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.

How to Convince Customers You’re Worthy of Their Loyalty

Did you know that 71 percent of customers have stopped using a company because of the poor customer service they received? Did you also know that the average value of a lost customer is $243? Poor customer experiences cost companies money and seriously hurt the bottom line. No company can afford to just throw away $243 per person.

Fortunately, there is a solution. By focusing your efforts on improving your customers’ experience, you can help encourage them to return to you, improving retention and stopping the bleed of past customers going to your competitors. Here’s how to do it.

Focus on employees

Your employees are the face of the company when customers interact with your brand. Make sure they represent you well. Develop a strong relationship with employees by giving them degrees of independence, flexibility, and a work environment that’s a pleasant place to be. Employees will become more appreciative and enthusiastic about your brand and pass that along to customers.

Give employees training, then independence

Focus on building a culture of independence. Allow company representatives to troubleshoot and solve problems on their own. This will help them feel more appreciated, while improving customer service. Now, when a customer calls with a complaint, the person who answers can actually help them, rather than passing the phone call from person to person.

Try to under-promise and over-deliver

Far too many customers are used to companies neglecting their promises, so show that you’re different. Promise customers the minimum of what they can expect and then over-deliver.

Listen to what customers say are the weakest parts of their experience

Though fewer and fewer customers actually use complaint lines to let companies know they did wrong, that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped complaining. Instead, it’s simply become more common for people to release their reviews to the public through social media.

A bad review from a disgruntled customer can have an enormous impact on your company’s reputation. Address customer complaints head-on and try to make amends for their poor experience. If the customer is satisfied, then politely ask them to update or remove the bad review.

Treat bad reviews as learning experiences. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What part of the customer experience was impacted (product research, pricing, the purchase itself, questions about the product, etc.)?
  • Are there any patterns to the types of complaints made by customers?
  • What do these bad reviews say about how customers wish to be seen in your organization?

Use the information you garner to guide you in making improvements to the customer experience. Prioritize changes based on the weaknesses customers point out in their reviews, and let them know they’re valued by your company.

The customer experience can be a fantastic predictor of consumer loyalty and retention. When you learn how to convince customers to stay with your brand, you’ll see more money in your pocket and better growth. Use the above advice to update your customer experience to make the most of every interaction between customer and company.

How to Handle Customer Complaints Effectively

Few aspects of running a business can be more frustrating — or more expected — than customer complaints. It’s impossible for even the most successful companies to please every customer every time. Knowing how to handle customer complaints effectively and professionally can improve brand reputation and turn a disgruntled customer around.

Listen and acknowledge the customer

It sounds basic, but a surprising number of businesses care more about defending their actions than listening to the customer. Remember that the vast majority of people who have a problem with your company won’t bother complaining to you. They’ll just complain to everyone else. Every customer who takes the time to complain directly to you should be thanked for the opportunity to make the situation right. This means listening carefully to everything the customer has to say about the experience and offering an apology for their discontent.

If you encounter a complaint online, reach out and publicly acknowledge the complaint online as well. Let the person know how disappointed you are that they were unhappy and ask for the opportunity to discuss the incident with them privately.

Discover the source of their frustration

If a customer complains that they can’t find something in your store, you might assume they’re asking you to reorganize your shelves. However, they might really be upset that no staff members noticed their frustration and stepped in to help before they started complaining.

Find out what the company can do to help

Sometimes all the customer really wants is an apology or information about how you’ll work to improve so you don’t make the same mistake again. In these situations, it’s easy to exceed customer expectations by offering coupons or a similar incentive in addition to meeting their request.

If the customer’s not sure how they’d like to be compensated or if they have demands you can’t reasonably meet, you should have a policy in place to help alleviate the customer’s concerns. Make a point of explaining what your company’s doing to improve in the area of the complaint, and thank them for their feedback.

Handle the publicity of social media

If a complaint originates on social media, take the solution back to social media once the situation’s resolved. Everything in social media is public, so once a customer posts a complaint, it can be seen by countless potential customers. Bringing the solution back to social media will help those who saw the original complaint see how well you did addressing it.

If someone complains to you through a blog post, ask them to either update the post so new readers know the situation was resolved or remove it altogether. If the complaint was made on Facebook or a similar platform, return to the original post and make an update yourself, such as, “I’m so glad we were able to work together to resolve this problem. We look forward to doing more business with you in the future.”

Customer complaints are an aspect of business no one enjoys but everyone has to know how to manage. Keeping the above guidelines in mind should help you successfully navigate this terrain, strengthen your company’s brand, and improve your reputation.

