Crafting a Branding Plan in 3 Steps

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

When you were young and slept over your friends’ houses, you noticed the difference of the whole home experience. Each house had its own smell, right? Your friends’ families had different routines, foods, laundry detergent, etc. Every family ends up making their own home style … you could even say they have their own brand. Using this concept of a house is a very simple way to get your team started in creating a fundamental branding plan.

Like a house, a brand is built up … sometimes with a clear plan, sometimes organically. In the case of strong brands, all the “touches” of the house seems to make sense. For example, in my house, where we don’t watch much television, we cut cable and tuck our TV flat screen inside an armoire so it doesn’t show. That makes sense for our family and our home. A huge TV on our wall would be “off-brand.”

In thinking about building a branding plan like you would a house, I like to tell my students that they can build it up in 3 steps:

Step 1: Positioning – ‘The Foundation’

Positioning is what the brand is built on. How a brand shows it’s different than other brands is the beginning of being unique and making sure your story is something that is compelling. And if a foundation is made of concrete and soil, Positioning is made of Customer Research + Competition Analysis.

By understanding what customers want and are motivated by, plus knowing your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, you find a position that is both attractive to your buyers and different than your competitors. No single business is best at everything, and if your strengths align with what customers actually want, then leverage that strength to solidify your position.

Helpful Tip: Use this framework to craft an internal Positioning Statement: {BRAND NAME} is the brand of {FRAME OF REFERENCE} that {POINT OF DIFFERENCE} because {REASON TO BELIEVE}.

It worked for Snickers. Snickers laid a beautiful, simple, and extremely strong brand foundation with this Positioning Statement: SNICKERS is the brand of CANDY BAR that SATISFIES YOUR HUNGER because IT’S PACKED WITH PEANUTS.

Step 2: Brand Architecture – ‘The Floorplan’

With the foundation put down, the brand story has a place to start and be built upon. In previous articles I wrote about creating the five words that help describe a brand, and a description if your brand were a person, and those exercises come into play here. By using descriptive words and personality types, you place the shape and boundaries of what your brand is and is not.

Think of it as creating the rooms, angles, steps, roofing, landscaping and more when planning how a home will be built. What will the “house” will be? Will it be a cute and funky urban 1-bedroom, a fabricated suburban McMansion, or a minimalist Haus in grey and black?

For example, Warby Parker made an intentional decision to begin with an online experience (in 2010), and then expand into retail locations. They now have 100 locations, and the question would be, what would those retail experiences be like? The Brand Expression (Step 3) follows from that. Since personalization is the position of the Warby Parker online and instore experience, they made the logical decision to have unique stores in each city. Every store — San Diego to Pittsburgh — looks different. It’s really cool and personal. That’s a natural Brand Architecture to sit on top of their Brand Position.

Step 3: Marketing Expression – ‘The Paint, Furniture and Fixtures’

The “Marketing Expression” is finally what the customer sees. It’s the messaging, the actual words and images, the YouTube videos, etc. Continuing the analogy, the Expression is the choice of furniture, the armoire, the wall color, the decorative touches, etc., in a house.

With the Position (Foundation) and the Brand Architecture (Floorplan), the Marketing Expression should actually be a fairly easy set of decisions to where you can see if something fits or doesn’t fit. In my house, for example, a huge TV or a strobe-light “Miller Beer” sign would be a terrible and awkward fit … as would an antique suit of armor in the corner. Instead, a painted armoire, decorative fabric on the chairs, small cardboard Chinese dragons placed keenly around the house, are perfect fits.

For Warby Parker, the natural extension of the position of offering personal eyewear and the brand architecture of personalizing the online and retail experience is: The San Diego store has an image of two readers lounging on a big book that looks like a floatie in a pool. It’s the final touch of personalization for San Diego, which is different than the personalization for Pittsburgh. It’s a touch that gives their brand consistency, memorability, and uniqueness.

Just like the homes we visited as children give us a smell, sound, texture and memory, so do the great brands. They feel like homes we visit, giving us a wonderful and memorable experience.

Persuasive Copy That Sells: It’s Not About the Words

You remember those lists of powerful words we marketers use to use to guide copywriting for short-term response and sales? You remember that persuasive copy. “Limited Time,” “Only One Left,” “Don’t Miss Out,” “Never to Be Offered Again,” “Big Discounts,” “Guaranteed,” and “Free,” “Free” and “Free.”

You remember those lists of powerful words we marketers use to use to guide copywriting for short-term response and sales? You remember that persuasive copy. “Limited Time,” “Only One Left,” “Don’t Miss Out,” “Never to Be Offered Again,” “Big Discounts,” “Guaranteed,” and “Free,” “Free” and “Free.”

And for a long while, those words printed in bright big bold graphics worked. They got response and they drove sales, and helped launch many direct marketing careers and agencies.

Just as many of you might remember building “urgent” direct mail copy, you might also remember that point of diminishing returns from using all of those “powerful” words. And the point at which your CEO and board of directors were not so okay with that average 1% response of direct marketing campaigns.

Things have changed. And they are not going back. We’re just not in an era where smartphones rule our lives, we are in a perpetual era where smart consumers rule markets, and aren’t believing those brand claims or promises any more. They’re also not caring if it is the very last seat on that flight at that price. They’ve heard it before, and seen it not be real, so they don’t care and they don’t respond.

