Direct mail is back, but it’s a new version of those boring old letters. It’s the new way to reach high-value prospects with personalized messages.
Brand is something we used to talk about all the time. Though it may not dominate conversations anymore, its importance has never diminished. But the brand conversation has evolved. It’s grown from the way your company is perceived to the way you, the owner, are perceived. In an era of personalization, you also need to create a personal brand.
So how is a personal brand different from your business brand?
According to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” With the advent of social sites, personal branding has become a fundamental part of the landscape. A personal brand is how you present yourself to the world. Separate from your company brand, it should also complement it.
Oprah may be the goddess of personal branding
Oprah’s continually building equity in her brand, estimated at $2.5 billion. She has always stuck to her core competency: Challenging her millions of viewers to live the best lives possible by understanding their potential. By being true to herself, Oprah has inspired millions to be their best selves. And really, how can you not love Oprah?
Think of Richard Branson: Smart, rich and wildly successful–a great personal brand
Richard Branson is one of the most visible, successful and well-known men of our era. He has stayed true to his core values, seeking adventure and taking some big-time risks. By being himself, he has often done exactly what other business leaders cautioned against. He’s not afraid of crazy publicity stunts like dressing as a flight attendant for a competing airline. His unorthodox style and commitment to his passions have helped him create a powerful personal brand. “Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character and no public trust.” You have to hand it to Branson–this formula has worked well for him!
Humanizing your brand builds trust
Particularly for small businesses, putting a real, human face to a brand name helps develop the loyalty and trust that are fundamental to building relationships. Think about your website, specifically your Aboutpage. Does it tell a story about you? This is where we go to find out about the people with whom we’re going to be meeting, talking or potentially working. We’re looking for something special; something personal that elevates the person we’re going to meet. We’re also seeking commonality–shared interests and/or passions that will help us feel connected—it could be anything–sports, gardening, biking, hiking, travel, schools, our kids’ activities or our pets.
It’s not enough anymore to create a company brand
Our social channels have forever changed the landscape. With phones as our constant companions, people are now sharing their lives online. For many, it’s way too much of their lives. There is a need to constantly be proving that we lead impossibly busy, fascinating lives. Think about the information you’re sharing across your social channels. Your online narrative should be consistent with how you want people to think of you.
I’ve been working with group of engineers on a website project that includes rewriting their content. I’m trying to make technical language accessible; they’re stuck on engineerspeak. Happily, we’ve been able to compromise!
We’re developing case studies that clearly demonstrate how they’ve helped their clients automate processes that save money, eliminate waste and grow their businesses. A company that’s been around for more than 20 years with an impressive client list of big brands, including Tesla, they’re competing in today’s red-hot robotics market.
Building trust through real-world examples
A case study showcases how you work with your clients. It’s a chance to demonstrate your problem-solving skills, breadth of experience and efforts to go the extra mile to make sure your clients are happy. Convey credibility by highlighting a real company with real metrics. If the information is confidential, describe the company without using its name.
These days, good marketing tells a story
One thing that hasn’t changed is that when it comes to marketing and sales, it’s still all about relationships, and we need to reach our audience on a visceral level. Speak to the pain—the real-time challenges. Showing how your services helped another company is a powerful way to connect with a potential new one.
Case studies follow a formula
A case study follows the traditional story format. You should be able to do this in a few hundred words. Include a client testimonial for additional validation. Include the following:
- Company introduction
- The problem/challenge
- How they found you
- What you’ve done to solve the problem
- Successful conclusion
Look for ways to get more exposure for your case study
Of course you want to post this to your website, hopefully to the Case Studies section, but look for other ways to position case studies to help tell a story.
- Add client recommendations to your Testimonial page.
- Search your website for appropriate places where adding a call-to-action (CTA) to view your case studies is relevant.
- If your homepage has marketing modules or banners, swap these out on a regular basis with a headline and link to your case study page.
Sales collateral and event handouts
Include case studies in any print or online sales and event collateral. Tailor these by industry to help customize your content. Keep them short and accessible. Use a testimonial as a pullquote/graphic for visual appeal. If you’re participating in an event or trade show, prepare a few case studies as handouts.
Add a case study to your email signature line!
