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Branding and Me

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I was interviewed before a talk I gave recently and thought I’d share it here – a little about my own story and reflections on changes in branding and marketing.

Why are you passionate about branding?

I’ve been a storyteller my whole life. As a child, I was always concocting stories and finding ways to weave visuals and music with storytelling. I love the way words and images create a multidimensional story. I look at branding as a concise form of storytelling. In a glimpse, people get who you are and what your business is about. I also discovered I have a talent for bringing out people’s uniqueness. In college friends would always ask me to write their bios when they started looking for jobs. I have so much fun unearthing what makes a person or a business different and special. My passions took me into the publishing world first at Doubleday and then at a nonprofit where I ran the publishing arm.

Why is branding so important?

I’ve also started several small businesses. And I’ve seen in my own experience and with my clients how important it is to be really clear on your story and brand from the get go. I’ve watched many small business owners with great ideas start a business and do well because they’re passionate and committed. They may have a simple logo, maybe created their own website and it worked for a while. But unless they invest in getting super clear on their brand, they won’t be able to reach their ideal clients effectively and consistently. This can create a lot of confusion in running a business, in deciding how to market, in spending more marketing dollars than necessary, and it can stall business growth.

How have the processes of marketing and branding changed over the past few years?

Change is happening faster and faster every day. And people are changing. That’s why marketing and branding has changed. People don’t see themselves as passive consumers any longer. They want to be involved in their purchase decisions, they want to engage and they expect attention. You can’t just market to people, you have to create a context for an authentic dialogue. And you have to be interested in what your clients say; let them help shape how you develop your product. This, of course, has led to the rise of social media marketing in the last several years. It’s more important than ever to find out who your clients are and what they really want and need. Marketing research has also changed. Data isn’t just collected in traditional focus groups or surveys, but social media plays an integral part in learning who your client is.

Plus our attention spans are shorter than ever. This means having a good brand is critical because people need to “get you” in a few seconds. And you need to communicate through your brand that your product/service will offer something meaningful to your client’s life. Because we have so many brands to choose from, purchase decisions are now about much more than just the product/service – they’re about how our lives will change as a result of the purchase.

In this context of so much choice, your business needs to stand out more than ever. You need to be better than ever at what you do, your brand needs to grab your client’s attention, and your content needs to be relevant. Consumers want content and experience delivered quickly and easily. And there’s so much content out there, an important way to distinguish yourself is through good quality, relevant content.

The desire for engagement, experience and content has fueled the emergence of Facebook live, periscope and other live video platforms. Delivering content live is more engaging and creates an immediate experience. It’s easy to do and cost effective, so many businesses are gearing up to making video, and especially live video, central to their marketing efforts.

What’s one small thing a business owner can do to “stand out”?

Know and clearly articulate what makes your business unique, and the value you bring your clients. Then position yourself as an expert in your field by sharing your opinion and knowledge. Consistently build your reputation through your content and relationship with your clients. Establishing yourself as an expert will make you stand out and create a marketing momentum for you.

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The Soul of Your Brand

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I just stumbled on an article in Huff Po: “How to Launch a Brand: Lose an Ego, Gain a Soul.” It’s an interview with Fabian Geyrhalter, founder of Finien, a Los Angeles branding company.

He’s done work for Pfizer, Lilly, W Hotels, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to name a few. I can see from the interview why he’s been so successful.

He says that products that compete based on price and features can never really become a brand. They’re not able to distinguish their products or touch their customers deeply enough to make it in today’s marketplace.

But he goes on, “A company that has soul does not need to compete on price; ever. Soul is what connects a product or service to a human’s emotion; a soul searches for a soul.”

I think that’s awesome. It cuts through the material bottom line and puts the power in the peoples’ hands.

Don’t you feel it right away when something you buy really does it for you – makes your life easier, or more fun, or more efficient? It’s like someone’s thought about you and your needs and preferences. Of course, Apple is a perfect example.

And isn’t it more appealing to buy a product from a company that has a purpose, a story, a mission, something that touches us, rather than a company that just produces stuff?

So I think this is a great question for small business owners to think about in creating or refreshing a brand.

What is the soul of your company? Who are you touching? How do you want them to feel? Are you reaching your clients’ soul?

The thing is, your soul doesn’t lie. Either it’s touched or not. And it’s up to us as business owners to find out what that means.

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6 Marketing Trends for 2017

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There are lots of new directions in marketing as we head into the New Year. I’ve distilled what I think are 6 of the most important trends for small business owners to be aware of:

1. More focus on customer experience

While customer experience has always been central to successful marketing, it’s gaining more and more attention as one of the hottest topics of the year. Businesses are taking their customers’ responses more seriously than ever and putting more resources into improving customer experience.

