Note: This is part 2 of 2. Access Part 1 here.
7) Stop Being Reactive With Your Brand and Marketing
In my industry there’s a rule of thumb: If you wait to practice marketing and advertising until you actually need it, you’re already too late. As a practicing Chief Creative Officer at a creative advertising agency, I see more than my share of clients waiting until the last minute to call us with near impossible deadlines, scrambling to produce that TV spot, design that trade show display, or launch a time sensitive ad campaign. In marketing as in marksmanship, It’s always better to aim before you fire. The reason you, and many others, wait until the last minute is because you hadn’t correctly prioritized the importance of marketing. Another main culprit (which will continue to rear its ugly head) is the lack of a full definition of your brand and marketing strategy. Want to get ahead? Then get ahead of your brand and marketing.
The solution: If possible, briefly pause all non-essential marketing and branding efforts and host a brand definition session (a retreat is even better), followed by creating a marketing calendar for the entire upcoming year. Use these tools to produce the proper campaign and associated creative assets. Analyze. Improve. Repeat.
6) Stop Using Stock Photos And Cookie Cutter Designs
Like you, your business is a unique little snowflake. Sure, I’m being sarcastic, but there is also some valuable truth to this. Today’s consumer is quite savvy and can see your website is a template, and that picture on your website of the “staff” gathered around a table, smiling and pointing to a computer, is in fact, a group of eastern European stock photo models. Using this kind of stock is an outright lie. Not investing in actual photos of your staff, offices, vehicles, menu items, or in-situ experiences actually denies the opportunity to create an accurate portrayal of who you are as an organization and make an engaging emotive connection. Remember, people buy from the heart and justify with their brains, and stock images can offend both. If you are forced to use stock because your business doesn’t have the right space, people or products, your problems are much bigger than your lack of image and video assets.
The solution: Hire a photographer and graphic designer to create proper brand assets and place them in a brand asset library. Do so in a way that allows an image to be platform agnostic and therefore usable in a wide variety of channels, from print collateral to social media account backgrounds. Believe me, you’ll get your money’s worth. If you must use stock, at least have it customized to some degree through the magic of Photoshop, and make sure it’s on brand.
5) Stop Considering Marketing Overhead
One of the things I’ve noticed over and over is that many business owners and stakeholders have a problem distinguishing between costs and opportunity cost. They also can’t separate overhead from potential investments. Your light bill? Overhead. Your fuel costs? overhead. Your machinery? Your phone system,computers, servers and all that tech stuff? Overhead. Your staff? Mostly overhead (except the sales team). All these things are designed to do one thing: fulfill the business transaction by producing the service, product or other end-result. Marketing (and your sales team) is the insurance policy that keeps the new sales prospects walking through the door and the money flowing to pay for the overhead and producing profit.
The solution: Set aside a proper marketing budget (5-15%, depending on your industry) and consider it the cost of doing business, knowing that if utilized properly, that it will pay for itself quickly, and many times over. Review the results month over month, quarter over quarter, and year over year, then adjust accordingly.
4) Stop Asking The Same Questions Over And Over
Like Sisyphus pushing that same proverbial boulder up that same proverbial hill again and again, you and members of your organization spend countless hours inefficiently retreading the same ground, especially when it comes to utilizing your brand. What font should we use on this mailer? What color should we use for this Call-To-Action button on the new landing page? What image is best for this ad? Who should this blog article target? What perspective should it be written from? Blah, blah, blah…There are only 3 ways to make more profit, and gaining efficiencies is one of them. Remember the old adage about the definition of madness….?
The solution: Do yourself and everyone within your organization a solid and develop brand guidelines. Make sure they are complete enough to be effective (including voice, tone, personas, messaging, USP, color usage, font usage, etc.), yet succinct enough to be usable. Then return to this eternal well again and again, using it’s content to inform many of these daily decisions. Paired with the content and marketing calendars and strategies I referenced earlier to create a very powerful toolset. Note: Still not powerful enough to replace critical thinking.