Okay. How long has it been since you took a look at the stuff that lives below your signature on your email? Think about using this space to feature a case study. Something like “Read about how we helped our engineering clients increase their 2018 revenue” and include a link.
Considering a video?
Videos enhance SEO and millennials love them. They’re particularly effective when used as testimonials.
Having trouble developing your own case studies? Let me help you develop stories for your marketing program.
I’ve begun noticing that even the holdouts have started including emoji in personal texts and emails. And why not? They’re fun, they’re whimsical, they brighten up our messaging. Emoji can help convey emotion and personality; they help tell a story and build relationships. Think of emoji as virtual body language that helps us understand intent.
Emoji have transcended personal communications; they’ve entered the business arena
Business push notifications—newsletters, email blasts–that include emoji in their subject lines are opened a whopping 254% more often than those without the digital smiley faces and icons, according to a Leanplum study provided to Mobile Marketer. The response to notifications that include emoji is three times higher than it was last year. I’m not the only one who is ramping up to emoji!
- Email messages with emoji in the subject lines are opened 66% more often than those without. The average number of emoji used per message has doubled in the past year.
- While emoji were once derided as unprofessional for business communications, brands are steadily incorporating them into marketing messages to attract consumers’ attention and convey more meaning and emotion than what words alone can provide.
- Leanplum’s study of open rates for push notifications and emails demonstrates that emoji help capture mobile users’ attention amid the flurry of text-based communications. A women’s clothing retailer saw an 81% lift in open rates and a 363% surge in revenue from outgoing messages that contained the icons.
- Emoji have shown massive influence on internet communication. Last year, according to Facebook, more than 60 million emoji were sent every day on its core social network, while five billion were sent via its Messenger chat platform. As people and brands grow more comfortable using emojis in everyday communications, these numbers will increase.
- July 17 is World Emoji Day. The organizers present awards such as Best New Emoji, Most Anticipated Emoji, Excellence in Emoji Use and which emoji best represents 2018 as Emoji of the Year.
- The first emoji was created in 1999 in Japan. Since then, the collection has grown to more than 3,000 unique icons.
- Yes, there is an emoji newsletter to which you can subscribe. Look for an estimated 157 new emojiscoming to major platforms throughout 2018.
Here’s something I’m betting you didn’t know
In an effort to be politically correct, you can change the skin color of emojis. Really.
- Tap the “People” emoji section by tapping the smiley face option at the bottom of the emoji
- Hold down the emoji face you want to change and slide your finger to select the skin tone you want.
- The selected emoji will stay that skin tone until you change
A few words of caution about emoji usage
Emojis are appropriate for some business emails in the same way that jokes are okay in some job interviews. Know your audience. Avoid emojis if it’s a new acquaintance or if you’re uncertain how someone will respond. Keep in mind that not everyone loves a smiley face.
I suggested to one of my clients that we create infographics for several fairly complex processes described on our website. “Great idea!” I started working in Apple’s Pages, then remembered someone’s telling me about Piktochart, an online tool for creating infographics, posters and presentations. I created an account, logged in and began designing.
What a nice surprise–this tool is ridiculously easy to use!
You can use the free version or upgrade to the paid version. I used the poor man’s version and found that there’s plenty of functionality.
- You can choose from about eight infographic templates. Unlike some program templates, these are completely customizable—you can delete features, change colors and fonts and reconfigure.
- None of the templates really worked for me. I’ve had quite a bit of graphics experience, so I created my infographicsfrom scratch. Take some time to Google for infographic designs that fit your needs.
- There is a full complement of fonts. It’s easy to change font size, color and both line and letter spacing.
- Something I really love: Text blocks autosize. When you add or delete text, the block automatically changes to fit the new space—no manual adjusting.
- The site comes with a fairly robust library of images/icons and photos, though the number of business photo images is limited.
- The drag and drop feature is a breeze. If you have an image on your desktop, just drag it into your infographic and it autoloads in the application’s Uploads section—a single, seamless step.
- The line tool is a limitation.The free version provides only a dotted line that is a bit hard to manipulate, but it’s a small complaint.
I’m delighted with my infographics and plan to add these to my own website and suggest them to other clients. It’s not surprising that infographics, the visual representation of data, have surged as such an important medium. Good marketing tells a story, and infographics help make our messages clear and accessible.