Smart consumers don’t believe marketing any more. We’ve used those lines way too long and not delivered on promises we’ve made. Conscious choices are built upon values, personality and giving natures of brands. Brands that give back to the earth, people and causes don’t use price discounts or sales gimmicks to drives sales. And never will have to. Apple, Patagonia, Starbucks and Newman’s food products, are just a few of the “feel good” brands that people purchase, regardless of infrequent sales discounts and promotions. They don’t have to lower prices to make people feel good about purchasing from them.

That last statement above is the “key” to copywriting and overall marketing that works in today’s Smart Consumer environment — copy, stories, social and live engagement — that makes us feel good about ourselves and our role in helping drive good, amid the daily chaos we experience and witness.

Marketing copy strategies that align with “feeling good” address many aspects of human nature and what really influences us to change our behavior. It’s no longer about the words we use to influence behavior, it’s about the values we project, our brands, and the values of those we want to do business with us.

Here are some examples of how we can persuade with good values vs. just “good “ words:

Good Character

One of the five drivers of human happiness, according to Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” is being part of something that does good in the world. This new generation of customers not only seeks to do good in the world themselves, they seek to purchase from and align with brands that also do good in the world. If a brand just makes good products for good prices, that is not good enough for many consumers. According to Cone Communications research, more than 90% of consumers want to purchase from brands that give back to humanitarian or environmental causes, and around 80% of consumers will switch brands if their current brand is not aligned with their same “do good” values and able to show a direct impact, monetarily. (Opens as a PDF)

Good Place

We are wired to seek safety, comfort and security, no matter how successful we are, or powerful we may think we are. Its all part of the “survival of the fittest” mentality our species adheres to daily — socially, financially, physically and emotionally — whether we admit or acknowledge it. Brands that help consumers find and secure a “good” place in life are brands that win trial and secure loyalty, no matter what they are selling. What is the security that your brand provides? What is the comfort you deliver? These are the things you should write about in your content, your social posts, your marketing campaigns, even your packaging. All those promises of “best” quality, service, price, value are meaningless. We’ve all been there, done that, and now we want more. We want to feel safe and made that way by a brand we trust and a brand that has our same values.

Good Product Values

Of course, good products matter, too. Patagonia sold around $156 million in products with an ad that said “Don’t buy this jacket.” Instead, its call to action was to let customers repair their current jackets and save resources from the earth and money for themselves. However, this was so aligned with its customers’ core values, people bought those jackets and other products, anyway. But ads that promote your values really work best when your product has value, too. So as you promote the values you cherish for brand character, you need to promote what you do to add value to your products or services. Do you base your production protocols upon quality management processes and systems that have been certified by third parties? Do you add value in ways that others’ don’t, such as added features, warranties, extended return periods and so on? How can you communicate what goes into your product development that stands out from competitors’ products?

Words that communicate the above “good values” are the “words” that will stand out and help secure new sales, new levels of loyalty and new referrals. In marketing today, talk or “words” are cheap. Values drive value beyond price and imagination.

Remembering Lester Wunderman, Direct Marketing Pioneer

Lester Wunderman, who passed away at 98 last week, was a quiet giant among visionary innovators. And if the marketing universe looks almost totally different today than it did in the “Mad Men” age of the 1960s, Lester deserves the lion’s share of the credit.

Lester Wunderman, who passed away at 98 last week, was a quiet giant among visionary innovators. And if the marketing universe looks almost totally different today than it did in the “Mad Men” age of the 1960s, Lester deserves the lion’s share of the credit. That he recently saw the legendary J. Walter Thompson merged into Wunderman must have given him no small pleasure.

When in 1958 with his brother and two other partners, he opened the mail order and direct mail agency Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, in modest Union Square premises, relatively few companies were using the mail order channel and those who were, such as “The Book of The Month Club,” were doing their own marketing. Columbia House, the club division of Columbia Records, was one of the first and for many years, the leading client.

Eras are measured and defined by the magnitude of change that takes place within them and the visionary drivers of that change, whose innovations give the landscape a whole new look. Now, after years as secondary citizens in the marketing community, direct and data-driven marketing have taken “pride of place.” Lester always said it was just a matter of time.

Quoting Publicis Groupe Chief Growth Officer, Rishad Tobaccowala on the reason, MediaPost wrote:

“… conventional brand-building media models aren’t working as well as they used to. It’s because big brands are realizing that the only way to have a relationship with and understand their consumers, is to cut out the middlemen and have a relationship with them directly.”

The essence of marketing has now come full circle from the door-to-door peddler and personal selling to mass marketing and back again to the personal selling Wunderman always championed; albeit, with technologies never dreamed about in the 1950s. In a 1967 speech at MIT, Lester insisted on giving the industry a proper name, and “direct marketing” replaced direct mail, mail order and a host of others. Invited to give a keynote speech to the then U.S. Direct Mail Marketing Association, Lester accepted — but on the condition that the association change its name to the Direct Marketing Association. It was noisy fight but Wunderman won. That he would then become the “Father of Direct Marketing” was obvious.

