The following essay was written for inclusion in a hardback book aimed at growing businesses looking to expand in the UK and overseas.
Your business is established, you’re looking to expand at home and abroad, and your attention is turning towards marketing to ensure you have all your “ducks in a row”.
Agencies offer a bewildering range of services often shrouded in creative mystery and confused by industry buzz words. So where do you go and who do you ask to find out about your marketing options?
It’s at this point that I should declare my interest as the head of an agency; although in this article I have no agenda other than attempting to illuminate the subject, hopefully as objectively as I am able. Nevertheless, I shall still be hoping to receive your call!
The following article is designed to help create a framework and checklist of areas that every business should consider– it focuses a little more on service businesses than product businesses but the same principles still apply.
Who needs a brand strategy? In order to undertake any marketing planning or activity, a creative brief is needed that sums up the strategy and direction of a company (or brand if distinctly separate). Also and just as importantly, the foundations on which it competes in the market place, and any practical requirements.
In order to write the brief, you might already know what your brand stands for, how it differs for each of your target audiences, information about these customers, how your brand sits in relation to its competitors and how you differentiate yourself from them? If you don’t it’s time to look inwards. This is where the agency can offer very practical assistance.
However, in my experience, there are pitfalls to creating a brand strategy at this stage. A brand value, a positioning statement, a mission statement or perhaps even a brand essence, they may all sound right but applying them to design and judging whether a shape, a colour or a font is a good interpretation of them is a tricky and subjective business.
We have found that a good website planning process can lead to much better answers. Clients understand websites more than notional brand strategies and are able (and realise they need) to make very clear decisions about how to categorise and segment their offering, and how it differs from one target audience or location to another.
Once fundamental decisions have been reached about the business using this method, the brand strategy starts to shape itself and a culture, a direction, and competitive stance are easily revealed. Conducting some brand planning at this stage is a very natural next step and provides your marketing advisor with a more advanced understanding of your business to kick-off the creative process.
So in short, my recommendation is not to rush into a large brand strategy project without considering what you actually need to achieve from it, and to challenge whether there are better methods to identify the answers. After all, you just need a brief to be able to produce marketing materials that will help you generate a return. And that’s what it’s for. A strategy document on a shelf getting dusty is no help to anyone.
The next question to ask is… if your brand name is the right one for now, will it be so in the future? You may not have had foreign markets in mind when the business started but it is vital to ensure the name(s) make sense overseas and of course won’t offend anyone. If you’re about to grow and thinking of readying your brand, now is the moment to make any necessary adjustments.
At this stage it might be sensible to have a trademark attorney check there are no obvious trade mark infringements, as money spent now may save you very much more in the future.
As a general rule, I think it’s always better to work with existing names if you can because naming is a tough soul-searching exercise. Sometimes marketing resources can simply be better spent creating more productive communications that will lead to increases in revenue.
I am not worried about the possible loss of brand equity with a change in name, although it depends on the circumstances of a business and its relationship with its customers. There are only a few opportunities in a business lifecycle when a fanfare is appropriate and possible. Therefore, if your budget allows, a change in name is a real opportunity to celebrate with your existing and prospective clients, suppliers and partners; everything your business stands for under the guise of announcing a new name change. It’s a moment you can communicate with them in a number of ways and multiple times, sending them literature, branded materials, and inviting them to events – all without the need for a sales message. A change in name could and should strengthen relationships and in turn, boost business– more so than just a new logo or website can do.
Do you need a new logo? Rebranding (the general term for a new logo) is generally subject to bad press because of the perception of high costs. Businesses therefore tend to be fearful of starting along that road, but it doesn’t have to be expensive or be incurred in one go.
The struggle that many businesses have is justifying the need for a new logo because it’s something that won’t generate a direct return on investment. But a strong modern identity will in my view, produce a much better chance of doing business.
I always prefer that marketing money is spent on producing materials or delivering a campaign that will lead to an increase in business. So if the logo can be left as it is, it probably should be. What I have found though is that when it comes to producing a new brochure or website that may last several years, starting with a slightly dated logo identity can hold it all back. It is possible to subtly refresh a logo to keep it up to date and a good designer will be able to give the impression it’s the same, while sympathetically modernising it.
So my advice here is, you may not think it needs a refresh but always be open to it while undertaking a major project such as a website or brochure. Let the experts guide you as they bring fresh viewpoints and please don’t think clients will mind as they won’t. Updating a logo doesn’t mean that you have to replace every piece of branded collateral – a gradual change can occur - it’s normal, and it’s better than not doing it at all.
A website is the centre piece of any marketing effort. The quality of a website in the eyes of a potential customer speaks volumes about an organisation. The web is a place they can go to research or validate their views of an enterprise. A great website helps move a potential customer nearer a buying decision, whereas a flaky, old, dated and unloved website can and probably will, undermine the buying process.