In our fast moving, uber-connected world, the only way to compete is to establish, nurture, and sustain your relationship with your customers. And that means LISTEN, LISTEN LISTEN. Create whatever systems you need to give your customers the opportunity to engage and share feedback, and incorporate what they say into your business strategy. Let your customers lead.

2. Greater personalization

With the plethora of content and marketing vehicles vying for our attention, businesses have to work harder and smarter to capture new customers and hold existing ones. Where mass customization has led the way for several years, now personalization is the trend.

In an age where people value tailored experience, whatever can be individualized in any way attracts attention, whether it’s a product, experience, or simply more responsive purchasing process. At every touch point, businesses are finding ways to authentically and directly connect with the customer.

3. More and new video content

As it’s gotten easier and easier to share quality video content, there’s more and more demand for it. And now, real-time video like Facebook Live has become a hit in the online marketing world. It’s a direct way for brands to engage their customers quickly, directly, and cost-effectively. And as customers in the digital space are looking for more human contact, real-time social interaction is more important than ever. Live video creates high-touch engagement with your audience in a way that no other social media can.

4. Email marketing

There’s nothing new about email marketing, but as so many other online marketing channels have opened up, businesses have given a lot of attention to social media in the last several years. Yet statistics show that email marketing is one of the most effective tools – and it’s on the come back.

According to the 2016 Email Marketing Industry Status from Adestra, revenue from email has increased proportionately by 28% in one year. Success in email marketing – as in all online marketing – is all about giving your customers valuable and relevant information.

5. Expert blogging and social media

As a result of the impact of social media and blogging, many businesses have put more focus on SEO than on creating quality content. Almost everyone blogs, but how many do it well? People see the difference. They don’t want to be sold to. This is the age of creating and disseminating good content. If your content isn’t interesting and informative, visitors won’t stay on your site. Many businesses are realizing the importance of putting resources into developing excellent digital writing that positions them as experts in their field.

And in social media, it’s important not just to provide valuable content, but also to engage your audience, ask for your customers’ experience and opinion, offer games and challenges. The point it to build an active relationship with your audience.

6. Different measuring

As traditional ways of doing business are continually breaking down, it’s important to measure marketing efforts in new ways. Figuring out your ROI on your marketing budget isn’t linear any longer. In addition to traditional ROI from sales, it’s important to include metrics on customer satisfaction and retention, as well as employee engagement. Social media platforms are one of the most effective ways to collect this data.

So back to my first point. 2017 is about really listening to your customer and incorporating their feedback into your business and marketing strategy every step of the way.

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Branding Lessons from the Campaign

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We’re in a different world than we were 3 weeks ago – one that no one expected.

Where do we go from here? That seems to be unfolding every day. While we’re finding out where we’re going, there’s also a lot to learn from the election and campaign we’ve just been through.

One powerful lesson is: what makes a successful brand?

You could look at the result as Trump creating a stronger brand than Hillary.

Whether or not you agree with Trump’s message, the fact that the less experienced politician carrying so much baggage and character flaws, was able to garner the support he did, says a lot about how well he read his target market and responded to their fears, concerns, and desires.

Fear and frustration from income inequality, the perception of losing jobs to immigrants and trade deals, the feeling that our politicians are not looking out for us, all became some of most intense motivating factors in the election. Trump appealed to these concerns in a way that hit the emotional “sweet spot” in his supporters. That’s exactly what any successful brand does.

Trust was also a big issue in this campaign. Strong brands are based on trust.

Many of us have lost trust in our government and financial institutions. As brands, the government and Wall Street are weak. Hillary was seen as the establishment choice and associated with this lack of trust.

Trump used this knowledge to create his platform of change.

Despite the fact that Hillary has so much more experience than Trump, offered much more savvy content on policy, and maintained a professional demeanor in the face of Trump’s irrationality and crudeness, many American voters were still largely motivated by the possibility of change.

Also, Trump used social media to raise his brand awareness throughout the campaign. While many of his communications were questionable at best (the 3am tweets), they kept him in our consciousness. They reminded us that he doesn’t follow conventions; he’s not establishment. As much as they brought into question his character and ability to be President, they continued to strengthen his brand.

Trump’s brand wasn’t about character or experience – it was about change. So you could say that he stayed on brand throughout the campaign. And because he read his target market well, and appealed to their most intense fears and desires, he was able to win an election where no one thought he’d get past the primary.

So now we’re left with a big question: what happens next? All we know is that things won’t be like they have been. It’s not clear yet how this change is going to unfold or how it will affect our country.

