From social media to visual content, there are certain avenues you simply cannot ignore if you want to get the best return on your investment. Let’s go through them as we determine how you can build a stellar digital brand from the ground up.
Establish and maintain a social media presence
When you decide to get serious about your digital brand, social media is the natural place to start. Encompassing a huge variety of channels, social media is perfect for customer research, engagement, brand storytelling, service, sales, content promotion, employee advocacy, and so much more.
And because it offers such rich potential, the best thing you can do as you lay out your strategy is decisively committed to social media. Even the smartest tactics you can devise won’t begin to reap the real benefits of social media in the short term. When you start working on it, be sure that you can maintain that effort well into the future.
Having done that, here are the steps you should take to deliver on that commitment:
- Create a flexible social media calendar that gives direction but doesn’t straitjacket your social media team. Factor in seasonal social media events, as well as recurring hashtags and trends.
- Hire someone to manage social media, outsource it, or do a bit of both— but make sure there’s someone in charge of overall social strategy and implementation, and that everyone involved knows who it is. Accountability is vital for an undertaking of this size; defining clear parameters will protect your brand from mishaps.
- Explore different content formats, such as memes, GIFs, online videos, clips— don’t be afraid to experiment. It might seem intimidating, but finding the right content formula is often the key to increasing engagement.
- Consolidate efforts to the platforms that make the most sense for you. LinkedIn is typically important for B2B companies, while B2C companies need to get visual on Instagram. Figure out where your target audience can be found, and aim there. British pie business Pieminster has a great online brand that’s both quirky and down to earth, and its LinkedIn feed is a mixture of foodie content, corporate social responsibility, and witty references to catering services. It’s a great example of segmented social content that truly contributes to a cohesive brand image.
Only the best for you lot… our soft serve ice creams are made with British, organic fresh milk – you lucky things you. Tag us in your #summerofsoftserve pictures for a chance to win FREE ICE CREAM ?#pieministersoftserve #softserve #summerofsoftserve #icecream #pieminister pic.twitter.com/skorA9QGz8
— Pieminister (@pieminister) June 20, 2018
- Worried about social ROI? Get to know key social metrics, agree your KPIs, and learn how to consistently analyze the commercial performance of your posts. SimplyMeasured is a great social analytics tool that can help you automate tracking.
As noted, once you start working on social media, you have to keep going or else the effort will end up wasted. Remember to put time into content promotion and outreach as well— if you’ve put something great on social media, you should get the most out of it.
Create a quality content calendar
The moment you start to treat your content marketing as a part of your sales pipeline, you’ll realize why you must keep your quality levels high. If your content is below par, you cannot expect to be taken seriously, and you really don’t deserve to be.
Quality content will help you find new customers, convert leads, and build better relationships with existing customers. And it isn’t a job for a small team— your entire company is responsible for working through the content production process, whether writing, designing, allocating resources, or contributing information. Here are some general content tips to follow:
- Invest in a full-blown editorial calendar. Taking a reactive and scattergun content approach isn’t effective these days, and an editorial calendar will help you plan and budget your annual marketing activities. When building your editorial calendar, remember to balance aspiration with realism. Be ambitious, but don’t create a schedule that you can’t possibly stick to. Sharing an editorial calendar will help build a sense of company responsibility and galvanize your team into action.
- Create evergreen resources that people can download, take home, and/or send to their friends. Evergreen resources are those that are going to be just as useful to people in a few years as they are today. A meal recipe is a good example, because no matter the date, time or location, people have to prepare food. Evergreen resources don’t have to be fancy and expensive to create; they just need to provide real value for your audience. Spend time discussing ideas with your team until you hit upon a really great idea, and then go for it even if it seems daunting— if your team can’t offer all the required skills, you can outsource elements of it to freelancers.
- Seek to monetize your content, but only when the quality is up to par. Charging money for content that isn’t worth it will make your business look bad. Invest in industry-leading content with real expertise behind it, and don’t waste time on cheap throwaway blog posts. It’s only when you really put the time and money into generating great content that it will start getting you a return on your investment.
