Individuality: Use Your Voice to Emphasize What Makes You Special in a Crowded Marketplace

Individuality: Use Your Voice to Emphasize What Makes You Special in a Crowded Marketplace

When you begin to create marketing materials and send them out into the world, one of the most important aspects to focus on is your voice. You can describe “voice” in marketing in many ways – from the word choices that you use to the feeling that you’re trying to unlock in your target audience. Even if you’re operating in a crowded marketplace and competition is incredibly stiff, we believe that your voice is one of the best opportunities that you have to emphasize what really makes you special to your readers. By not shying away from this built-in sense of individuality, and instead, embracing it head on, you can really do wonders for your marketing return on investment at the same time.

The Impression That You’re Trying to Create

One of the most important things to understand about your voice in marketing is that it isn’t necessarily something that you can artificially create. It’s something that you’re going to have to find as your business continues to grow and evolve. Once you do discover exactly what that is, however, you’ll want to grab onto it, use it, and refuse to ever let it go.

Consider the example of Nike as a recent example of a powerful voice in action. Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign played up the idea that amazing things typically have small beginnings and sometimes you really only need a simple “push” to unlock your full potential. Obviously, as one of the premiere footwear manufacturers on the planet, the thesis of the campaign itself is, “If you want to be a great athlete, your journey begins with a pair of Nike shoes.” But, the use of Nike’s voice as a reflection of their own brand and individuality is unmistakable: what Nike is telling its audience is that the shoes themselves are not necessarily great, but the combination of the shoes and the undying will and perseverance of the individual are what will accomplish great things. Nike’s voice in this case has created an emotional connection with its audience. They aren’t saying, “Buy these shoes because they’re the comfiest or longest lasting shoes that you will ever have.” They’re saying, “If you want to accomplish the impossible, step one is buying a pair of Nike shoes.”

Is it bold? Yes. Is it almost brash in its confidence? Absolutely. But regardless of whether or not you buy into the marketing line as a consumer, you can’t argue with the fact that it is a startlingly simple campaign that distills what makes Nike unique into one positive message of empowerment.

Your Voice is as Unique as Your Business

Never forget that the form your voice takes depends on the impression that you’re trying to create. If you sell shoes and you want to come off like a friendly neighbor who just happens to be a clothing manufacturer, you would want your marketing language to take a much more casual and flowery approach. If you want to come across as a professional expert, you would essentially go in the other direction and prove yourself trustworthy through word choice. The key is experimenting and finding the voice behind your company and then using it to separate yourself from the rest.

These are just a few of the key reasons why embracing your voice and emphasizing what makes your business unique in marketing are so important. It isn’t necessarily what you sell that makes you successful – it’s how you choose to sell it. There are a million different companies that sell widgets out there, but what is it that really makes people want to buy YOUR widgets above anyone else’s? The answer is your voice. If you can master that, everything else will fall into place.

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Creating In-Store Signs Your Customers Can’t Help But Notice

Creating In-Store Signs Your Customers Can’t Help But Notice

When people set out to create compelling print marketing materials for their business, they normally (and appropriately) devote a lot of attention to the types of elements that will attract new customers. Obviously, the design of that print direct mail brochure is key because it will always be someone’s first exposure to the brand. However, many people fail to pay enough attention to another area that is equally important: in-store signage. Remember, just because someone is already in your store doesn’t mean the marketing machine can take the afternoon off. When it comes to designing the types of in-store signs your customers can’t help but notice, there are a few key things you’ll need to keep in mind.

Keep It Simple

If you’re designing print marketing materials to send out into the world, one of your instincts may be to try to pack as much helpful information into those materials as possible. After all, you can only have one first impression, so you need to make it a good one. When it comes to in-store signage, however, you’ll have better results if you dial back your instincts a bit and keep things as short and as sweet as possible.

Think about the language you’re using on in-store signs the same way you would the headline in a newspaper. The brochures and other documents you’re sending out into the world are like the newspaper articles themselves — they contain all of the information required to answer any questions the customer may have and guide them further down the sales funnel. In-store signs are the headlines — they give you just enough information to help you in that moment, but they don’t try to tell the whole story.

