Tag: Strategy

Brand strategy Brand strategy

7 Steps for Creating Your Brand Strategy

Think of a strong brand that you know – what makes them stand out above the rest?

It might be their brand story, their emotional impact, their social media presence, their products or any of a number of other factors. What it all adds up to though, is an effective brand strategy.

A defined strategy helps you to tell your story, to market your brand effectively and to attract the right target audience. Your long-term growth prospects may hinge on your ability to craft a strong branding strategy.

Small businesses often look at larger brands and think “but I’m not like them.” Of course you’re not, and that’s part of what makes your particular brand unique. Brand strategy is just as important for you as it is for the big guys, so how can you develop one effectively?

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What is brand strategy?

A brand strategy encompasses several different elements that go into creating a brand identity for your business. This means crafting the perception that your target market has of you and differentiating your brand from competitors.

A strong brand strategy is memorable and attractive to the target audience for your products or services. It defines what you stand for, your voice and your value proposition.

When people think of a brand, they often consider memorable logos, such as the McDonald’s “golden arches” or Apple’s fruit logo. While logos, colors and slogans are part of branding, they are simply the creative elements, not the entire branding story. A strong branding strategy goes much deeper, through the steps we look at below:

#1. Start with your target audience

Who is the target audience you need to reach with your brand strategy? A successful business generally starts with some kind of problem that they can solve better than others – that problem is solved for someone who represents an ideal customer.

If you were to skip considering your target audience before defining your brand strategy, you are unlikely to reach the right people. What if Apple had said something like “play music anywhere” instead of the iconic “1000 songs in your pocket” when they launched the iPod? The first statement is much less impactful, while the second is likely to grab the attention of a certain market.

It’s a matter of understanding who you are targeting and what will appeal to them. This means you need to define:

  • Audience demographics – Age, gender, marital status, religion etc.
  • Psychographics – Values, beliefs, personality, lifestyle…
  • Their industry or business
  • Geographic areas.

A successful brand knows their target audience very well first because they can then craft the brand strategy for that audience.

Brand strategy

#2. Look at competitors’ branding strategy

In most cases, even companies with the most innovative ideas will have competitors. Understanding how those competitors operate is an important part of market research for your branding strategy.

First of all, you need to identify who your competitors are. They may be direct competitors (selling something substantially similar to what you sell), or indirect competitors (they sell an alternative method or product that will satisfy the same consumer need). In any case, their target audience will be substantially similar to your own.

One thing to pay attention to in your market research is the keywords that brands are targeting and getting found for. Who is targeting the same keywords as you? One clue that you need to re-evaluate is if companies that have nothing to do with your industry are winning on the keywords you’re using. This can indicate that the language you’re using isn’t a match for what your customers search for. Also look for keywords that your competitors use that you’ve never thought to target.

To assess your competitor’s brand strategy, look at their overall:

  • Brand positioning – How their brand is perceived in the marketplace
  • Marketing strategy – The channels and strategies they use to engage an audience
  • Brand messaging – The language and messaging style they use.

You’re not doing this to copy competitors, but to make an overall assessment of what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and how you might compete as a brand.

It’s also worth noting that this shouldn’t be a one-time exercise – “competitor audits” are often a regular exercise for successful brands. You might conduct competitor research when you have a new product coming out, or when there have been significant industry changes, for example.

#3. Establish your brand identity and values

Now that you understand who your target audience is, what will appeal to them and how you might develop a brand identity to be competitive, you can establish what that identity and your brand values will be.

To borrow a definition from HubSpot:

“A brand identity is made up of what your brand says, what your values are, how you communicate your product, and what you want people to feel when they interact with it. Essentially, your brand identity is the personality of your business and a promise to your customers.”

Your brand values help you to make an emotional impact and establish customer loyalty. People like to support brands that share values they identify with. These could be almost anything – quality, integrity, value, innovation… Choose your top five that you’d like to communicate in your messaging.