What Marketers Can Learn at the Farmers’ Market

Imagine walking into a farmers’ market. Like many other visitors making their way through the stalls, you’ve become increasingly concerned about where your food comes from and the techniques used to grow it. The farmers’ market offers you a distinct advantage because here you can actually speak with the people who grew or raised the food you’re looking to buy. You can ask them questions.

You approach the first stall. The farmer offers a variety of foods — fruits, vegetables, and even a bit of meat and cheese. You try to ask some questions about what pesticides were used when the plants were growing, what the animals ate, and whether or not the chickens were allowed to roam. The farmer seems annoyed by your questions. He gives you gruff, brief answers that don’t really address your concerns but seem focused instead on getting you to make a purchase or move along.

The next stall is similar, except you note that the prices are about 10%-20% higher. Still, you reach out to the farmer behind the counter and start asking questions. What a difference! The farmer comes out from behind the counter and tells you all about the methods he uses to grow and raise his different livestock and crops. He explains what safeguards he has in place to protect the consumer’s health and the experience he has in the field.

The time comes for you to make a purchase. Who are you more likely to buy from? Is it the farmer who just pushed you to buy or the farmer you’ve begun to trust because of his helpfulness, even if he does charge a few cents more? For most people, the answer is going to be the second. When people form bonds with merchants and begin to feel as though they can trust them, they become increasingly likely to buy from those vendors. This same concept should be incorporated into all your marketing campaigns.

Helping to build a relationship of trust

Becoming a source of answers and an authority in the industry for potential customers is a critical part of building this relationship. This often involves building plenty of valuable content online that customers can turn to when they have questions. Content that adds value helps customers begin to trust a company, their products, and their knowledge of the industry. When a single company has the answers a customer is looking for time and time again, there’s little question who they’ll turn to when they’re ready to make a purchase.

One way to build this kind of relationship is by working to become a regular community figure. Look for events or people you can sponsor to help get your company name in front of potential customers on a regular basis. Being available in person to answer questions for potential customers is one of the best types of marketing.

You should similarly take advantage of networking opportunities and work to establish friendships with many other professionals. As you nurture these relationships, remember that you’re building for the future, too. Even if you don’t get any immediate sales from a contact, they’ll be far more inclined to turn to you in the future if they know you’re someone they can trust.

Taking the time to build relationships with potential customers — by answering their questions, providing them with quality content, and even forming friendships — is a wonderfully easy way to grow your business. People naturally turn to the people they trust in business, so follow the same rules as the helpful farmer in the farmers’ market, and begin to improve your own marketing techniques.

Building a Community No One Can Resist

People enjoy feeling as though they belong. It’s a part of our universal desire to form strong bonds with other people and feel connected to those around us. From student clubs to neighborhood organizations, this desire plays out across our nation in a variety of settings.

This desire also has a firm place in marketing. One of the best ways to encourage brand loyalty involves encouraging customers to feel as though they’re part of an exclusive group when they use your brand. When people feel connected to your company and to other users, they’re more likely to become repeat customers and even recommend your brand to others. Few companies have enjoyed the success Facebook has in this regard.

The early days of Facebook

Back when Facebook was first developed, it was available only to users at colleges and universities, and they had to have a .edu email address to register. This effort to create a distinctive market resulted in a very strong community among Facebook users. Many users today still reminisce about the early days when their parents and grandparents weren’t registered and it was just a way to communicate with their college friends. In many ways, the desire to belong to this exclusive ‘club’ of Facebook users helped the company grow exponentially.

Revising the Facebook exclusivity

After a few years of immense popularity with the college-age crowd, Facebook began to open registration up to people outside their original targeted demographic. At first, this upset many people who had eagerly waited until their college years to join, only to find that everyone else could now, too. In recent years, there have been some reports of the younger generations leaving as they search for a platform that allows them to converse with their friends without their parents and grandparents seeing their comments. Overall, however, the platform has continued to grow. This is because the developers have taken the time to still encourage feelings of community among users, even though everyone can now join.

How have they managed to maintain this feeling?

  1. Newsfeeds update users to their friends’ activities as soon as they log in. This offers a unique way to stay in contact with friends and family. Users know they would lose all this information if they were to leave.
  2. Games and similar activities encourage users to work together on the platform for entertainment, connecting people by common interests within the platform.
  3. Since Facebook use is so prevalent, the default is to use the platform. People expect to be able to connect and communicate with others through it. Those who don’t have a page risk losing out on a key form of communication.

How businesses can learn from Facebook

Facebook has managed to build a community so strong that it appeals to nearly every demographic. Few companies will have the reach to accomplish this, but they will be able to strengthen their own connections to encourage customer loyalty and retention.

For example, try building portions of your company website that allow and encourage communication between customers. You can occasionally interject advice as needed, but in general try to keep the conversations between end-users, to encourage a connection between your customers.

