The role of creative designers

There is a creative designer at our company. She is amazing and I have been working with her for more than 10 years. She is super talented. Unfortunately, her skills and times are mostly used to create presentations for our executive team. I personally think it’s a huge opportunity cost. Her skills would be worth a lot of money if we could use those skills to drive marketing activities.

Design is important in marketing (every area really). The one thing I’ve never done is I never ask her (the designer) to share her input in our strategy. She would add different perspectives. A consistent design is a life-blood of how you want your brand to be remembered.

People know what a good design looks like when they see it. A good design is hard to quantify into $$ amounts. But, it does play a crucial role in our marketing efforts. Her skill shouldn’t be used to create presentations.

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Audience-centric storytelling

Another buzz word I afraid – audience-centric storytelling (ACS). At its core, ACS is a story told from the perspective of a customer. It’s more compelling than brand storytelling because it blends both the power of storytelling and social proof.

We are all familiar with User-Generated Content (UGC). But, with ACS, we would be more specific about how a product could solve customer problems. It could be a blog post that use a real customer explaining his problem and how he uses a product to overcome it. Another effective form of ACS is a video review by customers.

The concept of ACS should be used on other channels too such as a company’s website, emails, social media (of course).

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Branding and direct response marketing

I read an article the other day about branding and direct response marketing. The author made a point that companies need to choose only 1 approach. They cannot do both. It’s very rare to be successful to do both. His argument (the author) made me worried a lot.

Branding marketing is a long term investment. Its objective is not to sell a product per se. It sells a concept, a philosophy, and a belief. Direct response marketing on the other hand is to sell a product. This approach promotes product features and pricing. You communicate to new / different audience almost all the time.

There is nothing wrong with both approaches. They work to different types of companies. But, you cannot do both. I don’t like the direct response approach and want to change it to the branding approach. I will have to do both for a period of time. It could be a while.

But, I don’t have other options.

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Intensity vs Consistency

These 2 key words will be used in a background of my strategy this year. They will be used in different context. And, they are both important.

Branding: consistency is more important. We need to be consistent in our positioning, our messages, and our content creation.

Strategic priorities: there are so many things to do. Instead of setting a priority and allocate resources the old way, we will do them all but apply intensity levels to each priority.

Staff training: I will need both intensity and consistency. Intensity alone won’t make knowledge sticks. Consistency alone won’t change their behavior.

Leadership: consistency is a key here. I have to communicate more often with the messages towards our agreed strategy.

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Simple ways to build trust

I watched a TedTalk video yesterday. The speak was an FBI officer specialising in a kidnapping negotiation area. I got 2 simple, important ways on how to build trust from him.

  1. When you show the other person that you understand the situation he is in, you don’t have to spend time to explain about your background, your expertise, or how long you have been doing what you are doting to him. What it means is the first step (after you introduce yourself) for you is to listen to the other person. Ask questions about him. It’s not about you. It’s about him.
  2. You should add a “predictability” factor to your process. When people encounter issues or need help, they are likely to be anxious about the unknown. If you offer help or a solution to them, you should tell them what you are going to do to help them and when exactly you will be in touch. The speaker made a case that you should keep in touch with the person you are dealing with even though you don’t have any update to tell him. A statement like “I will contact you in 2 days to update you again” even though you don’t have any update could go a long way.

I have a lot of customers asking me for help through social media. That’s why I could relate the above 2 principles. Customers are so appreciative when I sent a simple message to tell them that I am still following up for them.

Building trust = building brand. The process requires care and consistency.

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Intensity vs Consistency

Which one do you think is more important between intensity and consistency? You might answer it depends on context. You are right. But, what if the context is about leadership, branding, and marketing? Which one is more important?

It’s not new but after listening to Simon Sinek’s videos, he made me think about them very seriously. In leadership, intensity looks like this – many companies think having a leadership workshop once a year would be sufficient to generate good leaders or changing culture. I attended those workshops in the past 10 years and haven’t seen much difference. Consistency is the opposite. You nurture your team about how to be a good leader every day, even a few minutes a day.

It’s like going to a gym. You cannot go to the gym twice a year and spend 10 hours each time then expect something to change. It doesn’t work like that. You have to go the the gym consistently, at least 3-4 times/week for 20-30 minutes at each time.

