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Four ways to accelerate your business using your brand

October 16, 2014 by Christina Richardson

Four ways to accelerate your business using your brand{{}}When I’m out and about speaking and running workshops on marketing I’m often faced with puzzled looks when I start talking about branding. But the fact is that your brand can become one of your strongest marketing assets — even if you are a micro-business.

It isn’t an easy area though: it’s as much as art as a science. Get it right and you will have loyal customers who come back again and again; get it wrong and customers could be indifferent towards your brand or even hostile.

So how can you build a brand that has the power to drive your ambitious business?

Here, in part one of a two-part blog, are four ways to maximise the power of your brand.

1. Know your stuff – a brand is more than a logo

People become obsessed with the logo of a brand, mistakenly believing that this is the brand. But the most powerful brands mean something deeper to their customer base — and it’s that meaning that keeps people buying, even when it might be more rational to choose a cheaper option.

The first step is to accept that a brand is not entirely in your control. It is an impression that exists in your customers’ minds created by how you look, what you say, what you stand for and how you help them. But you can influence this impression by defining your brand identity and then ensuring that it runs through your entire business so that your customer has a complete end-to-end experience that lives up to their – and your – aspirations.

2. There’s not all that much in a name

This is a contentious statement – especially for a brand expert like me. But the name of the business doesn’t have any significance until you give it meaning.

Think about all the made-up words that are brand names – Google, Hibu, Spotify, Moo. They all have very strong brand identities but before they defined what they wanted to stand for, those words meant nothing. So pick a name that you like and that’s available as a domain name, and then work on creating something that customers can identify with.

3. Define your brand building blocks

To create effective brands, the real work starts long before the creative people are let loose with their colouring pencils.

Start by deciding what makes you different within the market and being specific about what you deliver to your consumers. Next, define your values and ethics – this is about defining what you believe in, what would will always do and what you never do. Finally, think about the personality of your brand. Imagine a person and describe them.

Then you can work on the words, behaviours and images to portray this to your customers.

4. Bring it to life

Now you can develop the visual part of branding, which includes the logo, colours, fonts and even tone of voice to bring your personality to life. This is the artistic bit – and much less about science – so it can be quite subjective

Write a detailed brief for a designer that outlines what you want to convey and to whom so that they can bring the brand to life in words and images.

If you create strong visual codes, your customers will know it is you even when you play with your codes – just as Google does with its daily doodles.

Copyright © 2014 Christina Richardson is a business marketing specialist, mentor and founder of The Nurture Network. She is also co-founder of the Brand Gathering community, helping young businesses to grow by working together.

Plan now to have the best ever online Christmas

October 15, 2014 by Marketing Donut contributor

Plan now to have the best ever online Christmas{{}}Online sales this Christmas are likely to be worth about £13bn – up by around 14%. But small online retailers need to plan ahead if they want to take advantage of the seasonal spike in demand and get ahead of their competitors. Here’s how to make sure your online marketing strategy hits the mark.

1. Get your website in order

Mobile ecommerce (m-commerce) has been growing significantly and it accounted for 34% of total web sales in Q1 2014 according to Capgemini and IMRG. So it’s essential that your website offers your customers a good mobile shopping experience and that your emails are mobile responsive.

Also, make sure your checkout process is as efficient as possible. Become the customer and try buying something from your website. What are the barriers to completing the purchase? Does the basket remember what you added when you drop out or shop later on a different device? Does your checkout scream “secure”? Are you upfront about delivery costs? Are you converting as many of your visitors into purchases as possible?

2. Get your PPC campaigns ready now

Planning ahead for pay-per-click campaigns (PPC) means you can react quickly during the busy Christmas period. Create dedicated campaigns well in advance as ads can take a couple of days to approve and make sure you have a backup form of payment so your ads never go offline.

3. Consider your SEO strategy well ahead of time

Competition for online traffic is relentless and one of the most common problems is that work on Christmas SEO does not start early enough. It is time to identify your key products and ensure there is a clear and defined path in the navigation to them. Put special offers in to your meta descriptions to improve click through rates and add any new Christmas URLs in to your sitemap to ensure the search engines know you have new seasonal pages on your site.

