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Side-Step The Big Business Branding Techniques That'll
 
From the e-mail I've been receiving lately, it's clear there
is a lot of confusion surrounding the topic of online
branding.

Nike, Coke-Cola, Budweiser, McDonalds, Levi's, Amazon.com...
these are the branding masters. Now the question is, HOW
CAN YOU MODEL THEIR SUCCESS?

These days, online branding is being preached as one of the
big "Do or Die" marketing strategies. So everyone wants to
brand their e-business -- but no one is exactly sure what
branding is, how it's done, or where to start.

What is branding, anyway?

Branding is about building a COMPELLING ASSOCIATION
between...

A) Your company, your logo, your products, etc.

AND

B) An image, an emotion, or a memorable message that
embodies -- implicitly or explicitly -- the BIGGEST
BENEFIT you have to offer your customers.

Effective branding creates the kind of FIERCE PRODUCT
LOYALTY that leaves customers indifferent to the marketing
tactics of the competition.

It's what compels you to walk past all of those no-name-
brand on-sale colas at the local grocery store and pick up
the 6-pack of Coca-Cola that costs three times more. It's
what makes children plead and beg to go back to McDonalds
again and again. And it's what has made the phrase "Just Do
It" synonymous with Nike.

Say "Amazon.com," and people think of "The Earth's Biggest
Bookstore." Go to Burger King because you can "Have It Your
Way." Buy Energizer batteries because they "Just keep
going, and going, and going." And "When you care enough to
send the very best," send a Hallmark card.

But the slogans and taglines are only part of it. Think of
the Hallmark commercials. These tearjerker mini-dramas are
built around love and family values, ending with someone
showing they "care enough" by giving a loved-one a Hallmark
card. THEY EVOKE STRONG EMOTIONS THAT DRIVE THEIR SLOGAN
HOME.

And think about the Nike logo -- the "Swoosh" that
represents the wing of the Greek goddess Nike, the
personification of victory. While it's probably safe to say
that the majority of people are unaware of its mythological
significance, THEIR LOGO HOLDS JUST AS MUCH MEANING AS THEIR
NAME.

It's all very impressive, right? Well... yes. But before
you jump on the bandwagon, let's take a realistic look at
the "big branding picture" to see where your small or home-
based e-business fits into this.

First, let's debunk the THREE MAJOR BRANDING MYTHS I
frequently encounter...

MYTH #1:
I need to make my company or product a household name.

TRUTH:
You'll be most successful and most profitable if you
CLOSELY TARGET YOUR MARKET! Focus on getting your business
name and your advertising in front of your best potential
customers -- the people who have an expressed interest in
what you're offering -- as opposed to everyone!

MYTH #2:
Branding my business online means buying thousands of
dollars worth of high-visibility banner impressions.

TRUTH:
Banner advertising just isn't as profitable as it once was.
Ads that once pulled 5% to 10% click-throughs are now lucky
to pull 0.6% to 0.8%, if even that.

You'll be far more successful if you focus your limited
advertising dollars on more performance-based advertising.
Pay for customers... not overpriced, unproven advertising.

MYTH #3:
I'll need to spend a lot of money if I want to gain
brand recognition.

TRUTH:
There are plenty of free and low-cost techniques that
you can use to brand your e-business.

If you're a small or home-based business then, chances are,
you don't have the millions of advertising dollars it takes
to build a nationally recognized brand and make your company
a household name -- at least not yet!

So let's SKIP THE HIGH-PRICED LARGE CORPORATE BRANDING
TECHNIQUES that I'm seeing pushed everywhere I look...

-- after all, these strategies simply don't translate
to e-businesses with limited advertising budgets --

... and instead, let me give you some practical information.

COST-EFFECTIVE BRANDING TECHNIQUES
THAT YOU CAN START USING TODAY:

1) DEVELOP A STRONG UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION

Imagine yourself sitting across the table from your best
potential customer. In one sentence -- one very short
sentence -- clearly communicate how he or she will benefit
from doing business with you.

Your message should be clear, the language simple, and it
should be easy to remember. There's no room for wordy
corporate mumbo jumbo here.

I know this is a pretty tall order... but your hours of
agonizing, writing, brainstorming, and rewriting will pay
off in the end. This will be the message that your market
will identify you by and associate you with.

2) TARGET YOUR MARKET

The beauty of running an online business is that you can
reach literally hundreds of thousands of targeted potential
customers all over the world -- people who want to buy what
you're selling -- for little or no cost.

It's what has made it possible for small and home-based
business owners like you to take the Internet by storm and
MAKE OUTRAGEOUS PROFITS WITH VERY LIMITED ADVERTISING
BUDGETS.

