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How Consistency Improves Your Branding – 5 ways to help your brand reach its potential

The purpose of branding is to go beyond simply creating awareness, with the intention of nurturing a trusting and loyal relationship. It’s a comprehensive undertaking that requires consistent use of your branded identity, in all of its forms. It’s no easy task to maintain consistency among myriad print, digital and broadcast touchpoints: letterhead, business cards, ads, billboards, brochures, website, blogs, social media accounts, emails, ebooks, posts, videos, TV, radio… Reputation manifests in everything that represents your organization, including the experience of dealing with your organization.

In our ever-changing digital world and increasing communication channels, consistency is an increasingly critical aspect in successfully establishing a trusted and sought-after product, service or organization. This article focuses on the role that consistency plays in successful branding. Here are five important considerations that relate to your brand consistency, and your ability to build a strong brand.

 

  1. Start from the Heart

It all stems from your mission, vision, value statement unique selling proposition, any guiding principles for your organization. Ensure that they are authentic and aligned. A thorough understanding of what drives your organization and what it has to offer is the starting point. Your brand is the essence of what your market thinks of your organization; so consider what it is destined achieve, and what its brand should represent.

A full appreciation of your target market, their expectations and desires is also key. In order to be successful, you’ll need a receptive market; resonating with your audience paves the way to acceptance. Essentially, your brand should relate directly and explicitly to the belief system of your organization and that of your market.

  1. Set the Foundation

Even small companies can find it difficult to ensure that everyone treats branding aspects in a consistent manner. Add to the mix associates, freelancers, consultants, suppliers, advertisers, etc. and the task of maintaining a common front becomes rather formidable. Create a Branding Style Guide (this is often done when a new Corporate ID is created).

A branding style guide doesn’t need to be a monumental tome with excessive rules and regulations, but should cover all typical print, digital and broadcast uses. It should also be reviewed and updated periodically (at least every 3 years) to ensure it is relevant to the media and technology you and your industry are using.

It identifies all items used in presenting your organization and sets guidelines for their use. Graphic and presentation components typically include logos, icons, colours, fonts, specific photos and illustrations, etc. People have a strong and lasting connection with graphics and colours, which explains the importance placed on logos and their use.

Content components incorporate tagline, slogan, lexicon, tone, etc. What you say and how you say it can provoke tremendous impact and evoke strong emotion. In order for your audience to learn to trust your organization, they need to identify with what you have to say. The vocabulary used and tone of corporate content can help to position your organization as genuine, knowledgeable, caring, expert, as a go-to source that can be relied upon. Note that having a consistent corporate tone doesn’t mean that all your content needs to sound the same. Individual voices and characters within your organization add depth and can help to attract targeted segments or personas.

  1. Plan the Journey

Knowing where you came from and where you want to go makes it more likely that you’ll actually get there. To keep you, and the rest of your team, on track, plan how content and graphic identifiers will be used to build and support your brand. How will it get in front of your target market? What format will it take? When? Use an Editorial Calendar to ensure strategic, relevant and scheduled content.

Content generation provides many options (web pages, blogs, emails, social posts, ebooks, brochures, whitepapers, etc.) and is an influential means of attracting and reaching out to your audience. Consistency in template designs as well as voice/tone help build a strong foundation for your brand (keep that style guide close at hand!).

An editorial calendar maps out what content will be written, by whom, how it will be published, and when. It allows a strategic approach (ensuring consistency in both frequency and focus) and overview to ensure you are creating content that is of value to your audience as well as supporting your brand.

Chose your social media carefully, there are a lot of platforms, and just because they are cool or popular doesn’t mean it is a good fit for your organization. Also, consider the resources required to maintain an active and strategic presence.

  1. All Aboard

Having the components, a guide and a plan put you ahead of most companies. But to make it all work successfully you need buy-in from your organization. Your brand may not be a strong rallying force of motivation (it should be!), but it must be embraced by all. The entire organization needs to understand and support your branding initiatives.

In order for your team to be part of the successful implementation of your branding plan, they’ll need access to info and files. All graphic components, the branding style guide and editorial calendar should be easily accessible to anyone who will be publishing and presenting on behalf of your organization.

  1. Stay the Course

A brand strategy requires ongoing monitoring and attention. It’s part policing and part propping. You need to ensure that your team is adhering to the style guide and maintaining the image and voice to properly position your organization. You’ll also want to identify where the brand is weak and might require additional support.

Don’t be overzealous or near-sighted in your regulation. In these fluid times, acknowledge that things change and your brand strategy and implementation will need to evolve to stay current and relevant.

Do you have any thoughts on brand consistency or other considerations that could be added to this list?

Image Credit: mindscanner / gettyimages

wooden puppet facing unknown endings from non-descriptive links

Hyperlinking for AODA and SEO

Hyperlinks have become ubiquitous online, for good reason. Smooth, streamlined text that gets rid of a messy looking url is the hallmark of websites. A simple “click here” or “download” can string users along your site without breaking up the paragraph flow, and can even be inserted within sentences for an unobtrusive experience.