Fully functioning and effective websites are inherently complex. The process of developing websites for all sizes of companies has evolved and a corporate website that cost £6,000 a few years ago will now cost £25,000 or more to replace. Even the simplest four page website requires the involvement of at least five different skill sets. The process is more sophisticated and it needs to be; think about it in terms of refitting a high street shop – after all a website is a shop window. The more up to date it is, the more value customers place on what is on offer, and the more likely they are to make a purchase. It is essential for any business to have a good website and to get it right takes architecting, design, construction, and fittings (the software that runs it).
If you’re planning an international roll-out this is even more important. A quality website can give a strong sense of credibility and can help businesses enter new markets where a brand name is little known and where the need for validation is even greater.
If there is only one area of marketing to which you would like to direct your efforts and resources, the website must be it. Don’t penny-pinch and above all else, the software you choose to run it on, (a website content management system) is one of the single most important decisions when choosing a provider. CMS is a whole different ballgame and deserves an article of its own.
So how do you generate warm leads from your website? You may have heard the term ‘search engine optimisation’ or ‘SEO’. This is the process of making your website as visible as possible to search engines so they can list your website when someone searches for a relevant service or product you offer. After all, no one is going to scroll to page 100 to find your site!
The number of top listings can be influenced in the way a website is built and set-up, the way text is written, and by running an active link-building campaign. If the website has been intelligently planned it will capture the details of a visitor to the site that may be interested in the services you offer.
SEO does not produce instant results; it requires a medium to long term view. Achieving high listings though, is game-changing so it’s worth the early investment. An SEO campaign is a staple part of the marketing diet and its return on investment when high listings are achieved, is considerable.
Pay per click advertising (PPC) works on the same principle as a company bidding against its competitors for their adverts to appear as high as possible on search engine results. The brilliance and simplicity of PPC is that displaying the advert itself is free. Unlike any other form of marketing, it means that when using PPC, you can accurately calculate how much it costs to generate a lead or to make a sale.
Advertisers only pay when their adverts are clicked and a visitor is delivered to their site. Using simple tracking methods, it is possible to quantify how many of those users requested information, subscribed or made a purchase having clicked on a PPC advert.
I do hear many people say that they run PPC while they’re waiting for SEO to kick-in. But the reality is that if PPC is working, when SEO arrives it just compounds the results, so they stick with it. Having two listings on a search result page dramatically increases conversion rate.
If you plan to spend £50,000 (plus national insurance, overheads etc) on a salesperson to create your leads, just bear in mind that the same money could potentially buy you say 25,000 clicks depending on the industry you’re in. This is where the perceived whimsical and creative side of marketing becomes hard commercial reality.
Calculate the percentage of those that will contact you having seen your website, and those that will subsequently convert, then multiply revenue/profit by the number of clients you think that will be generated. You’ll then be able to make a reasonable assessment if it’s worth trying or not. A tip though; you also need to factor in the time to actively manage a PPC campaign; a vital ingredient to achieve success.
“Social media” is certainly the latest buzzword and over the last couple of years we’ve seen corporates truly get stuck into it, having been shy of engaging at its inception. Social media means online PR – i.e. spreading your message in different ways without cost, to audiences that might be interesting in reading about your organisation, what you do, and what you have to say. The likes of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn make it more conversational rather than just a blunt message. I would highly recommend a realistic social media element factored in to every business marketing strategy.
Other online techniques include banner advertising and affiliate marketing. Both include an advert or link from a third party site back to their own. The former is where a fee is paid for the amount of traffic it generates - the latter where the advertiser pays for a resulting sale rather than a resulting visit – either a fixed fee or a percentage. Both can be useful but less so for service businesses.
These in my view are offline advertising whether it is press, radio, outdoor, TV advertising, and direct mail. They still have a use, but are mass mediums so are expensive, random and frankly one of these elements on its own just isn’t enough to get results. If you’re going to persuade masses to buy or do something, it will take more than one ad campaign in isolation to achieve it. It requires an integrated strategy of multiple tactics. I think there are many more efficient strategies to try first and only when they are exhausted should these be considered. For example, imagine how many visits to your website for the amount you’d spend on such activity.
This is not my area of expertise, but I like it nevertheless. For some businesses it can show an excellent ROI. Though for others, getting consistent coverage is hard. Social media has brought an interesting angle to PR, and sites like Twitter help to informally build followers and relationships outside of a particular campaign - so when you do have a message to tell, there’s a pool of advocates to listen and waiting to spread the word for you.
I hope you found the above elements useful. There are other strategies to consider but these ones are central to effective marketing and certainly the best tools in the box. So explore and consider what will be the best way forward for your business.