Why would you turn a blind eye to this CRITICAL ADVANTAGE by
spreading your limited advertising dollars across the entire
web -- trying to sell your product to everyone -- instead of
focusing on those people who want to buy from you?

It just doesn't make sense.

So I know I've already mentioned this, but it's worth saying
again. It's ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that you target your
market.

3) WHENEVER POSSIBLE, MAKE YOUR MESSAGE INTERACTIVE

If you can compel people to actively engage your marketing
message rather than passively hear or view it, you'll
dramatically increase the probability that they're going to
absorb it, remember it, and repeat it.

One of the best ways to make your marketing message
interactive is through VIRAL MARKETING. To read a previous
Marketing Tips article that explains exactly what you can do
to make your marketing message viral, 

4 ) BE CONSISTENT IN VOICE, FORMAT, AND DELIVERY

In order to engrave your brand in the minds of your target
market, you need to consistently repeat your message to
them...

* DESIGN A SIGNATURE FILE that contains your message and
attach it to the end of every e-mail you send. It costs
you nothing and it's an easy, effective way to repeat
your message to those people you have direct contact
with -- your best potential and repeat customers!

* Your web site design, logos, and graphics should, if
possible, VISUALLY EMPHASIZE AND REINFORCE your message.
Check out the McDonald's web site at http://www.mcdonalds.com
Does that yellow and red look familiar? Think about how
you can similarly use your web site design to further
impress your brand in the memory of your visitors.

* Your NEWSLETTER CONTENT AND YOUR WEB SITE CONTENT should
all ultimately contribute to your marketing message.
There is no room for distractions like articles or links
that don't move you towards your main goal (to sell your
product, remember?).

5) NURTURE EXISTING RELATIONSHIPS WITH CUSTOMERS AND
SUBSCRIBERS

If they already know you, if they're already familiar with
who you are and what you do, if they've already bought
something from you, then you should be building on these
existing relationships.

MAINTAIN REGULAR CONTACT VIA E-MAIL (it's free!), and
consistently remind them who you are, what you do, and most
importantly, how they stand to benefit from continuing to do
business with you.

If you play your cards right, not only will you PROFIT FROM
THEIR REPEAT BUSINESS, you may also persuade them to "spread
the good word" to others with similar interests.

6) BE VISIBLE TO YOUR BEST POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS

A big part of branding is obviously about getting your name
in front of your best potential customers, so that when the
time comes for them to buy, THEY'LL CHOOSE YOU OVER THE
COMPETITION!

Here are a few powerful ways that you can do this...

* WRITE ARTICLES that contain information that will be of
interest to your target market and then offer them to
industry newsletters and web sites free of charge. Web
masters and editors will appreciate the free, quality
content, and you'll get your name and URL in front of
your target market.

* PARTICIPATE IN NEWSGROUPS AND DISCUSSION FORUMS where
your target market hangs out. This is an easy, no-cost
way to develop your reputation as an industry expert.
Simply make yourself available to answer questions and
provide participants with information that they will value.

* SUBMIT YOUR WEB SITE TO THE SEARCH ENGINES AND
DIRECTORIES. Also be sure to search for directories that
are geared towards your industry and request a listing.

* REQUEST LINKS FROM SITES WHERE YOUR TARGET MARKET MEETS.
This is not only a great way to increase your visibility,
it's also an extremely powerful way to attract large
volumes of highly targeted traffic -- yet it's frequently
dismissed or overlooked!

* USE BANNER ADVERTISING - IN MODERATION! With well-
designed banners and a targeted ad campaign, you CAN
make money with banner advertising. Just be sure to
educate yourself on the latest, most cutting-edge banner
techniques before getting started.



* START YOUR OWN AFFILIATE PROGRAM. With your own
Affiliate Program, you can enlist an army of affiliates
who will spread your name and your marketing message
across the web -- and you don't pay them a cent until
they make a sale.


DON'T LOSE SIGHT OF YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL:

With branding being hyped as one of *the* marketing
strategies to pursue right now, I worry that some of you
may be steered off-track.

While it's a good idea to be aware of and actively direct
how your e-business is being branded, remember that there is
a key difference between creating awareness and actually
closing sales.

Given the innumerable marketing strategies that you can use
to simultaneously create brand awareness AND draw targeted
traffic to your web site, there is no reason for you to be
spending your limited advertising dollars on branding
techniques that don't return a significant profit.

Avoid being sucked in by the myth that the entire web needs
to know who you are. Focus on your target market and
realize that most forms of traffic generation ultimately
enhance awareness of your brand.

You are spelling out your brand message, directly and
indirectly, with everything that you do, say, and sell.

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