The Importance of a Branding Plan

Brands have played a special part in appealing to the hearts and minds of the consumer. So it seems only natural that a specific strategic plan be implemented for your company, product or service. Creating a brand is not about creating a designer logo, name or slogan. It penetrates deep into the psyche of the buyer and seller.

A company brand represents a face of the company, a promise to deliver quality, and a personality for the business, altogether. The logo, the slogan, the name, definitely help improve the recall value associated with the brand, but it is the actual experience, the customer has with the products and services from your brand that speaks for your brand and sets it, apart from others.

The obvious advantages of branding often calls for a detailed plan to meet the branding and marketing strategy. The very idea of brand marketing sounds intimidating even to the most experienced players. But handled with a little caution, it can work wonders for the entire enterprise.

The right branding plan begins with creating the objective. The objective should clearly define what you intend to do and achieve with your brand. This is what differentiates it from the regular marketing plans, which aim at building sales alone.

The main focus with the branding plan is to impact the minds of the customers in a positive way influencing them and inducing in them, a willingness to embrace the company and it’s product. Positioning the brand attributes (integrity, quality, speed, cost, time, market share) should give it a strategic edge in your chosen categories. Having all of this worked out should allow the brand to enjoy a favorable position in the hearts and minds of your target market and customer base. It is this brand positioning which will be the real test of the plan.

Although creating competitive differentiation, and a commitment to the consumer is the key to a successful branding strategy. No branding plan can be complete without a plan as to how you will deploy it. Your efforts should be tailored for both prospective customers and existing customers. The plan should also include a component for your entire internal organization along with any channel partners you may have. The branding plan helps align the entire marketing process towards creating a focused internal and external narative about why consumers can trust and embrace your company, with respect to the products or services you provide.

Adding the online advantage to your business

With the online world penetrating so deep into our lives, it becomes but a natural choice to use it to promote the business. If the Internet is where your audience is going to spend it’s time, then it is where your marketing has to take place.  Online marketing is also, referred to as Interactive, Internet marketing, web marketing, web advertising, e-marketing etc.  It allows for the blending of creative, design/development, execution and the technical aspects of a project.

As with traditional advertising, it is the strategic creation, placement and timing of ads, that makes all the difference. So the same is with Interactive marketing, the only difference, the Internet is where the audience resides and where you need to be to reach them. So as you can see having a professional website, a blog and creatively developed online business content, can only help proliferate referral and affiliate marketing activities, as online word of mouth advertising.

In the midst the millions of websites, the visibility of your ads may be affected. So a wise decision is to associate your keywords and phrases with search engine optimization and your specific marketing content. Contextual advertisement can help prevent it from getting lost in the growing milieu.  Another market opportunity that allows for a strong advertising environment is social media. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and the likes, have made it possible to connect with the audience on a more personal, as well as professional level.  So, while you are promoting your stuff, you also get the real feel of the market by immediate feedback.

Email marketing has been there for a while now to help us with promotional activities. The best thing about email and interactive marketing  in general, is the tracking of responses, which can a little difficult with traditional marketing initiatives. This gives you an unprecedented advantage over the traditional way of doing business. With Interactive marketing methodologies, it has become easier to identify the target interest and geographical sections of your prospects. And since, what works for one may not work for the other, a more tailored and direct advertising approach can be enabled without having to worry about large incremental expenses.

The future belongs to those, who have adapted to the ways of Interactive marketing. There are many of your competitors who have started very comprehensive plans in this area and many more who have not. Is it time that you joined the list that have?  The underlying principle is simple; if you are not marketing online, you’re NOT reaching the majority of your prospective audience.

Working your way through the online marketing materials

If you’re not on Internet, you’re not relevant. This is the mantra that seems to govern our lives and lifestyle, these days. Although I’m not totally sure I buy that, I do agree this is the mantra that is governing the winds of change in business and most likely will determine the overall success of your small business in the future.