It’s All About the Focus

Because so much of your marketing focuses on selling yourself, it’s natural for that instinct to carry over into the world of in-store signage, too. It’s easy to forget you already have the customer right where you want them. Now it’s up to the products (or, more specifically, the way you’re showcasing those products) to finish the job.

Your in-store signage needs to showcase not only what a product might do, but why someone might need it. Your signs should sell people on the benefits of what you’re offering, not necessarily on your brand. For maximum effectiveness, use your signs to provide quick answers to questions like “What can product X do for me?” and “Why will product Y make my day easier?”

Above all else, there’s one key term you always need to keep in mind when designing in-store signs: compelling. If the types of signs you’re creating are always compelling and are always created with the best interest of your customers in mind, they will succeed on multiple levels. Not only will they immediately attract the attention of anyone who looks at them, but they will also add to the overall value of the experience customers are having in your store. Good signage can help turn first time customers into repeat customers in the long run.

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The Re-Branding of Curious George

The Re-Branding of Curious George

Many people are unaware of the origins of Curious George. For the youngsters who love the books and TV show today, George is just an adorable little monkey who happens to live with a man in a yellow hat. The children watch as George gets himself into all kinds of trouble, learning along with him how to problem solve.

The stories didn’t begin that way, though.

When the very first Curious George stories came out back in the 1940s, George was a monkey who had lived in Africa. The man with the yellow hat tricked George into coming out of hiding by playing on his curiosity. He originally planned to take George back to Europe and put him in the zoo. Instead, the two began to develop a relationship.

It’s interesting to note the prevailing opinions of the time. Many people looked at explorers who went into the jungle as heroes. They wouldn’t have had as many negative associations with an explorer kidnapping a monkey from the jungle as we would today.

The new books that children read today came out in the 1990s. These later books don’t really talk about how George came to live with the man in the yellow hat. The authors of these later books, which are modeled after the original books, focus on George’s curiosity and how he manages to solve his problems. The authors of the newer books recognized that people today wouldn’t appreciate the story of the man with the yellow hat kidnapping George from the jungle.

When the newer books and television series first came out, the authors focused on creating a fun story centered around a lovable monkey and the trouble he could create. Rather than focus on how the monkey and the man with the yellow hat came together, they just developed an entertaining story focused around the present.

You could say this was a re-branding of Curious George — and it was a complete success.

Successfully framing your company for success

When you set out to market your company to your customers, you must understand your audience and what they seek. The new audience of preschoolers in the 1990s and 2000s wanted an entertaining character without the baggage that came with the original, so that’s what the authors delivered.

Similarly, you should familiarize yourself with your customers enough to predict what’s going to resonate most with them. Use this to guide your marketing and re-branding efforts. Audiences might change over the years, particularly if your company’s been around for several decades, so don’t be afraid to shed parts of your original message and add in something new if it will help you reach your customers.

When it comes to advertising, nothing matters more than understanding your audience. Those familiar with the saga of Curious George will find the comparisons between the popular monkey and the marketing campaigns of evolving companies intriguing. If you’re interested in developing a new marketing campaign, speak to us today. We’d be happy to help you get started.

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The Four Key Steps to Successful Branding Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond

The Four Key Steps to Successful Branding Today, Tomorrow, and Beyond

Here’s a marketing truth that bears repeating: Your brand is one of the most powerful weapons you have in your quest not only to attract the widest possible audience, but to differentiate yourself from the competition in a meaningful way. While the type of brand you’re trying to build may vary as your company grows and evolves, the steps you’ll use to create and cultivate that brand won’t. Here are four key steps to successful branding that are just as useful today as they will be tomorrow, a year from now, and beyond.

1. Make Marketing Decisions with Your Customers in Mind

Just as you wouldn’t attempt to offer a service or release a product your target audience wouldn’t want, try to keep this same thought in mind when planning your marketing campaigns and branding strategy. Do your target customers respond well to direct mail materials? Are they the type of people who like “larger than life” materials like print billboards? These are all questions you’ll need to continually address and re-address moving forward.

2. Simple, Simple, Simple

One of the keys to building a successful brand is the ability to communicate the company’s core values clearly and concisely. Keep it simple. Never use ten words when five will do. If you can communicate the idea behind what your brand stands for in an image, you may not even need to use words at all. Communicate your branding message in the simplest possible way for the best results.