Except when hyperlinks can bring you farther away from AODA compliance, and worsen your SEO.

wooden puppet facing unknown endings from non-descriptive links

Bad Links

A bad link is, simply, a link that doesn’t provide context within the hyperlink text. While it’s very tempting to use these, since they’re the least obtrusive, they aren’t AODA compliant.

Examples of bad links include:

  • “Click here”
  • “More info”
  • “Continue reading”

While they look fine in context of a paragraph, links are often not read within the context of their paragraphs. As a result, people who use screen readers will come across link text that gives them no information for what they are about to click, rendering your website frustrating to navigate at best.

Google also doesn’t like blank links without a description, and while it will follow the link to rank your content, it won’t give any extra points for making the link difficult to understand when taken alone.

 

Good Links

Thankfully, it’s rather simple to turn a bad link into a good link. It’s simply a case of adding context to the link itself.

Examples:

  • “Click here to…”
  • “More info on…”
  • “Continue reading about…”

By filling in the blank about what you’d previously discussed in your content, you make the link stand on its own. This means anybody or anything that comes across the link will know exactly what it leads to.

This makes your site easier to navigate, and you can get a few more points in search in the process. While it can be tedious to go through and check every hyperlink to make sure it can stand on its own, the peace of mind knowing all links are compliant is worthwhile.

Image credit: a-poselenov

Align your marketing strategy and sales development for greater success.

3 Considerations to Improve Marketing and Sales

Sales is an integral aspect of any organization: manufacturers, service providers, member-driven associations, small business, bureaucratic enterprises… All organizations rely on a steady source of revenue to survive and grow. It is understood that marketing is an important aspect of creating awareness, positioning a brand and essentially creating a positive environment for sales to occur. Unfortunately, how marketing strategy and sales development successfully work together is often not fully considered.

The relationship between marketing and sales has long been a troubled one. Whereas they should be working together in synergy with the common goal of securing relationships to strengthen the organization, they are often actively at odds with each other, oblivious to each other, or embroiled in a cold war of secrecy and subterfuge.

The digitization of the business world and its business development processes has helped bring these two disciplines closer, and many software tools approach the two coherently. However, many organizations still seem to cling to the old ideology that promotes two separate silos with little connection.

To reap the rewards of harmonized marketing and sales efforts, keep the following three aspects in mind.

 

Marketing and Sales are Distinct Functions

Although I am stressing the importance of integrating them, it’s important to appreciate that marketing and sales have different functions. One focuses on creating awareness, positioning a brand and developing interest. The other is tasked with capitalizing on that interest and closing the deal. Some feel that marketing spends money and sales makes money. Admittedly, it takes resources to mount a successful marketing campaign, but marketing should be a strategic investment. (And, it is getting easier to monitor and track your ROI.)

The difference in approach may often be subtle, but worth respecting. Trying to sell to new leads will probably annoy and scare them away; whereas a well nurtured lead may always be a prospect unless you provide a timely and appropriate buying opportunity. Understanding the difference between the two disciplines guides the role each should play and how they can successfully work together to improve your business development efforts.

 

Marketing and Sales Should be Aligned

Although marketing and sales are distinct, they should not be isolated from each other. The old corporate structure had separate departments, often with little communication between the two. Internally it was more of a competition as to which department was most valuable to the organization. Fiefdoms and bureaucracy may have been affordable then, but with leaner teams and higher expectations in today’s fast-paced and cost-efficient business world, it is essential to have an aligned and harmonious process that attracts leads and nurtures them to be satisfied customers.

To align your marketing strategy and sales efforts, it makes sense to work backwards. Determining your sales goals and forecasted breakdown is a good way to start. From their you can better identify your target audiences and flesh out buyer personas. Understanding who you will be selling to provides a good foundation for determining your marketing strategy. Where and how will you engage your audiences, what are they interested in, how will you effectively communicate your advantages and benefits, what aspects of your brand will resonate with them… Key marketing decisions that will guide your content and creative start with considering the final sale.

Structuring how leads transition from marketing to sales, with a communication/feedback loop, will allow a seamless journey for your prospects and returning customers. There are many good software tools that assist you in structuring, implementing and monitoring the process. Many (e.g. SharpSpring) help you to automate the process and identify opportunities — making the process itself an active part of the solution.

 

Integrate Marketing strategy and Sales Plan

You’re no doubt aware that a smart strategy with SMART goals is a smart way to proceed — plan your work, then work your plan. Most companies have a sales plan, it may simply be targets, but they at least have a clear objective to aim for. Many SMEs have a budget for marketing, but fail to have a detailed marketing plan. And I’d wager that an exceptionally small minority actually have an integrated sales and marketing plan. So, how is an organization expected to develop sales and grow with little or no structured guidance?

Sustained growth is achieved and maintained with goals, processes and tactics in place. Defining the strategy and ongoing tactics to reach your goals, and then putting the processes in place is what separates successful companies. Going the extra step to create a joint marketing and sales process will distinguish you even further.

The simple solution to growth is marketing strategy and sales working in harmony with a coherent strategy. The successful implementation is not so simple — it requires a good deal of knowledge and a lot of work, on a consistent and ongoing basis.