Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The "NEW" Business Card

Use traditional 3.5" X 2" business cards to promote new services, products, specials or whatever is new at your business. They would still have your contact information. Use them to drive business to your website or location. Treat them as promo cards with a personal circulation. A clever new way to celebrate your brand.

When you go to a networking event in your community, you can take the opportunity to NOT hand out your traditional card but instead, hand out your "what's new card." One great result is that it initiates conversation on your "news." It's a simple idea, but one that is inexpensive and novel. It doesn't matter what size company you have - there's always great news to spread. What could you put on your promo card?

Monday, May 20, 2013

5 Steps To The Motherlode!

That next telephone call or email could be the mother lode of opportunities. If you're anything like myself, you're fiercely proud of what you've accomplished to date. The relationships built over the years have not only delivered happy customers but rewarding business friends that have turned into advocates for you.

Of course, if the mother lode is to fall into your lap, it would come not by happenstance, but a concerted effort. You know as well as I, that you can never take your eye of the goal. One of my favourite anonymous quotes goes something like. " I can't get over how lucky I am the harder I work." You have to be responsible for your own success of failure. Taking ownership is a powerful brand action. Here a few tips to the motherlode:

Put together a "Re-Acquaintance Package". This is a program that has you sending out promotional correspondence to past customers that have dropped off your radar after many years. You'd be surprised how many would love to reconnect and benefit from your accumulated experience. This could also involve introducing new products or service not yet available when you first spoke.

Develop a "Referral Kit". You know that many of your customers are indeed advocates for you, but you have no control over what they are saying about your brand. By putting together a little package of materials to hand out and a story outlining the types of business you are looking for, they will be more effective in generating more profitable leads for you. The kit should contain branded items such as pens, notepads, business cards and of course the letter of intention. Make sure your kit is as professional as you can to make it. Be sure it compliments your brand image. Send these to advocates that have the greatest influence among your target audience.

Participate in open networking events sponsored by various groups in your business community. This gives you the opportunity to exhibit a presence locally. Don't be concerned if you find yourself among regular attendees and not new faces. It is this familiarity that gets you business because everyone gets to know each other very well. Knowing allows conversations to start within 'their' networks. It's those conversation that bring terrific referrals.

Getting involved in online promotional efforts that position you as an expert. Things like bogging and social networking are great avenues to spur opportunity. Blogging especially has a huge impact from a business perspective. Chance are good that the mother lode of opportunity could hatch from this effort alone. Very powerful. Consider public speaking as well. Very engaging.

Building an opt-in business email database. Email marketing puts your message directly into the hands of your target market. Because they are opt-in, your message is welcome. A great place to nurture your brand. It is also a great opportunity to provide valuable free advice. Become a free resource which leads to a paid resource. This database is essentially your very own marketplace.

What the heck - one more. Be sure that what ever you do, you are extremely consistent in tone and brand image. Consistency pay dividends. Opportunity only comes to those who are willing to earn it and ready to accept it when it calls. "The next time you get email" - this could be the one - brace yourself!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Five Ways To Brand Like The Fortune 500's

Branding can be daunting at the best of times. As small to medium size enterprises, budgets to address brand initiatives are just a fraction of what a Fortune 500 company may apply. If you're anything like myself, you're constantly educating yourself on ways to fine tune your brand. Books on the subject is a great way to discover nuggets of information that can be applied to your situation. But often, branding books use as examples, companies who the world knows and whose budgets are no where close to small business's reality which makes it hard to relate. I thought I'd use this space to show small businesses some good branding strategies they can use to with great effectiveness and little cost.

ONE: Consistency

You'll never see a Fortune 500 company with multiple versions of their logo. Many small businesses have one logo on their business cards and another on their location, vehicles and uniforms. To many this may seem silly, but look around your communities. You'll see that this happens all the time because companies do not have brand image guidelines in place. The image of the company is left in the hands of whom ever picks up the ball to do some marketing. Establish strict guidelines for your brand and you'll experience less confusion among your customers.

TWO:  Brand Experience

Drop by any Apple store, Walmart or McDonald's location and the experience crossing the threshold will be the same no matter where in the world you'll come into contact with them. Even if you only have one location it's important that all employees understand the experience you want your customers to have once they contact your company - whether that's live, online or over a lan line. Customers have to become very familiar with  brand attitudes, policies and general expectations. I know when I step up the counter at any McDonald's, the wait staff are going to try and deliver my order as fast and efficiently as they can. All while having a great attitude regardless of how busy the restaurant is that day. 

You too can orchestrate a brand experience that customers grow to love and expect. It doesn't take buckets of cash, to make a customer feel like you care and repeat that over and over. Training staff is crucial to your brand experience.

