No matter how innovative, effective or successful your brand, you will always have competitors. Original concepts rarely exist—if you believe something is a great idea, chances are someone else thought of the same thing.
In a competitive market, what often sets your company apart is not the quality of the product or service, but the quality of the branding.
Branding creates the emotional experience for users interacting with your company. Effective brand strategy can generate new leads, increase sales and strengthen customer loyalty.
So how do you differentiate your brand in a fast-paced and ever-evolving digital marketplace? Here are five tips to get you started.
- Find your niche. The more specific you can be in defining your target audience, the higher chance you will have of distinguishing your brand. Today’s consumers, particularly millennials, prefer brands that feel personal and customized. Narrowing your focus will help you market more effectively and effectively.
- Implement strategic campaigns. Instead of paying for generic, catch-all advertising, design your marketing efforts around strategic campaigns. Research audience trends and build your campaign around a particular demographic and value proposition.
- Appeal to values. Consumers are more likely to be emotionally moved (and consequently financially moved) by brands that appeal to their values. Find out what your audience values—such as security, ease, or status—and design your brand around those concepts.
- Engage with your audience. In today’s digital world, consumers are more likely to interact with brands that are personal and responsive. Your brand’s online platforms, such as your website and social media accounts, should be friendly, helpful and actively engaging with your customer base.
- Don’t skimp on design. Users will leave a website within a few seconds if the site doesn’t appear credible, useful and easy to navigate. Website design, photography and videography are not areas to cut corners if you’re looking to differentiate your brand. One poorly designed web page or sub-par photograph could make or break your brand image.
ATX Web Designs offers digital brand consulting and strategy services. Contact us for more information.
For the month of February, we’re talking all about college student entrepreneurs. Our 4-part series looks at four very different businesses started by studentpreneurs and the key takeaways that can help you in your business. Questions? Suggestions? Want to us to feature your business? Drop us a line! email@example.com.
Who: Jayson Edwards
What: J Dawgs, a hot dog restaurant from Provo, UT
Where: Brigham Young University
The Problem: The city didn’t have a great hot dog place.
The Solution: Sold his guitar and invested the money in a tiny restaurant space near campus.
Jayson Edwards was a student at Brigham Young University. One day he was walking along a street and realized that he could start his own hot dog stand. He had spent two years living in Canada where he had eaten really good hot dogs and realized he missed those dogs–and other people would probably enjoy them, too.
In 2004, he pawned his electric guitar and invested the money in a tiny (12’x12’!) shack not far from campus. The business has been thriving ever since.
Edwards keeps a very simple menu: two kinds of dogs (polish or beef), soda, chips,and condiments. But, he does have one trick up his sleeve: he uses a “secret sauce” that was taught to him by his grandmother.
Initially popular among other college students, his restaurant J Dawgs is now in six locations around Utah. He’s also diversified his revenue streams. Each location sells T-shirts and J Dawgs offers catering services. And to think it all started from a guitar.
Top 3 Lessons and Takeaways:
- Specialize. Sometimes the more niche you are, the more profit you can earn. J Dawgs’ menu is extremely simple and extremely good. They’ve focused on what they’re good at (hot dogs, buns, sauce, atmosphere) and replicated it. No need for frills or menu changes.
- Secret Sauce! Every company needs a secret sauce. Offer something that no one else does, that no one else possibly can. That way even if another delicious hot dog place popped up, J Dawgs still has the sauce everyone loves. A little touch of exclusivity goes a long way for your brand, and your customers.
- Use Your Resources. Edwards had taken a class in entrepreneurship before starting his business, but after starting he continued utilize his school’s center for entrepreneurship. Take a class. Get a mentor. And just start! Edwards didn’t have any capital, so he created it by pawning his guitar. Universities are full of resources.
Business owners love a sexy website. They tell us to make their website look cool. They want their users to be impressed by it, to spend time (and money) on it.
What they don’t usually think about are the really practical but crucial elements of a website that we don’t notice until they’re not there–or, worse, done poorly.
1. User Experience
Each website has its own purposes and objectives. None of them can be achieved if it isn’t stupid-easy to navigate the site. I think this is the single most important element of any and every site because I have no patience for websites that confuse me or present me with broken links or missing pages.
As we always say: know your target audience. Know why they’re there. Know what they want. Know how to get them to what they want.