But wherever we go from here, Trump’s campaign can be seen as a lesson in how strong branding can take what seemed to be an impossible task to stepping over the finish line.

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Branding 101

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In our world of more choices than ever, your brand is super important. You may only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and make them want to learn more.

Branding is your #1 secret weapon for success – your edge for standing out among the competition.

Your brand defines who you are, what you stand for, and what you offer. It’s about creating your identity so that the clients you want to attract “get you” in a glimpse.

Your brand not only makes you recognizable, it also works on an unconscious level as an emotional attractor – drawing people toward you. Our choices are always influenced by – and often driven by – emotions, more than rational thought.

Your visual identity is as important as your brand message – each aspect of your brand touches a different part of your potential client’s decision-making process.

That’s why your brand is so important – it markets before you before you even lift a finger.

Taking the steps to clearly define your brand message, values, look, and feel – before you start your website, your logo, your flier – will save you enormous time and effort in the long run. You’ll start your marketing engine right away and lay the foundation to attract your ideal clients.

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Creating a Culture of Failure?

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This stopped me in my tracks. I just saw a video of Randy Komisar. Randy is a new kind of business leader that’s being labeled “Virtual CEO.” He’s worked at Apple, LucasArts Entertainment, Crystal Dynamics, Claris Corporation and GO Corporation. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford and is the author of a best-selling book The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living.

Komisar talks about how Silicon Valley is not defined by its success but by how it deals with failure. Whenever you’re working in innovation, experimentation, taking risks to do what hasn’t been done before, there has to be a tolerance and understanding of failure.

Komisar  says if you really want to create something new you have to cultivate a “culture of constructive failure,” which he defines as “the ability to tolerate failure, proceed with your career, do it again, and take your experience and cash in on it as an asset.”  In most business, when there is a significant failure, the business stops, but in Silicon Valley and for savvy entrepreneurs, failure doesn’t stop them.  Komisar’s own experience is that you learn more by failing than by working in a successful business. He views past failures as an opportunity to develop character, solidify esprit de corps in a team, and create tools to deal with future business challenges.

I think this is worth highlighting right now because in our current milieu of so much transition and no one really knowing how we’re going to lift ourselves into a stable and growing US and world economy, we have to keep in our vision the importance of taking risks to innovate in our own business.  We have to take the risk to grow even in this insecurity because this is what will create a different momentum forward. But to do that, we also have to be smart – and this means understanding that failure is part of the process, and the most important thing we can do is very consciously take the lessons learned to help us move further forward. The kinds of risks many of us have been willing to take in the past may not look as exciting or potentially worthwhile as they did 15 or 20 years ago. But if some of us small business owners and entrepreneurs aren’t willing to step out and take risks –appropriate to this time of course – we’re not contributing to regaining the health of our economy. The only thing that I keep seeing is that, in light of the fact that no one has the answers, creating the change that I want to see is really up to me – and the way I approach my own business today matters in a much bigger picture than just my own little life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cUOiaXTJdA

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Marketing Has to Be Central from the Start

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Many small – and large – businesses make the mistake of not putting enough resources into marketing from the start. It may not seem necessary as you’re developing your product or service, and perhaps even reaching your market easily. But for any size company, if you don’t create a solid marketing plan from the start your business will suffer. You may max out the market you’ve been successfully reaching for years, or not stay up to speed with the best communication vehicles, or maybe you’ve had a marketing plan but didn’t consistently hone it in relation to the constantly changing digital opportunities. You may not even see it for awhile, but somewhere down the line you’ll find that you won’t be able to maintain a steady pace though the ebbs and flows of the business cycle.

I’ve seen this often in small businesses who are putting all their resources into getting off the ground. But I’ve been surprised to find out how many big businesses also fall into this trap. As I read several case studies, I found that the main reason big businesses don’t provide enough resources for marketing is simply because the decision-makers don’t grasp the long-term implications. Other functions have priority at a given time and marketing seems like an extra. Resources go to creating a product or expanding a product line, finding the right distribution channels, seeking capital, etc. I’ve seen businesses allocate resources to their sales department and still not adequately fund marketing. But it’s hard to sell a product that’s not marketed well.

So even though there’s more capacity in our digital world today than there ever has been on relationship building with one’s customers, and more innovative ways to do it, many businesses are still lagging behind. And the businesses that don’t move forward are losing competitive ground. But the good news for small business owners is that they are poised to take advantage of so many of the current opportunities. Operating on a small scale, they have more flexibility than they often realize, and can take advantage of a huge variety of low-cost options while creating marketing plans that build in continuous change.

