There was a recent post on Branding insider by Mark Ritson, called Death of digital marketing and it got me thinking. There are a great many businesses that will only market online, and totally disregard offline. As a strategy, especially a cost effective one, this is maybe a good idea. Of course it will depend on your market location and industry, but I think that a great many SME’s can focus only online and never really have to think about offline.
One quote that stood out to me in that post was:
“Marketing has been changed, and changed utterly, by the digital deviation. At a tactical level our discipline is barely recognizable as the one that started the new century. But on the strategic plane, it is very much business as usual. We have fabulous new marketing tools to play with thanks to digital but the age old questions of marketing… remain as annoyingly elusive as ever.”
And that is what got me thinking. It’s so very easy for a business to start advertising or marketing online, and they all seem to miss the core components that go into a traditional marketing plan. Rather than give an entire degree’s worth of information in a single post, I want to discuss some concepts that I feel are important for any business that is operating online.
Your brand is not your product
This statement is a little bit of a misnomer really, or even a quantum state question.. Your brand is not your product, but your product is your brand. Now you’re sufficiently confused, I should explain. Your product, what ever that may be, is not the keystone of your brand, it’s just the by-product of it. Let’s take Apple for example, one of their products is the iPad, which is pretty well known, but its not the focus of the brand. It’s got some branding around it, but when you think Apple, you don’t think iPad, you think of a range of products that fit a lifestyle or attitude choice.
On the flip side, Apple have made their brand image their product, they sell the ideas, the lifestyle and the attitude that goes along side the products. Apple still promote their products heavily, everyone knows of them and I doubt that they will ever go away, but more effort is put into creating the brand as the product. Can you think how you can do that for your company too?
Consistency across channels
There are so many channels that marketers can communicate on these days, social, email, live chat, message, video and more. Just because there are so many touch points it doesn’t mean you should be on them, however, the ones you are on, need to have a very consistent theme, tone and style across them all. You must ensure that you have the same style banners and imagery, fonts, colours and design elements on all your collateral. Does your twitter profile image match your facebook profile? No, well you need to fix that. I’m not saying that it needs to be exactly the same, you can be creative and make it slightly different but, your customer need to know that you are the same person on all channels.
The other thing you need to ensure is that the tone is the same across all channels, this may be a little difficult if you’ve got different staff members managing different channels, and in this case you will need to create an official style guide, however, if your company is fun, be fun on all channels. Think about if your brand was a real person, no matter what they posted, you can already tell its the same person based on their tag lines, or messages. Its always got the same personality behind it. Has your company got a personality, when it talks online and is that personality one that would make people want to talk to it?
Find your core competency and make that your difference
This one is the most key component to your entire online branding strategy as it’s the one that will set you apart from the rest. Lets say two companies both sell blue widgets, and you’re one of them, what is going to make you stand out from the rest. The best example of this would be coke, their core competency (thing they do really well) isn’t making soda, its logistics. Getting their product distributed to the furthest reaches of the globe is the key to their success. Pepsi make soda just as well, they all taste as bad as each other and they are both essentially watered down sugar. But the core competency that coke has, makes it the clear winner.
What can you do that is better than your competitors, maybe you have lots of stock, so you can ship faster, maybe you have more payment processing options, maybe you have a crack website development team so you have better security or maybe you have more staff so you can give 24/7 online service. anything you can do that your competitors can not, gives you an edge on others selling the same product, all you need to do is market that. What can you do better than your competition, and don’t say “we have a better product”?
Know your customers and connect with them
This will really help you for the previous points I have raised. Knowing your customers and what they actually want, will better help you refine your branding strategy and also, tell you the right platforms to communicate your core competencies on. You need to do some research, and develop a persona of your customers, which I have talked about in a previous post, you need to find out who they are and what they want.
More than just thinking about them, as if you guess at your customer base, you’re going to be wrong, as your guessing will be coloured by your own personal opinions about your business. You need to do some real research, to get a good idea, then you can start to find where they are online.
If they are business customers, then you may find them on Linkedin or you may find that they respond to email marketing better. Maybe they are young gamers, and they hang out watching twitch gaming streams. There are so many niche places and communities online that no one marketer knows them all, so you need to ask your customers, where are you, and then find out how to communicate with them on their channel. If you had to describe 3 different types of customers you have, could you, and can you back that description up with any data?
Don’t stick to a single plan, measure its effectiveness and change when needed
Lastly, everything on the internet is transient, more transient than you think. Fads and memes come and go, communities rise and fall, peoples interest in things shift and wane constantly and as such, you need to be constantly probing and questioning. If you create a plan on day one, and you stick to it, then you may have success at the start, but very quickly you’re going to become “same-y”.
You need to do an assessment of your current brand and marketing plan and think, has it changed since I created it? Is it different? Have my customers changed at all or have I discovered something recently about them? If so, have I updated my plan to reflect that change?
I hope that this post has helped you, or at least given you some basic questions to ask yourself about what you’re doing online and that in turn, will give you some guidance on how you can move your brand forward online. The key concepts are Know your customers and where they are online. Find your difference from your competition and promote that. Always work on your brand as much as your product, Stay consistent across all the channels that you communicate to them on and be flexible and dynamic in your planning.