The key to nailing this part? Test, test, test, then test some more. It doesn’t matter what’s on your site or how good it looks if people can’t get what they need, or leave out of frustration.
2. Mobile response
Do I need to say this? 80% of internet users own a smartphone. Hell, you’re probably reading this from yours! Make it mobile responsive.
Installing Google analytics is so easy that I’m sure you already have it on your site. The question is: are you using it?
It’s the end of the year and you’re planning your marketing for next year (right?). Your analytics will tell you almost everything you need to craft the web site piece of your marketing strategy. How are people finding your site? What keywords are they using? How long do they spend? How many pages do they visit? Which pages to they visit?
You want to know traffic sources, keywords, and user behavior so you can audit your marketing, determine your ROI, and craft growth strategies for the future.
I hate when I got to a website and can’t figure out what the company does or what their product is for. Have you had this? You go to the about page and it says a bunch of lofty things about how the company has been utilizing innovative technology since 1986 and is a leader in its industry. What does that even mean?
Just one sentence somewhere on the site about what you actually do would be very helpful to the lost visitors who wander to your website from a social media link and wonder, What the hell am I doing here?
Point ‘em in the right direction. Send ‘em home.
5. Social Media Links
It may be a Millennial thing, but I always check out social media links when I visit a new website. It’s a great way to get a feel for the business. I want to know if they’re posting funny memes or if I can see Instagram updates on their Facebook feeds. Do people like them? Is there a new product coming out? Is it a cool company?
Put your social media links up and invite people along (it’s an easy way to grow your following–and effortlessly generate more leads).
Humans of New York began in 2010 as a project by Brandon Stanton to take 10,000 photos of New Yorkers. In the beginning, the point of each photo was visual storytelling. Every photo was beautifully composed, colorful, vivid. His first book, published in 2013, was a collection of these photos, but even while it was being published, his style had already begun to shift.
Instead of the photography taking center stage, he focused on individuals. He would ask, while taking their picture, about their biggest fears, regrets, loss. Humans of New York became a series of portraits both photographic and literary. His second book was published in 2015 focused on these stories. Sometimes they were a sentence and sometimes a page, but no longer were they merely visual.
Stanton wasn’t a professional photographer, at least not in the beginning. He had worked as a bond trader in Chicago. When he was fired, he bought a camera and moved to New York to take 10,000 photos of its people.
And so another guy moved to New York to pursue his art. It’s not a remarkable story and it’s likely it would have never been anything but some obscure guy’s hobby that we would never have come to know–except that he shared his work on Facebook.
He began photographing in late 2010, and in two years garnered 60,000 likes. That was a good number, especially in 2012, but it’s nothing to what he has today: 18.2 million. He’s traveled with the UN, to the Met Gala, to the White House to interview to President Obama himself. Both of his books have been #1 New York TImes Bestsellers.
For a jobless, broke New York transplant, he’s done pretty well for himself.
But once again his creativity has shifted, and this time his audience has not followed along.
In early Fall 2017 he launched Humans of New York: The Series, a weekly Facebook video series (I can’t quite call it a TV show) that tells longer versions of New Yorkers’ stories through video. It is, of course, beautifully shot and produced. The stories are evocative, funny, and personal, just like his photo series. Really, fans of his Facebook page should be thrilled by this development, right? Even more stories! Followers always want to know more about the people whose stories he shares. Now we get know quite a bit more.
And yet, the Series page has only 906k likes. (Just for the sake of comparison, his Instagram account has over 7 million followers.)
Why is that? He’s years into this work with millions of followers around the world and more than a dozen who were inspired to carry out HONY projects in their own cities.
I think HONY is a masterclass in human connection. That is, HONY didn’t gain millions of followers by sharing gorgeous pictures or telling good stories. It gained millions by giving his followers something to connect over. Each photo gets thousands of comments, most of them quite compassionate. And the reason the commenters are kind and empathetic–instead of ugly internet trolls–is that the stories are just specific enough to be universal. Every follower reads a story about him or herself. It’s not about the subject. It’s about me.
The Series is packed with beautiful stories. I’ve never watched a disappointing episode. And yet, they lack that magical quality that the photos have. I see the person telling the story and i’m touched or I laugh. But I don’t see myself, not quite. And with 30 minutes of stories, there isn’t an easy entrance point to a conversation via thread. You can’t name the person in the film (there are no names), and it’s weird to mention time markers. What stuck out to me may not be what what you remember.