#4. Define a voice for your brand messaging

Brand messaging is about what you say as well as how you say it. Your brand’s tone of voice might be professional, fun, irreverent, classy, casual, passionate, quirky… The point is that your voice needs to be consistent in all of your marketing channels and appealing to your target audience.

Your voice determines the type of language you will use on any branding materials. For example, let’s say a company with a professional voice and one with an irreverent voice share the value of quality:

  • Professional – “We take pride in delivering the highest quality widgets.”
  • Irreverent – “We take quality widgets seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously!”

Consider some of the most enduring brands – Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Apple… They all have a strong brand voice that is delivered consistently in their messaging. Over time, they have developed “brand equity” – value derived from a recognizable brand name. Consumers will gravitate to them because they know the name and recognize their branding. If they had changed their voice or branding constantly, they wouldn’t have developed that brand equity.

#5. Develop your value proposition

Successful brand strategy requires a clearly defined value proposition (or propositions). These are the main selling points of your brand that help to distinguish you from everyone else.

An effective value proposition should:

  • Tap into the needs of your target audience
  • Describe how the benefits of your product or service are valuable
  • Differentiate your business as the best/preferred choice.

Your value proposition taps into the problems you want to solve for people. It is different to a slogan or tagline because it identifies why you are better than the rest. It may even hint at the reasons why your competitors are lacking. Here are some examples:

  • Uber – “Uber is the smartest way to get around. One tap and a car comes directly to you. Your driver knows exactly where to go. And payment is completely cashless.”

  • Unbounce – “Build, publish and A/B test landing pages without I.T.”

  • Target – “Expect more, pay less.”

#6. Set brand management guidelines

Your brand guidelines help to ensure that you maintain order and uniformity in your marketing messages. These can encompass every aspect of your brand identity, including visual guidelines (images, colors, fonts and logo usage), key messaging and the platforms you will use. It helps to have these guidelines documented so you can easily share them with others who need to understand them.

Here are some of the things you might include in your guidelines:

  • Examples of the types of images that represent your brand
  • Guidelines for where your logo should be used and in what size
  • Your brand story – a simple summary that gives people insight into your brand
  • The users of your brand and how they are to use it (for example employees, partners and agencies)
  • Your key messages and voice
  • Your color palette
  • Your typography
  • Your voice
  • Your website guidelines.
Brand strategy

#7. Cultivate a consistent marketing strategy

With your overall brand strategy and guidelines in place, it’s important to cultivate a consistent marketing strategy. This includes any online marketing strategies along with what you do offline.

Every business needs to be seen consistently – if you’re a small business establishing a brand identity, it’s probably even more important for you than for the big brands. Developing a marketing calendar and sticking to it can help. For example if you’re producing content marketing, this should be on a very regular schedule. The same goes for your social media marketing efforts.

Plan out campaigns throughout the year that will help your brand to cement your positioning. You might not be a large company, but you can generate good growth by staying on-message and being consistent.

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Final thoughts

As a final note, while it’s important to maintain a consistent brand identity as a whole, that doesn’t mean that everything should remain static. Keep an eye on what’s happening in the market as well as any customer feedback you get – you may need to tweak certain elements as you go (your value proposition/s, for example).

Brand strategy should be clearly defined by businesses large and small. It may be your competitive advantage – not all companies have gone through this exercise. What may your competitors be missing?

Social media marketing Social media marketing

How to Create a Social Media Marketing Plan for Your Small Business

Does your small business have a social media marketing plan?

Over the last decade or so, social media has become a key part of marketing strategy for most businesses of all sizes. Those who tend to do well from their marketing efforts are the businesses that have strategized and planned their approach.

Your social media marketing strategy should paint a clear picture of what you want to achieve with your social channels and how you’re going to do it. It’s easier to execute well when you have a plan, right?

Let’s take a closer look at what the core elements of your social media marketing plan might look like:

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#1. Know your current social network status

Before you put pen to paper on a social media marketing plan, you’ve got to know where you’re starting from. If your business is already on social media platforms, do a self-audit to understand how they are doing.