3. Your Brand is Your Brand is Your Brand

Though your brand may naturally evolve as your business changes, it’s important to take things slowly. If all of your marketing materials reflect one version of your brand in Quarter 1 and a completely different version in Quarter 4, you’re going to develop a bit of a schizophrenic reputation among the people you’re trying to reach. If you make changes that are too drastic too quickly, you run the risk of confusing your brand with itself and creating the image that you’re actually two different companies. For an example of this idea in action, consider the mess Netflix went through when it attempted to split off its DVD-by-mail and Internet streaming components into two separate entities in 2011.

4. Consistency in Language and Intention

Every piece of marketing you put out into the world needs to feel like it’s coming from the same company. Start by developing a “style guide” that you’ll use moving forward. For example, if you write your direct mail materials at a specific reading level, include that in your style guide. Provide a list of acceptable fonts, color palettes, and guidelines for proper logo usage. Consistency is a key way to show people your brand knows what it’s doing without actually saying those words.

As your company ages, it’s naturally going to change and evolve over time. The products and services you’re releasing today will scarcely resemble the ones you offer ten years down the line. One thing, however, will never change, and that’s the power of your brand. No matter what the future holds, the four key steps to successful branding outlined above will never go out of style.

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Building Brand Awareness Requires a Consistent Brand Experience

Building Brand Awareness Requires a Consistent Brand Experience

Building brand awareness is one of the cornerstones of successful marketing. People need to see you as the trusted leader you know you are. Every message you put out into the world — from flyers to advertisements to the content on your website — must reinforce that core ideal. The goal is to create a consistent brand experience across every marketing channel.

To illustrate just how important a consistent brand experience is, take a look at a company that has mastered it: Apple. Apple is notorious for the strength of its brand. Say what you will about its products and services, but you can’t argue with the fact that when that shiny white “Apple” logo appears on a computer, portable music player, or advertisement on television, a very clear image of what that logo represents pops into your mind almost immediately.

The major theme of Apple’s company over the years has been simplicity. The lengths to which the company has gone in its effort to reinforce that concept are actually quite astounding. Apple has long been lauded for its television commercials. Instead of relying on flashy graphics, loud music, and other tropes typical of traditional television advertising, Apple displays key products on stark white backgrounds with a basic music track not unlike what you would hear in an elevator. In a word, the ads are incredibly simple, just like the products themselves.

If you take a look at Apple’s website, it’s almost like one of the company’s television commercials brought to life. The website features a stark white background and large, simplistic lettering. The products themselves are clearly the emphasis. Simplicity rears its head yet again.

This extends even to the print marketing materials that come packaged in the box along with Apple’s products. Instead of the extensive user manual that accompanies most products, you get a short and painfully straightforward pamphlet with basic tips on how to get started using the device you just bought. The only other item in the box (accessories notwithstanding) is a sticker with the Apple logo. Simple, simple, simple.

Apple succeeds because every last bit of marketing it puts out into the world harkens back to that core message of simplicity. The avenues it uses to communicate that message may change, but the look, feel, and emotion behind the message remains the same.

This isn’t a phenomenon unique to Apple. If you think of the biggest companies in the world (or even the most successful businesses in your area), the one thing they all have in common regardless of industry is the consistent brand experience they deliver. By focusing on your own marketing message and clearly communicating it in a straightforward and consistent manner across all marketing avenues, you, too, can build awareness and create the same type of consistent brand experience for your company.

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Finding Your Niche in a Crowded Industry

Finding Your Niche in a Crowded Industry

The Internet has been an enormous asset when it comes to doing business. We now have the power to reach potential customers around the world. But while the Internet has given us incredible benefits, it has also produced one major drawback: competition.

Thanks to the Internet, you’re likely competing with far more businesses than ever before. Today’s consumers often research companies online before giving them a try, so avoiding the Internet altogether is not an option. Even local businesses must often compete with one another online, too.

To survive in this intensely competitive atmosphere, you need to carve yourself a niche. With the right niche, you’ll have something unique to offer your customers and will know exactly what type of clients you’re looking to reach. Thanks to modern technology, you can now find each other.

