Building a killer brand in today’s switched on world. The 6 steps to success.

What a crazy world we live in now. Tiny businesses can shout as loud as billion dollar organisations by well-researched targeting and in-depth analysis. Gone are the days of throwing a tonne of sh*t at the wall and hoping something sticks, we now rely on honing our messages so precisely that we are now at the dawn of 121 marketing. Brands are building tribes, people that are in their ‘gang’ who adore and advocate freely on behalf of the business, these fans can grow a business overnight, the speed of social sharing is akin to a virus multiplying out of control. We have businesses like Uber and AirBnB that have grown to be worth Billions of dollars in a matter of a few years when traditionally it took generations to build this kind of scale. They have grown up in the entrepreneurial revolution where it’s never been easier to start and build a business. Everything that took years to develop can now be done in a blink of an eye. Consumers gravitate towards specialists, companies that deliver niche products and services, they build up a brand ecosystem around them and providing the business continually delivers value then the fan engages in a trust-based relationship that can last for years.

Desktop computers are becoming a purely functional work tool rather than the source of all activity, this has moved gracefully to mobile devices, currently, 62% of all traffic through our companies comes via mobile. We book taxis via our phones, we book hotels, restaurants, flights, transfer money, find lovers and watch TV on them. We use our phones to immediately rate a business if they get it right, or wrong. We use our phones to share our day to day lives with people you’ve never met, and probably never will. It won’t be long either when websites become a thing of the past, sure, e-commerce will exist and software as a service, but traditional websites where you click through a series of pages to learn about a business is an outdated methodology in my mind. We research across many channels, we trust in our friends, our family and now our social family, we make transactional decisions based on needs as well as emotions. If I need a flashgun for my camera or a sweeping brush for my house I know that Amazon will have it and they will deliver it tomorrow, no question. Traditionally these needs based purchases relied on having to make a trip to the town, pay for parking, visit the shop, probably take in a coffee whilst there, visit more shops, spend more than you wanted and come home stressed after a day battling the crowds. Now it’s all done with the click of a button and a swipe to pay. Simple.

I see too many brands marketing like it’s 1999, throwing £100’000’s into magazines on the off chance some 20-year-old girl sees the ad, drops the magazine and rushes to purchase the product. It’s so ridiculous but it keeps the hyper expensive ad agencies in nice motivational wallpaper and free trips to Cannes. The leading TV ad for the last few years has relied on pure shock factor, nothing to do with the service it’s selling, just some guys dancing in hot pants to make people remember the brand.

The trouble is people don’t trust ads, they’ve been telling us everything’s great since they started in 1955, we’re bored of it, we ignore them, we intentionally pause TV programmes so we can skip them. So ad agencies have to rely on other factors to engage us. One of the biggest in the world relies on ‘disruption’ to engage you. Like this is a good thing??? Personally, I just want a brand I can trust to do what I want, I want my friends and family to tell me who does great stuff, I want brands to work hard delivering me tons of value before I buy, Google gives us free browsers and search tools, Facebook gives us a free social platform, Apple gives us free apps, BMW gives us great golf tournaments. It’s not good enough anymore to just ‘be there’, hoping customers will buy from you because you sell stuff, you have to work harder than ever, telling stories, pushing value, sharing knowledge, building your brand as the ‘go to company’ in your sector. Transactions are part of life, it’s never been easier to buy what we want when we want from brands who deliver value and trust at the moment we are ready to engage. We are at one of the most important paradigm shifts since the industrial revolution and you need to jump in because it’s not going away, and it’s only going to get better/worse… you can choose your own ending.

In order to ensure you are fully geared up to play in this playground, you need to have certain things in place to ensure success. Below are 6 steps I use to deliver clarity to existing companies and a framework for new businesses.

STEP ONE // FIND YOUR EVEREST

It’s not good enough anymore to start a business with a half-baked reason why. You can’t simply say ‘because I want to be self-employed’ your business needs a ‘why’. Read anything by Simon Sinek, he explains it really well. I call it finding your Everest, understanding the end game, where the business wants to be in the timescale you have in mind. For example, you might want to own a beauty salon that franchises to 4 cities in the next 5 years, it specialises in organic, cruelty-free brands and products and has a charitable cause underlying it. Because you have identified the ‘Everest’ you can reverse engineer your plan and build ‘base camps’ along the journey. These base camps are defined points in time with metrics assigned that you can clearly monitor to assess whether you are on track to achieve your goals. It maybe that base camp 1 is your first 6 months, you have metrics such as hit £50k turnover, have 3 staff, make an EBIT of £10k. Whatever, these are your metrics, you just have to ensure that they are achievable but only with the maximum amount of effort. There is little point in having base camps that don’t push you out of your comfort zone. The great thing about having these base camps means that if you get there and you smash your metrics then you know you can adjust the following ones to be harder to achieve. However, if you find that you’ve come up short on your metrics then you can analyse why that was, it maybe that you didn’t push hard enough, it may be that you employed the wrong people, it may be that you didn’t get your pre-analysis of the market right. (see the next steps)

