Strategy & Planning
6 ways a poor brand identity will cost you sales
Our culture is getting more marketing savvy everyday. We can't help it, what with the near 24/7 bombardment of advertising and messages that we're exposed to. It's just not possible to give our full attention to every single message that comes across to us.

So how does a small business get heard? One way is to have a solid, professional brand identity. For smaller businesses, the establishing of a successful brand identity often falls toward the bottom of the priority list. Mostly because they can be kind of a pain, and even worse, they come with a price tag.

I saw Jay Lipe speak at a small biz convention in Minneapolis earlier this spring, and he's got a new book coming out in September called Stand Out from the Crowd: Secrets to Crafting a Winning Company Identity. He's published an excerpt on his blog that addresses this very topic.

He has three very good examples of what can tarnish your brand identity:
  • A poorly designed website that takes too long to load, and is difficult to navigate.
  • A sub-par logo and brochures and business cards that lack professionalism.
  • Front-line employees like receptionists or customer service reps who lack good service skills.

Jay's right when he says that if any potential customers get any sense of doubt about your business's ability to execute, they won't hesitate to look elsewhere.

Don’t undermine all of your company’s other efforts by shooting yourself in the foot with a slapdash company identity. If you forsake developing a truly professional and consistent brand identity for your company, your buyers will:

  • Experience doubt about your company.
  • Be confused about what you do.
  • Fail to understand how your company helps them.
  • Be indecisive about doing business with you.
  • Distrust what your company says.
  • Perceive a gulf between what your company says it does, and what it does.
In short, the very foundation for any company’s marketing effort lies in first establishing a standout identity. With one in place, your company will earn trust faster, benefit from more positive word-of-mouth, enjoy more frequent referrals, attract larger numbers of buyers, craft a more professional image, grow awareness faster and motivate buyers to take action more quickly.

Make an effort to shore up the lapses in professionalism in your identity. Your website needs to read and navigate well. Your marketing materials need to be professional in voice and appearance. It will be a non-trivial outlay of time and money, but one that your customers will definitely notice.

Smart Marketing
6 Steps to Organized Website Content
The fact is that content is what drives your website. Lucia Mancuso has written a very good synopsis of the process of designing the architecture of the content of your site. It's not easy to create a site that's useful. You need to know exactly what it is that your website is going to do for your customers and your business.
One of the most important elements of every website/ blog site is its content. Content is the key factor that your viewers are looking for.

Brainstorm on all possible topics, content, subjects etc… that you may write about on the site. Don’t do this in any order; just let your mind run with it and write down everything that comes to your head. (I like to do this and walk away from it for 24 hrs and then revisit it again).

No matter what industry you're in, your business needs a website. That much we all agree on. But web design isn't where the journey begins and ends. It's what your visitors are looking to learn about you is just as crucial.

Organizing Content for Designing Information Architecture - [The Blog Studio]
Eyes Are Windows To Attention Span
Seth Grodin took a look at an eye tracking video that analyzed what websurfers looked at when they were reading a page designed by Squidoo.

It's interesting to see the different patterns that different readers have. Some are very liniar and some flit all over the screen. There are important lessons to be learned from this study. Grodin points out the one that's most applicable to this blog:

The biggest lesson wasn't news to me, but it might be to your boss: your prospects are not rational and organized and linear. You can't count on them sitting still and hearing your story from beginning to end. They won't.

The answer is not to try to change human nature. It's to embrace the hunting skills that people are bringing online (and to their daily offline media consumption) and to make your media match their needs.

Objectivity is difficult to maintain when you're trying to write and design for your own business and still effectively communicate what's important to your customers in a way that will get and keep their attention.

But bringing in outside creative talent, like a designer or copywriter, can help to maintain that objectivity and create effective marketing materials.
What I learned from eye tracking - [Seth's Blog]
Like A Pirate
Pirates are really big these days, thanks to Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean and national holidays like Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Chris Brogan of took his admiration a step further and began to see the true wisdom hidden the ways of the pirate lifestyle in his article, Work Like A Pirate.

Pirates Live by Results
Plundering, pillaging, and other pursuits aside, pirates are all about getting results. They don’t get paid without a lot of up-front hard work. If you are a pirate, you are striving to accomplish a big score. There are perils, risks, and all kinds of ways that the job can fail. It’s a lot like being part of a startup, only pirates have swords, patches, and parrots.

Taking things a step further, Mike Sigers of
Simplenomics remixed Brogan's idea in his vision, Sell Like A Pirate.

A Pirate Is Not His Ship
Your product or service is only the start. What you can do for or with the customer is the real product. Benefits are the reason we buy anything. I bought a new masonry drill bit because I wanted a hole thru my bricks for my Dish Network cable, not because I wanted the new drill bit.

Learn to sell the end result and not the features and you won’t spend as much time on each sale or worse, as much time lost on not selling.

Pirates didn’t always have the best ships, but they still stole a lot of loot. Even if you’re not the big dawg in your industry, if you’re smart enough, you can still make a boat load of loot.

Sell the Sizzle
Attention Retention
Everyone’s heard the one about the steak and sizzle. It’s an old salesman’s chestnut, but that little chestnut holds a lot of truth when it comes to marketing and persuasive writing.

Your goal as a marketer is to gain and retain the attention of your audience. In the media saturated environment that we live in, a big old list of facts and statistics just isn’t going to hold anyone’s attention for long.

Think back to that teacher you’ve ever had, the one who just read out of the book. Technically, the subject was being taught. But how much of what the teacher said actually stuck? Not very much. And how interested were you while you were in class? Not at all.

But what could you do? You were a captive audience. If you’re trying to sell a product, you don’t have the luxury of an audience forced to sit and listen to your pitch. Would you use the same techniques as that teacher in order to sell your product? If you were the potential customer, would you be buying based on the litany of facts and dates?