When expanded, these words translate into an effective and dedicated online presence, the one that can help you and your business to connect with its audience on a wider platform. Just as a regular traditional marketing exercise is carried out with the best suited content and materials, the online marketing focus is carried out with the tools best suited to the online environment.

The first phase into the world of the Internet is made by developing  a thorough website. The website represents the face of the entire business on the Internet and its design and content must leave a positive impact in the minds of the visitors. The well designed website, coupled with a blog page to deliver informational content helps build brand credibility. Besides avoiding the cluttering of the website, the blogs can direct a comfortable interaction on specific relevant topics.

Now if you have a great foundation with your website, but are not a part of social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn) as a core online marketing strategy, you may stand to lose a great deal of opportunity. These social portals are the second or rather virtual homes to a majority of your target market theses days. So it is a necessary to build, customize and manage the Twitter, Facebook pages and LinkedIn profiles. Staying connected with the market and your customers is key.

Referral and affiliate marketing also helps businesses spread it’s brand identity and value proposition. Referral marketing is like word of mouth marketing, benefitting both, the referring client and the business. The referral sites make it easier to place your online banners and ads on different platforms and allow for enhanced interest and response generation. So, do the affiliate programs. The affiliate programs allow the related websites and web pages to run the ad’s for you. This provides you wider and more effective visibility online.

Increasing your online presence and visibility is a great marketing tool in itself. High quality promotional videos, audios and graphics can be developed for a modest cost and the return on investment can be well worth the effort. Online blogs, updates, newsletters, catalogs, and brochures can, be created and distributed through various channels like the email, links and your website.  Developing this online content for distribution not only saves you money, it more effectively helps spread awareness about your products or services. An additional benefit is that it helps foster consumer loyalty, trust, in addition to sending out a strong sense of commitment and professionalism from your end.

These online marketing tools can really help drive sales, depending on how well they have been planned, designed and implemented. You might have a compelling product or service, but until it is properly marketed with respect to today’s quickly changing online audience, it may not sell as effectively as it could. So take the steps necessary to refocus your marketing investment in your business to address where your audience is today, the Internet.

Keeping loyal customers and maximizing business value

The world out there is quite competitive. Company’s are ready to jump at the first chance, to help ensure they get there unfair share of the market. And, in this ultra-competitive and ultra-materialistic race for growth, maintaining a sound customer base is critical to insure survival.  The willingness of the customer to stay with your company come what may, is the real key to success. The loyalty has to be mutual. Just as a single loyal customer is preferred over two new customers, the business valuing the loyalty of the vendor, should be preferred over others.

The enterprise should be willing to acknowledge and appreciate the loyalty of those customers that have seen them through the good time and the bad. The customer is not bought they are earned, slowly and steadily by investing in them, by giving them quality services, by listening to their needs. So, your business should continue to work towards retaining the customer base that you have earned, so laboriously. A healthy mix of customer loyalty and customer retention campaigns or programs is recommended for renewing the strengths of the relationship.  Efforts should be made to help ensure retention of those customers so that they won’t move away from you as soon as your competitor announces an alternative option in pricing or performance.

One of the most common practices (beyond un-compromised service) to ensure repeat customers in your business is to announce a simple points systems. The repeat customers are rewarded with points that can translate into attractive discounts, or cash-back rewards. The trick behind such a point system is to keep it simple.

To earn the loyalty of the customer, businesses are also venturing into offering attainable and desirable rewards, based on the depth and breath of product purchases, or amount of time spent as a valued customer. This has been seen in the credit card services industry such as, gold and platinum card owners that enjoy certain special privileges over regular cards. Broadening the product or service base has also worked in favor of businesses aiming to retain their customers. A single point of contact to purchase complementary products or service offerings keep competitors at bay and helps insure customer retention.