4. Have a stress-free email marketing plan

Email marketing for Christmas also needs forward planning. You’re going to be competing for subscribers’ inboxes by October so start putting together a plan of ideas, including send times, content and subject lines. Try re-engaging with customers that have been inactive by offering them incentives to come back, and make sure you review any trigger emails such as Abandoned Basket or Welcome emails to make sure they have the festive touch.

In addition, analyse customer buying behaviour and don’t disregard customers that have not bought from you for over six months, as these customers may well just buy from you at Christmas, so target them with a different message to other regular customers.

5. Affiliate programmes

Do you have an affiliate program? If so, make sure every incentive and placement is locked down by October. Premium ad placements on newsletters and key affiliate sites get booked up early so don’t leave it too late to book. Giving affiliates a significant amount of lead time ahead of promotions will help them match up your promotions with their onsite messaging, increasing the relevance for the consumer and thus improving the conversion rate.

Copyright © 2014 Al Keck. Al is a digital and online marketing consultant and managing director of South West retail e-commerce specialists toinfinity.

When's the best time to post on social media?

October 09, 2014 by Marketing Donut contributor

When’s the best time to post on social media?{{}}Many users blanket post their content, so that the same message is posted on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ at exactly the same time. This is social media sacrilege.

Every social media platform has its own optimal time to post. If you want to make the most of your posts then follow these simple guidelines – it’s not an exact science but it should help you get better results from your posts.

It’s also important to remember posting etiquette. For example, there’s nothing more annoying than a LinkedIn status full of hashtags. These have no place on LinkedIn and can make a brand look lazy. If a company can’t be bothered to write individual posts for each platform, then why should we bother to read it?

There is a lot of conflicting information surrounding the best time to post, so you have to find the time that works for you. Here’s what we find works:

Facebook: for your consumer audience

Buffer has found that Facebook engagement rates are 18% higher on Thursdays and Fridays and BlitzLocal has found that engagement was 32% higher on weekends. So, what's the takeaway from this? Posting anytime towards the end of the week is a failsafe way to ensure engagement with your content.

People don’t tend to check Facebook at work as they don’t necessarily have time or access. We’ve found the highest engagement between 7.30am and 8.30am when people are on their way to work, between 12pm and 2pm when people are on their lunch breaks and anytime between 4.30pm and 6.30pm when people are on their commute home.

Twitter: for your business and consumer audiences

Twitter is constantly buzzing and finding the best time to post can be difficult. Research from Buffer suggests that Twitter engagement for brands is 17% higher on weekends and click-through rates are generally highest on weekends and midweek on Wednesdays. However, a study conducted by ViralHeat found that engagement was 14% higher on weekdays.

Twitter is definitely a platform where you have to find what works for you. We find that consumer-related tweets work best outside of work hours while business messages are picked up all week. We find retweets are at their highest around 5pm, with the best times to tweet anytime between 8am and 9.30am, 12pm to 2pm or between 4.30 and 5.30pm. Twitter supports this theory —its own research found users are more likely to access Twitter during their commute.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is most often used right at the start and end of the working day and updates posted during the day often receive less engagement.

However, being the “Facebook for business” people do visit this site during the day more frequently than other social platforms. However there is more focus on completing tasks than exploring so people tend to spend less time on LinkedIn during the working day.

Google+

We’re still undecided about Google+ as it tends to take a back seat when it comes to sharing our content. However, we have found that anytime between 9am and 11am tends to be a good time to post on this platform. But, for us, the jury is still out on this one.

These suggestions are not set in stone. Try these times and do some research to find out when your posts are getting picked up and when people are engaging with them.

If your working hours are between 9am and 5pm then try not to post outside these hours. Otherwise you may give the impression you are either still working or open to communication and people will expect you to converse with them. A lack of response won’t reflect well on your brand.

Copyright © 2014 Emma Pauw is social media writer at We Talk Social.

Are you making these common networking mistakes?

October 09, 2014 by Marketing Donut contributor

Are you making these common networking mistakes?{{}}Is your networking bringing you a steady stream of new business? If not, it could be because you are making a few fundamental mistakes.

