites, brochures and company material, which can give you details such as branding and pricing.
To save time, consider signing up to the free Google Alert service, which will deliver the latest news on your competitors to you by email. Set up an alert for any topic, such as the name of your competitor's business or a certain product, to keep up to date.
Social media is another fast and effective way to learn about other businesses. Check to see which firms have Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn profiles and sign-up to stay informed on their movements. If they have a lot of followers it's a sign they have found a successful way to attract your target audience.
You should also sign up to key trade magazines online and monitor blog discussions to find out what people are saying about your industry.
Talk to customers
Other key ways to stay informed include attending industry networking events and talking to your customers. Get your sales teams involved too, they are customer facing and can pass on valuable comments from what they are hearing about competitors.
Depending on your sector, you could even consider using "mystery shopping" to measure how your customer service compares with competitors or to learn how consumers view your products over rivals.
Act on the information
To get the most out of the data, you need to aggregate and analyse the details, draw up a table that contrasts key factors such as brand, product, pricing, service and promotions between competitors, which you can update as required.
Then, once a month or quarter, draw out the key insights from your analysis, such as the biggest threats or opportunities and use this to develop your own strategies. Identifying what others do well will help strengthen your offer and highlight any weaknesses.
Follow these tips to help you create clear, concise, lively writing that captures your e-mail readers' attention.
E-mail marketers use many strategies to improve the effectiveness of their campaigns, but one area often overlooked is what fills the page--the copy you write.
Whether you're a seasoned writer or a novice, it's always important to strengthen your editorial skills and make sure your e-mail marketing communications contain valuable information. Good copy helps your readers understand your offer--and how to respond. The following copywriting tips are ones that pros know well. Keeping these "commandments" in front of you when you write will help you create compelling copy that engages your readers, conveys your business message and creates effective calls for action.
Commandment #1: Know your audience.
Who is this e-mail going to? Picture the average person on your list. Give them a name, even. Think about what their day is like. Think about what's important to them. What are they passionate about? How old are they? What products or services have they purchased from you in the past and why? The more you know about the audience you're writing for, the more targeted and relevant your copy will be.
Commandment #2: Determine your value proposition.
Know the answers to these questions: Why should your customer buy your product or service? What's in it for them? Why is your product better than the one down the street? What are your key differentiators?
Commandment #3: Find a unique selling proposition.
The more your offer stands out from the competition, the better your chances of getting a response. Rosser Reeves, author of Reality in Advertising, defines the unique selling proposition as a promotion that offers "something that competitors do not, or will not, offer." He also says, "The proposition must be strong enough to pull new customers to the product."
Commandment #4: Establish an objective.
What's the purpose of this e-mail? What action are you trying to get the reader to take? You need to be clear on this before you start writing. If the answer isn't clear to you, it certainly won't be clear to your reader.
Commandment #5: Use a compelling subject line.
The subject line is what gets your e-mail opened, so don't write something quickly just before sending. You have to convince your readers that they really need to open your e-mail. The best word you can use to get the reader's attention is you. The word you says that the message is about them. Other great words for subject lines (and headlines) include new, exciting, exclusive and introducing. Also, try to keep your subject line to 50 characters or less, including spaces.
Commandment #6: Write a great headline.
If the subject line gets your reader to open the e-mail, then the headline gets them to read further. Consider using some of the buzzwords mentioned in commandment #5 in the headline so it'll grab readers with an obvious "What's in it for me?" message. Here's a question to ask yourself: What if my customers only read the headline? Will they know enough about you and what you offer?
Tip: Write five to 10 different subject lines and five to 10 different headlines to see what works best. Also, you may find that it's easier to write a subject line and headline after you've written the body copy.
Commandment #7: Avoid weasel words.
When writing headlines, subheads and body copy, don't use words that avoid a direct command, aka weasel words. These include may, maybe, hope, wish, try, but, could, perhaps and strive. Instead, use words like willand can to describe what your product or service will or can do for your reader.
Commandment #8: Don't use passive voice--write in the present tense.
Passive voice weakens your message. It's best to avoid it. Here are a few examples to help you see the difference:
Commandment #9: Include a customer quote.
Do you have a great customer quote that you can include in your e-mail? A brief and convincing quote can add credibility to your campaign. The more real you can make the person to your readers, the better. Including their name, what city or state they live in and even a photo, if it fits your campaign, is a great way to communicate the value of your service.
Commandment #10: Keep your copy clean and concise.