Loyalty is built slowly and gradually by keeping in touch with the customer through planned campaigns such as emails, blogs, discussion forums.  Your team should be motivated enough to always present a positive and upbeat attitude when engaging directly and indirectly  with the customer. And on the top of the list is always making sure product and service expectations are met every time. This can happen only when the company is willing to listen to the customers point of view and bring out products and services that meet the needs and demands of the customers base.

All your marketing and operational endeavors should be directed towards having a growing and delighted customer base. Number matters, but then loyalty matters as well, and, the loyalty will translate into numbers gradually. There is no denying that generally, what you give, is what you get. You treat your customers well and they treat you well, in turn.

Viral Marketing Essentials

Broadcasting a message through viral marketing is one of the most effective and widely accepted methods of marketing. Viral marketing involves the creation of unique and quality content that compels people to share it with others. Creating and executing a viral marketing campaign on the other hand is a very challenging task that requires a perfect plan and extensive research.

Here are a few pointers that can help with the creation and execution of a viral marketing campaign

Get an immediate reaction

A diplomatic stand is ideal to use in press releases and interviews, not in viral marketing campaigns. In order to make your content viral, you need to inspire and compel your audience to spreading your content. Viral marketing is all about having strong opinions that address the emotions of your audience. You cannot please everyone. You need to take a stance that gets an immediate reaction from people.

Come up with something out of the blue

People are bombarded with the same old monotonous ad campaigns and other marketing techniques on a daily basis. As a result, people have adapted themselves to tune out the commotion. Instead of trying to promote your product and showing people how cool it is, try something new like how you can use the product very usefully in unusual circumstances or situations.

Viral marketing is not about advertising alone

Everybody crafts unique and creative advertisements and yes some of them do go viral. But, viral marketing is not all about making creative advertisements. You should find newer and less explored avenues to create an interesting story.

Once more

“Once more” this is what your audience will be saying if your content goes viral. Creating a single piece of viral content is good but a series of content that goes viral is one of the best things that can happen. It also insists your audience to act instead of simply appreciating your content. Making sequels is a good idea to quickly gain brand recognition.

Sharing and Commenting

Sharing is caring and the same applies to your brand. Sharing is also the bread and butter of any viral marketing campaign. The easier it is to share your content, the greater is its impact on your campaign. Make sure that you content can be easily shared via email and social networks.

Another important aspect of viral marketing is commenting. Commenting helps you connect with your target audience and as always, a personal touch goes a long way in making any content go viral.

Earn Free Advertising Space on Google

Google ads have been the favorite choice of online advertisers for about a decade now. Google is also one of the most effective display advertisers online. Many inbound marketers have used these ads and other services to their advantage and boosted the reach of their businesses successfully. Google on the other hand has always been trying to give more attention to its local search results and the Google Maps technology. Google Places is the result of the search engine giant’s attempt at enriching its local search. Google Places is something that is essential to every business and it is also one of the most neglected fields in any SEO strategy.

Many online marketers today are using Google Places as an avenue for free advertisement from Google. How are they doing it? By simply getting listed on it.

The pros

Listing your business on Google Places means your business is shown in local search results. You end up increasing your SEO ranking along with getting a free advertisement for your business. In addition to this, your web traffic increases, you get better leads and eventually, your customer base increases. Either way, it’s a win-win situation for your business to get listed on Google Places.

Getting started

Setting up your Google Places listing is a fairly simple job. But it does require some information about your business just like any other ad. Before setting up your listing, you will need to have some information at hand such as

  • A brief description of your business
  • A valid phone number, email, address and any other information that might be useful to your customers.
  • A logo or a photograph of your office so that your customers can recognize your business
  • Finally a special coupon to attract more visitors. Google lets you include a coupon on your Google Places listing for free. Having a coupon is optional but it can significantly increase your sales and also your web traffic.
  • You can also pitch in a few videos and any other information that you want your customers to know.

The validation

 This is the only painful part of having a local listing on Google. Google will not accept the information you provide blindly. You will have to validate your information. While this might seem annoying, it is good on the long run as any fake listing can be avoided. The validation process involves receiving a post card from Google with the next steps written on it. Once you follow these steps your account will be validated and your listing will be made available to the public.

