Are your ‘partners’ ruining your brand?

StayAwake marketing

Using a quasi-franchise, independent-owner model might be saving you money, but costing you brand equity.

Small business owners are kind of screwed when it comes to marketing: They need marketing/communications stuff, but they can’t afford a full-time marketing person, and they’re usually on a super-tight budget. So they shop around for (what seems like) the best price – but that leaves them with different suppliers for their website, business cards, collateral materials, content strategy, social media…

And then this happens:

Bad graphic for Learning RX

learning rx graphic

Example of bad branding from Learning RX

Marketing materials with all kinds of different visuals, fonts, colours, messages – even the logos aren’t consistent.

At best, you’re not getting any cumulative value from your marketing efforts, because none of this is working together to create a cohesive whole; at worst, you end up losing business because potential customers don’t really understand what you’re selling or they think you’re an unprofessional organization.

Why does this matter?

Because the first step to making a sale – and the key to generating repeated sales – is building a relationship with potential customers. ‘Branding’ is just a way to facilitate that relationship, by providing visual and textual cues that trigger feelings of recognition, familiarity and trust.  When your brand identity is all over the place, those cues misfire; you can’t build recognition and familiarity, let alone trust. Relationships take longer to create, if they happen at all – which means you end up spending more money on marketing just to stay in the same place.

In the case of LearningRX, above, this creates two problems:  LearningRX headquarters doesn’t get the cumulative benefit of their various branches’ advertising, because it all looks and feels so different, and individual franchise owners don’t get the cumulative benefit of all this LearningRX advertising because the audience isn’t connecting it all together.  So the audience never thinks “Wow, I keep seeing this LearningRX company everywhere – maybe I should check them out.”

How can you protect your brand, even if you’re not a marketing expert?

I tend to think that even small businesses are best served by engaging some kind of brand steward who can coordinate all marketing efforts and make sure it’s all working together. But I know this isn’t always possible, so in the meantime, here’s what you can do:

  • When you first get your logo done (or updated), make sure the designer provides you with source files. This should include high-res AI or PSD files including your logo and fonts
  • Make a note of your official colours (PMS/Pantone/HEX)
  • Make sure you know your official fonts (the ones in your logo, printed materials and website)
  • Tell anyone who touches your brand – web designers, print shops, event coordinators, etc. – that you expect them to use your official logo, iconography, colours and fonts exclusively. If your colour palette is purple and green, they shouldn’t be injecting red headlines into anything
  • Keep track of your images. If you have used a particular photo as the background to your homepage, that’s what should be on your printed materials, too
  • Make sure you get source files for all your marketing materials, every time. That way you don’t have to worry if your designer moves to Bali next year and won’t return your calls.

Keep your source files and notes on your fonts and colours in a safe place that you won’t forget about it.  The #1 cause of inconsistency, in my experience, is when a client can’t find their source files (or the person who did them in the first place) and subsequent suppliers are forced to recreate or approximate a design.

Remember:  If you’ve done your due diligence and provided the supplier with the source materials and documentation, and they come back with something that doesn’t look consistent with previous materials, it’s okay to say “Hey, this doesn’t match what we’ve done before.  Are you sure you’ve used the correct fonts/colours/images?” or even “Dude, what the heck?  Why did you stick a huge orange headline in there when you know our colours are purple and green?”

“Sell more stuff” isn’t a marketing strategy – and won’t get the results you want

Sarah Welstead on why goals are important in marketing

Marketing can’t deliver results if you don’t know what those results should be

The other day I had a conversation with a new client. He wants to grow his business aggressively (from $1.5 million to $5 million in revenue) in the next couple of years, and knows he needs marketing support to do it. But he hasn’t done a lot of marketing so far, and while he’s an expert in his field, he hasn’t had much experience in sales and marketing.

Here is part of our exchange:

ME: “Can you tell me a little more about your sales goals for the next 6-12 months?”

HIM: “I told you. I want to grow the business.”

ME: “Yes, but as we’ve discussed you’ve got a wide range of products and services. Which ones do you want to focus on?