You can look at:

  • The social platforms you are on. Are you posting regularly and are you getting engagement?
  • The audience you are attracting (if any). Are they a good representation of your target audience?
  • Your business presentation on social media sites. Are you communicating what you’d like to be, in the way you’d like to say it?
  • Which social networks (if any) are bringing you the most value?
  • How does what you are doing compare to any competitors?

Gather and hold this information to help you make decisions during the planning process. Importantly, you should also run a check for any “imposter” accounts – those operating under your business name that pretend to be you. If there are any, these can be reported to the relevant social platform.

Social media marketing

#2. Set goals for social media marketing

What exactly does your business want to achieve from social media marketing? Everyone wants some sort of return on investment, what do you consider that to be?

Now that you know your current position, you’re at the first step for beginning a social media strategy. Goals will help you to know what to measure and how to measure it. We like to use the SMART method, indicating that all goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound.

An important part of setting these goals is that they will help you to define the most meaningful metrics for tracking them. There can be a lot of “noise” in social media and it’s easy to get caught up in it, losing track of your real business goals.

Take Facebook “likes” for example. What do they really mean? It’s easy for anyone to quickly click “like” as they scroll by, but this doesn’t tell you that they’re actually engaging with your brand or even that they’re part of your target audience. “Likes” and metrics such as retweets tend to be “vanity metrics” – they feel good to get, but they don’t provide you with anything of substance.

It’s important to stay focused on the things that are meaningful and contribute to your core social media goals. You may even have different goals for different channels – that’s fine, as long as you articulate and measure them.

Some common goals for social media presence include:

  • Driving brand awareness
  • Positioning your business or its people as thought leaders
  • Using social channels to drive traffic to a website
  • Engaging your specific target market
  • Improving customer retention
  • Driving leads and sales.

#3. Know your target audience

“Customers are your best teachers. Learning about your customer’s beliefs, values, and priorities teaches you which selling points you should emphasize.” Mark Goulston

Defining and understanding your target market helps you to hone your social media strategy. Why is this important? Well, there are millions of people on social media and probably just a fraction of them represent your ideal customer. You can waste a lot of time on social platforms, or with curating content that doesn’t attract the right people.

Sometimes people worry about being “too narrow” with their approach. They think that they’ll lose business by ignoring particular audiences. This isn’t usually the case though. For example, if you sell binders for snowboards, why would anyone who is not interested in snowboarding buy them? It’s the sort of product that people who know snowboarding buy for themselves.

From a social media marketing perspective, it’s important to know your customers well so that when you share content, it is selected to be of interest to them. One key part of doing social media well is that you don’t just try to “sell” all the time. You need to be putting up regular content to drive engagement. Without both regularity and engagement, social media platform algorithms start to throttle your organic reach – they assume the audience isn’t interested.

What do you need to know about your audience? Here are a few key items:

  • Their demographic information
  • Any geographic information if relevant
  • What their main interests are (including pages they might be following)
  • What their main problems are.

If you run Facebook ads or any other kind of social media advertising later, this information helps you to segment your audience for those ads. This is a much more efficient use of your marketing spend.

#4. Research competitor social media sites

Do your competitors already have a social media presence? This is a good opportunity for you to learn, not so you can copy them, but so you understand what might work for you. After all, you will have similar user bases, right?

Here are a few tips for researching your competitors:

  • Find which social networks they are on. Look at the numbers on their pages – this can be an indication that the social platform is a good match for the target audience. (Not all platforms will be – you are much more likely to find a 22-year-old on Snapchat than Facebook, for example).
  • How quickly is their following growing?
  • What sort of content are they posting?
  • What is their social media engagement like?
  • How often do they post?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?

To help you out with your analysis, there are some tools you can use for further insights. For example, BuzzSumo will show you the number of social shares they receive, while Brandwatch provides some deeper insights.

#5. Choose your social media channels

Based on your goals and your target audience, decide which social media channels will be the best for your business. As a small business, you tend to have some fairly hard limits on time and resources. This means it’s important to choose your social platforms wisely.