For over the last half century, Lester was my closest friend and my guru. His humanity went hand-in-hand with his vision. “There is nothing that will not change,” he would say to anyone lucky enough to hear him. “Nudge that change in the right direction, take chances and measure, always measure your success or failure.” Having spent considerable time with his beloved Dogon tribe in Mali, even earning the honor of becoming a tribal Chief, Lester never lost touch with what he saw as real, a primitive understanding of human behavior and a profound respect for human values.

He knew instinctively (and proved over and over again) that a one-to-one relationship between people, be they partners, friends, acquaintances, customers or prospects, had to be more enriching than any distant relationship. His endless curiosity demanded that he know as much as possible about them and as the computer gradually replaced the mechanical card systems, the possibilities to capture data and use it to better serve customers and clients exploded. As increased streams of data became accessible, clients might scream about the cost of keeping and managing it, but that didn‘t deter Lester, who coined one of his best and most lasting perceptions: “Data is an expense” he said. “Knowledge is a bargain.”

Increased knowledge became an endless quest for Lester, and it was a gospel he shared domestically and internationally. Born one summer evening over a bottle of very good wine in my London garden, Wunderman Worldwide was designed to make this knowledge and its marketing uses available to young, ambitious, like-minded marketers — first in the U.K., France and Germany and, if successful, in any countries where it might be wanted. There are now 175 Wunderman offices in 60 countries.

The road to this success was hardly a smooth one. The acquisition by Young & Rubicam in 1973 was more a marriage of convenience than of love: Y&R needed to be seen to have the direct marketing skills it lacked, even if it had a very limited passion for the discipline. WRK wanted access to blue chip clients who were beginning to seriously examine direct marketing.

For reasons never made clear to Wunderman or the industry and breaking every classic rule of branding, Y&R management created a new brand, Impiric, and folded all its non-traditional businesses under this rubric. Overnight, the Wunderman brand was erased from the door. Lester was both personally heartbroken and professionally angry seeing years of brand-building disappear on what seemed little more than a whim.

Fortunately, just a few years later when Sir Martin Sorrel’s WPP acquired Y&R, he searched for the Wunderman company and found it buried under Impiric. As confused by Impiric as everyone else, he telephoned Lester, invited him to meet and, over lunch, both proudly restored the Wunderman brand and appointed Lester Chairman Emeritus of the company for life.

In an Ad Age interview in 2010, newly anointed by WPP, Lester said:

“For me, who started one little office with my brother and myself down on Union Square, to be the chairman of a company that is global, and practicing a high state of art all over the world, I can’t tell you what a revelation, in my lifetime, [it is] to see us go from kind of the horse-and-buggy form of advertising to the Internet. It’s just miraculous. The things we know about people, our ability to make messages more relevant and timely — advertising is just more efficient than it used to be.”

Lester’s creativity and his inventions are legendary. Eager never to leave a client or prospect without something new and unexpected, many of Wunderman’s greatest breakthroughs were brilliant adrenalin-driven responses to momentary problems. With a furious Columbia House client in the WRK conference room throwing on the table “take ones” millions of which had been printed and few “taken,” Lester, coolly walked over to the conference room magazine rack, picked up a copy of TV Guide, put one of the take ones in the center (where it almost fit) and announced that at that very moment the media department was booking this position exclusively for Columbia and all the take ones would be used. That position became one of the most productive DM media buys of its generation.

The Wunderman credo never changed, whether the means of accomplishing it was consumer loyalty programs, subscription club models, newspaper inserts supported by TV spots and toll-free 1-800 customer service numbers. Get as close to the customer as possible, listen to his voice and establish a one-to-one relationship. At an industry conference when others were droning on about postal regulations, out of nowhere, Lester proposed the idea of an intelligent mailbox for each consumer, a mailbox that knew what was wanted and only permitted those special messages access. Today we call it our “inbox.”

An avid tennis player, Lester never let work get totally in the way of play and, until recently, he found time weekly to play singles with the pro from his tennis club. On winter business trips abroad, he could almost certainly be found on weekends skiing in St. Moritz or Davos and in the summer at his beautiful house in Mogins, France. About 43 years ago, when he was courting his wife Suzanne who became both his companion and muse, he interrupted an otherwise important business meeting to carefully write down the recipe for a special dressing he wanted to prepare for the dinner’s arugula salad. The important things for Lester always took priority.

Lester Wunderman was a unique gentleman in an industry not over-populated with them. Read his books, “Being Direct” and “Frontiers of Direct Marketing,” or look deeply at his photographs of the Dogon tribe — his brothers, (in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan) and talk to those direct marketing practitioners who have worked for or with him. You cannot miss his special magical quality.

We have lost a great guru and friend, and he will be sadly missed. We are lucky that his wisdom and teachings are indelibly woven into the fabric of two generations of U.S. and overseas marketers.

Lester Wunderman Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald. The two of us in 1997 at the DMA Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Lester (Right) and Me (Left).

3 Questions to Better Understand Your Customers

Here’s a method that can help you understand your customers with more clarity and empathy, because every person on Planet Earth has a personal and unique response to these three questions:

Emotient's image of a young woman making sixteen different facial expressions.In my class, we discuss many kinds of research that help brands reveal aspects about their customers. And the data that is available for marketers is more robust than ever before. Big Data has empowered us to cross-stitch online behavior, demographics, buying patterns, predictive website searches and more. And, artificial intelligence will make the patterns reveal themselves with more precision. While the data and customer research about what people are doing can inform us about what they are likely to do in the future, there is also a more human approach — that goes deeper than the data — to understand your customers.