Infographics work because 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual
According to a report by a New York visual communications company, Infographic World, visuals are known to improve learning and retention by a whopping 400%. This is due to our frighteningly short attention spans and the fact that we absorb information faster by reading and seeing concepts with corresponding graphics. Images also trigger an emotional connection.
A few more reasons to love infographics
Infographics help break down large chunks of data into coherent, manageable content bites and simplify complex processes.
- They answer specific business questions and facilitate decision-making.
- The chance of an infographic’s going viral is much higher than that of plain text content.
- SEO value. The viral nature of an infographic means that Google will index your website higher due to Google’s page-rank algorithm, increasing the importance that search engines place on your site.
Infographics don’t replace well-written content; rather, they’re an adjunct. Infographics facilitate learning and foster greater understanding of complex concepts. Now, they’re easier to create with Piktochart.
It can be difficult to commit to a sustained marketing effort
We’re impatient and want to see immediate results. But I’ve been working with an Oakland construction company for more than five years and they’re an example of the way in which a thoughtful, committed marketing effort produces results. We began our relationship as we all were digging out of the recession. The economic downturn was particularly hard on the construction industry—many contractors simply closed their shops and walked away.
Making the most of our marketing dollars
Our challenge was making the most of our small marketing budget. We did some market research and were gratified by the responses:
- We had good name recognition and were recognized for doing high-quality work.
- Our clients spanned sectors, but we were recognized more for residential remodels than for the commercial, nonprofit and public works projects that were our new business focus.
Using a good-sized email list, we began doing a quarterly newsletter. We wanted to remind existing clients that we were still out there doing a wide range of work, including structural upgrades.
Showcasing our work
We know that showcasing our work is an important investment. It is a line item in our budget, and we include a photoshoot with every project, adding descriptions and images to our website. We found a wonderful local photographer who is delighting us at every shoot.
Supporting key nonprofits
We identified a few local nonprofits and help support their annual fundraisers. The investment is relatively modest, and we’re courting our demographic—small commercial and high-end clients.
Along the way, we converted our website to a mobile-friendly version. Better, but a Band-Aid rather than a solution. Last year, we finally upgraded to a beautiful new WordPress site. I wrote new content, and we reengineered the navigation to showcase our projects. We keep our News page updated with our press releases and community activities.
Testimonials, new collateral and targeted advertising
Once a project is completed, I follow up with clients to ask them for testimonials, which I post to our website. Every client with whom I’ve interacted has been happy to help us; our clients rave about their professionalism, craftsmanship, well-run job sites and on-budget, on-time delivery. We belong to our industry’s national networking group and we hosted one of the monthly events—good food and wine help to build relationships and open doors. I designed and printed new collateral to use when meeting with potential new clients. We’ve also begun advertising in a small local publication that targets our audience. We’ll swap out this ad every few months to keep it fresh. This has been a cumulative effort that has steadily increased the visibility of a company that is doing superb work.
No one ever thinks about Santa as an experienced business owner, but he’s been running a wildly successful enterprise for well, forever. So before the holiday crunch, I invited Santa to sit down over cookies and cocoa. I wanted to pick his brain for the secrets to his long-running success. I’m a pig. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity, so I also asked for a red Tesla. I’ll let you know about the Tesla at a later date, but here are some thoughts from that great entrepreneur now.
Find a niche. Define your audience
“When we started out,” Santa explained, “I wanted to deliver a gift to every person on the planet. Mrs. Claus wisely advised that I was thinking too big. ‘Don’t try to be all things to all people,’ she said. ‘Focus on a smaller group.’ We settled on children who celebrate Christmas and were well-behaved.” Great advice. You have a much better chance of succeeding of you identify a specific market segment. Everybody is not the right answer.
Start lean. Identify your core product or service
“I had dreams of developing all kinds of toys, I was seriously undercapitalized,” said Santa. “Being cash-strapped actually worked in our favor. It forced me to focus on launching one core product first–just basic wooden blocks. But that established my reputation. Over time, we expanded, based on feedback from real customers. When you start out, get your product or service out the door and later make improvements. Those blocks are still a hit, especially with our youngest demographic.”
