Cost-Effective Branding Strategies

From the e-mail I’ve been receiving lately, it’s clear there is a lot of confusion surrounding the topic of online branding.  Nike, Coke-Cola, Budweiser, McDonalds, Levi’s, Amazon.com, these are the branding masters.

Now the question is, how can you model their success?

These days, online branding is being preached as one of the big “Do or Die” marketing strategies.  So everyone wants to brand their e-business — but no one is exactly sure what branding is, how it?s done, or where to start.

What is branding anyway?

Branding is about building a compelling association between (a) your company, your logo, your products, etc., and (b) an image, an emotion, or a memorable message that embodies — implicitly or explicitly — the biggest benefit you have to offer your customers.

Effective branding creates the kind of fierce product loyalty that leaves customers indifferent to the marketing tactics of the competition.  It’s what compels you to walk past all of those no-name-brand on-sale colas at the local grocery store and pick up the 6-pack of Coca-Cola that costs three times more.  It?s what makes children plead and beg to go back to McDonalds again and again.  And it’s what has made the phrase “Just Do It” synonymous with Nike.

Say “Amazon.com,” and people think of “The Earth?s Biggest Bookstore.” Go to Burger King because you can “Have It Your Way.”  Buy Energizer batteries because they “Just keep going, and going, and going.”  And “When you care enough to send the very best,” send a Hallmark card.

But the slogans and taglines are only part of it.  Think of the Hallmark commercials.  These tearjerker mini-dramas are built around love and family values, ending with someone showing they “care enough” by giving a
loved-one a Hallmark card. They evoke strong emotions that drive their slogan home.

And think about the Nike logo — the “Swoosh” that represents the wing of the Greek goddess Nike, the personification of victory.  While it?s probably safe to say that the majority of people are unaware of its mythological significance, their logo holds just as much meaning as their name.

It?s all very impressive, right?  Well yes. But before you jump on the bandwagon, let?s take a realistic look at the “big branding picture” to see where your small or home-based e-business fits into this.

First, let’s debunk the three major branding myths I frequently encounter…

MYTH #1
I need to make my company or product a household name.

TRUTH: You?ll be most successful and most profitable if you closely target your market! Focus on getting your business name and your advertising in front of your best potential customers — the people who have an expressed interest in what you?re offering — as opposed to everyone!

MYTH

Branding my business online means buying thousands of dollars worth of high-visibility banner impressions.

TRUTH: Banner advertising just is not as profitable as it once was.  Ads that once pulled 5 to 10% click-throughs are now lucky to pull 0.6 to 0.8%, if even that. You?ll be far more successful if you focus your limited advertising dollars on more performance-based advertising. Pay for customers… not overpriced, unproven advertising.

MYTH

I’ll need to spend a lot of money if I want to gain brand recognition.

TRUTH: There are plenty of free and low-cost techniques that you can use to brand your e-business.

If you’re a small or home-based business then, chances are, you don?t have the millions of advertising dollars it takes to build a nationally recognized brand and make your company a household name — at least not
yet!

So let’s skip the high-priced large corporate branding techniques that I’m seeing pushed everywhere I look — after all, these strategies simply don’t translate to e-businesses with limited advertising budgets — and instead, let me give you some practical information…

Cost-Effective Branding Techniques That You Can Start Using Today:

1)   Develop A Strong Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Imagine yourself sitting across the table from your best potential customer.  In one sentence — one very short sentence — clearly communicate how he or she will benefit from doing business with you.  Your message should be clear, the language simple, and it should be easy to remember.  There’s no room for wordy
corporate mumbo jumbo here.

I know this is a pretty tall order but your hours of agonizing, writing, brainstorming, and rewriting will pay off in the end.  This will be the message that your market will identify you by and associate you with.

2)  Target Your Market

The beauty of running an online business is that you can reach literally hundreds of thousands of targeted potential customers all over the world — people who want to buy what you?re selling — for little or no cost.  It?s what has made it possible for small and home-based business owners like you to take the Internet by storm and make outrageous profits with very limited advertising budgets.

Why would you turn a blind eye to this critical advantage by spreading your limited advertising dollars across the entire web — trying to sell your product to everyone — instead of focusing on those people who want to buy from you?

It just doesn’t make sense.

So I know I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth saying again.  It’s absolutely critical that you target your market.

3)   Whenever Possible, Make Your Message Interactive

If you can compel people to actively engage your marketing message rather than passively hear or view it, you’ll dramatically increase the probability that they’re going to absorb it, remember it, and repeat it.

4)   Be Consistent In Voice, Format, And Delivery

In order to engrave your brand in the minds of your target market, you need to consistently repeat your message to them…

5)  Nurture Existing Relationships With Customers And Subscribers

If they already know you, if they?re already familiar with who you are and what you do, if they’ve already bought something from you, then you should be building on these existing relationships. Maintain regular contact via e-mail (it?s free!), and consistently remind them who you are, what you do, and most importantly, how they stand to benefit from continuing to do business with you.

If you play your cards right, not only will you profit from their repeat business, you may also persuade them to “spread the good word” to others with similar interests.

6)   Be Visible To Your Best Potential Customers

A big part of branding is obviously about getting your name in front of your best potential customers, so that when the time comes for them to buy, they?ll choose you over the competition! 
Here are a few powerful ways that you can do this…

Don’t Lose Sight Of Your Ultimate Goal:
With branding being hyped as one of the marketing strategies to pursue right now, I worry that some of you may be steered off-track. While it’s a good idea to be aware of and actively direct how your e-business is being branded, remember that there is a key difference between creating awareness and actually closing sales.

Given the innumerable marketing strategies that you can use to simultaneously create brand awareness AND draw targeted traffic to your web site, there is no reason for you to be spending your limited advertising dollars on branding techniques that don’t return a significant profit.

Avoid being sucked in by the myth that the entire web needs to know who you are.  Focus on your target market and realize that most forms of traffic generation ultimately enhance awareness of your brand. You are spelling out your brand message, directly and indirectly, with everything that you do, say, and sell.