HIM: “All of them. We need to sell more of everything.”

ME: “What does your business plan look like? Where do you see the bulk of your revenue coming from in the next 6-12 months?”

HIM: “We need to double our revenue by next year.”

ME: “Where do you see the incremental revenue coming from? What’s making you the most money right now?”

HIM: “Everything. We need to sell more of everything.”

ME: “But you said you didn’t want to spend more than $2500 a month, right?”

It’s hard to achieve goals if no one knows what they are

Many – maybe most – small businesses are afraid to get too specific with their sales and revenue goals: “If we concentrate too much on one area,” they fear, “we’ll miss opportunities in other areas.”

And it’s true that the nimbleness of small businesses – their ability to respond to changes in the marketplace and adapt their service offerings accordingly – can be a tremendous advantage.

However, when it comes to marketing, this strategy usually just results in chaos, overspending, and an inability to judge whether a particular marketing initiative has been effective.

Marketing isn’t like accounting. But you have to at least try to make the columns add up.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that marketing is often more art than science – and even the science bit is often alchemy. It’s tough to draw a straight line from $1 spent on marketing to $5 in revenue.

Big-data types can talk all they want about profiles and predictive modeling and one-to-one targeting, but until they figure out that I don’t actually live in Ottawa and that I am not interested in hiring a painting contractor in Virginia and that I am definitely not buying anything from Zulily, I am going to continue to believe that successful marketing consists of gathering all the information you can, then making some choices.

6 steps to setting marketing goals that are more likely to get results

1. Pull your actual sales data so you know exactly what you sold. Anecdotal sales stories about that one time you sold a whole bunch of random stuff to that healthcare center in Boston aren’t good enough. Most of the time, your sales data will tell you that, in fact, your best, easiest sales are of your top 3-4 product/services.

2. Figure out what’s driving customer acquisition. This is, in my experience, the biggest unknown for small businesses – and yet it can be the greatest source of information for marketing purposes. If 90% of your customers are referrals from other customers, then you should probably use marketing to encourage more referrals, instead of spending a zillion dollars on a fancy website that no one visits anyway.

3. Segment your customers. Again, stop relying on anecdotal information and look at the list of people/businesses who’ve actually bought stuff from you in the past 12-24 months. You’ll almost always discover that 85% (or more) of them fall into 2-3 easily identifiable categories (same industry, same function, same location, etc.).

4. Identify your high-margin products/services. It’s (usually) more profitable to sell $50k worth of stuff at a 50% margin than $200k of stuff at a 5% margin. So why focus marketing efforts on both?

5. Articulate the business goals – and be specific. Yeah, okay, you want to sell more stuff. But why? And what? Maybe you want to drive gross revenue because you’re looking at an exit strategy; maybe you want big profits because you want to give your employees a raise; maybe you want to push a monthly service because you want to stabilize cashflow; maybe you want to build the brand to attract investors. The more you know about your business goals, the better you’ll be able to determine what your marketing should focus on, how much to spend – and what marketing tactics will get you there.

6. Go after the low-hanging fruit first. Seems obvious, right?  Except, like I said, most small business owners fear that if they focus on the obvious, they’ll miss out on the mystical unicorns of untapped customers. But here’s the thing: I promise that if you spend 12 months focusing on the low-hanging fruit, the mystical unicorns will magically appear. Business is funny that way: The more successful you are selling your core products and services to your core target markets, the more likely it is that you’ll start selling to everyone else, too. Plus, you’ll be so profitable that you won’t have to go chasing unicorns any more!

I know, I know – all this talk of business analysis and goal setting means I’m taking all the fun out of marketing, which is supposed to be about Big Ideas and cool websites and getting a YouTube celebrity to endorse your product. It can be like that – as long as you’ve done your homework first.

One of your target groups is better than the others. Market to it.

Not all target markets are created equal

Do you really know who your best customers are?

Not all target markets are created equal

Okay, so the other week I talked about how it’s crucial for small businesses to get specific with their marketing goals. And last month I talked about how small businesses need to answer some very detailed questions about their business before they spend any money at all on marketing.