If you want your content to be shared, it must be creating connections, building a community. THat’s what great content does: connects you to a greater whole.
I have all sorts of practical advice for your 2018 marketing plans:
- Audit your marketing for 2017. Check your ROI and where it’s greatest. What went right and what could improve?
- Reach out to your customers. Offer gift cards in exchange for feedback.
- Survey your almost-customers. Ask what you could do better.
But none of those will do you much good if you miss the bigger picture, the greater message, the whole point of your marketing: the people who will pay for your product. Your people.
Seth Godin is an entrepreneur, thought leader, blogger, author and the Internet’s resident marketing guru. The Internet has lots of great thought leaders in marketing, but I think that Seth Godin is the most insightful. He did a Q&A on Tim Ferriss’ podcast and was asked what most marketers do wrong.
Here is part of his response:
Nike did not invent the running tribe. There were already runners before Nike showed up. What we do when we lead a tribe often is we find people who are already connected and we merely show up to lead them.
For most businesses, we don’t even lead them. We merely service a tribe that already exists so that when you find a group of people who share an instinct, an interest, a connection, a leader, a goal, you give that group of people something with which they can take action.
The way I abbreviate that long sentence is “people like us do things like this.”
People like us do things like this.
It’s easy to get stuck thinking about marketing tactics and platforms. How should you tweak your Facebook strategy to get more engagement? What influencers do you tap for your next campaign? Should you post 3 times a day on 5 networks? Or do 5 times a day on 2? Which should those be?
None of those questions do you any good if you don’t know the who. Who are you trying to reach? And why do they care about seeing your posts?
Your job as marketer is to answer these questions. Answering these questions will help you tap into the tribe that will buy your product.
Study your market. Understand them better than anyone else. Get why they do things the way they do.
Then, craft your marketing strategy.
Prove That You Get It
I wrote a post last month about the eggs that understood me. They could have a more expensive business model because they could charge a high price for eggs. And they could charge a high price because the company understood that people like me would pay for them.
As you craft your marketing strategy for the coming year, audit your 2017 marketing, survey your customers and almost-customers, find which social media platforms your audience hangs out on and which influencers they rely on for product advice. Then, craft your strategy around them.
Not around platforms, but around people.
In November, the New York Times reported what was maybe the most shocking story they’ve done all year.
An old, damaged painting was sold at auction, among a fierce and lengthy bidding process–let that sink in for a moment before you continue reading–for a hefty sum.
Hm, no. Law school debt is a hefty sum. A mansion in Beverly Hills is a hefty sum.
Sold! To the highest bidder for $450.3 million.
$450.3 million! I’m not even sure how one person–never mind 4!–can produce that kind of check and not have it be for a small island, or at least some sweet Manhattan digs. A painting?
Here’s what (also) caught my attention, though, and why I’m sharing this here today, emphasis my own:
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” considered either the most important old master work to be auctioned in a generation or a damaged painting hyped by savvy marketing, sold on Wednesday night for $450.3 million with fees, a record for any work of art sold at auction. It far surpassed the sale of Picasso’s “Women of Algiers,” which fetched $179.4 million at Christie’s in May 2015.
Now that’s an interesting line. A painting beat out Picasso–by a lot–and it might not even be a master work by Da Vinci? Is it really fair to put this on the marketers?
But Christie’s marketing campaign was perhaps unprecedented in the art world; it was the first time the auction house went so far as to enlist an outside agency to advertise the work,
creating a video that includes top executives pitching the painting to Hong Kong clients as “the holy grail of our business” and likening it to “the discovery of a new planet.”
A new planet? Are you even kidding me? Savvy does not even begin to cover the savviness of this marketing team. How on Earth did they pull that off?
I’ll tell you how: they knew their market! They knew that if there was any chance at all that this could be a real Da Vinci, then it was virtually invaluable–there would be almost no limit to what a serious art collector would pay to have it in his or her collection.
They pulled out all the stops.
They told a story that resonated with that audience.
They pulled off one of art’s most successful marketing campaigns in history.
I love this story!
When we talk about knowing your audience, this is what we mean. Price doesn’t matter. If you have something that someone wants, and you communicate its value to them, there is no limit to what you can do with that.
I mean, don’t be an ass about it. Don’t run the great name of marketing through the mud by manipulating your audiences just so you can go swimming in your piles of money.
But if you have an amazing product, it deserves an amazing story. Tell it. Because your customers want it.