Monthly Archives: October 2013

Advertising: Purpose is Pivotal

When a business owner tells me they need a brochure for their business, my first question is:  Why?  The answer usually goes something like:  Well, everyone has one, we should too.

Again, why?

I take it a step further by asking:  What is the purpose of the brochure?  This puts a big stump in the middle of the road.  When you take the time to think things through, the purpose of a brochure is, first of all, to get the viewer to pick it up.  That means it either has to have a strong attention getting device or that the viewer is interested in the subject of the brochure.  That could be a resort, a restaurant, tourist attraction, business information, or whatever else is being advertised, if done right.

Thinking it through a bit more, the second step in the process of an effective brochure is to get the viewer or person who picked it up to open it up and spend some time reviewing the contents.  Typically, once they’ve digested the information, they look for a call to action or a reason to save the brochure.  Without a call to action or reason to save it, the odds are that little brochure winds up in the recycling or trash bin.

The plus is that a brochure that is picked up and looked at has made at least one impression on one human being’s brain.  Whether anything is done about it is another matter, and that is what has prompted this blog.

The purpose of the brochure or other advertising is pivotal.  The call to action is essential, especially if it is intended to drive sales.

Regarding a brochure, here are a couple more questions:

Who do you want to see or receive the brochure?

What do you want them to do once they’ve received it?

The answers provide you with basic information about your target audience, how many brochures to print, the delivery vehicle (a brochure rack, direct mail, etc.), and how the reader should contact you.  Have you ever received a brochure in the mail that was without any contact information?  That’s a big “Oops!” and a costly one, too.

Whether it’s a brochure or some other form of advertising for your business, here’s the basic question you need to ask yourself:  What’s the purpose?

You should know what you want your advertising to do.  Do you want viewers, readers, and/or users to call you?  Stop by your store?  Go online?  Check out your website?  E-mail you?  You must first give them a compelling reason to take action, and then call them to action so they do what you want them to do.

Even if you merely want to share information to educate potential consumers, you need to stir action to get them involved.  If you’ve paid attention to the fine print in TV commercials for ED products, you’ll notice they generally direct people to a magazine ad for more information.  Pick up that magazine and you’ll see a three-page ad; one for the product and two pages of disclaimers.

Think about who you want to receive your advertising message.  Male, female, or both?  What age group?  What income level?  Where do the majority of them live?

Next, consider what is the best way to reach them with your message.  Are they most likely to listen to radio or view a brief video online?  Choosing the right delivery vehicle and crafting a message relevant to your target audience are additional steps to gain success and a return on your investment in advertising.

Advertising seems simple, but it’s a complicated process that requires you take the time to think it through.  Save yourself some money and engage a qualified consultant to help.


Your Competitive Advantage

Bigger, faster, smarter, and stronger can be advantages in competitive sports and in business.  Teamwork can give you the advantage necessary to win in both arenas.  The key to long-term success lies in knowing how you stack up against the competition, how you can stay ahead consistently, and what the competition is doing to catch you.

The current trend among consumers is to ask companies what differentiates them from their competitors.  What the customer is asking, in essence, is why they should buy from you instead of your competition.  The Internet and search engines have made consumers more aware of all the companies out there that can provide the product or service they are looking to purchase.

Your company must, therefore, have an easy-to-find presence on the world wide web and, more importantly, a well-defined statement of why your company, your product, and/or your service is different from and better than the competition.  These are essential tools for marketing your business today.  Without them, your advantage is that you are playing on a different field than your competitors and every other business, and probably without an audience.

An example:  Exceptional customer service is now an expectation and ruled out as a competitive edge.  It must be delivered consistently or your doors will close.  Consumers can, and will, find alternatives if they believe they have been mistreated or are dissatisfied. Gone are the days when a poorly treated customer simply goes away.  Social media can severely damage a company’s reputation if a negative impression goes viral, and today’s savvy consumer spends scads of time sending tweets and text messages.

We digress from the topic of your competitive advantage.  You need to know your competition.  What do they do that’s different from what your company does?  As you study the competition, avoid trying to emulate what they do and focus on what you could do better, more efficiently, or at less cost to the consumer.  If you try to match what the competition does, you can easily become your own competition.

When we worked with a company that built websites in the early days of the Internet, we could build them faster than any other company, with better graphics and greater functionality than the competition.  We knew how long it took our company to grasp those techniques and how long we could hold the advantage until a competitor figured it out and caught up to us.  Time, in that case, was our competitive advantage.

As you study the competition in your business or industry, and evaluate how well you compete, focus more on what got you to where you are and less on what your competition is doing.  Maintain that difference, for that is what gives you the edge and makes you palatable to the broad consumer market.

Protecting Your Image

Your brand is your image.  Your image is conveyed through the marketing or your brand.  That encompasses your logo, your social media, your advertising, your employees, and every other aspect of your business … all the way down to  your business cards and the way you answer the phone.

The first step is to brand your work.  Even if you are a sole proprietor, your brand involves the unique nature of your business.  What separates you from others in your field?  How do you answer the question it seems everyone asks nowadays:  What makes you different?  You need to know.

The second step is to craft a plan to protect your brand.  Your image, in large part, is what attracts consumers to your business.  Your business, therefore, is on the line.  Your reputation is at stake, so every effort should be taken to protect what you represent.

Set standards for the use of your corporate logo.  Make sure printers have the right colors (PMS standards usually apply) and place your logo in the proper location.  Register the copyright and consider obtaining either trademark (™) or registered (®) marks.  Prevent infringement of your logo by copycats or thieves as much as you possibly can.  In an earlier blog we covered the basics of protecting your brand.