Look how theme-y I’m getting! Pretty soon I’ll be doing the 12 days of blogmas or something.

Just in case you haven’t spotted the theme yet, here it is: When small businesses start throwing money at marketing without doing their homework or getting very specific with their goals, they often always spend more than they need to for less than they hoped. And probably start saying things like “marketing is useless” or “marketing consultants are idiots”. (Only the second of these is sometimes true.)

Narrowing down target markets is the worst part of my job

Most of the time, when I tell clients that it’s important to articulate clear business goals so they can tie their marketing efforts and results to them, they’re totally on board. It’s easy to understand that you can’t reach goals if you don’t set them.

It’s when we get to identifying the target market(s) that we always run into trouble: “We have no ideal client!” the businesses say. “We want to sell to everyone!”

Except even McDonald’s isn’t selling to everyone – or at least they’re not trying to sell everything, all the time, to everyone. That’s why Happy Meal ads feature kids, while McCafe ads feature mildly hipster-type 30-somethings: They have different target markets.

So I can assure you, with some confidence, that your commercial office moving service, or your financial planning consultancy, or your large-scale aquarium maintenance business should also not be trying to market to ‘everyone’.

I get it. If you’ve spent the past few years of your life pouring all your time and energy into your business, the thought of losing even one potential customer makes you feel a bit sick to your stomach. But if you’ve spent all that time building your business, you’ve probably learned that chasing the wrong clients is futile: The cost of acquiring them is too high, they keep you up at night because they’re never satisfied anyway – they just don’t deliver a good ROI.

(And as so many Canadian companies saw with the Target debacle, even if you do, once in a while, land one of these unicorn clients, they can still be the kind of nightmare that demands 90-day payment terms and then skips town.)

Marketing is the same: Chasing long-shot target markets will cost you more money, time and resources than you can afford. So while I know it’s painful, you’ve got to define one or two ideal customers and then spend most of your time marketing to them. A year or two from now, when the cash is rolling in, then go ahead and broaden your scope – you’ll be able to afford it.

How to start defining your ideal client: 5 steps

If you want to get more out of your marketing dollars, you have to make decisions based on actual facts. Here’s how to determine your ideal client:

  1. Stop relying on anecdotal information. It’s easy to get sidetracked by compelling anecdotes about unexpected, easy, or huge sales wins. But repeating an anecdote at every sales and marketing meeting for 2 years doesn’t turn it into ‘data’.
  2. Pull a list of your clients from the past 12-24 months. 99% of the time, you’re going to find that your most profitable clients aren’t actually who you thought they were.
  3. Segment your client list by industry/vertical. When they actually sit down and do the numbers, most B2B SMBs discover that they’re making 85% of their revenue from a shortlist of 3 or 4 key industries. That’s where you should be spending your marketing dollars – until you’ve saturated those or have a specific business mandate to expand to other verticals.
  4. Ensure senior leadership – including the sales department – is on board. One of the biggest hurdles to marketing success for SMBs is when the CEO, the VP Sales and the VP Marketing can’t agree on which target market(s) should get the most marketing support. It dilutes the marketing message – and the marketing budget. Don’t spend any money on marketing until everyone’s on the same page.
  5. Create a profile of the individual decision maker(s). In B2B marketing, companies often don’t think about demographics/psychographics: They get focused on marketing to an industry or organization, and forget that, just like in B2C marketing, there’s an actual person who has to make the final purchasing decision. Knowing exactly what that person looks like, and what motivates them, will help you focus your marketing efforts more effectively. (And don’t forget to create profiles for the decision influencers, too!

 

For small business, social media builds trust (and the brand)

branding for small business

branding for small business

 

Yes, even in B2B marketing.

Okay, so by now you’ve accepted that social media can be a great marketing tool.

But you’re probably thinking: “Sure, social media’s great for selling Kylie Jenner’s lip glosses, or all that Wayfair product placement, but my company sells relocation services to HR companies/LED light systems to architects/replacement parts to independent autobody shops. Our audience doesn’t buy stuff off social media.”