Sometimes people try to do all of them at once, but find that they are overcommitting themselves. What ends up happening is that they’re spread too thinly to conduct any one social platform well. It’s better to pick one or two that you can commit to. The best choice is simply to choose where your target audience can be found.

How will you know? The research you’ve already conducted should have revealed demographic information – this is easily checked against statistics from data companies for social media platform usage. Try Smart Insights or Pew Research, both of whom conduct annual studies.

Importantly when you make your choice, you should also consider the types of social media content you are willing to produce or curate. Different platforms work best for different types of media. For example, there’s no sense in committing to Instagram if you won’t be able to regularly post high-quality images.

Social media marketing

#6. Document your social media strategy

We’re fans of documenting your social media strategy, along with any other business processes. This helps greatly to create a cohesive and consistent marketing plan, no matter who comes and goes in your business. It’s important to keep everyone on the same wavelength.

Your social media plan should be the governing document for “how we do things around here.” You don’t want someone going rogue and posting things to your social accounts that aren’t a good fit for the business.

You can include any or all of the items we discuss in this post, and you should definitely include:

  • The tone or voice to be used in your posts.
  • A description of your audience and what interests them.
  • Post types that are acceptable, or unacceptable.
  • Any policies that you have for engagement. For example, when someone private messages or mentions your Twitter account, how quickly should a response be made? What are the rules of engagement? Are there some things that must be escalated? Are there some types of messages that will get the sender blocked? (As public platforms, ANYONE might be commenting or messaging you!)
  • The goals for social media marketing and the metrics used to analyze them.

#7. Optimize your social media presence

Whether you’re starting from scratch or revamping your current social media presence, it’s always a good idea to optimize your social media accounts. This means setting them up to give the best possible impression, deliver what your audience will need, and get you noticed.

Sometimes this looks different for each individual social media channel. For example, many businesses use Twitter or Facebook for customer service queries or issues, whereas they might be using Instagram stories or Pinterest for sharing company culture or product information. If you have a preference, let followers know how to contact you for help or any other reason. Optimize your social profiles based on your goals for the platform.

At a basic level, optimizing social media platforms means:

  • Ensuring all information fields are filled out. Have you noticed the number of businesses that haven’t included a website link in their social profiles?!
  • Using high-quality images that are sized correctly for the platform. Make sure you have a good profile picture and any other common pictures, such as cover images.
  • Conduct keyword research to find what terms people will use when searching for businesses like yours. Use keywords in your available fields, such as “about.”
  • Using any calls to action you have available. For example, a Facebook Page allows you to have a button CTA – what will you ask people to do?

#8. Share content that engages your audience

In the end, the success of your social media marketing plan is all about your content. If it doesn’t grab your target audience, you won’t get very far. To do this, you need a good understanding of your audience and their intent when they’re using your chosen social media channel.

One of the first things to do is to develop a content calendar for your social media channels. There are tools that can help. For example, use Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule out posts into the future. Just remember that you need to be checking in and responding regularly. You can’t automate engagement!

While there have been questions as to whether using a third-party app for social media posting impacts reach, there have been multiple studies (including this one) to suggest this is not the case. Again we’d emphasize that the point of social media is to be social. You can’t set and forget it if you want to generate audience engagement.

You can look for inspiration from what other successful businesses are doing. For example, check out the Shorty Awards, or look for posts about “the most successful social media campaigns.”

If you’re relatively new to social media, or if your business hasn’t been particularly active, what you post may be a case of trial and error. You can use your best guess based on the data you have collected as to what might engage your target audience, but otherwise, test out different types of posts.

#9. Drive traffic to your social accounts

These days organic reach can be a bit of a lottery. We’ve entered an age when social media platforms are maturing and “pay to play” is here to stay for businesses. It’s still important to post regularly on your social media channels, but if you’d like to drive traffic consistently, you will probably need a bit of help.

A key part of your social media marketing plan should include any paid strategy that you have. Most social channels now have their own paid marketing tool, giving you the chance to reach a wider audience and gather important insights along the way.

