Writing a brand and marketing plan

No business is immune to planning. All the company plans, activities, and actions, are directed for the sole purpose of achieving a positive ROI and the advancing momentum of broader positive brand recognition. Proper planning should translate into generating brand and customer loyalty, repeat purchases, and spreading awareness.

A perfect plan assists not only with these explicit objectives, but also covers, many implied objectives. The list of benefits for a sound brand and market plan however long, always starts with backing into profitable sales results.  The plan has to be properly thought out with input and recommendations from the entire team. In addition no brand loyalty or market strategy can be developed in isolation from current market conditions. Business strategy and planning should account for the competitor’s strategies, as well.

Market dynamics like mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, trends in consumer behavior, all affect the way the plan is designed and implemented and this is where introspection comes in handy. Where the company stands, where its competitors stand, what are the strengths that it can utilize and what are the shortcomings it needs to work upon, are all elements of the plan.

Commonly known as SWOT analysis, (strength, weakness, opportunity, threats) it can help get a realistic picture of the business.  Based on this factual assessment, one can easily chalk out the marketing, the IT, branding and the financial inputs needed, that will also be incorporated, in developing a proper plan.

No plan can be implemented, without developing concrete strategies and tactics. The plan should answer the what, when, how and why of the service, product, packaging, distribution, and promotion.

All these planning elements should also be aligned being mindful of what type of consumer behavior you are trying to create, with respect to brand and company loyalty. The plan should also be realistic in it’s goal.  A reasonable stretch is a good thing, but raising the bar to high does not do any justice for either those who are responsible for executing it, or the company.

As discussed in the last blog, placing and positioning the brand in the minds of the customers takes place within the attributes of the brand and the category of competition. If a company is able to show that it outshines other competitors, that it is different from its contemporaries, it enjoys a favorable position with the customer base, then the plan should account for these positioning factors, as well.

Obviously without proper metrics such as the tracking and control of the plan, without budgetary adherence and feedback on the plan, no plan can be successful. The company always benefits, with a sound plan in place and with the right kind of branding and the right kind of marketing, it can target the desired audience with more likely results in the company’s favor.

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.

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.

Great new marketing content coming from i2i Webmedia

We will be posting great interactive marketing content three times a week aimed at helping small business owners better understand how to drive more business to their doors

Stay tuned  and Thanks


The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.

Therefore it makes sense to understand that branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.

The objectives that a good brand will achieve include:

  • Delivers the message clearly
  • Confirms your credibility
  • Connects your target prospects emotionally
  • Motivates the buyer
  • Concretes User Loyalty

To succeed in branding you must understand the needs and wants of your customers and prospects. You do this by integrating your brand strategies through your company at every point of public contact.

Your brand resides within the hearts and minds of customers, clients, and prospects. It is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence, and some that you cannot.

A strong brand is invaluable as the battle for customers intensifies day by day. It’s important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand. After all your brand is the source of a promise to your consumer. It’s a foundational piece in your marketing communication and one you do not want to be without.

Laura Lake

Ten Steps to Doubling Print Advertising ROI With Digital Marketing

Advertise With Greater Confidence Knowing You’re Maximizing Your Response Rates

“Half my advertising money is wasted. The problem is that I don’t know which half”, said William Lever, founder of Lever Soap Company back in 1886. Sadly, well over a century later, it’s estimated that 50 percent of advertising budgets are still wasted on programs that don’t produce a meaningful response. Yet, marketing executives are being held increasingly accountable to deliver greater, more predictable, and measurable returns on investment from their advertising spend, according to Forrester Research.

While some marketers grow increasingly frustrated with declines in response rates to their traditional print advertising and shifting their focus to digital channels, others have discovered how to “crack the code” and are achieving new highs in response rates and returns on investment through properly integrating the offline and online channels. This guide aims to provide the practical, yet frequently overlooked, tips and critical action steps to dramatically increase the response rates and maximize the returns on investment from print advertisements.

1. With so many distractions today, capturing customers’ attention with an ad has become as much science as art. While a great picture can tell a thousand words, studies show that wondering eyes automatically gravitate more towards pictures than words. Use a relevant, high contrast image that supports your core message. So don’t make your audience “work” – read more than is absolutely necessary. Use a picture whenever possible to enhance your offer. Pictures of people and smiling faces are very  effective.