STEP TWO // IDENTIFY THE DANGERS

Look, running a business is serious, I mean go to jail serious if you cock it up. Sued, lose your house serious. Let’s not forget that. But then so is climbing your Everest, but if you prepare well and understand the dangers, the laws and the things that will bite you on your arse as your’e halfway on your trip then you should do ok. There are many things that pose themselves as dangers, competitors, money, legal issues, staff, planning… the list is extensive. It’s only right that you identify the key risks you will face on your journey up the mountain. One of the simplest tools we use is a ‘Blueprint’ model, or in old school terminology, competitor analysis. I suggest you pick 5–10 companies that do a similar business to yourself, because unless you’ve invented the next UBER then you will have some. Analyse everything you can about the business, its proposition, its marketing, its place in the sector. List out the things it does brilliantly, what it does OK and what it does poorly. If you’re going into a like for like fight against this company are you going to win? If you are then you need to know as much about them as is possible. This blueprinting will provide valuable intel to you and your organisation when you launch. Repeat the analysis as often as you see fit. In some industries it’s a weekly thing, some it may only be required once a year.

Education

When you’re sat in front of the judge saying ‘I didn’t know I had to do that your honour’ that won’t wash as a viable argument. Starting and running a business requires you to be at least capable in all areas of business, finance, HR, marketing and sales. I hear too many people saying that they ‘don’t have time’ to learn about marketing, or they don’t have time to learn about HR law. Rubbish. If you have time to drive or commute to work, or time to watch X factor then you have time to commit to learning the basics. There are a tonne of audio books, videos, blogs, articles and podcasts to make you the next Bill Gates and all for free or for less than the price of a bottle of wine.

STEP THREE // KNOW YOUR FANS AND CUSTOMERS

‘We sell to everyone’!!! No, you don’t. Or if you do you better have very, very deep pockets and a very understanding bank manager. This part of the business is mission critical, it’s about drilling down to an audience that is as tailored as possible. Over time it gets more and more refined, more targeted and delivers a higher return on investment (ROI). Starting this process is relatively simple. You make some initial ‘finger in the air’ assumptions on who your audience will be (or is now). There is nothing wrong with having a broad range audience as long as you break it down into subsets. The reason for this is to be able to do some basic split tests (what are split tests I hear you cry)… split tests are small budget tests on digital platforms where you can run an advert to two audiences at the same time to see which one converts better. (hugely simplified I know) But for the purposes of this blog that should give you a rough idea what I’m talking about. If you have a defined audience you can be clever with your budget and use analysis to refine your marketing spend over time.

So, you have an idea of your audience, now you need to plan some strategies of how to turn these lovely people into FANS! There’s a lot of talk about how you need fans, not customers, I actually think you need both. My logic being that Apple has FANS that queue outside their flagship stores for days before the launch of their new phone, you also have customers, people like me that use Apple because it fits my lifestyle and tech infrastructure at work. There are books that have been written about this so I’m not going to go into huge detail but suffice to say you need to understand the logic of FANS and the all important Loyalty Loop.

Loyalty Loop

I’ll try and simplify and make this as succinct as possible… You have a salon, you give Mrs Jones a brilliant haircut and treatment. She’s over the moon with her new look. She exits the shop, photographs her new hairstyle, posts it on her social channels, telling her 1200 followers how brilliant your salon was, how you looked after her, how perfect the service was and how you will only go back there from now on. She’s a FAN. The great thing about this FAN is that she’s just promoted your business to hundreds of like minded people for FREE. That’s efficient marketing. She is now loyal to you, it is important to recognise this effort by liking her post, maybe giving her some benefit next time… all ensuring she comes back into the sales loop. This is the loyalty loop. You build fans are advocates of your business, they are your sales people on the ground. They are your ambassadors. This works equally as well in the digital space. Amazon provides their Prime service for FANS, yes it costs money but we don’t care, we don’t care because we get what we want. We get what we want when we want it. If I have an issue with anything, I send it back, no questions asked (or very basic ones at the most) it’s e-commerce perfection. I get my product on time, every time, so I don’t have to think where I next go to buy my products. There are a million ways to ensure your fans stay in your loop, from loyalty schemes, fanbase discounts, pre-launch sales, vouchers, virtual promotions… the list goes on. Suffice to say that you have to do everything in your power to retain the customer you have acquired and make them a FAN of your business. Because if you don’t then they will swiftly move onto a company that will.