Probably not.

Focus On The Customer
A rule of thumb that should always have in the forefront of your mind when marketing is that the focus should be on your customer.

Everyone likes to be the subject of the discussion. It gets us more engaged in the conversation and strokes the ego a little. “Hey you!” always gets our ears perked up.

The challenge is this: You’re marketing your product, right? So how do you keep the focus of your material on the customer but still promote your product? You talk benefits. Facts and stats focus on your product. Benefits focus on what your product does for your customer. Simple as that.

Determining Your Product’s Benefits
Here are a few examples of features vs. benefits using a few items that are on my desk:

Feature: 40GB hard drive
Benefit: Load up your entire music collection and take it with you.

Phone Headset
Feature: Hands-free, over-the-ear design
Benefit: Type and talk at the same time

USB-Powered Scanner
Feature: Draws power through the USB cable
Benefit: Fewer cables to clutter up the office

What are your product’s benefits? Figuring that out might sound easier said than done. So here are a couple of ways to determine your product benefits.

Copywriter Bob Bly describes a method of generating a list of benefits in his book The Copywriter’s Handbook. Take a blank sheet of paper and divide it into two columns. In the right hand column, list a feature of your product. Then ask yourself “What about this feature most benefits those who use it? How does this feature make the product more attractive, useful, enjoyable or affordable?” Go through this process for each feature, and you will end up with a list of benefits.

Another interesting method is written about by Barbara Findlay Schenck in Small Business Marketing for Dummies. Write out a feature. Add “which means”. And then finish the sentence. So you end up with something like, “Steaks are 100% Black Angus beef which means it just tastes better than our competitions’ steaks.”

All Benefits, All The Time?
So, as we’ve discussed, the trick is to focus on bringing forward the benefits of your product. But is that the only thing you should include in your marketing communication? For most products whose target audience is normal, everyday people, yes. Listing features will muddy the water and glaze eyes more often than they’ll peak interest.

An exception is made if you have a technical product, or your target audience is made up of specialists who would be turned off by a lack of hard data when you’re pitching your product. In these cases, you’ll want to consider stirring in a blend of facts and stats to your benefits. For example, if you’re selling a monitor to graphic design professionals, you might want to work something like this in: ‘15.4 inch TruColor monitor with a max resolution of 1900 x 1024, so you can see your work and your customers see the results.’

But it’s rare to see an example of persuasive writing that only focuses on features. It’s just too dry. And there’s too much competition out there for you to risk boring your potential customers.

Related Reading:
Small Business Marketing For Dummies (Amazon)

Illusion of agreement

Via 37Signals: Signals vs. Noise
These Shoes Are Made For Marketing
They say that your first step in marketing communication is made In the shoes of your target customer. You need to figure out why they need the product or service you're trying to sell. Then you need to figure out the best way to go about convincing them to buy it.

How do you figure this out?

Ideally, you would have a team of high-energy market researchers who would jump headfirst into the task, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and staying up all night long, never slowing down until they presented you with the manila envelope brimming with the key to market dominance.

Don't have a team like that? Then you'll have to work with what you have. Ask your sales force and ask your customer service people. They've had direct interaction with your customer base, and they'll have discovered quite a bit about the people who buy your product. Lacking that, go with your instincts. If they're wrong, then make the appropriate adjustments, and get it right.

You'll learn to speak their language. You'll learn what's important to them. You'll learn what they know about you. Step into their shoes and determine what about your company and your product will get them to take out their wallet.

Customers...what do they know?

Here are a few questions that will get you started thinking about your target customer:

What do your target customers know about you?

Have they heard of you?
Do they know what you do?
Do they know how or where to buy your product?

And if they already know you...

What do they think of you?
What do they see as your position in the market? Could they pick your product out of a line-up?
Do they have a clear idea of your brand?
The Creative Brief
Briefly, The Creative Brief

If the first step in creating a successful marketing communication is deciding WHAT your project is going to accomplish, this creative brief explains HOW it's going to do it.

This is a vital component to develop when you're working with a copywriter, but even if you're going the DIY route, the creative brief is a must-have. Without it, you'll be unvaccinated against The Vague Plague, enemy of all copywriters, everywhere.

Avoid Vague Like The Plague

Symptoms of the Vague Plague include, but aren't limited to the following:

1. Unclear information
2. Misinterpreted facts
3. Unspecific ideas

Ask Your Copywriter About A Creative Brief

The Creative Brief is the inocculation you'll need to fend off the Vague Plague. The Creative Brief is simply a list of questions intended to help you focus on your goal.

When I'm meeting with a client for the first time, I email them a variation of my creative brief a few days before we're scheduled to sit down together. I do this for a couple of reasons:

1) To let them know what we're going to be talking about during the meeting, so it's not a complete surprise
2) To get them thinking about their project.
3) To make the meeting a little easier for the both of us: I understand what they're hoping to accomplish, and they understand what information I need to help them accomplish it.

Ideally, if I've done my job well, I'll walk out of the meeting with a fully formed creative brief in hand and I can start work on the project immediately.

Here's the list of preliminary questions I use to generate a creative brief:

Syntax Dance Quickstart Questionnaire

About the Company:
What makes your business, product or service unique?
What are your company's short- and long-term goals?

About the Competition:
Who is your major competitor?
Where do you rank in the industry?
What do you do better than the competition?

About the Target Audience/Customer
Who is your target customer?
What issues are important to your customer?
How does your product benefit your customer?

How do you currently market your product?
Do you have company tagline or slogan? Have you considered creating one?
If money weren't a factor, what would your ideal marketing campaign be?

Who is the target audience of this project?
What are their 'hot buttons?'
What is the purpose of this project?
What are the main points to convey in this project?