THREE: Own Your Color

If I quote a popular marketing slogan - "What can brown do for you today?" who am I speaking of? Most people I ask this to state that's its owner is UPS. What's marvellous is that they know the identity of the firm by their colour - not their name. UPS owns the colour brown. You too can own your own colour if you choose it strategically instead of psychologically or by picking favourites. Research the colours used by competition in your category and choose colours that are not being used. I analyzed the tool and die industry in the industrial heartland and 74% of them used the colour blue. They were essentially following the leader. The rational being, "if they were successful using blue, then we should follow them." All it really does is put your brand in a sea of sameness. 

FOUR: Use An Icon

You've heard the old adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words." Well it's definitely the truth in branding. Icons are becoming so powerful, some brands are dropping their names in favor of their icons (or symbols). These companies include Apple, Target and Starbucks. Does your logo have a symbol or icon attached to it? maybe you should consider it? Some have fun with the technique by having their icon also become their mascot. Afflac's duck became so powerful they applied it to the logo. Coke's glass bottle shape was an icon so familiar, patrons could identify the product in the dark just by the feel of it in their hand. Harley uses a sound icon, which of course is the sound of their bike. Cinnabon uses smell as an icon. No matter which sensory button you'd like to push, icons scan be very powerful in representing your brand on many other levels.

FIVE: Brand Culture

Many of the Fortune 550's have a brand culture that encourages their employees to excel. From the top down a positive and inclusive attitude exists that encourages growth from within. Attitude is paramount. You too can have a winning corporate brand culture. Study how they work their human assets to benefit the whole. Attitude doesn't involve so much cash but rather a perspective and a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. One advantage small companies have over Fortune 500's is that they are flatter, and therefore can turn on a dime to changing trends. Making stakeholders brand advocates puts everyone on the same team benefiting from a common culture.

That's about it. There is so much towards having a winning brand. These five examples are a good start to growing your brand. Implementing just one, will make a difference in your business.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gawd Brand It!! Do As I Say Not As I Do!

I came across an interesting article today that smacks the face of good branding. It speaks to authenticity. Colby Sambrotto, the founder of 'for sale by owner' recently sold his home through a real estate owner. He even paid full commission. What does that say about his authenticity? The negative press will certainly hurt the DIY market. Read the story here:

Are you and your brand on the same page? Do you manufacture parts for GM but drive a Chrysler? You can't have it both ways. We are all guided by our perceptions. I've met people who sold sales training packages but they themselves never used it in their sales efforts. I've met Dale Carnegie guru's who never exhibited traits complementary to Mr. Carnegie's principals. Hypocrisy abounds. It takes real effort to live your brand. To do otherwise shows that you don't take branding seriously and put its value as so much spin. 

Branding is not a slogan or an "I wish I was great." Branding is the reality of your company at this point in time. It's not what you wished it was or hope it could be one day. Real estate agents across the continent are going to be re-defining Mr. Sambrotto's DIY brand for him over the next little while. He wrongly thought his personal and business brand were exclusive of each other. That kind of arrogance can be very costly and hard to back away from.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Is Your Brand Image Up To The Challenges To Come?

Your brand image is the face of your brand. It is the first thing your target audience sees when first introduced to you. What do you suppose goes through their mind when they see your brand image? Are the colors and imagery resonating by correctly representing your brand values and personality? How about consistency, are you showing one message?

At the first introduction everything is riding on your brand image. If a business's image is amateur, then they are doing immediate damage to sales goals. Their efforts to save money and get an image on the cheap, only shows their lack of understanding as to how the buying public formulates buying decisions. Their perceptions are the reality in the world of a brand. If a business looks like a small player, a person will have a more difficult time building a belief that the business can deliver for them. These perceptions and reactions happen in seconds. Building trust is huge in the sales cycle and so any distraction from that effort is critical. 

Your brand image should also differentiate your company. Choose colors that not only represent your personality, fit psychologically but also are different than competing companies. Every aspect of your brand must be compelling to a prospect. Your brand image mustn't be simply window dressing either. You have to walk the walk. There are so many things you have to remember in order to succeed, your image should be the wonderful wrapping to a tremendous gift inside. 

Take this opportunity to look objectively at your brand image. Ask friends and customers for their opinions in a short survey. Use the results to address any deficiencies and make your job a little bit easier.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

How to Benefit From A Cohesive Brand Strategy

An interesting brand strategy to me has always been putting the owner's persona front and center. Make them the face and voice of the brand. Everything we read today speaks to the relationships we build with customers. Make 'em smile when they see you coming. Volunteering for local charities. Networking. A good number of small business professionals I come into contact with invest a lot of face-time in their markets. These efforts make their names synonymous with their brands. In the greater world, think of Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. As you read each name, no one had to tell you the company behind each. Attaching the visionary to your brand image extends the effort you put out to a greater effect. Relationships extend to your marketing and sales, benefiting from your notoriety in the marketplace. 