Here’s a method that can help you understand your customers with more clarity and empathy. While it takes thought, delving into these questions will invariably help with how you craft your brand’s relationships with your customers because every person on Planet Earth has a personal and unique response to the next three questions:

1. What Do My Customers Struggle With?

Everyone – including you, reading this – has struggles. It’s a human condition. We question, doubt, have concerns, worry, and are insecure or befuddled by something. Figuring out how your customers’ struggles interweave with your brand’s promise could unlock new ways to help them.

Example: Starbucks learned early on that their consumers struggled with having a place outside of work and home, where we could meet folks or be alone in a safe and comfortable environment. The traditional Italian “Bar” and the role it served in communities was missing here in the states. So instead of just a place to get grab-and-go coffee, they solved for a “3rd Place,” making a destination that went beyond the purchasing of coffee or treats. Starbucks knew that there were holes in communities they could fill, that there was a common struggle we didn’t even know we had.

2. What Are My Customers Motivated By?

Every person aspires to be more than they are. The desire to grow is innate, and we all want our lives to get better in some way. We each are looking for ways to improve and we gravitate towards brands that help us do that. The best brands understand that a simple transaction doesn’t have to be in, and that they can engage users into self-improvement of any kind.

Example: Sur La Table knows that offering terrific cookware products wasn’t quite enough. Their customers are motivated to learn how to be better home cooks, and make home life more enjoyable and rewarding. By offering the in-store cooking classes, and posting a regular calendar of new ideas, the individual stores deepen their relationship with their customers, and fulfill on their aspirations to make their home lives better with making higher-quality meals.

3. Is There a Memory-Emotion Link That’s Important to My Customers?

Deep in the core of our brains is the Hippocampus and Amygdala, two connected centers in our brain biology that stores both memory and emotion. Memory-Emotion is extraordinarily powerful in our lives, and these two magnificent aspects of the brain work in tandem to preserve the most deeply-embedded feelings and decision-making drivers in our lives.

As a brand, it’s awfully hard to construct something that is a powerful connector to memory. But if you’re in a consumer brand, there’s most likely some kind of hook or common experience you can tap into. You’ll have to dig into when your service might be a part of a memory in a life. Or you can see what kinds of experiences your customers might share, and tap into those shared memories.

Example: Subaru knows that their customers are active. They’re climbers, surfers, skiers, outdoors-folks. And they made the hunch that their customers owned pets. “Subaru owners are actually twice as likely to have a pet as other car owners and 7 out of 10 Subaru drivers share their heart, home, and – of course, their backseat – with a four-legged family member!” Source: http://www.dogingtonpost.com (no joke). Subaru launched an entire campaign with Golden Retrievers, and it was all about dogs doing the things we do in life (driving cars, going to pick up kids, etc.). Just videos of dogs. And, in their showrooms, they had dog bowls and dog treats. They knew a broad majority of customers have a shared emotional connection with love of animals…specifically their dogs.

And it paid off. My neighbor purchased a Subaru after her elderly dog passed away – even though the Ford Escape had a better warranty and lower price. She bought from the emotion-memory place of her brain, not the cerebral cortex where “better warranty and lower price” lived. When I asked why she bought the Subaru over the Ford, she said, simply, “Subaru loves dogs, and I miss Carson.” Emotion-Memory wins every time.

Look, these are not easy questions to answer. But they’re worth discussing with your team as to what really drives your customers to connect with your brand. This is really purposeful branding work.

As always, I’d enjoy hearing your feedback and comments.

4 Questions That Reveal Your Brand Persona

Asking some simple questions about your brand persona can help you see how your brand engages and interacts with customers. Just like a person meeting someone new for the first time, your brand has a look, sense of language, and attire that all describes what kind of person, or brand, you are.

One of the ways I help my class describe a brand is to think of it as a person. As a seasoned marketer, you’re aware of the power of personas to help you speak and market to a specific person that represents an audience.

But what about your own brand? What is your brand’s Persona?

One way to get the conversation going with your team and executives is to ask some simple questions that help you think more about the “person” that your brand becomes. Since the best brands are like people, how would you really describe the person that is your brand?

Here are 4 common-sense questions that help you define your brand persona:

1. If your brand walked into the room, what would s/he look like?

Knock, Knock. “C’mon in, Brand!”

When we do this exercise, we’ve imagine Red Bull walking into our classroom room…he’s European, lean, sporty, clean-shaven, rich, somewhat worldly, kind, energetic, and named Raoul. Then Monster Energy Drink comes in the room…he’s got a grungy black t-shirt, tatted up, black baseball cap, attitude, black jeans, names himself Jones (not his actual, real name). Afterwards, Rock Star Energy Drink comes in the room…he’s playful, wearing 80’s style bright colors, a bit goofy, spiky blonde hair, and named Chad.

Each one is an energy drink, but their personalities are so very different. Just look at their websites in sequence and you’ll see how these descriptions are pretty close to describing that Brand Persona.