2. If your image succeeds in capturing your readers’ attention, the rest of your ad copy must gain and keep their interest – that’s where your headline plays a pivotal role. Think of your headline as “an ad for your ad”. Its sole purpose is to captivate your audience and “sell” them on reading the rest of your ad copy. Eyes automatically gravitate towards large, bold text. Therefore, be sure your headline stands out from the rest of the ad copy. Focus on your offer’s key benefits. Most readers are “skimmers” and will make a split-second decision about whether or not to keep reading. A “skimmer” should be able to get the “gist” of what the ad is about by the picture and headline (and subtitles if applicable). Books have been written on the topic of writing effective headlines. Refer to a few and them by your side for creative inspiration.

3. Readers are “skimmers”. Avoid long, small-type paragraphs. Instead, bullet out your offer’s benefits whenever possible. Newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal are written at an 8th grade level to make the content easier to consume. So present your offer’s benefits in an easy-to-digest manner. Use color and call-outs to deliver the most relevant points.

4. If your ad succeeds at capturing your audience’s attention and interest, be sure to provide a clear, concise call-to-action; tell them what to do next. Don’t leave it up to them to guess what they should do next. If you want them to call a phone number or visit a website, say so. And be sure to include the benefit of doing so. An extra incentive  can instantly increase response rates. For example  by applying an expiration date to your CTA, you can instill a sense of urgency and further increase response. If you’re selling flowers, for example, your CTA might be to visit your website and offer a coupon code with an expiration date.

5. Providing readers multiple options to respond to your ad can not only dramatically increase your overall response rates but also increase the value of your response. A Direct Marketing Association study found that customers who buy from two channels (vs. just one) are between 20 and 60% more valuable, while triple-channel buyers are 60-125% more valuable. Ads that provide readers the option to respond by calling a phone number or by visiting a web page tend to get higher responses than identical ads that offer only a single option.

6. Displaying your main company phone number in your ad is sure-fire way to keep yourself guessing about the performance of your ad. Instead, use unique phone numbers with call tracking. By assigning a unique number to each of your ads, you can accurately test and measure which ads generate the best response. You can view reports to analyze the data and adjust your advertising to increase the overall ROI. This is critically important for new ad campaigns.

7. Most advertisers today already get it. Displaying a website address in a print ad increases response rates. But where many ads fall short is by display the link to their website home page. For better results you can measure and repeat, drive customers to a unique web page, specifically designed to complement your ad, also known as a “landing page” or “micro site” using a personalized URL, or “PURL”. This method is proven to provide a better user experience and increase conversion rates. Sending customers to your home page and making them hunt through your website for the offer they’re interested in is a sure way to aggravate them and lose sales.

8. Studies have shown that the majority of prospects don’t convert into customers the first time they’re exposed to a brand, product or service. Conversions increase over time as prospects are repeatedly exposed to an offer. Since the majority of visitors to your landing page won’t immediately convert, provide an incentive that gains you their contact information.

8. Assuming 5 percent of visitors to your landing page immediately convert and another 10% take advantage of an incentive and share their contact information, you’re building a highly valuable database of prospects and customers. Nurturing those prospects with routine email offers further increases conversions over time – effectively increasing the ROI from your print ad.

9. The saying, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” doesn’t ring more true when it comes to direct response advertising. Create variations of your offer using live A/B tests to determine the best response. You might determine mid-campaign that one version of your landing page is clearly outperforming the other and redirect all traffic to the winner to maximize conversions. To make all this possible you must, of course, properly install and configure a web analytics program and understand how to interpret the data. Using PURLs, you can clearly see how visitors behave; how long they stay, where they click, how many convert, etc.  – providing you the hard data you need to eliminate the guess work.

10. Properly analyzing the data contained in web analytics and performance reports will clearly indicate how visitors respond to a given offer and interact with the content. This valuable insight can then be confidently applied to the design of future print ads to incrementally improve response rates and maximize advertising ROI.

While any one of the above tactics can produce immediate measurable results, you can expect the greatest positive impact from a comprehensive approach. I hope you’ll gain value from this guide and that you’ll advertise with greater confidence.

AIS Media Feb 10 2011