So, how do you discover your niche?

Start by focusing on what makes your company unique. For some, that might mean discovering a product or service that appeals to a very specific group of people. For example, there might be a few different companies that make pet clothing, but you can set yourself apart by focusing on a particular type of clothing, such as winter gear or beach gear for pooches.

If yours is more of a service industry, focus on finding what makes your service different from your competition. There are countless companies and professionals who provide marketing services, for example, so branding yourself as a general marketer might not be that helpful. Instead, specialize in a particular type of business, gain particular certifications, or focus on a particular type of marketing.

Look for groups that have been under-served within a particular industry. You want to find potential customers who have been just waiting for someone like you to come in and help fulfill their need. When you reach these customers, you’ll have the best chance of growing your business.

What do you do once you have your niche?

Once you’ve figured out what sets you apart from the crowd, make sure your potential customers see your value as well. Take the examples above. If you want to specialize in producing beach gear for dogs, you don’t want to focus your advertising efforts on attracting the attention of people who just want dog clothes. You’ll be up against countless competitors! Instead, focus your marketing efforts on those who are seeking your specific products. Target those going to beaches regularly, those researching information about taking pets on vacation, or those who live in seaside towns.

In the second example, incorporate your unique qualifications into your advertising materials and use them as keywords in your online marketing.

Once you’ve identified your niche and discovered how to market specifically to them, you need to focus your efforts on becoming the niche authority. Since this is your specialty, you’ll have incredible insight to offer your customers. Take the time to develop valuable information and content that can help you stand out even further. This will help potential customers trust you.

In today’s competitive marketplace, you don’t have the luxury of being a general provider. You need to find something that sets you apart. Whether you provide services or products, finding a way to appeal to your customers on a unique level will provide you with the key to growing your business.

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What the Cola Wars Can Teach About Marketing

What the Cola Wars Can Teach About Marketing

Imagine you are walking down the street and see a group of people trying to get volunteers for a taste testing. In the cups before them they have two identical-looking colas. They ask you to try both cups and pick which one you prefer. You will then need to try and identify which is Coke and which is Pepsi.

Do you think you would be able to tell the difference? Do you think you would actually pick the flavor you usually drink (in other words, if you usually drink Coke, would you actually select that one as your favorite)?

Shockingly, many people don’t. A number of different experiments have shown that many people are unable to correctly identify which cola is which. Even more surprisingly, in double blind taste tests, Pepsi often wins. It was this phenomenon that led to Pepsi steadily encroaching upon Coca-Cola’s lead in the market in the 1970s and 1980s. In an effort to win back customers, Coca-Cola introduced the debacle that was New Coke. The new formula was quickly rejected by consumers, and the company worked to gain back the trust of their loyal customers.

Coca-Cola managed to transition out of their problematic campaign and back to their original formula, but this left them in an interesting position. They still used the original formula, which customers said they wanted, but this formula was the one that often lost to Pepsi in taste tests. In the twenty years since this fiasco, Coca-Cola still manages to lead the market and has been holding steady.

According to what many people view as the unwritten rules of marketing, this should not be happening. Coke has two major points working against it.

  1. Coke’s formula is often deemed inferior by the consumer base in taste tests.
  2. The company completely alienated much of its loyal consumer base when it introduced New Coke without adequate market research.

Yet somehow Coca-Cola remains ahead.

Understanding why this happened and what companies today can learn from it can help you revolutionize your advertising campaigns.

Branding

Coca-Cola’s advertising works to develop a certain mentality in us. When we see the brand’s familiar script logo, we connect to the company’s rich history. We see small children walking up to drugstore counters to buy a Coke. We also connect with the company’s familiar advertising icons (its polar bears, for example) that are often featured in various advertising campaigns. Of course, Coca-Cola’s friendship ads help us feel connected to other Coke drinkers around the globe, as well.

The key here is the brand. Coca-Cola is now an iconic brand. It has become such a staple in our culture that in some regions, the word ‘Coke’ is used to mean any soft drink.

So what are you doing to develop your brand? Creating and maintaining a strong brand should be at the center of all your marketing. Customers make decisions based on the subconscious associations they develop between a company’s brand and its intangibles, including its quality, reliability, and history. Successful marketing helps to encourage positive associations in consumers’ minds.