Now, do it for your own brand. What does s/he look like? Male? Female? Androgynous? Mature? Young? What’s her/his name? What are the clothes? What watch is s/he wearing, if any? Be as detailed as you can. When you really think of your brand waling into a room, what is that complete description?

2. If one of your customers had a chance to meet your Brand Persona, how would they greet each other?

This is interesting. The story of your Brand Persona meeting a customer…do they shake hands? A warm double-over-hand grasp? A hug? Fist-bump? Hand-clasp-bro-hug? A stiff wave and nod?

This tells you how you greet and engage with your customers. What kind of reception do you think your customers expect? What do they want?

My hunch is that Southwest would give their customers a hug, while American Airlines might give customers an arm’s length hand-shake (be nice…I know some of you would say a slap). Subaru? Hug. Kia Soul? Fist-bump.

How would your Brand Persona physically greet your customer?

3. What would the conversation be like? Where would it take place?

Does this tete-a-tete happen in a coffee shop? Over a beer? During a walk in the woods? My hunch is that if REI met a customer, it would be on a trail, and they’d have a hug, take a big long hike together, and enjoy a great conversation about life and the natural escapes we all need.

Would you disclose information? Listen? Talk? Interrupt? Would it be a long conversation that lingers, or something that gets to the point and is brief and moves along to the next conversation? We’ve all heard about the Zappos 15-hour conversation that was rewarded, so what does yours look like?

How this conversation would go helps you think about the tone, language, and style of your communications.

4. When saying goodbye, what kind of expectations are there for future conversation?

When we all say goodbye to a friend, there’s something like “Let’s do this soon.” or “That was awesome. When do we chat again?” or “Great. Let’s keep in touch.”

How would your Brand Persona finish the conversation? Would there be an expectation of future engagements? If so, what would they look like? Would you leave with some things to do to help that customer solve a problem? Would you give them homework and let them solve their own problems? Would you promise to follow-up with them?

In closing, equating brands to people and personalities helps you become more human in your messaging and more intentional in the real problems you’re trying to solve for your customers. And just like people, think about their descriptions and interactions in the world.

As a note, I heard back from some folks about my last post: Words That Describe a Brand. The handbag brand that was described as Well-Dressed. Girly. Elegant. Successful. Special…was Kate Spade.

So, please let me know: if your brand was a person, what would s/he look like? I’d love to hear the descriptions, and the brand.

SEOs: Forget Keywords, Focus on This One Thing to Zoom Up Search Rankings

Every time there’s a whiff of a Google Search update in the air, SEOs around the world lose their minds. Everything from rumors to conjecture to plain fiction flies around, till the dust settles and search rankings go back to “normal.”

Every time there’s a whiff of a Google Search update in the air, SEOs around the world lose their minds. Everything from rumors to conjecture to plain fiction flies around, till the dust settles and search rankings go back to “normal.”

This environment of confusion and Google’s famed reluctance to divulge the real details of its search updates means we see any number of “SEO authorities” publishing their “complete list” of definitive search ranking factors. Most lists are pretty interchangeable, with keywords and links dominating lists in various avatars: keyword in backlink, keyword in TLD, keyword in title tag, link anchors, number of links, authority of links and so on.

The problem is, everyone reads these same articles. And implements the same advice. You and your competitors.

So how would you break out from the cage of keyword and backlinks? By leveraging that one thing which is uniquely yours: your brand.

Your brand is what will help you beat the competition to the top spot on SERPs; everything else remaining constant. Rand Fishkin explained in detail Google’s site-quality-score-related patent in one of his Whiteboard Fridays, and implied that the algorithm might give additional prominence to brand names used in search queries. This could be taken to infer that the more often users search for a keyword along with a brand name, the higher the brand moves up in the rankings for that keyword.

Credit: MOZ

Let me explain.

If users search a lot for “Skechers” + “running shoes,” the brand “Skechers” gets an automatic rankings boost for the keyword “running shoes.” This means when people search for just “running shoes,” the likelihood of Skechers running shoes coming up in the results is a bit higher.

So you see, your brand does help your search rankings. How, then, do you boost your brand salience to nudge along those rankings? Here are some thoughts.,

Invest in Your Brand (and Get Partners Along for the Ride)

The one thing that business owners worry the least about could prove to be their online graveyard. With the plethora of options out there, it’s simply unforgivable to not even lay a foundation for your brand.

Starting with a memorable brand name and logo, work on creating a definitive identity for your brand. Brand colors, typography, imagery, all come together to give your brand that elusive “X” factor that is rewarded by search engines. That saves you from spending big bucks on something as frivolous as chasing the Google algorithm, as Fishkin explained.

Partnering with a complementary brand that talks to your same audience is one of the most cost-effective ways of reaching a large pool of potential customers. Whether you care about your SEO ranking or not, this is one tactic every business must leverage.

In essence, brand partnerships are about reaching out to your partner brand’s audience at zero cost, in exchange for offering visibility to your brand partner to your audience, bartering free gifts for your partners’ users and more.

This partnership between Starbucks and Spotify exemplifies how customer experience can be improved, while retaining individual brand identity of both partners.

Here’s another example from the marketing industry: Online visibility platform SEMrush (disclosure: author’s employer) and inbound marketing software HubSpot frequently partner to do webinars for the benefit of their shared audience, which is digital marketers.