The biggest concern for companies should be protecting the corporate reputation in social media.  You can probably find an article about the topic in virtually any business-related publication since it has come to the forefront lately.  One of the best methods for protecting the brand is an old technique – have an online and social media strategy that includes written policies and a corporate protocol manual.

Outline who is authorized to post.  Be careful who has administrative capabilities.  Clarify content to be posted.  Create response time guidelines.  Follow accepted protocols for each social media application.  The concept for your business using social media should also be clearly defined in order to protect your credibility.

Here’s an example of how your reputation can be damaged in social media:  If your goal is to increase sales and every post is a pitch to move a product or service, the strategy is likely to backfire and drive consumers away from you.  Once that happens, it will be difficult to get them back.  Share relevant information that is of interest to users, especially your target audience.  You want to be a thought leader, which means consumers look to you and your company for valuable information to help them make decisions.

In today’s economy, monitoring your social media platform and electronic footprint involves keeping your website current and watching E-mail correspondence, too.  These have become as important, if not more so, than keeping tabs on your other advertising strategies.  Today’s savvy consumer checks out your web presence right away.

Other concerns when it comes to protecting your image may seem minor, but they have an impact on consumers.  Two we’ll cover here are employee attire and visual images.

When they’re at your place of employment or representing your business in the community, your employees convey your corporate image.  Consider putting a dress code in place, along with methods for dealing with violations.  How would you feel about a sales representative appearing at a trade show for your company wearing a logo emblazoned dress shirt that wasn’t tucked in?  Or being drunk?  How about a customer service representative swearing and arguing with a customer in a room full of other customers?  Proper training can go a long way toward alleviating the potential for these mistakes, which may seem trivial but could have an impact on sales.

How does the outside of your building look to the public … your potential consumer base?  If you have a reader board, keep it current.  Sweep the sidewalks and shovel the snow.  Keep the lobby clean and smelling nice.  It’s often the little things that make a difference.

Do your corporate vehicles sport faded or outdated signs?  Monitor the quality of your vehicle graphics and replace them when they start – repeat “start” – to look shoddy.  You want existing customers to be excited to see one of your vehicles in their neighborhood or community, and you also want potential customers to be enticed by the image they see.

Brand Your Work – Work Your Brand


Where Is Your Business?

Where is your business?

Two reasons we bring this up:  1) It’s important for your customers and prospects to be able to find your business; and, 2) It’s important for you to know where your business is in the cycle of life for a business such as yours.  Make that three reasons:  3) It’s critical that you know how your business is doing from the consumer’s perspective, which ties in closely with customer service.  Are you doing the right things to take care of customers and bring them back frequently?

#1 refers to your location, whether it’s the physical plant or your place in cyberspace.  You need to make it easy for people to find you, either through optimizing your search engine position and social media or providing clarity as to your physical location.  If your business is at the corner of a major intersection in town, just off the highway, or conveniently located next to a city park, use your advertising to tell people that’s where you are.

The focus of this blog, though, is on #2 – where your business is in its life cycle.

A typical graphic of a business life cycle.

A typical graphic of a business life cycle.

At left is one of hundreds of diagrams that try to explain the cycles a business typically goes through during its existence.

This example may seem foreign if you’re unfamiliar with Smith-Corona, which was one of the top brand names for typewriters in the days before computers.  When you think about a company that had a dominant role in the typewriter business and look at the life cycle diagram in that context, it is rather obvious why Smith-Corona disappeared from sight.  The company had grown and expanded to a position of maturity in the typewriter marketplace, but failed to make the transition when the new technology of computers entered the picture.  Transitions can be brutal, especially when most people and a majority of companies tend to resist change.

Take the time to think about your business.  This is always a good exercise.  It forces you to work on your business by thinking about where you are instead of remaining immersed in the day-to-day ennui that can stifle the growth or expansion cycle.  Do you consider your business to be on an upswing, or have things stabilized and stayed fairly steady?  Do you enjoy a high percentage of repeat business from the same customers or do you have a steady influx of new customers?  Are you unsure where you are because you’ve only been in business a year or two?

Have you grown as much as you can and now sales and production seem to have stagnated?  The question you may ask if you’ve reached this cycle is “Now what do we do?”  This is an excellent position for bringing in an outside consultant to examine and explore options.  They might help you discover that a simple change in your existing product line or offering a similar but slightly different service can re-energize sales and bump up production for an additional boost.  They might also find that what you’ve been doing for x number of years is out of style and an entirely new direction is needed.

Take those recommendations, whatever they might be, with a modicum of caution.  Weigh the costs of re-tooling and re-branding your business to make sure the change makes sense.  Change for the sake of change is rarely worth it, since change is constant anyway.

Here’s a big question:  What are your plans for getting out of the business?  Do you have an exit strategy in place?  Are you like a great many dreamers who insist that their business is their retirement plan and when they’re ready to retire, they’ll sell the business and live off the profits?  Think about that for a minute … or longer and do something about it before it’s too late.

We counselled a client with that mindset and talked frankly about the potential for that strategy to do what they anticipated it would to let them retire.  A buyer would have little interest in their facility unless the new owner was looking to first enter the marketplace and had yet to establish a base of operations.  If the buyer did have a facility, the interest level would be less.  The same would hold true for the equipment, machines, and tools which become antiquated the longer they have been in use.  Even employees, unless they’re willing to move, may be written out of a purchase agreement.

What the potential buyer has the most interest in is the customer base!

Lots to think about as you continue through the process of evaluating your company’s position in its life cycle.  When you need an independent party to help you through the process, contact Brand Irons at 920.366.6334.