Develop a business plan. Make this a working document
Part of Santa’s wild success stems from his careful planning, ability to execute and remain nimble. “When kids started playing on digital devices,” said Santa, “I lost weight, I was so worried. How was my workshop going to survive?” Santa and Mrs. Claus sat down and came up with a plan. They hired a team of tech elves to develop electronic devices and apps. He’s been so successful that both Mattel and Hasbro gave Santa buyout offers. “I don’t want to sell out, and I’m already a spokesman for Coca-Cola.”
Watch your cash flow. Make realistic projections
“We do 100% of our business on one day, December 24th. But we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and months preparing for that day. We have a very detailed and aggressive production schedule. We purchase our materials in August, the elves start crafting toys in September, and despite my best efforts, I always end up getting killed with overtime in December. I also have fair amount of overhead. I have to board the reindeer year-round, Rudolph’s nose keeps shorting out, and vet bills are crazy.”
Santa’s tips for managing your cash-flow
- Make cash projections of money coming in and going out.
- Be careful with inventory; this can become a sinkhole.
- Get a line of credit ASAP; it can be your lifeline and pay for expenses when income lags
- Save during high-income periods and invest money back into your business.
Think green. Embrace renewable energy sources
“Up here in the North Pole, we’re already living with the dramatic effects of climate change,” lamented Santa. “It’s breaking our hearts to watch our magnificent polar bears dying because their food sources are no longer available, but my beloved reindeer are affected as well. Learn from me. In your startup, seek renewable energy sources, low-waste or no-waste production methodologies, ways to reduce shipping use and expenses. You always need to be thinking about saving money and the environment—it’s not only my future—it’s everyone’s.
Get help. Develop and cultivate a team who can grow with you
Most people don’t realize that Mrs. Claus is not only Santa’s wife but also his CTO (chief toy officer), a hardworking member of the organization. He relies heavily on her, his team of well-trained elves, and of course, his reindeer. In your startup’s early stages, you try to do everything yourself, but you need to scale if you are to grow. Hire the best people you can find and let them to do their jobs. You don’t have to completely let go of the reins—only Santa gets to fly the sleigh, after all, but at some point, you must learn to delegate if you are to grow and be successful.
I recently worked on a website for a construction company; one member of our team kept suggesting things to make the site “pop”. I, on the other hand, was looking for great navigation and classic design that would endure, lots of white space that would serve as a backdrop for well-written content and project pictures. I wanted our work to capture audience attention, not gimmicks.
It’s been an evolution
We’ve spent years adding stuff to our websites—frames, sidebars, headers, banner ads, sidebar ads, calls to action, comments, popups, social media buttons, signup boxes, etc. Now we’re taking them off–all of the elements that cluttered up our websites, detracting from the primary message, which is the content.
Back to the basics in 2017
In 2017, websites will start moving back to basics, placing more emphasis on content. Keep in mind that a big driver for many of these changes is mobile users who increasingly rely on their phones to transact business and access information. To accommodate these users, sites have had to simplify—a growing trend over the last few years. Mobile use has had a significant impact on navigation, color palettes, typography and the way we deploy images and other assets.
It seems as though the use of geometric shapes, lines, and patterns have really taken off in the late part of 2016, and this is expected to continue through 2017. The use of circles around images, photos that are geometric heavy, or the overall design of the site relies heavily on the use of lines and patterns.
We’re starting to move away from the basic, boring heading style seen on websites (san serif, all caps, centered heading) and moving more toward imaginative or creative headings. Look for a change in the layout, justification or websites without a heading at all.
Animations and gifs
Animations are starting to be used more heavily on websites as they easily communicate how things work and are more lightweight than several images or even a video, which is good news for mobile users—animations generally load quickly.
Putting navigation on a diet
More people are now accessing the web on their phones than their computers, which has had a significant impact on navigation. Drilling down through complicated schematics on a phone is a complete turnoff; it’s much easier to scroll through pages than click and wait. Restricting the main navigation bar to four to five items is becoming the norm and it’s challenging organizations to think critically and strategically about how they organize information.
More emphasis on landing pages, less on a home page
In 2017 we will likely see a rise in landing page designs—not just home page design. While you still need a home page, as content marketing spreads, marketers will want to direct traffic to dedicated landing pages to better target their visitors and their needs. It makes sense: The idea of content marketing is to increase awareness and conversions, and what better way to increase conversions than to have visitors land on a page strictly made for them. These pages will be as well designed and thought out as others on the site, but target the visitor much more.
