Every image, interaction, and word a prospect sees online can build or hurt a new business. For those on small budgets, knowing how to support offline efforts with an effective digital marketing foundation can improve brand awareness and be a direct contributor to the bottom line. Many startups begin with one brand idea and then change and refocus in their first couple of years. Doing so can have disastrous consequences, though. But how do you avoid having to rebrand too soon? A solid foundation can save you time and money down the road.
Lesson #1: Get Personal
One of the biggest branding mistakes you can make is using a cookie-cutter approach to build your empire. It’s perfectly okay to emulate the greats, but don’t make the mistake of riffing off of them entirely. Put a new spin on it to make it seem genuine. Otherwise, people are going to see you as what you’re putting out: an imitation of another brand. Find a way to differentiate material and roll with it. For example, T-Mobile appeals to the young hipster crowd who wants to be unchained from traditional cell services.
Engagement is another crucial step in personalization. If you’re not engaging with your target audience on social media, you’re already behind the curve. Decide what personality your company is trying to emulate, and interact with the public using that persona. Subaru, for example, defines itself as a brand that makes a difference in people’s lives. On its Facebook page, it offers a section for followers to post stories about how their Subaru makes a positive impact on their families.
Lesson #2: Focus on the Big Picture
When you’re coming up with a brand, think beyond your one or five year business plan. Pick something that will work in year 15, 20, and beyond. That means anything trendy is out. You don’t want a hip slogan today that needs to be adjusted in a couple of years. Shoot for something that’s flexible. That’s not to say you can’t tweak your branding image every once in a while, but pick a general direction that’s timeless.To that end, avoid any branding campaigns that feel “tacked on.” When you’re coming up with a branding presence, think about your company’s core values. What do you want to emulate? What does your company stand for? Pick a direction, and stick with it to avoid serious brand blunders.
When we think of clothing mogul Gap, for example, most of us picture timeless wardrobe essentials like cotton tee shirts and quality jeans. So why did it make the switch from an iconic white on blue logo to a trendy modern one?
The public thought this was a headscratcher, too. After an outcry, Gap returned to its old logo, wasting millions of dollars in the process. Lessons learned? Don’t stray from your core values.
Lesson #3: Claim Ownership of Your Mistakes (And Your Successes)
The first rule of politics may be deny, deny, deny, but if you’re in the business world, honesty is the best policy. People crave authenticity in a realm where skepticism rules supreme, so if you make a mistake, apologize. Be contrite, and readily acknowledge your failings, like Pepsi Co did when it ran an ad audiences viewed as racist.
Following appropriate procedure can make the difference between salvaging and destroying your brand:
• Issue the apology immediately. Don’t give the problem time to fester.
• Specifically state what you did wrong.
• Acknowledge how the affected parties are feeling.
• Express genuine regret.
• Take steps to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again.
To the same end, don’t shy away from your company’s successes. Modesty is an admirable quality, but wield it too often and you appear meek. Claim ownership of your company’s milestones, good or bad.
One way to tout your own accomplishments without appearing too arrogant is to issue a media release. Has your company just introduced an exciting new product? Are you in the process of launching your own business? Create a press release that frames your accomplishments tactfully and showcases your experience. Just be careful in how you draft your announcement; you don’t want it tossed unceremoniously into the trash.
Lesson #4: Build an Online Presence
Think of your website and social media presence as the first face you show the world. The right web design can convert visitors into users, and sharing the right link can turn prospects into buyers. Options abound when it comes to your personal website design, but successful ones have a few essential tenets in common:
• Responsive design is a buzzword you hear a lot these days, but it simply means your web page should conform to the device your prospective customer is using. Responsive websites use elements that can adapt to home computers, tablets, and mobile phones. Aesthetic websites are fine, but they’re useless when they can’t adjust to different platforms.
• Simplicity is key when you’re planning your website design. Offer too many choices, and visitors are more likely to hit the back button. Organize your material with landing pages to bolster your traffic.
• Don’t shy away from using analytics. Tracking user metrics can help you identify a target audience. Once you’ve firmly established a core demographic, refine your brand to speak directly to them.
Starting a blog is another easy way to solidify your online presence. These informational sites go a long way to establish you as an authority in your field. Blogging can build trust with your audience and even connect you to potential investors.
To get the most out of your online marketing, curate original content. Google algorithms punish duped material, so make sure your ideas are your own. It’s fine to emulate the experts, but put your own spin on blogs and social media. A surefire way to garner more traffic to your site? Generate content that solves a problem.
Lesson #5: Manage Your Time Wisely
Social media, websites, email, digital marketing… these are all enterprises that take time. If you’re just starting out, you may need to wear all of these hats. This is where automation becomes a key ally. Streamlining your branding processes leaves you more time to innovate – and isn’t that why you went into business in the first place?
• MailChimp is the best resource you can use for email. Create and automate your mailing blasts to potential customers for free. When your business starts to take off, you can upgrade to a paid subscription for more options.
• Schedule your social media posts using free resources like Hootsuite and Buffer. These services systematize your social media, broadcasting to several outlets at once. You can schedule your events ahead of time, maximizing your exposure. If you’re unsure of where to begin, Buffer offers a good introduction to optimal times to post on social media.
Establishing your personal brand takes a whole lot of grit and equal amounts hard work, but it’s a task well worth undertaking. Starting with a solid foundation can save you costly rebranding issues in the future. If you streamline your branding processes, strive to produce a quality content marketing strategy, and claim ownership of your personal successes and failures, you’ve set your startup on the road to a profitable future.
Stephen Moyers is an avid tech-savvy blogger, contributor & online marketing manager. He is associated with Los Angeles based SPINX Digital Agency, which provides a range of digital services like web design & development, website maintenance services, digital marketing and more. He is creative learner at heart with a strong passion for writing blogs on entrepreneurship, startups, online marketing, web design & development and much more. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.