Build a relationship-focused sales process
Selling online—whether through social media, webinars, or email marketing—is a subtle art. You don’t need garish pop-ups or loud videos to succeed, but you do need to use marketing psychology, sales funnels, and user journey principles. (After all, if you get wrapped up in branding and overlook sales, your brand won’t last very long.)
The best sales strategies are customer oriented, brand specific, and focused on building lasting and increasingly-profitable relationships.
Here are some tips:
- Think about your overall sales strategy. How many digital sales do you need? What are your benchmarks? Where are you going to get inquiries from? Do you have a CRM? It’s amazing how many businesses operate without really being clear how much they need to sell. You can’t have a great brand without an understanding of the finances behind it. Know your resources and you’ll be able to stand the test of time.
- Use SEO strategies to push your products and services in a relaxed and informational way. By doing everything you can to be search-friendly, you can own the search results from every conceivable angle to maximize your chances of success. Identify generalized buyer personas and use them as a foundation for your inbound sales strategy. What are they looking for, and how can you most efficiently offer it to them?
- Be transparent in your online operations, and face your customers head-on. The best brands are always ready to communicate with their customers, show personality and self-deprecation, and generate a lot of positive noise around what they do. Show gratitude to your customers, viewing them as VIPs and treating to them to any perks and special offers you can, and it will be reflected in your brand reputation.
Tell a better story than your competitors
In today’s content-saturated digital world, having the best profit margins, the best team, or even the best product or service isn’t enough to topple your competitors if they’re better storytellers than you are. A fantastic brand story really makes people want to root for you.
Since much has been written about brand storytelling, it can be hard to cut through the noise, but focus on this: brand storytelling is about cutting to the heart of what you want to achieve, communicating your challenges and how you strive to overcome them. It’s about connecting what you do with the bigger picture.
Finding stories within a small business isn’t hard, as a small team is likely to consist of enthusiastic and driven individuals with extraordinary narratives. If you’re not sure which elements of your business people will connect with, try running your ideas by some marketers, copywriters or even PR managers for some valuable feedback.
Invest in professional design
There’s nothing wrong with using automated builders, stock images, or even going into Photoshop and knocking up a decent logo, but to have a brand that really looks exceptional, you might need to bring in the professionals. Web and graphic designers have years of experience creating remarkable brands, and their input can make all the difference.
The digital world is very visual, so don’t skimp on photos, graphics and layouts. Consider custom graphics, an attractive and flexible logo, explanatory videos, fantastic product shots, social media graphics, and illustrations. Getting the right combination of high-quality visual elements will make your brand truly pop online, even if you didn’t have a large budget. And remember that you have options regardless of the type of website you have. It’s increasingly common for large retail startups to open easy-setup shopping sites (Shopify is probably the easiest, though WordPress is better for SEO) because they know that they can get designers to extend the template-led systems to arrive at a cost-effective middle ground between off-the-shelf and custom.
No matter what system you end up using, spend whatever you have to spend to ensure that your brand website has a consistent look and feel that you’ll be happy being associated with for years to come.
Embrace growth hacking
The principles of growth hacking are relatively simple: use data to grow, and don’t invest money before you see what’s working. Growth hacking is also about being digitally savvy and agile. If you growth hack, you’ll be able to forge a solid user and customer base that will help you generate cash flow down the line.
A great way to growth-hack your branding is to get your customers involved with your design process— ask them questions, pitch them concepts, and carefully consider their feedback. Great brands are not built in vacuums, and neither are great ideas. In the fullness of time, the quality of your brand will be determined by how others view it, and not by how you do.
It’s very important that you put time into building your brand instead of going directly to marketing because a weak brand will always undermine strong marketing. Whether you’re sending out tweets laden with sarcasm and emojis, or providing intelligent dissections of modern business culture, bring your messaging, visuals and company spirit into alignment for everything you do.
Whatever path you choose, and whatever approach you take, you’ll have a great chance of finding success as long as you’re expressing yourself authentically. In the end, branding isn’t about overthinking everything that you do— it’s about respecting your audience enough to give them your best effort.
Victoria Greene is an e-commerce marketing expert and freelance writer who loves the challenge of building a small business brand from the ground up. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.