Credit: HubSpot

Don’t Miss Trade Events

Do you operate in the B2B or SaaS space? Then trade events are a must-do for you, no matter what. From getting visibility and growing brand awareness in your niche to meeting potential buyers face-to-face, a tradeshow (which could be a conference, a seminar, or a meetup) is a no-brainer to promote your brand.

There are many ways you can milk a tradeshow for SEO traction:

  • Tradeshow website linking back to your website with a URL linked to your brand name. Even if there’s no backlink, a brand mention from high-authority sites helps your own brand visibility and ranking.
  • Blog posts on your own site promoting your participation in the tradeshow.
  • Speaking opportunities at the event that mention your brand and your business or workshops that show potential customers how to use your products.
  • Using tradeshow hashtags on social media to promote your business and brand during the event.

Go Multichannel (Both Online and Offline)

The offline and online worlds are increasingly blending together. While even the most traditional retailers and businesses have now gone online, we’re also seeing digital businesses dip their feet into the physical world. Amazon and Apple are leading the charge with their brick-and-mortar stores. For lesser retailers (or even Facebook), the concept of pop-up retail is also catching up fast.

Credit: Go—PopUp

Integrated marketing involving digital and physical channels has a lot of advantages in branding:

  • More touchpoints for engaging the customer
  • Better brand awareness and recall
  • Broader, but consistent, brand messaging
  • Contextual and relevant audience targeting
  • Personalization in terms of channel and viewing/interaction preferences
  • More (and accurate) data on the customer

No surprise, then, that e-commerce platforms like Shopify are offering e-tailers the option to sell natively on multichannel digital platforms, making it easy to build visibility from the ground-up and convert visitors once they arrive via digital sources, like search or referrals. This visibility and brand recall cycles back to organic search results via branded searches.

Make Influencers Your Ambassadors

With every second person on social media claiming to be an “influencer,” the up-and-coming niche of influencer marketing is already getting muddied. However, the reason why we see so many so-called influencers out there is simply because brands can’t get enough of this absolutely punchy marketing tactic. According to research, a whopping 94% of marketers believe influencer marketing has a positive effect on their brand awareness and preference.

Credit: Social Media Today

Connecting with the right social influencer can be a total game-changer for your brand. Take Bach Flower RESCUE as an example. Their line of homeopathic remedies was a perfect match for a number of natural and healthy living bloggers. So, RESCUE gave these influencers some of their products to try and asked them to share their thoughts. They also included a “buy one, get one free” code to share on their posts to encourage people to give the product a try.


Credit: Real Clever

The results of their campaign? An impressive 258% increase in Instagram followers, 6,000 clicks to claim the BOGO special, and they were even a top trending topic on Twitter.

When your brand receives social signals, backlinks, endorsements and mentions from celebrities and niche thought leaders who command high search volume themselves, the authority rubs off on your brand and domain, boosting your rankings.

Crush Local SEO With Citations and Brand Mentions

Everything that you can do to get your brand out there potentially contributes indirectly to your rankings. As you work on strengthening your local SEO via citations, directories and business listings, the fact that your brand name is going up on multiple niche websites, probably getting backlinks from many of them, and also drawing reviews (engagement) from users, helps boost your visibility slowly but surely in the SERPs.

In fact, mentions and citations might be almost as powerful as links. The Google Panda patent refers to citations as “implied links” —

An implied link is a reference to a target resource, e.g., a citation to the target resource, which is included in a source resource, but is not an express link to the target resource.

Using Google’s own platforms and tools is an obvious win from a brand awareness, as well as SEO, perspective. So, waste no time in creating your own Google My Business Page and fill out every last detail about your business, adding images and videos to push visibility.

It’s also important to keep updating your business pages to keep your listings fresh and relevant when Googlebot comes crawling again.

Who’s Afraid of Keywords?

Even though it’s ingrained into digital marketers’ psyche that content and links are the two pillars of SEO, we need to realize that there’s more to this game than just pulling longer and longer lists of keywords to rank for. Sometimes the most “human” of marketing strategies is what it takes to get the bots and algorithms to take notice and deliver results. Onward and upward, brave brand custodians!

Customer Control Creates New Phase of Apologetic Marketing

In a customer-centric marketing ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. Brands must accept that customers control their reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

In a customer-is-in-control ecosystem, brands need to be more self-aware than ever before. They need to open up honest, meaningful conversations with their customers — and understand that we no longer push advertisements to customers through media, but rather engage and communicate with them. Brands must accept that the customer controls a brand’s reputation, and customer satisfaction should become a top KPI for every company.

For years now, customers have controlled the way brands are perceived in the marketplace. Today, that leverage is only growing. Companies can no longer hide behind big brand campaigns, just as marketing can no longer put a good spin on a problematic or dated company. If they try, consumers will either ignore it altogether (because they recognize the idealized corporate-speak) or, worse, they’ll attack in social media. Then, what started as a small problem can get out of control quickly.

Marketing executives need to work with the entire c-suite to make sure brand promises and customer experiences are consistent throughout the entire journey. They need to ensure the brand pillars are not only communicated, but also embraced across every component of the organization. And they have to make sure every team in the company can live up to the vision presented in the marketing.