Are you thinking about a new website for 2017? Talk to us at Top of Mind Marketing. Building online brands.
I’m a longtime fan of case studies. They’ve always been an important way to showcase your expertise. These days, when content marketing is all about telling stories, case studies have never been more important or more relevant.
Here are 4 tips for making case studies more compelling.
1. Dig deep and find the meat of the story
Before diving into your case study, ask yourself: where are visceral parts of this story that will reach my audience on an emotional level? Case studies are often written like instruction manuals, when they’re actually very compelling success stories about real people.
2. One word: edit
An estimated 66% of B2B marketers say case studies are the most effective means of attracting their target audiences. When people go to your website, they’re likely to read your About section and Case Studies. Don’t disappoint them by providing endless details that don’t get to the core: Challenge, your Solution and the Results. Make it easy for your reader to understand what you’ve accomplished.
3. Play to the herd
If you’re not paying attention, people no longer buy things without checking out what their peers have to say on the matter. This is the millennial profile, but it’s not just the kids who are doing this. Who doesn’t read reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp, consult with friends and knowledgeable colleagues before making major purchases. Case studies help validate you. They provide instant credibility:
- Case studies humanize your brand. They put your solutions into context.
- Case studies are your customer success stories. They directly influence your prospects, attract high-quality leads, build trust and boost revenue.
- Case studies provide third party endorsement—motivate potential clients by showing them how you can help and why you are their best choice.
4. Case studies endure
Good case studies retain their value, year after year. Blogs may become irrelevant, depending on the topic, but a case study that highlights business fundamentals–your ability to solve problems, build relationships, meet deadlines and budgets and help your clients grow their businesses—these endure.
The competition is fierce, and your subject line needs to be clever and attention-getting, yet sincere and compelling. Mobile has made it even harder as we struggle to constrain subject lines to 50 characters. I recently drafted up a few potential subject lines for a client and asked for her feedback. Her response? “Does it matter?” Are you kidding? A subject line is everything! 33% of email recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on subject line alone, and frankly, I’m surprised that the number isn’t higher.
Here are some subject line tips:
- Short and sweet. A whopping 40% of emails are being opened on mobile first, so 50 characters is now the rule. Editing is a skill. Write your blog and subject line, then come back later and you may have new clarity. Take out those words which are nonessential and see if you’ve altered the meaning.
- Use a familiar sender name—people are afraid of viruses and they have little interest in spam. If they see an email from firstname.lastname@example.org, they’re less inclined to open it than if it is coming from a real person or someone they recognize.
- Personalize. This is a list thing. Include the first name of your contacts so you can address them in your emails. Who doesn’t want to get a personal email rather than Dear Friend?
- List segmentation. This may/not be relevant for your audience, but if it is, spend the time to do this. Your clients will thank you for tailoring information just for them.
- Be truthful. Do not make a cheesy promise in your subject line to encourage open rates, then not deliver on that promise. When there’s a total disconnect between the subject line and the subject, you have deceived your audience.
- If you’re offering something special in your email, use your subject line tell your audience.
- There are a gazillion schools of thought on this one. It used to be 10am on Tues or Wed, but now that everyone’s online 24/7, the rules have changed. Some recommend sending when people are likely to have time to read it—Sunday afternoon or evening, for instance, when many of us settle in to do some work to get ready for the week ahead. If you’re sending out an email about a new bar’s happy hour, the best time to send it is might be 4:30 or 5:00.
- Concise language. You only have 50 characters. Put them to work. Use action verbs; try to create an image for your audience.
- Make them feel special. Who doesn’t want this one? “A special offer just for you”, etc.
- Create a sense of urgency. Subject lines that create a sense of urgency and exclusivity can give a 22% higher open rate. Using deadlines like “today only” or “24-hour giveaway”.
- Use a question. Make it compelling—it can be thoughtful and make people think.
- NEVER use all caps. Enough on that one. It’s difficult to read and is perceived as shouting.
One more thing . . .
Rather than just deleting all those blasts you get from others, start paying attention to them, including the subject lines. I end up reading a fair number of marketing emails because I’m always interested in potential blog topics. You may be surprised what you will learn.