Humility often gets in the way of this strategy. It may seem like boasting, but if you identify yourself as a product for the greater good of the brand, then the benefit becomes obvious. By coupling the two you would also benefit from the fact that your marketplace won't view the brand and the very public owner as two separate entities. As it stands, the public owner is seen as the pillar of the company. If they were to die tonight, most would view the brand as vulnerable. Viewed as a spokesperson on the other hand, the company has brand cache of it's own. It carries on in the spirit of the spokesperson, i.e.: Walt Disney. Of course this strategy takes some nurturing, but at the very least it can be argued that cohesiveness of efforts bears more fruit than separate strategies for a common goal.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The 10 most profitable Google Feed Optimizations

Google Shopping is a paid service. That offers an opportunity for many advertisers: more clicks, a lower cpc and better conversion rates. Advertisers are beginning to realize that the profitability of their Product Listing Ads depends on the quality of their product feed.
What are the most profitable feed optimizations that will help advertisers maximize the RoI of their Product Listing Ad campaigns?
DataFeedWatch analyzed the modifications that its customers executed between November and February and compiled the following top 10:

  1. AdWords Grouping: Bids based on price 
    RoI-driven advertisers set higher bids for more expensive products. They divide all products into different price groups ($1-$5, $5-$10, etc.) so they can create product targets that are a mix of e.g. brand and price. Some of them are even able to categorize their products by margin and maximize gross margin across their entire product portfolio.
  2. Exclude: only advertise profitable products 
    Most merchants exclude certain products from their Google-feed for various reasons: Seasonality, CPA too high, etc. Not advertising those products is a big saving.

    Some merchants take that one step further; they exclude products on a per-channel basis: some products do well on Shopzilla but not on Google. By selecting the best channel for each product, they considerably improve RoI.
  3. AdWords Labels for high converters 
    Web shops are willing to bid more for products that convert better. Setting a product target per product type does not achieve that.

    Example: A shoe shop knew that those red high heels size 8 sell much better than those black ones size 10. Setting color and size as AdWords labels, enabled the shop owner to bid differently on both products and improve his RoI.
  4. Google categories: 6 levels deep 
    Merchants often have all products in a few generic Google Categories (example: Software > Video Game Software). An effective optimization is to assign deep-level categories to each of their products, based on product type (example: Software > Video Game Software > All Xbox games > Xbox 360 games).

    A more specific Google Category increases visibility and the traffic quality on Google Shopping and thus increases impressions and conversion rate.
  5. Availability: only advertise what's in stock 
    The "availability" field is mandatory and it ensures that out-of-stock-products are never advertised. Most shopping carts have a field for that, but Google accepts only four values here: in stock, available for order, out of stock and preorder.

    On Magento, for example, availability will be either 0 or 1, so all Magento-merchants remap each 0 to out of stock and each 1 to in stock. Another popular re-map is using Stock Levels: Availability = out of stock if quantity = 0 and in stock if quantity > 0.
  6. Variants: No way around it 
    Most apparel shops have Variants (example: 1 shirt in 5 different colors). Every shopping cart has a different way of presenting those variants and that's often not the Google-way. Hence, those merchants have no other option than to find the field that links all variants and re-map it to Google's group id.
  7. AdWords Redirect: Add Tracking 
    Tracking the performance is key for every merchant. Even though most of them have a pretty good insight using data from AdWords and (any) Analytics software, it pays to add additional tracking code to their feed: It enables them to segment all data in one place, like Google Analytics. Google has created the "AdWords Redirect" field to add tracking code.
  8. Appealing product titles 
    Merchants often remap product titles to ensure that their Product Listing Ads are compelling enough. Example: If the title of a product is "501", the merchant should add "Levi's" to it.

    As a side note: merchants sometimes use this functionality to meet Google's guidelines, by erasing exclamation marks, replacing CAPITALS and deleting promotional texts such as "Free shipping, etc.
  9. Add bar codes 
    Adding the bar code of each product (UPC in the US, EAN in Europe) increases the conversion rate: Google now can identify each product exactly and better match products with search queries.

    Example: even if a product feed for mountain bikes does not contain fields for suspension type or frame material, Google can categorize all bikes by these attributes, if they have the UPC.
  10. Condition: new or used? 
    Web shops that only sell new products add 'new' as a static value in the mandatory 'Condition' field. Merchants with both new and used goods do a more complex remapping: They set the condition based on product type or even on certain words in the description.

About DataFeedWatch

DataFeedWatch is a web-app that enables merchants and agencies to map their product data feed any way they want.
DataFeedWatch is a service of WordWatch Inc. When we started managing Product Listing Ads, we quickly found out that controlling the data feed was the only way to be successful. We built a tool that enabled us to modify anything in a data feed. The performance of the PLA-campaigns soared as a result. The tool was so effective that we decided to spin it off as a separate service.
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