Pitching to sell

Businesses spend a lot of time creating a sales pitch that is compelling and interesting so that a prospect will buy. All too often though, business people make the mistake of using the same pitch when networking. You’re not selling to your network; you’re teaching your network how to sell on your behalf. Don’t pitch your product; pitch your pitch.

Being vague about your target market

Understand who benefits the most from your products and services and then learn to describe them clearly and succinctly. Seek to help a new contact recognise potential prospects from within their circle. The more specific you can be about your target audience, the more likely they are to think of someone they know that might need your products or services. Explain how you could serve those people well and encourage contacts to talk about you at the next available opportunity.

Neglecting to tell a story

People often talk about having a unique selling proposition but in reality most products and services are not dramatically dissimilar or genuinely unique. So it’s important to highlight why a customer should choose you over your competitors. In general, that comes from who you are and the approach you take.

Creating a story that highlights your strengths means you will be remembered. Raw facts are not remembered, stories are – stories that people can relate to and empathise with and stories that show how you have helped others. That’s what will get your contacts talking about you.

Failing to stand out from the crowd

It’s also important to position your business within the marketplace. For example, your target market may be different or the subtleties of your service may differ from competitors. Those differences help your target market to choose you. Tell that story and you and your business will be more memorable as a result.

In conclusion

Remember, your network is not your market.

When you’re networking you’re not selling – you’re teaching your network how to sell for you, you’re teaching your network what makes you stand out and you’re teaching your network who is best-suited to your products and services.

Ideally you are helping them to identify one or two people for whom a referral would be sensible. At the same time, when you network you should be seeking similar information from your network. You get out of your network what you put in. If you want others to share their knowledge and refer their contacts to you, it's reasonable to assume that they are looking for the same kindness from you too.

© William Buist, ceo of Abelard and Founder of xTEN Club.

How a simple covering email can backfire

October 08, 2014 by Andy Bounds

How a simple covering email can backfire{{}}I once helped a consultant write a proposal for a big project. It was worth a lot of money to him. It would have been his biggest contract.

The proposal we wrote was really good. But he didn’t win the work.

When he asked why not, they said they were so underwhelmed by his covering email, that they didn’t feel they could trust him with such an important project.

Their exact words were: “If you don’t take care of little things like emails when you know we’re watching, how can we trust you to take care of big things when you don’t think we are?”

Ouch.

I asked him to send me the email in question. It said…

Title: FYI

See attached

Cheers,
NAME

How utterly dreadful. And what a waste.

We’d created this wonderful proposal. If the customer had just read it, the consultant would have had an outstanding chance of winning the business. But all our effort was ruined by the first thing they saw.

So, what about your covering emails? How good are they? Do you put much time into making them brilliant? Do you put any?

The good news: there are many ways to craft a good one. Here’s one that works very well…

Title: John, here’s the email you requested about [insert topic]

John,

As [promised/requested], I attach the [communication] about [topic].

You’ll see it contains some critical points. In particular:

  • [highlight 1]
  • [highlight 2]
  • [highlight 3]

As agreed, I’ll ring you at [time] on [date] to discuss how we should proceed. If you want to discuss before then, please buzz my mobile — [number].

Best,
 Andy

You’ll notice:

  1. The title is compelling. This ensures he opens the email.
  2. It starts with “As promised”. This reminds him that he’s already verbally engaged with you, and that you’ve written the document he requested. (An important note: if you haven’t had this chat beforehand, it’s less likely that your communication will impress. After all, when you know what he wants, you’re more likely to write something he wants. But when you don’t…).
  3. Briefly mentioning 2-3 highlights means he’s more likely to open the document, to read the detail.
  4. There’s a clear call to action — “I’m calling you on X. But call me if you prefer”. Again, note that this has been verbally agreed beforehand.
  5. By providing your direct contact details, you’re empowering him to increase the pace if he wants to.
  6. The email’s short, but it contains enough information to persuade him to open the attachment. You don’t need to re-write half your document. But neither can you write only “see attached”.

Let’s face it, it doesn’t take long to write an email like this. It only takes a few minutes. But if you don’t get it right, you might find you’ve wasted all the hours you’ve spent on your proposal.

Copyright © 2014 Andy Bounds, communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips here.

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