STEP FOUR // CHOOSE THE RIGHT CHANNELS

It was so very easy in the good old days. We designed an advert, sent it via ISDN to the magazine, they ran it we crossed our fingers and hoped sales happened. We relied on the magazines telling us the demographic of their readership, they would convince us that 1000000 people read it and you would get that many ‘eyeballs’. As I’ve alluded to previously, believe it or not, THIS STILL HAPPENS! Luckily, savvy marketers now utilise the power of low cost, high impact digital campaigns. They know that some of the biggest brands in the world have built their business on a purely digital strategy, they know the year is 2017… OK, I’m being particularly facetious, in some cases print media has a part to play, maybe in the world of B2B marketing where old school PR still plays a part and the businesses still read the ‘Joiners and Woodturners Weekly’ magazine. But for the purposes of today, let’s try focus on channels that generate incredible insights, trends, data, analysis, leads and performance. Unsurprisingly this is Pay Per Click (PPC) Organic Search (SEO) Social Media and Content Marketing. I’m not going to go into detail on these channels now but in my upcoming book and vlogs I will do extensively. The reason why these channels are preferred is because of the reasons previously outlined. The ability to run small budget very targeted campaigns that align to your audience and to your basecamp metrics. To then analyse the data that comes back from them and to refine your adverts accordingly. You want to lower your CPA (cost per acquisition) and increase your ROI (return on investment), the only way to do this is by refining and getting more targeted.

STEP FIVE // CREATE VALUE WITH BRILLIANT CONTENT

Is content still king? Damn right it is… but with a caveat. Boring, uninspiring blurb written for the purposes of ranking on search engines isn’t. We live in a world where people self educate, they are hungry for information, they need well thought out, well-researched articles that deliver value (I hope this article is one of them :-)) You need to become the font of knowledge for your sector, creating engaging videos, imagery, articles and audio that resonate and draws people into your fanbase. In my other life, I play guitar in a band, I’m constantly researching equipment and guitars. There’s a shop in Guildford in the UK called Andertons. They have been running videos on YouTube for years, they are hugely entertaining, they deliver brilliant insights into equipment and most importantly I trust them. The great thing here is that not only do they sell to people in their local area but now they sell globally directly because of the fabulous content they put out. They embody Gary Vaynerchuk’s ‘Jab Jab Jab Right Hook’ a term used to illustrate the delivering of ‘free’ value based content on the understanding that the right hook of a sale will happen at some point. Building relationships with the brand so that when you think ‘guitars’ you think ‘Andertons’. Now it’s not essential that you have to be an expert in creating content, nowadays it’s relatively low cost to get freelancers to write for you, you may be scared of being on film, if that’s the case then don’t do YouTube or get a member of staff to do it for you. Instagram is a brilliant tool for building a brand by clever use of keywords and hashtags. It doesn’t take a lot to take a photo and post it. The key is to be constantly in the process of generating value for your fans and building your audience.

STEP SIX // ANALYSE, ADJUST, ADVANCE

So, we’ve got everything in place, the business is up and running, we’ve made assumptions and we’ve made our way to the first base camp. Along this perilous journey, we’ve encountered some challenges but we’ve kept our footing and by the grace of God and a strong wind on our backs we’ve done it. It’s a perfect time to take stock of your daily analysis of your channels, what keywords are working, what products have become your best sellers, what content works and what doesn’t. You should have a variety of channels delivering leads and an upward trend in your ROI. You will have hit your metrics or been under or over, now’s the time to analyse why make adjustments and prepare for the next base camp.

And that’s it. My six steps to building a killer business in the digital world. This article is a very abridged version of my workshops and book that will be coming out next year, so if you have any questions or would like any element expanding then please get in touch or subscribe to one of my social media channels. I hope it’s been good reading and helpful.