Thinking about the entire customer experience

Taste tests often show that Pepsi is the preferred brand, especially considering it is slightly sweeter. While this might be better for short-term tastes, many people drink soft drinks in vast quantities. They don’t just drink a sip or two. They drink large bottles. Given the entire customer experience, it’s easier to see why the slightly sweeter brand seems to be less preferred in the long run.

Branding and considering the entire customer experience have both had an enormous impact on Coca-Cola’s ability to hold onto its lead over Pepsi, despite taste tests and marketing troubles. When you keep these criteria in mind for your company, you’ll also be able to boost your success. So grab a soft drink, sit down, and work with us to begin determining how you can better market your company.

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What You Can Learn from a Stack of Pancakes

What You Can Learn from a Stack of Pancakes

Everyone has comfort foods they view as the perfect meal after a long week at work, a stressful day, or even just to wake up to after a long night out with friends. These foods range from a plateful of pancakes to a bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese or Mom’s chili. Whatever the comfort food may be, most tend to share a few characteristics on common.

  • They’re not all that good for you.
  • They’re very filling.
  • Health experts would tell you not to eat them.

Theoretically, food should be optimized to provide our bodies with nourishment. Foods that don’t provide optimal nourishment — and might actually hurt it with excessive calories, salt, and fat — should not be desired. However, as humans, most of us like to enjoy our foods. Hence, the popularity of comfort foods.

What purpose do these foods serve?

Comfort foods fill a very specific role in our lives. For some people, favorite comfort foods remind them of their mother or grandmother’s cooking when they were growing up. Others might just take pleasure in the savory taste.

These foods tend to fill us up, make us feel warm inside, and allow us the opportunity to take our minds off whatever might be worrying us or stressing us. They’re not the foods we eat every day. Instead, they’re a special treat, and that’s part of their appeal.

The next time you’re feeling stressed and decide to turn to a bowl of cheesy, carbohydrate-laden deliciousness to help take the edge off the pain, look down at that dish and see what you might actually learn from it.

What can be learned from Grandma’s pie

As already mentioned, comfort foods fill a specific role. We don’t turn to them for nutritional value or health. We turn to them for comfort. In other words, these foods have a specific niche. Your business must also determine its niche and be able to articulate exactly what it is you do for people. The same way not all food can be nutritious, easy, or cheap, not all companies within a given industry can fulfill the same needs for customers.

How to identify your company’s niche

There are two main criteria your company should examine when looking to identify your niche. The first is what your customers are looking for. No industry is so over-saturated that every possible customer need is already being met. Perhaps there’s a distinct specialization that’s underserved, or every company focuses so much on lower prices that they fail to address the quality customer service and customer assistance that’s being sought. Determine what it is that’s lacking within the industry.

Secondly, discuss what unique skill sets your company brings to the industry. Perhaps several of your founding members have a background in a particular area that could help guide your company toward a specialization. Bring these two criteria together to determine the best niche for the company.

Identifying a key niche helps distinguish your business and secure its place as an essential player in the industry. Remembering that your company cannot be everything to everyone should help you determine what exactly you bring to the table and how you can use your skills to an advantage. If you’re looking to begin identifying and advertising to a specific niche, contact us to learn more about how we can help.

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What Cities Can Teach Us About Branding

What Cities Can Teach Us About Branding

Quick, what comes to mind when someone mentions they’re going to visit New York City? What about Washington, D.C., Toronto, or Paris? Every city has something that makes it unique, even if it’s not far from other metropolitan areas.

Washington, D.C., and New York are only about five hours apart, yet the two cities are remarkably different. Those visiting New York for the first time might be interested in trying their first New York bagel, visiting the Empire State Building, or seeing Times Square. Those venturing to Washington, D.C., will be more interested in seeing the major buildings of the U.S. government and visiting the monuments found around the city.

No one ventures to New York and then says, “There’s no point in going to see Washington, D.C. It’s going to be just like New York.” Why? Branding.

In many ways, cities have done a great job of branding themselves to potential visitors. They’ve created an atmosphere and a ‘product’ or experience that is so unique visitors know they won’t receive it anywhere else. When people hear certain cities’ names, they already have perceptions about what they can see and do there and an idea about whether or not they should bother with such a trip.