Being consistent is far more important than being intense, at least in the leadership, marketing, and branding areas. You have to be consistent in your messages, your designs, and your tones so customers can recognise your pieces.

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What does being authentic mean?

I don’t why but I have seen this word everywhere. That word is “authentic”. It’s in the leadership books and articles that I read. It’s also in the books about branding and inbound marketing. I do not 100% what this word mean. Let’s have a look.

What does it mean by being authentic? I like the explanation from Diane Mottl“Being authentic means coming from a real place within. It is when our actions and words are congruent with our beliefs and values. It is being ourselves, not an imitation of what we think we should be or have been told we should be. There is no “should” in authentic.”

Being true to ourselves is difficult than it sounds. That’s why being authentic is used in many business context. In leadership, you have to be authentic. You have to walk the talk, set up a good example. Remember, good culture starts from the very top.

In branding and marketing, being authentic means earn trust from your customers. Once you get that trust, you don’t have to do those low class promotions and advertising.

But, being authentic and successful is difficult. It takes time. You won’t get quick results (maybe that’s why it’s difficult). Once you get there though, it’s worth the world.

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Marketing VS Branding

Do we, marketers, understand branding enough? I am not sure. And, if I am not sure, best of luck to explain it to an executive team. What is marketing then? This is too much for some people.

One of my team members share the below quote with me the other day. It says “Marketing is the equivalent of asking someone on a date. Branding is the reason they say yes.” This is very cool. I recently used a speed dating analogy to explain to my team of what we should not do – asking someone to marry you in the first date. I call all of our discount campaigns, a speed dating campaign. We lure customers in with cheap deals. Then, we sell them with our product.

Because the likelihood of that ‘someone’ to say yes I will marry you in the first date, our conversion rate is very low. The speed dating era has gone. Customers are very smart today. There are also a zillion solutions out there in the market. It’s arrogant to think customers have to buy just from us.

Branding is a long term investment. Yes, it’s unlikely you will get the results you want in a short term. However, it’s not an excuse why you cannot start doing it now. Branding is about building trust. I ask my team all the time – why should customers care about us? If we disappear, would they miss us? They are simple questions but hard to answer.

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Behavioural Residue

I am in a pursuit of inbound marketing. The goal is to reduce the reliance on an outbound, cold calling approach. It’s very difficult and it requires our marketing team to change a lot of things. How can we make customers want to talk to us?

One of the items in my list is branding. Everything about branding involves customer’s trust. It would improve content consumption, an email open rate, and a conversion rate. Building a brand takes time.

One small thing that I want to do is around a concept called “behavioural residue”. It relates to brand awareness. Public visibility is required to drive product to catch on. The idea is to promote ‘imitation’. Jonah Berger, the author of a book called “Contagious” defines behavioural residue as “the physical traces or remnants that most actions or behaviours leave in their wake.”

You see a number of companies do it everyday. An iPhone user sends an email with a signature say ‘Send from my iphone’. Supermarkets sell a shopping bag with their names and logos on it. Those items can be used repeatedly. It is a social proof that lots of people use those products.

You should think about this concept too. What is the easiest and the most cost effective way to get your brand, your product’s benefit out there in a meaningful way.

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Building a brand with no budget

I work in marketing but I don’t have a branding budget. We have been talking about the importance of building a brand every year but nothing solid happens. In fairness, building a brand is difficult, time-consuming, and could be very expensive. It’s a long term investment that you may not see favorable results, in a short term, or at all. I gave up about fighting for branding a few years ago.

However, I have connected a few issues we are experiencing this year with the lack of brand awareness. So, I cannot give up if I want the company to be successful. I highlighted 2 points to the company about the important of having (at minimum) a positive brand awareness. Firstly, a clear and publicly known, positive brand positioning would justify a premium price. And, secondly, it would help increase our conversion rates.

The bigger question is – how can we do the brand work if we don’t have a dedicated budget? My answer is in Seth Godin’s Minimum Viable Audience (MVA) concept. It’s not possible to build a brand for the universe (the whole country or region). It would be super expensive and would take about 200 years. But, creating an ecosystem with the right groups of customers in there, it may be possible. At the end of the day, no product could server everyone. It’s a formula for being an average. And, that is what I am doing. I am pushing for an ecosystem and only invite the customers who we think we could offer them a holiday solution.

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