Over the last year, we’ve seen the disconnect play out on a grand scale for companies like Uber, Wells Fargo, Facebook and unfortunately many more. By not aligning the brand platform with their internal values and customer experience, these companies have had to publicly recognize their faults and apologize for missteps. They each faced distrust among their customer base and, even though that trust was lost in a second, it often takes years to gain back.

So How Can Companies Learn From These Brands?

In today’s marketplace, companies need to do three key things:

  • Be transparent. Customers don’t expect companies to be perfect. But today, customers aren’t just immune to, but are also appalled by corporate-speak and over-hyped, insincere brand promises. Customers want brands to be real, to mean something and to associate with their beliefs and values. Companies today need to be humanized so customers can connect with them.
  • Align departments across the organization. Customers perceive companies as one entity and they expect that, whether they’re in a store, on the site or calling customer service, they’ll have the same experience across the board. Companies, however, are made up of different departments, with different bosses (who have different beliefs), and are often measured against different (sometimes opposing) KPIs. Today, corporate structure needs to embrace customer expectations. Politics and personalities have to take the back seat to the unified brand vision.
  • Companies need to embrace their customers. They can no longer lay out their corporate vision and marketing plans without fully understanding what the marketplace needs — both today and tomorrow. They need to understand what customers are looking for and shape their products and their company accordingly. Most companies hate hearing this, but they also need to narrow their audience and focus their company. Very few brands can and should appeal to all consumers. Too many brands try to satisfy everyone, remaining conservative so they don’t alienate any prospective customers. In doing so, however, they don’t resonate with anyone. Brands that take a stand, know who their audience is and what they want, and mold their company around that always win. Even if they outrage a part of their base, they inspire and resonate with their core, turning them into passionate advocates who reinforce the brand and allow more organic growth.

What Can You Do When It’s Too Late and You’ve Lost Consumer Trust?

While it’s a situation nobody wants to be in, companies need to be honest, fall on their sword and open up to the gaps they have. Just like Facebook’s WSJ ad and Wells Fargo’s TV campaign, they need to promise to do better. But again, it needs to be more than a marketing promotion; it needs to be a genuine re-set, one that all departments and the entire c-suite embrace. If it’s not, it’s only a matter of time until you’re back in the hot seat.

The Smart Marketing Strategy of Direct Mail Psychology

The strategic use of psychology in direct mail can drive amazing results. Did you know that our brain is doing most of its work outside of our consciousness? If we are able to create a good direct mail psychology strategy that enables us to tap into subconscious decisions, we can generate a greater response from prospects and customers.

The strategic use of psychology in direct mail can drive amazing results. Did you know that our brain is doing most of its work outside of our consciousness? If we are able to create a good direct mail psychology strategy that enables us to tap into subconscious decisions, we can generate a greater response from prospects and customers.

How can this work?

  1. Emotional Triggers — Both men and women need emotional engagement for direct mail to work. This requires the use of both good emotional copy and imagery. Segmentation can really help you target the right people with the right emotional copy and images.
  2. Overload — When there is too much clutter of messages, either copy or images, the brain cannot process it. Make sure that you leave white space and use concise copy so that the brain can easily process your message.
  3. Interesting — The brain likes puzzles and humor. Keep them simple for easy understanding. They are effective, with increased engagement.
  4. Women and Empathy — If your audience is women, you need to tap into empathy. Women engage with images depicting faces and direct eye contact. Women also respond to group/community activity images and, of course, babies, too. Some women will pay attention to messages that make life easier, celebrate her or allow her to do multiple things.

A complicated mail message will most likely be ignored by the brain. There are ways to simplify your copy and images to capture attention.

How to Capture Attention

Novelty — This is the No. 1 way to capture attention. Our brains are trained to look for something new and cool. A novel message or layout can really help you stand out in the mail box.

Eye Contact — Humans are social beings. Images of people or animals making eye contact with your prospects or customers grab attention and draw them into the mail piece.

When you are able to integrate a multiple sensory experience into your mail piece, you create a richer and deeper engagement with your audience.

How to use the senses:

  • Vision — A quarter of the human brain is used for visual processing. It is the strongest sense we have. Great images can compel high response rates for your direct mail.
  • Smell — Our sense of smell is hard-wired directly to our memory and emotions. Smells can invoke immediate reactions. This can be harder to do with direct mail, but when used correctly, it is powerful. If you do decide to use a scent, make sure it fits your branding and message.
  • Taste — Although it is possible to make edible direct mail, getting people to actually try it is another story. This is a good sense, but smell can trigger what you need without trying to get people to eat your mailer.
  • Hearing — Adding sound to your mail piece can be a bit costly, but depending on what you are selling, it may be just what you need. For instance, a casino that wants to drive more people to slot machines can send a mailer with the sound of coins dropping.
  • Touch — This one is, by far, my favorite besides vision for direct mail. With our fingertips being the most sensitive to how things feel, adding special textures and coatings can really make your mail piece pop.

As you can see, the brain is powerful and is very good at ignoring messages. Taking the time to consider all of these psychological factors can really help you drive your response rates up. As always, focusing your messaging with targeted segments to really reach the right people with the right message will increase the success of your mail campaigns. Are you ready to get started?