You’re right: No one’s clicking a link on Twitter and immediately placing an order for $7500 worth of relocation services.  The thing is, that’s not how the sales for Kylie’s Lip Kits or Wayfair’s coffee tables work, either.

Except in very specific cases, social media doesn’t really deliver the instant gratification that everyone thinks is the hallmark of genius marketing. Sure, social media delivers ‘immediacy’ – but that doesn’t mean ‘immediate sales’.

Social media is about building trust – which really means that it’s building the brand.

Buying decisions are based on relationships.
B2B relationships are the same – but have different consequences.

Every consumer brand – every successful company – is built on relationships: Study after study says that consumers buy stuff from companies that they know and trust, and the only way to build trust is to build some kind of relationship. You already know this.

What you may not know is that B2B brands are built in exactly the same way: People still make buying decisions based on relationships, they still want to buy stuff from brands they know and trust, etc.

There’s one big difference: Projected potential consequences.

If I buy a Kylie Jenner lip kit, I’m probably hoping that my friends will be at least a little impressed with either the brand or the way the product looks on me. If they aren’t impressed, well, I’ve only lost a little face and $60. On the other hand, if I approve a $250,000 purchase for my company and it turns out poorly, my career, my reputation, and maybe even my job are on the line. So I need to really, really trust the company I’m buying from.

6 ways social media works for B2B marketing

 

Your company probably has a website and some basic materials. But let’s face it: Even the best-looking website and the most well-designed infosheets (because I haven’t yet met a B2B company that wasn’t in love with infosheets, especially when tucked into a glossy pocket folder) isn’t really doing a lot to build relationships with potential customers. Sure, the website confirms you’re a legit business which is sufficiently solvent to pay your hosting bills, and it may even do a good job of outlining your products and services and explaining why they’re better than the competition, and those infosheets give you something to hand out at tradeshows, but they’re not doing a whole lot to build the trust you need to get someone to write a cheque for $25,000.

I know you’re going to say that the whole ‘relationship-building’ thing is what your salespeople are supposed to do. But even the best, most diligent salespeople only have so many hours in a day. Every hour they spend trying to convince potential customers that your brand is trustworthy is an hour they aren’t spending actually selling stuff.

That’s where social media comes in. Here’s how:

  1. Reach. You may think your potential customers are old-school Luddites who look down on social media, but I guarantee you that 98% of them are more plugged in than you (and even they) think. Maybe they aren’t Snapchatting or tweeting every 5 minutes, but they’ve probably got a Facebook or LinkedIn account, or signed up on Instagram to check out their kids’ pictures. These are places your infosheets can’t reach, but social media content can – and with a more compelling message than the facts and figures on an infosheet.
  2. Better brand awareness. As any salesperson will tell you, the #1 time-suck for SMBs is simply getting their name out there, especially if they’re competing in a crowded marketplace or emerging industry, and especially in the absence of a big marketing budget. Over time, a consistent social media effort will give you the brand awareness you need to improve the number of potential customers who will actually take a call from one of your salespeople.
  3. Emotional engagement. No one likes to admit this, but it’s true: B2B purchasing decisions are made from the same emotional place as B2C purchasing decisions. So you have to engage the emotions of your potential customers, and that means your brand needs some kind of personality. Social media allows you to demonstrate that personality, with interesting commentary on industry news, amusing photographs of your office culture, a bit of back and forth with a favourite existing client – whatever. You don’t have to be ‘funny’ – you just have to be interesting.
  4. Responsiveness to customers. Social media can be a very public display of just how responsive you are to existing clients/customers. A corporate Twitter feed or Facebook page that includes responses to customer inquiries or even complaints sends a powerful message about your CRM in the longer term – and that builds trust.
  5. Thought leadership. You know your company does some of the best thinking in the industry; social media is the most cost-effective way to get it out there. All those presentations, position papers, analyses – they can all be repurposed for your blog, your employees’ LinkedIn pages, your Facebook page, Slideshare, etc.
  6. SEO and improved rankings. The first step in a B2B purchase is often a quick Google search to establish a shortlist. You can’t get on that shortlist if you don’t show up until the 5th page of search returns and/or don’t have big bucks to spend on Adwords. Social media – a consistent social media strategy over the long term – can help improve those rankings, simply by ensuring there is more content, on more sites, with your name on it. And studies have shown that higher search rankings often equate to higher levels of trust.

