Building a strong online branding presence can seem a daunting task, leading to the not-so-workable idea that “If I don’t acknowledge the internet as an actual marketing tool, it doesn’t matter and “business as usual” can continue.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be) “business as usual” is not what it once was with regards to branding and marketing communication methods, and digital branding and social media marketing is the new normal. To thrive in this era of new (and ever-changing) electronic media there a few vital points that need to be known and understood. We have collected ten of what we feel are the most important from our own experience and what we have observed with clients.
1/ The modern consumer spends time online — and buys online.
According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, 72% of Americans aren’t just shopping online but consider themselves to be confident or expert online shoppers. It’s very true that the sales game has changed — the way buyers act and interact is vastly different today than 20 or even 10 years ago. These days, if you don’t have an online presence, you literally don’t exist in the mind of the consumer or potential client. Why? because EVERYONE has a site, or at least a page.
A few decades ago, you would put a 1-800 number on something and if they had any questions or interest they would contact you; if you handled that query well, the sale was a foregone conclusion. The game is a vastly different animal now, in which a “potential customer” visits your website, browses around, reads some online reviews, and comes to a decision — not necessarily to BUY, but as to whether or not you are a POTENTIAL place to buy.
They might decide you are, but still look elsewhere first. This means that your online presence MUST attract and engage from the get-go — there may not be a “second chance.”
2/ Your impression on consumers as a brand is just as important as your product.
The Internet is a cacophony of images, messages, pitches, ads, social communications and diverse content — but the exciting part of it is the extensive capacity it has with the ability to showcase many competitors in the same market. Due to this, it is vital to have a brand image and message that is not only different but fully separates from you the rest of the field. This is more true in internet marketing than it was back in the day, because your competitors’ sites are literally only a click away, and surround you in the list when people search for your keywords.
If you don’t fully understand this, you might very well have someone look at your ad or site, decide they want that product or service and then go elsewhere to buy it, because you didn’t make a enough of a BRAND impression on them, and make them want YOU, along with the product or service they were searching for.
3/ Make sure you control your online reputation.
Especially in B to C marketing and sales, people will be writing about your business, its products and their customer experience, and you need to exercise some level of control over it. If something negative comes out — which it likely will, as there are some people out there that would not be happy with the highest quality diamond — you must be prepared to properly handle it. Just like the politicians who actually lose reputation if they get into mud-slinging matches with their opponents, the best strategy is using a positive, rather than a negative approach.
If you have been putting attention of getting current, happy customers to be review “evangelists,” then if one bad one comes up, the sky does not fall. Having the ability to post reviews can also pull in a certain type of consumer as well, the ones that only complain. That’s why an awesome business may have several negative reviews or at least a few really bad ones. To be prepared for these happening, make it a practice to constantly collect reviews from happy customers and you can stay ahead of the game.
4/ Go ahead and cast a wider net.
With the Internet being a vast marketing playground where communications spark at lightning speed, the old excuses of the geographic area not supporting your business are null and void. Now you can sell your products online or bring people from out of the area to see you, the “expert” in XYZ service. To be seen as the expert, it will take a bit of strategic positioning and playing the long game, putting out as much valuable content as possible. Work your program with the mindset that you want to help as many people as possible, but make sure you do define your target market and ensure you are those reaching people.
Sometimes businesses marketing online make the mistake of thinking that everyone is their customer, and that’s just not the case. Yes, the net is now wider, but you still have to market your primary product and deliver to its public. Try to be everything to everyone and you’ll quickly find out you’re now nothing to no one.
5/ Backlinks help your online brand move forward.
Google ranks pages not just in search relevancy, but also by links back to your site. Being in more places and having more people writing about you in a positive way is something that will help your page rank higher in search, which means more customers discovering your business. Start with thinking about the easiest places you can list your business on and build it from there. For example, If you’re a brick-and-mortar business with a physical address, places like Yelp, YellowPages and Yahoo are the easiest places to get started with a company listing—a quick way a to start generating those valuable backlinks.
6/ Online brand building is cost-effective for startups.
The cost to get started online in many places is free — or less than a Double with Bacon at Five Guys. Costs can go up if you’re spending money on Google advertising and in other places, and keep in mind that as your business scales, spending money on marketing will become more and more necessary. It may be free to participate, but to win you’ll have to pay to play. Playing to win involves spending “smart money” on advertising on your various platforms — meaning, if you spend time to do some deep-dive research, you can have a much more productive and cost-effective campaign.
7/ Online, your business is open 24/7.
The Internet literally never closes, and if you’re online and set up in the correct way, then neither does your business. How cool is that? Since your competitors are open all the time too, we’ll say it again— it’s vital that your online brand can be easily found and is memorable to best take advantage of the tsunami of potential customers. There is an important to caveat to mention with the online customer, and that is not only do they expect you to be there, they also expect you to be available.
So, if you use live chat, you’re all set — but if you use email, make sure responses are timely. If you set up automatic emails, be sure to include some information or FAQs that customers or potential customers can use, so that by the time you get around to dealing to their issue, which should be quickly, they may already have the answer that they need.
8/ Your competitors are already in the market.
To beat a dead horse one more time — whether you’ve validated the idea for yourself or not, your competitors are already online reaching out to your potential customers. So its time to set up shop because with everyone launching into the marketplace, it becomes harder and harder for companies to grab the attention of potential buyers and convert them into loyal customers. Like any race to a prize, those off the blocks first have an advantage — if their online branding is strong.
Even if the pack is gone and you haven’t made it out of the gates yet, its important to start now because generating a solid, viable brand is a process achieved over time — putting it off will only make trying to get found nearly impossible. Also keep in mind that those early-starters might not have done a good enough job with their branding to have real staying power, so you haven’t lost the race yet!
9/ Automation saves time and maintains connections with customers.
The way the online marketplace works, especially in email automation, you can communicate with people yet not have to do all of it personally. The interesting caveat to this idea is that you must not to make it feel automated — communications from your company must appear meaningful and personal.
Explore interesting ways to automate with your customers and figure out how to make customers feel special. If done with finesse, automated messages can become part of the customer experience in the way that adds to their life, as opposed to annoying them. A good example is automated customer service messages which let buyers know their order has been received, it has shipped, etc.
10/ Building “social proof” reinforces your brand.
Potential customers like to see that they are not the only one. Whether your online brand is small because you’ve just started, or large and owns a good portion of the space, potential customers don’t like to feel like they are the first ones to the party. People want to see that the party has been going on long before them, and they can be a part of the success too; your online brand is a social movement. Think of creative ways to grow your social brand, whether it be in Likes, Circles or Followers; this makes obtaining an ever-larger circle of influence easier and easier as you go.
As you can see, having and maintaining an online brand presence is essential to doing business in today’s marketplace. If you feel like there’s a lot to know that’s OK—there is — but its better to start with one thing that you feel you can manage and move outward from there, rather than ignoring something that’s definitely not going away. The playing field has changed; make sure your team is on it and wins by understanding the rules of the game.
Can you think of more of these which didn’t make our cut?
Post a comment and let us know!