Loyalty programs and rewards programs are also helpful. By offering prizes to those who use your products and services regularly, you’ll show your appreciation and encourage customers to return to earn more. Publicly rewarding customers, such as showcasing particular people for their loyalty, can also help enhance brand loyalty. Even promotions such as free t-shirts can help customers feel connected to your company.

Facebook has shown the business world what is possible when a brand manages to build such a strong sense of community that users cannot imagine doing without it. Companies of all sizes can take some of the lessons to heart and begin to build their own communities. If you’re interested in developing materials to help reach your consumer base and encourage them to be a part of your community, reach out to us. We’d be happy to help you!

Connect With Your Customers


No matter how great your product or service is — and we know it’s great — customers still make buying decisions based on emotions. Sadly, most businesses don’t strive to create that personal connection that influences buying behavior. When it comes to effective sales and marketing approaches, building relationships with customers is key. But how can you bring that all-important personal touch to every transaction and really make your business stand out?

These best practices will help you nurture personal connections with customers and build brand loyalty.

Ask First, Sell Later

Before you jump right into a standard sales pitch, take the time to ask your customers a few questions. More importantly, really listen to their answers. A bit of gentle probing will help your customer articulate exactly what it is they need. That, in turn, will allow you to clearly explain exactly how your products or services will solve their problems.

This way, you’re not simply pushing something that they may or may not really need or want. Instead, you’re taking their unique situation into account and providing a personalized, customized solution. At the same time, you’re building rapport by creating a personal interaction that’s so important.

Again, really listening is key. While your customer is speaking, stop what you’re doing, take a breath, and simply listen. Don’t attempt to think ahead and formulate answers before they’re finished talking. Remain in the moment, and place your full attention on them. They’ll notice the difference!

Quid Pro Quo

Keep on building that relationship by offering some personal information about yourself, too. Don’t worry. You don’t have to give out your Social Security number or your home address. In fact, avoid TMI at all costs. Sharing just a bit will humanize you to your customer. Talking about where you where born, a common hobby, a sports team, or even a recent movie you watched or book you read can make a real impact.

Scientific studies support this strategy. A 2009 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that customers were more likely to buy — and to be happy about their purchase — when a salesperson shared personal info like a birthday or a birthplace. But don’t fake it; the study also found that creating similarities where none really exist simply to make a connection tended to backfire, especially if the customer found out later that the salesperson wasn’t being forthcoming.

Keep in Touch

Regular newsletters are a great way to keep in touch with your customers — with the added benefit of keeping your brand in the forefront of their minds. CIO recommends sending a newsletter at least 10 times per year. Make it simple to scan and read, with short, concise articles and a prominent table of contents so customers can find what they’re looking for with ease. Focus on relevant content that your customers can use, making your newsletter something to look forward to.

That Personal Touch

Sending a handwritten note or postcard is a great way to ensure that your business stands out. Handwritten communication proves beyond a doubt that you’ve taken the time to sit down and make an effort, which makes your customer feel valued. Try to include personalized content in each note to really make an impact.

These simple steps will help you build that human connection that’s so key to driving sales and customer loyalty.

Turn You Competitors’ Customers into YOUR Customers

Here are a few creative ways to help turn your competitors’ customers into your own:

  • Offer a comparison chart that focuses on reasons why customers should choose your product over the competition. For example, you may offer a standard five-year warranty, while your competitors may only offer a three-year warranty. Or perhaps they offer an extended five-year warranty option, but at an additional price.
  • Stay informed of what your competitors are doing, but avoid copying their ideas. Instead, add value and make their ideas even better. For example, if a competitor offers free shipping on purchases of $100+, you could provide free shipping on all purchases and possibly even returns.
  • Create a unique tagline or slogan that focuses on your key selling points, such as: “Hassle-Free Returns” or “Receive your lunch order within 30 minutes or it’s free.”
  • Add value to a comparable product through added services, such as longer support hours, free training, and live phone operators (no automated phone service).
  • Create a customer survey. Ask your audience how you can improve, what new offerings they wish you provided, what they like best about your company, and what areas they may find lacking. Their answers could easily point to ideas that will help you gain a competitive advantage.
  • Provide a risk-free trial to test your products or services before committing to a change.
  • Compare your guarantee to your competition. If your competitors don’t offer a guarantee, this is an extra reason to promote your guarantee heavily.
  • Compete with low-price competitors in creative ways. Offer exclusive discounts when items are purchased together as a package, or offer free or discounted add-on bonuses.
  • Romance your competitors’ customers. Show them the affection they may be missing from their current vendor, and let them know you’re willing to go the extra mile to win their business.
  • Even if prospects are happy with their current provider, be sure to continue your marketing efforts. Create front-of-mind awareness so you’re at the top of their list if they ever change their mind.