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5 Tips for for Marketing a New Business on a Shoe-string Budget

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I’m often asked what you can do to begin promoting a new small business if you can’t spend much on marketing. Our hyper-connected world offers so many opportunities that we didn’t have 20 years ago. Here are a few things you can do that don’t take a lot of time, don’t cost anything, and will start to create visibility right away:

1)      Create a Facebook business page. This is very similar to creating a regular Facebook page. (If you don’t already have your own Facebook page, this is a good moment to get your own page up and start connecting with friends and colleagues.) People are using Facebook more and more to search for businesses so it pays to create a page for your business, plus you can connect with other businesses and groups that may be helpful for future networking. Make sure that if your service or product is not mentioned in your business name, you include it in the first sentence of your description so that it comes up in searches.

2)      Share your new business page with all your friends and colleagues on Facebook. This will appear on their Facebook pages and all their friends will also be able to see the link to your new business page, so this is a great way to network through your friends’ networks.

3)      Contact local media. Newspapers and magazines generally like to support local businesses. If you know how to write a press release, you can send it to the editors. Or you can send them a short paragraph about your business with a bio and photo. It’s important to follow up with a phone call – editors get so many emails, it does make a difference to make the personal contact, and it’s great relationship-building for the future.

4)      Offer something for free. If you’re selling a product, create a give-away or discounted item that you can offer on your website or directly from your business. Always make sure to capture email addresses from people who want the give-away. If you’re selling services or programs, you might think about offering a free lecture at your local library or community center. Or you can offer a virtual event such a conference call through freeconference.com. Make sure that the information you give is easy-to-understand and relevant to your audience.

5)      Email announcement – let everyone know. When you’re launching a new business, this is the time to send an email out to everyone. Most people plan to email clients and business associates, but often skip over friends, family, and clients from previous businesses that may be in a different industry. Remember that this is an announcement, and that gives you the opportunity to let everyone know. The people who know you are your best network, not only as potential clients, but they will also be most likely to recommend you to their friends. Make sure to write a short description of your business that they can share with others. You may want to word the email to friends and family a little differently as it will be more personal. This is another good opportunity to offer some kind of discounted product or service for a limited period of time to celebrate the launch of your new business.

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Evolutionary Marketing

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I knew I had to start off my blog on this topic – only because I’ve been immersed in studying evolutionary thought for over 20 years and I continue to experience over and over in so many arenas that looking at any topic through the lens of  “evolving” gives it a new slant and opens the door to all different kinds of creative approaches. I really think this is the leading edge thinking of our time.

Whatever you’re looking at, you see it as part of a whole process that started somewhere and is going somewhere and is constantly in motion. Very different from our usual starting point to ending point orientation. That has to be there too otherwise you couldn’t make concrete goals. But an evolutionary approach is much bigger than just that. And because it’s bigger, it brings more dimensions to the table, which brings more possibilities for the project, which brings more creative thinking, which makes everyone evolve in the process, which opens up more possibilities for the whole business, and on and on…

An Evolutionary Marketing approach is one where you address any project – whether it’s launching a business, building a website, refreshing a brand, expanding a traditional marketing program into social media, etc. – within a much bigger perspective of the business, where the business lies in its industry, where the industry lies, where people’s needs are moving, what’s happening in our global society, and where we as a human race are headed. Sound like too much to bite off?  Well, I would say in our fast changing, global, volatile world today, if you want to be succeed, you have to frame everything in the biggest context possible.

I googled “Evolutionary Marketing” before I started writing, and found that my friend Sam Rosen of Thoughtlead and 4-Good Marketing had already posted a blog on this. Touché to you Sam for introducing the term! I want to credit Sam’s great discussion about whether this is just another buzz word or a real direction in marketing. He makes an important point about our responsibility to come to the marketing table, not just with profit/business motives, but with an eye to evolving our values and business practices, which I wholeheartedly agree with:

“’Evolutionary Marketing’ is a term I’m fond of using. It focuses on integrating two areas of marketing: first, understanding how marketing tactics and strategies have evolved over time, and using the best ones in the appropriate places (I’ll elaborate more below); and second, acknowledging that, as marketers–and that doesn’t just mean professional marketers, but also entrepreneurs, thinkers, artists, consultants, and anyone else involved in spreading a message, product, or service–it’s our responsibility to create a better, more conscious future, not simply to cater to the lower impulses of our human nature and go ‘the easy way.’” http://thoughtlead.com/?p=8

One last thing… Evolutionary Marketing by definition has to be constantly changing and evolving, so anyone can jump into the conversation any time and take it forward.

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