After you write your first round of copy, read it out loud. Also, have someone else read it to see if they understand the message and the call to action. As you edit, cut unnecessary words and consolidate ideas. See if you can get your text down to 30 to 50 percent of what you started with. Also, include bullet points and possibly subtitles to make it easy to read-and, more important, easy to scan--as most readers scan a page before deciding whether or not to read all the details.
Great copywriting is within your reach. Keeping these tips in mind when you write will greatly improve your copy, making it easier for readers to understand and respond to your e-mail campaign. Good, thoughtful writing will ultimately improve your success as an e-mail marketer.
Marketing used to be about companies pushing their ads in front of people in order to sell; now it’s about engagement with the audience. There has always been competition in business but with such a plethora of options these days, companies must stand out in a very positive way, they almost have to seduce potential clients like a new sweetheart.
Less than a decade ago, few people thought of social media as a useful channel for online marketing, now small businesses are embracing it and are reaping the benefits with increased customer engagement and sales. From Facebook to Twitter and Instagram to LinkedIn, some of the savviest businesses are establishing a presence on social media and capitalising on the massive exposure available from it.
Whichever social media platform you choose will depend on your individual preferences of course, but to some extent the nature of your business can determine the most suitable for your purposes. LinkedIn for example is the platform of choice for some professionals because of the more formal nature of their business services, whereas Facebook and Twitter are less formal, and reflect more of an individual’s or company’s personality, while still providing opportunities to promote the business. Twitter gives valuable exposure to small businesses and Pinterest is highly visual, which businesses can benefit from using the impact of images to attract interest.
Once we’ve identified the best platform(s) for our business we cannot rest on our laurels. Continued interaction is important in keeping people interested and they will, in turn, reward us with their loyalty, and their custom.
Content can go out-of-date very quickly and if we are not updating it, our followers may just head off somewhere else. Also, we can get insights into what is being said before it ever becomes a problem. The best performing businesses constantly monitor and measure activity and responses and adapt their strategies accordingly.
Social media is a stage upon which we can stand, view the landscape and make a judgement about where we need to be heading to effectively market and promote our business. It reaches the ears of so many more potential opportunities than was ever possible before its invention. It does the hard work connecting us to the people that matter to our business and we reap the rewards.
Knowledge is key to running a successful business - knowledge about your customers, your competitors, your own operation and the wider business environment. A SWOT analysis will help you gather the information you need to make a proper assessment of your business and your market.
A SWOT analysis is a simple but powerful tool for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your operation and the opportunities and threats you face in your market. It will give you a clear picture of how well your business is running and the wider marketing and sales environment you are operating in.
Business analysis - your strengths and weaknessesIdentifying your firm's strengths and weaknesses should be straightforward, particularly if you talk to a range of people when putting your SWOT analysis together. If you have employees, you'll find they have a good idea of what works and what doesn't. Customers, suppliers and other business partners can also give you feedback on your performance.
Work through a list of the different elements of your operation. For example, finance, staffing, operations and marketing are key areas you can examine.
Your SWOT analysis will be more useful if you look at your strengths and weaknesses in terms of what you are trying to achieve and if you compare yourself with your key competitors. Where do you have a competitive edge - or a problem?
Market analysis - opportunities and threatsYou should also talk to employees, customers, suppliers and other business partners about the main opportunities and threats facing your business.
Ask them about all the people and organisations that affect your business and how they are changing. Competitors, customers, suppliers and distributors will all have an impact on how successfully you trade.
You should then assess the broader business environment and how it is changing using a PEST analysis:
A good PEST analysis can provide you with a strong foundation for an effective marketing strategy.
Carrying out and using a SWOT analysisA brainstorm with employees may well be the best starting point for your SWOT analysis. You'll have to be open-minded and willing to accept some criticism of your business - but remember, the idea is to get a realistic view. Likewise, ask your customers for their honest feedback about your products and service standards.
If you want to take a more formal approach to SWOT analysis, you could pay for professional help or get involved in a benchmarking study. Whichever approach you choose, however, your assessment must lead to an action plan. This should focus on how you exploit opportunities that play to your strengths and how you address weaknesses in your business in order to deal with threats that face you.
Your marketing strategy should also aim to protect your business against threats. Building strong relationships with customers and making sure that your products and customer service stand out can be key elements of your defence against the competition.
Lisa Hunter is an experienced Marketing, Events and Project Manager. She has over 10 years’ experience working in the IT and marketing industry, delivering strategic marketing support and managing creative projects for a wide-range of clients. In this blog she shares her knowledge and experiences…we hope you enjoy it.