3) Stop Ignoring Your Analytics
In the advertising, branding and web design business we make a lot of initial, educated assumptions. Sure, we may have tons of collective experience and do the right research, but in any new project, campaign or relationship there will innately be uncharted territory. We take our very best, sophisticated guess on behalf of our clients, put in the hard work and launch. Then we sit back and wait for the results. For many, that’s where it ends, and that’s a crime. One of the great things about digital marketing is that every single touchpoint can be recorded, analyzed, and reported and therefore improved, but only if this powerful tool is utilized. Your website and digital campaign analytics contain a wealth of information that, if properly extrapolated, can lead to actual wealth.
The solution: The first step is to ensure that all your websites have the appropriate basic analytic software (such as Google analytics) installed. There are lots of other third party analytical tools that are helpful as well, including heat mapping, inbound customer conversion (such as Hubspot), and email tracking. In addition, all of the major social media platforms have useful analytics dashboards as well. To glean the insights, have a professional produce a monthly report that contains not only significant data indices, but also a meaningful plan to improve future results.
2) Stop Blending In With Your Competitors
Either your business falls within a model familiar to your clients, or it is disruptive. Odds are, it’s the former and therefore you probably have some competition. All familiar business models have an expected paradigm with elements that clients anticipate, and therefore should be acknowledged to some degree. Beyond that initial nod to those expectations, emphasis should be placed on what makes your offerings different, and better, than everyone else’s in your space. So why look like everyone else in your industry? Are you a walking platitude? A cliche with a pulse? Are you a commodity with no meaningful difference from the business down the block? People are drawn to the interesting, the novel and the compelling. Not to the ordinary, every day and boring. What makes you different? (You’re not allowed to say “customer service”, everyone says that and very few actually do it properly.) I often joke with my potential clients, who are in more conservative industries, that their industry paradigm comes in 3 flavors: vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla bean. C'mon, man, can I at least get some sprinkles?
The solution: Once again, define your brand, your message, and your identity. It is important to not create a false facade, as your customers will eventually see through the bullshit. An accurate and truthful combination of who you are as a company culture, calibrated in a way that appeals to your niche demographic, and polished for posterity. Borrow models from other industry models and give them a twist. Prepare an experience for your clients that is delightful and different, while being careful not to appear gimmicky. Done successfully, not only will you be the obvious choice, but they’ll be repeat customers and spread the word about you. Oh, and if you have a cliche logo, replace it. Quick.
1) Stop Thinking That Customer Service Begins At The Point Of Sale
Because it occurs chronologically, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your sales cycle is linear, and that that proper customer service should kick in after the sales process begins. Most of the time it’s too late by then, as you never got the call to do business in the first place, either because you weren’t on their radar, or because they disqualified you for some unknown reason. Customer service is not a thing, it’s EVERYTHING. In fact, it should be called 'Customer Experience'. It should begin before the potential customer even knows your name. It should be laying in wait before they even know they have a need for you. Hell, it should be the reason they have the perception of that need in the first place. Customer service should emanate from every single customer touchpoint in the sales cycle, starting at awareness and lasting the duration of the relationship. If the sale is strictly transactional in nature, customer service should extend beyond fulfillment and manifest itself into good old fashioned referrals and the transformation from a customer into an ambassador.
The solution: Be prepared for you customers. Build your brand around their needs. Be cohesive in your collateral. Roll out the red carpet at every possible opportunity. Hire the right people, especially those on the client facing side. Provide delight at every possible stage on the path to, and far beyond, the purchase. Make sure your website is ideal, on EVERY device, because that include’s device they are on. And always, always, under promise and over deliver. Want to be remarkable? Be worthy of remark.
That list of sixteen don’ts should keep you busy for duration of 2016. Once you’ve gotten those basics right, then, and only then, are you allowed to innovate, disrupt and dominate your space. Needs some help? I know a guy. You bring the vanilla, I’ll bring the sprinkles.