Twitter for Marketing

The micro blogging tool Twitter is popular for its short updates. Twitter was designed specially for mobile phones. Each tweet cannot exceed more than 140 characters. Twitter can be visualized as integrating chat rooms and instant messaging on a single platform. With over 42% of the companies acquiring at least one customer through twitter (according to a recent authoritative report), marketers are now increasingly using this micro blogging tool in their marketing strategies.

Twitter strategies for marketing

  1. Engage your top brass in social media

 Twitter is a great medium to gauge market sentiments regarding your products, make useful connections with customers and bloggers, and employ for PR purposes by tweeting your press releases. In order to do any of these, you need to have your top brass engaging with your audience and Twitter provides an excellent platform to facilitate this exchange. Twitter is ideal for CEOs and other executives as they are always on the move and may not have enough time to post a blog or accept friend requests.

  1. Live updates

 Twitter provides a great deal of flexibility because of its short format. This can be useful for two key purposes. First, you will be able to announce to your audience as an example, any interesting events in a trade show or a corporate lunch. Secondly you can quickly communicate any change of plans that are taking place and much more. Twitter can also be effectively used for last minute marketing.

  1. Stay in touch

Following someone on twitter is very easy and it is also very easy for others to follow you. This means that you can stay in touch with a lot of important people such as bloggers and media persons and let them know of the latest developments in your company. There is a good chance that they will quote your tweet to the world. It helps your marketing strategy as well as your PR strategy and it is easier than sending a bunch of emails and making a dozen calls.

  1. Make important announcements

 Twitter can also be used to get news out about your latest releases, any discount coupons and much more. Many online marketers are using Twitter as a platform to quickly disseminate news and announcements pertaining to their firms. For instance, you can tweet about any special discount currently on offer by your company. News spreads fastest on twitter; this can prove very beneficial if you have any last minute announcements to be made.

Building a Case for Inbound Marketing

Businesses have been relying on traditional outbound marketing strategies for too long. An average person is continuously being bombarded with thousands of advertisements, emails, telemarketing, and many other outbound marketing tools. As a result people have come up with numerous ways to either block out or ignore outbound marketing strategies.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a new innovative marketing strategy used by online marketers to get across to the ‘tougher’ audiences. It focuses on the use of certain non traditional methods such as search marketing, content creation and social media marketing in order to attract visitors by addressing their interests. Inbound marketing can be easily monitored and attract high quality leads to boost sales.

Inbound marketing aims at creating marketing campaigns based on the consumer interests as opposed to traditional marketing strategies that aim at generating interest among consumers based on your campaigns.

Why not traditional marketing?

Traditional marketing involves the implementation of conventional marketing techniques such as email marketing, billboards and commercial advertisements. The conversion rate using traditional marketing techniques cannot be measured easily. Another huge disadvantage posed by traditional marketing strategies is its inability to target potential customers. As the ads are simply shown to a host of people, there is a good chance that your ads may go unnoticed or reach the wrong audience.

Why go inbound?

There is no doubting the fact that people are leading increasingly active online lives. We now rely more on Google, Yahoo or Bing to explore and get information about products.

So it is not surprising that marketers today are investing more money on advertising online. Inbound marketing is one way of reaching out to potential customers – it is a strategy where you try to be found when someone searches something related to you. It is much better than hurling an advertisement on somebody’s face. Marketers today are more interested in being found by their consumers and targeted prospects, rather than seeking out individuals who may not have a need for their products/services.

The internet is no longer a platform of monologues. Social media has transformed the internet into a platform for dialogue between businesses and customers. This is one of the main reasons to opt for inbound marketing rather than the traditional outbound marketing strategies. Inbound marketing helps marketers stumble upon customer interests and modify their marketing campaigns to cater to customer demands.