Facebook advertising allows you some complex segmentation tools as well as deep analytics for your ads. You can view results during your ad campaigns and make adjustments as necessary.

Besides forms of paid social media marketing, share your social accounts everywhere! You can include “follow us” links for each channel on your website, put links in email newsletter footers or signatures, include them on your business cards, and even share across your personal accounts.

Lastly, we really meant it when we said your content can drive your social media success. If you’re regularly sharing strong content, you start to get people engaging and sharing. This draws more people to your pages, to continue a cycle of drawing traffic.

Social media marketing

#10. Invest in social media tools

As a small business, you have a huge list of responsibilities that fall on you. It’s nice to have social media tools to take care of some of them, right?

The best social media tools help you to stay on top of important data so that you don’t miss anything. They help you to automate key tasks and free up your time to create more of that great content.

It can be a little overwhelming when you start to look for marketing tools. There are now many options and mixes of features. We’d suggest that you start by looking at the little tasks that you need managed and take it from there. Some tools will automate tasks completely, while others will make them a lot easier. Some are purely for social media, while others are for content marketing of all types. For example, there are tools for:

  • Checking on marketing trends and influencers
  • Finding popular content
  • Tracking in-depth analytics (more than social platforms offer as a standard part of their features)
  • Social listening – tracking trends and mentions of names or topics
  • Scheduling your posts
  • Creating or editing images
  • Creating animated videos
  • Setting up “rules” for tasks

The aim is to have your social media marketing plan running as smoothly as possible. You’re human and you get busy – it’s nice to know that doesn’t have to mean dropping the ball with your social media channels.

#11. Stay on top of social network engagement

A big part of improving your organic reach is being consistent and timely with how you engage on social media. We’ve probably all seen those social media accounts where someone asks a question or says something in the comments that really requires a response, only to receive crickets.

What is acceptable in terms of response? Consider these statistics:

  • 45% of consumers turn to social media first for questions or issues
  • 21% would rather message on social media than contact the company over the phone
  • 21% of consumers are more likely to buy from brands they can reach on social media
  • The average user waits just four hours for a brand to respond on social media
  • The average brand takes 10 hours to respond.

Timeliness on social networking sites is critical. Let’s just say you have a potential customer who doesn’t know you very well yet. They message you via one of your social media channels and wait for a response. And wait. Eventually, when they haven’t heard back within a few hours, they check out a competitor and send them a message. The competitor responds within a couple of hours… You get the idea – having a service level agreement (SLA) for responding is important. Even if you can’t respond within a couple of hours, letting people know what to expect helps.

Facebook provides impetus for brands to respond quickly to messages by having a badge which indicates how responsive you are to messages. In order to get the “very responsive to messages” badge, you need to have achieved both of:

  • A response rate of at least 90%
  • A response time of less than 15 minutes.

If you have the “very responsive” badge, all visitors to your page will see it. If you don’t, only page administrators will see your responsiveness statistics.

Besides the messages you receive that require a quick response, it helps to stay active in the comments of any posts too. If someone has something to say, respond and keep the conversation going. When people see that you respond, they’re more likely to engage.

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#12. Test your social media strategy

For most small businesses, your first run at a social media marketing plan won’t be perfect. You’ll learn things along the way that help you to guide your marketing strategy and make changes where necessary.

Tracking your results with your metrics tools (such as Google Analytics) is critical so that you understand objectively how you are performing against your social media goals. It’s also worth noting, sometimes you need to be prepared to wait for results. Established pages with larger user bases see results from posts or campaigns more quickly. It can take a bit of time to build up a regular following – commit to consistency.

Another strategy for gathering useful data is to split test (or A/B test) your campaigns. This involves testing small elements to see what works better. For example swapping out images or text. The Facebook Ad Manager allows you to do this.

Once you have gathered some solid data, analyze it and look for where you can improve. Re-evaluate, re-test and update your social media strategy regularly. Over time, your social media channels can form a key driver of traffic and a valuable asset to your business.