5 Words to Describe a Brand

The best brands make their customers feel better, and those feelings can be described in just a handful of emotive words. There should be five words that describe how a brand makes their customers feel. Those words can help guide a brand’s decisions as to how it deepens those emotional connections with their audience.

In my class we have a terrific exercise that gets everyone engaged and speaking about an essence of great brands. I ask the students to use only five words to describe a brand and how that brand makes them feel.

Not what the brands do, not what the brands say they do, but how that brand makes the students feel.

I ask the students to list five emotive words, then say what kind of category the brand is in (clothing, cosmetics, auto, etc.). It’s a conversation-starter for the students as they try to think of the brand just on those few words. It’s surprising (or maybe not), how often we can guess the brand just by a few emotions.

For example, a student used these words: “This brand makes me feel Smart, Sophisticated, Successful, Elegant, Respected.” The category was Auto. The Brand…Mercedes Benz.

Another: “This brand makes me feel Eco-Friendly. Protected. Aware. Intelligent. Relaxed.” The category was Outdoor Clothing. The Brand…(obviously)…Patagonia.

The best brands have a clearly defined personality that is specific in their emotional response they want to draw out of their customers. There’s a strong connection between how the brand makes them feel, and what the brand wants them to feel.Brands are like people, and have personalities.

When you evaluate people, you have an expectation of how they should act, behave, speak, dress, and generally interact with others. You trust a person to know who they are, and who they’re not. And, I bet you could use 5 words that describe how some people make you feel.

Brands are the same. Brands evoke emotion and elicit a response from you. You might not like them, but you should have a good idea of what emotions they evoke. For example, Monster Energy Drink is a totally different person than Red Bull, but they’re in the same category. I bet you would have different words to describe Monster versus Red Bull. You instinctively know what they are and what they’re not.

So here is my question for you: what are 5 words that your customers would use to describe how your brand makes them feel?

Don’t know? Ask ‘em. Send a quick survey to enough of your friendly customers that you receive over 50+ respondents. Choose a list of Emotions that you think are pretty close (to make it easier for them), and see what comes back

For an extra bonus to see how you think your culture matches to your customers’ perceptions, send that same survey to your team, asking them what emotions you want your customers to feel.

How close do those words match up? Do your customers have the same emotions that your team hopes to provide?

It’s a simple exercise that helps crystalize the way your customers describe how you make them feel.

So…can you guess this brand?

I asked a stylish and intelligent woman I know to do this exercise to describe her favorite brand of handbag. She chose: “Well-Dressed. Girly. Elegant. Successful. Special.”

What brand is this?

In Direct Mail, More Is Less: How Oversaturation Kills ROI

Yes, we are saying that more mail pieces actually get you less as far as results go with direct mail. Don’t be fooled by the notion that more choices, more text and more offers are better. That does not hold up to reality. It is harder for your prospects and customers to make a choice, understand more text and pick from multiple offers than if you stick with one or two.

Yes, we are saying that more mail pieces actually get you less as far as results go with direct mail. Don’t be fooled by the notion that more choices, more text and more offers are better. That does not hold up to reality. It is harder for your prospects and customers to make a choice, understand more text and pick from multiple offers than if you stick with one or two.

With two, they can make a comparison. Once you move past two, you get confusion. Confused people do not buy. Your ROI will reflect your “too many choices” with poor results. Not sure if I am right? Let’s look at some key ways people process your mail pieces.

  • Decision Processing — Good decisions are processed in three steps, on avaerage. The steps are: know the importance of your goals, consider your options to meet them and pick the winning option. Knowing this, you can help them make decisions faster by providing them with the benefits of your product or service to them in your copy. The more options you offer, the harder it is for people to make decisions. When decision-making is hard, people tend to just not do it. Your mail pieces should make it easy for them to decide to buy from you.
  • Intake — As people are looking over your copy, they skim as they read. Many tests have shown that what resonates with them is the last item read; make sure your strongest copy is last, in order to convince them that it is in their best interest to buy from you. The more positive spin you put on the benefits, the better people feel about your product or service and the more eager they are to buy.
  • Past Experience — All decisions we make are based on past experiences, but your prospects and customers can be influenced by other people’s experiences, too. That is why testimonials about your product or service are very important. Your customers and prospects can relate to others’ experiences and want to get that experience for themselves.
  • Familiar — People buy from companies that they are familiar with, so your company branding is important and must be carried through all your marketing channels. They need to be able to recognize you to help them decide to buy from you.

Take the confusion out of your direct mail pieces in order to increase your response rates. Your prospects and customers are inundated with marketing messages all day long in various forms. In order for your mail pieces to resonate, you need to grab attention with your design and then wow them with concise, easy-to-read copy. Focus on how great their life is going to be by using your product or service. Then make it a limited time offer so they respond quicker. Finally, make it easy for them to buy from you.

Stay away from multiple offers per mailer; target the right people with the right offer. You can still have multiple offers in your campaign; just send different offers to different people. When you are not sure what offer will work best, do an A/B test so half of the people get one offer and the other half get the other offer. You can then analyze your results to see which offer worked better. There are enough difficult choices in the world, make buying from you an easy choice and you will see your results increase. In your marketing, you cannot be everything to everyone. You need to be something to someone. Focus on the someones. Are you ready to get started?