Though it might be nice to have a well-known celebrity or pricey commercial promoting your brand, most small or medium-sized businesses don’t have that kind of luxury. A billboard or local ad can certainly help your bottom line, but nothing short of a robust digital presence will make you truly competitive in the years to come. That’s the kind of business climate in which we now live.
As Smart Insights’ Debbie Inglis put it in 2015, “Digital marketing has emerged as a specialism over the last decade with its origins rooted in direct marketing. The increase in the number of personal devices and their use means brand marketers have many more ways of communicating directly and interactively with their target consumers or customers. Given this, it’s no surprise that branding concepts should be applied to use of digital media and technology to develop brands through interactions with consumers on the digital devices they’re increasingly using.”
To be sure, there are a number of crucial nuts and bolts you should explore in order to build such complete digital presence. Social media, content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) are all but essential in today’s digital business environment. But a primary and underlying objective in almost any digital endeavor is building your brand. We’ll cover a number a techniques needed to do just that in short order, but it’s worth remembering some of the fundamentals, too.
Your brand has a lot to do with your business’s identity. Who are you and what inspires you to do business? How do you serve your customers and community alike? What inspired you to enter the market in the first place? How does your product, service or messaging differ from the competition? If you haven’t answered these kinds of questions already, it’s worth doing so before embarking upon an earnest digital marketing campaign. Before you tell the rest of the world who you are, it’s worth spending some initial brainstorming sessions figuring it out for yourself. A little introspection never hurt either.
Now that you have a better sense of your identity internally, the next step is thinking about how to convey that brand to others. It’s tempting to jump right into marketing strategies and tactics, but you might want to spend a bit more time doing a bit of early planning. Regardless of the channels you use to market, you’ll want a consistent tone and message. That tone and message should reflect all the things that give you a unique identity. Consumers are invariably looking for something different, a product or experience that meets their needs or interests in a special way. Before communicating with those consumers, you should think about how your message can distinguish itself from all the rest of the digital noise while resonating at the same time.
So you’ve refined your brand internally and given some thought to how that brand should be communicated. Once you’ve covered those bases, it’s time to start thinking about proven methods for enhancing your brand online. In an increasingly digital world, disseminating that identity and ethos into the Internet is a multifaceted process. Quite simply, there’s no single way to adequately promote your brand online. Doing so involves multiple campaigns, a commitment to investing the appropriate amount of financial and human resources and a willingness to innovate outside of the box in a digital market that’s likely already saturated with alternatives and competition.
One last word of advice before delving into the concrete solutions: Don’t confuse brand communication with marketing alone. The latter can mean a lot of things—from highlighting the consumer’s need for a product or service to simply reminding people where you’re located. But the former involves a more meaningful kind of marketing, the kind that leaves a lasting impression and tells current and potential customers more about who you really are. Accordingly, building your brand’s presence has a lot to do with simultaneously building relationships. The more that people know what you’re all about, the more likely they are to forge an attachment to your products, services or employees—and stick around for the long term in the process.
A Different Kind of Content
Content marketing has become almost synonymous with any attempt to build a complete digital presence in the last several years. SEO efforts often revolve around the attempt to attract users to a website via substantial and regularly posted content—generally in the form of blog entries or other web copy. That’s probably reason enough to launch a blog and ensure you have the writing and editorial resources needed to maintain it. But there’s more to it from a branding perspective.
It’s tempting to think of your blog as just another vehicle for attracting users to your site. If you incorporate the right keywords and create quality content, that’s precisely what’s supposed to happen. But what’s next? What keeps those users coming back? And what ensures that—beyond having a quality experience—they’re more endeared to your brand in the first place?
Brands Gone Social
Aside from content, there’s perhaps no better way to communicate your brand than through social media. The opportunity to regularly message a targeted audience is almost invaluable in the digital age, and it certainly represents a sophisticated step beyond traditional marketing channels like the ubiquitous billboard or passive Yellow Pages. That said, a carefully executed social media campaign requires plenty of attention on your part. Simply posting basic information or sales-oriented ads can quickly backfire, especially when such efforts are perceived as spam-like or over-the-top. And while the solution isn’t necessarily to post content on a limited or sporadic basis, nor should you throw your hands up altogether.
The first step is to ensure that you have all your social bases covered.
As Entrepreneur’s Te-Erika Patterson noted in 2015, “Each digital platform has a dedicated audience of users who prefer that particular method of interaction over others. When your company’s brand establishes a presence across multiple platforms, you are essentially meeting potential customers in their neighborhood. And when you care enough to visit their neighborhood, they may care enough to support you.”