That’s what branding is all about.

What’s distinct about a well-branded company?

A well-branded company has a strong customer presence. Potential customers know and recognize the brand name and logo. They have ideas about what the company offers and if the product is worth the investment. Advertising focuses around reinforcing that brand and helping customers create positive associations with it.

What your company can learn from the world’s major cities

Today’s major cities strive to offer visitors something no one else can. Washington, D.C., for example, is the only city in the world that can offer visitors the chance to visit the seat of the U.S. government, and they have capitalized on this appeal. In addition to government buildings, the city boasts a number of war memorials, presidential memorials, and museums. Even if these additional sites were not planned solely to market the city, they’ve created a unique and desirable environment for visitors. This is similar to what you should look to accomplish for your company.

How your company can offer a similar appeal and uniqueness

No matter how oversaturated your industry might be, your company must be able to demonstrate its own unique strengths. Just as each major city manages to create its own culture and attractions, your company must determine what makes it unique compared to the rest of the competition. Perhaps you offer unique guarantees or better prices. Maybe you provide a superior buying experience or higher-quality products. Whatever your strengths, you should work to determine where your customers are still left wanting and then fill that niche. Use that niche to create a unique experience that customers can expect when they come to you. Work to brand your company, so customers know to expect this type of product or experience when they use your company.

Just as cities around the world have created unique markets for themselves by offering experiences that only they can produce, your company can brand itself to offer something special. When customers know what they can expect from you and how your experience or product is unlike anything else, they’ll be far more likely to keep coming back. Let us know if you’re ready to start exploring what makes your brand completely unique!

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Branding on a Budget: Four Steps for Brand Consistency

Branding on a Budget: Four Steps for Brand Consistency

All companies can benefit from developing a consistent brand image. The brand definition and features may encompass everything from logos to color palettes to fonts, but it must be maintained consistently across marketing collateral, presentations, correspondence, and proposals. Your brand image may even influence your office d├ęcor, if you have logos or product photos as part of your furnishings. Keeping everything in sync is difficult, especially as time passes and the company grows or expands its product line. Here are a few tips to help you keep your brand elements consistent.

1. Develop a logo.
In the long run, it pays to have a professionally created company or brand logo as the centerpiece of your company’s identity. A custom logo doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be simple, eye-catching, and unique.

Unless you’re a graphic artist or you already have a great one on staff, work with a designer for logo creation. While there are libraries of standard logos you can choose from, it’s worth it to have a logo custom designed by an experienced graphic artist who can capture the essence of your business. Try to resist the temptation to design your own logo using PowerPoint or a similar program because it will probably always look amateurish. You also won’t be able to generate all the different file types you need for various media.

2. Pick a color scheme.
Once you’ve found a graphic designer to work with, ask him or her to create a corporate color scheme for you while they’re working on the logo. The color scheme should include two or three colors that coordinate well together, and it should include light and dark shade variations of the chosen colors.

The experienced eye of a graphic artist will come up with fresh designs and color schemes that you’ll love, even though you might not have considered them on your own. When you settle on your colors, you can ask the designer to provide the Pantone color code values and the CMYK equivalents to prevent inconsistencies that occasionally occur if people try to “eyeball” the correct shade on future documents.

3. Create a style set and templates.
If you use page layout or word processing applications, you’ll want to create a custom style set that includes fonts, heading styles, margins, and spacing defaults so your documents always have a consistent look and feel. A graphic artist’s expertise will come in handy here, too, by giving your documents an appealing look.

Consider installing the style set for new employees when they join your company, or have IT set them up for you, so employees automatically create consistently formatted documents and presentations. It’s a huge time saver when you don’t have to reformat every document before publishing it.

4. Post a branding “book” or style guide.
A style guide doesn’t have to be complex, but it does need to make the guidelines for logo usage and other branding elements clear. To help ensure consistency, include the standards for color values, official product and company names, and links to corporate templates. It only makes sense to have a style guide if employees will use it, so try to keep it simple if you can.

Creating a recognizable brand requires consistency to avoid muddying brand identity. By following a few guidelines, you can help ensure that prospective customers will instantly recognize your brand.

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