 

The bottom line? Stop thinking that social media is only for B2C – and start using it to build trusted relationships with your potential customers.

 

 

 

The twisted path of social media attribution

Sarah Welstead social media marketing

The other day, I happened to notice a Facebook post from a friend: “Taking a trip to Quebec this summer. Looking for recommendations about places to go/stay.”

I haven’t seen this friend in a while. Like, it’s probably been 20 years since we’ve actually seen each other in person even though we live in the same city, which sounds bad when I write it down like this, but [insert something about modern living, social media, and how the internet ruins relationships blah blah blah] – but he works in media, we share some music interests and I remembered us having some conversations about design and architecture back in the day.

So I immediately thought of this modern ‘cabin’ I’d seen in Quebec.

I should clarify that when I say “seen”, I mean “seen online” – I haven’t actually been there. But I do social media for a couple of real estate/architecture-adjacent clients who like to tweet and write about interior design, plus I often seem to fall down rabbit holes about tiny homes on YouTube. So in the past couple of months, one way or another, this cabin had popped up on my radar more than once, and I had spent a few minutes looking at pictures of the interior on more than one occasion.

The problem, of course, was that I couldn’t remember its name, or where I’d seen it. All I remembered was that it looked interesting and minimalist, was in Quebec, and that it was available for short-term rentals. It took me a few minutes on Google, but I tracked it down and then posted the link to my friend’s Facebook feed.

Three hours later, he’d booked the place for a week (around $2000).

Social media marketing success! But how do you track it?

This is the problem with social media: Based on the story I’ve related above, it’s easy to say that [social media = sales], and in this case we can even say [social media = $2000 in sales].

That sounds terrific! And we quantified it!

Except no one on the other end of this – i.e. the person running the social media or other marketing efforts for the Villa Boreale – has any way of knowing the role social media played in the sale they just made, or just how it worked.

They may ask my friend how he heard of their cabin. He’s going to say “from a friend”.  He’s not going to say: “From a friend via Facebook, who came across it on Twitter, and then tracked it down through some Instagram pictures.” So on the big marketing spreadsheet in the sky where they try to connect ‘marketing dollars spent’ to ‘revenue earned’, this is probably going to go down under ‘word of mouth’. Which is wrong. Mostly.

So what can we know about measuring social media marketing?

Since it often looks like this:

Sarah Welstead on the difficulty of measuring social media

(Yes, I know. If I were any good at diagramming this stuff I’d have a degree in semiotics.)

There’s nothing worse than someone who highlights a problem and then just sort of leaves it there without a solution, so here are my handy bits of advice for you regarding the measurement of your social media marketing efforts:

  • Accept that you’ll hardly ever be able to draw a straight line from $1 spent on social media to $5 in sales. But you know what? This is true for about 95% of marketing initiatives – social media shouldn’t be required to follow different rules
  • ‘Engagement’ isn’t always the holy grail. I didn’t like, fave, retweet or comment on any of the posts I saw about Villa Boreale – but that doesn’t mean they didn’t influence my behaviour
  • ‘Word of mouth’ is a big umbrella, under which social media relationships and real-life relationships have a whole ecosystem of their own. Stop trying to separate social media from everything else
  • It’s a longer game than you think. If I’d seen Villa Boreale just once, I might not have remembered it. By seeing it repeatedly, over a few months, it stayed top of mind. An effective social media strategy is long-term and consistent
  • Social media works best when it’s done on more than one channel. My diagram up there looks a little ridiculous, I know – but it’s also representative of the way people use social media. Hardly anyone uses just one social media channel, and everyone’s usage patterns are unique. You don’t have to be on every social media channel in the universe – but you should definitely be on more than one.