In other words, reaching out is half the battle. Beyond the appeal of having a broad reach in the first place, failure to do so makes it appear as though your business either has limited resources or isn’t caught up with today’s trends. That means you should have accounts with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and potentially a visually-oriented platform like Instagram. You’ll need to strike a balance between having a widespread presence on the one hand and maintaining enough resources to give each platform its due attention. That likely means assigning a social media officer to keep each account up to date with daily posts. At minimum, you should have an intern or part-time employee keep up with your accounts in the event you don’t have the means for full-time oversight. In that event, it’s probably wise for someone on the management team to keep a close eye on what’s going on.
Why all the fuss about social media? Why isn’t one post per month enough to keep consumers in the loop?
That’s where the importance of branding becomes so central. On the one hand, you’ll want to demonstrate that you have a competitive edge in terms of outreach and messaging. On the other hand, you want to be accessible to the consumer—pure and simple. The easier it is to get in touch with your company, the more familiar consumers will become with your products, services and the team behind them. In a digital age that sometimes seems overly automated or anonymous, that kind of responsiveness will speak volumes about the way you do business.
There’s never a bad time to spice up your online presence (via a website or social media post) with more visually stimulating content, especially if it involves video. Assuming you aren’t bogging mobile users down with too much video content, odds are that you’ll have more luck when it comes to attracting and engaging online users by giving them something visual to chew on.
BrandANew’s Vanhishikha Bhargava explained in 2015 that, “The use of videos for marketing purposes has been steadily growing. Videos are a perfect way to show how a product works. Brands have started focusing on video content more than their text-only content strategy. Videos allow for greater engagement, lower site bounce rates and also showcase product usage in multiple scenarios. Browsing through their social media timelines, consumers are more likely to get attracted to a video advert that immediately grabs attention.”
Put simply, video-based content is a good idea in general. But there’s more to it than that. Videos aren’t just another way to entertain or inform. They’re also a valuable means of communicating your brand to the consumer. From the look of the video to its scripting, this is a prime opportunity to tell people what you’re all about—especially in a world where those people just happen to be paying a little bit more attention.
Forbes’ Jayson DeMers explained in late-2015 that, “As traffic shifts away from traditional blog posts and toward YouTube channels and dedicated video blogs, more and more marketers will embrace the significance of this evolving tactic. Branded video content will become the lifeblood of the modern digital marketer.
“If the term branded video content is unfamiliar, don’t worry; it’s pretty straightforward. Branded video content is nothing more than videos published under a brand’s name for the sole purpose of engaging users, providing value, and presenting a direct and compelling call to action.
“Branded videos can range from interviews and behind-the-scenes footage to dramatic shorts and product promos. In response to the rising demand for video content, brands will naturally begin to turn their focus toward creating fresh content.”
DeMers adds that creating video content need not be especially complicated or burdensome. Many smaller companies can “repurpose some of their existing content by converting it to video form,” and there’s no need for high-priced production given the availability of video editing software. A little creative planning can also obviate the need for pricey actors or commercial-like scenes. Remember that many of your viewers are looking for content that’s helpful or solves a problem. And while graphically interesting videos are always preferable, there’s no need to break the bank for something that looks spectacular. If you’re a law firm, think about having one of your trusted partners put together a video series that explains useful legal topics in layman’s terms. If you’re a restaurant, consider the value associated with a video-based tour of your kitchen or dining area.
Using in-house employees to deliver scripted messaging can run the risk of coming across as unprofessional or even cheap. But having a casual and natural conversation with your viewers can have the opposite effect. So think about the kind of content you want to deliver and channel your human resources accordingly. Sometimes doing things on a budget can still result in a worthwhile and useful video for consumers. Showing those consumers who they might be working with or buying from can have a deeply personalizing impact on your company, and that goes a long way toward cultivating a brand image and conveying that image to those looking to learn more about who you are.
Of course, videos aren’t the only way to communicate your brand in a visually stimulating way. And sometimes they aren’t the most cost-effective mechanism either. If you have a graphic specialist or team on staff, consider using it to come up with infographics, charts or polls that can grab your audience’s attention. Like videos, these make for excellent social media posts and give you an eye-catching tool that can draw new consumers into the fold. Mantras about pictures telling a thousand words haven’t gone anywhere, but this isn’t just about pictures. It’s also about giving your users a more visually interesting way to grasp and internalize information.