Why You Should Always Be True to Your Brand

by Eric Tsai

Recently I’ve had great conversations with other brand strategists about the changing landscape in brand building.  There is no doubt that social media is having a profound impact on brands in all fronts of marketing, advertising, PR, and networking.

The core value of social branding is about fostering the “trusted” relationship from experiences associated with a service, a person or an entity.  This is largely built on the effectiveness of the brand’s ability to communicate and influence people’s perception.

Today social media aims to bridge the gap between brands and people by providing a platform that embraces the concept of a community. It’s a new stage for brands to engage and interact with their audience.  But one thing remains the same, there is always a challenge involve when it comes to creating and delivering value.  Therefore, it is vital that brands demonstrate the indisputable benefits to their audience.

Strategies Vs Tactics

Described by the Chinese General, Sun Tzu:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Simply put, tactics present a small picture perspective. They’re tools to fulfill your big picture strategy. Branding is not about using tactics such as scarcity, sense of urgency, risk reversal and value-for-price positioning.  How about email campaigns, search engine optimization, product placements, celebrity endorsements, promotional events, telemarketing, or direct response advertising?  Think again. They’re the vehicles that carry out the messages and to generate and funnel leads.

If you know what I’m talking about, you know those are techniques often used by marketers.  In fact, I help clients implement those tactics regularly as part of the overall plan to achieve the stated goals.  They can often be confused as strategies because within tactics there is also an element of strategy.

brand-strategyI see tactics as marketing triggers to gain attention, the “Hey! Look at me, I’ve got something important to say!”  And when you gain people’s attention you must provide relevant and tangible value that’s meaningful to fulfill their expectations.  And believe me, people have expectations when they give you a chance to deliver.

Brand Authenticity

Once you get that opportunity, it all boils down to the execution (tactic) and the authenticity of your brand (strategy).  Execution focuses on conversion tactics while brand authenticity focuses on value-extraction strategies.  An authentic brand fulfills the implied promise that people have come to expect.   And by doing so, the brand becomes more believable and trustworthy creating the foundation to build a relationship.  As a result, you need to exposed the true intention behind your tactics.

Let’s take a look at brand slogans as examples.  Walmart’s slogan of “Save Money, Live Better” says nothing about the quality of products it sells nor does Taco Bell’s “Think Outside The Bun” implies to what’s inside the bun.  However, Porsche’s “There Is No Substitute” or Rolex’s “The Crown Of Achievement” both allude to a sense of novelty and dominance.  These brands stay true to their slogans without suggesting artificial statements about their products.  Of course there is always a gap between what consumers expect versus what brands imply, the trick is to narrow the gap by being authentic.

By simply being authentic, brands that focus on fostering a healthy relationship with their customers will increase the chance of stimulating an action to buy.  This is the outcome brands desire, turning prospects into lifetime customers. For personal brands, it’s turning speculators to fans.

Create Your Brand Value Proposition

It doesn’t matter if you’re building your business brand or personal brand, you should create a brand value proposition.  These values act as the blueprint to create your brand strategy so you can stay consistent, cohesive and most importantly unique. By having a solid brand value proposition you will be efficient in implementing your marketing tactics. Even if you’re selling a product with lots of competition, knowing your value will allow you to be creative in finding new ways to execute those tactics.

Hers are 3 simple ways to help you identity your brand value proposition:

1. Know your audience and identify their pain points – This may sound easy but I often see companies sell too broad because they want to sell to as many customers as possible .  This is a false perception because you can not be all things to everybody, follow the 80/20 rules and focus on the 20% of customers that generates 80% of your revenue.  The key is to understand the decision maker’s psychology.  Things that matters to a manager may mean nothing to a CEO that makes the final decision. This is typical in the technology industry where companies often sell features to department managers instead of outcome to owners or executives.  Great attributes mean little when the audience is looking for the bottom line impact. Identify all the scenarios to describe the situation where you come in and solve the problem, alleviate the pain.  Keep in mind that you want the “ideal customer” that already has a need for what you provide.

2. Describe what you do and what you don’t do – Write down your competencies that represent what you offer.  Focus on key words or phrase to capture what makes your brand special.  Make it simple and use verbs that express an action or a relation between two things.  Be plain and straight forward, if your company sells software start with “we sell software” not something like “we increase sale for businesses with an innovative software application.”

3. Create your brand message and test them – Once you have some core messages to work with from the two above steps it is time to test them.  Get inputs from internal and external stake holders, what you think and care about may not be what others see or remember.  That’s okay. You just need to learn to drive home a few key points that will stick in their minds and inspire them to learn more. It’s more effective in an initial interaction to pare down what you talk about to weed out the non-essential information. The idea is to have different talking points tailored to different audiences. It’s important to constantly update and improve your value proposition so it stays fresh and relevant.

Now go create your brand value proposition and use them as the foundation of your bio or company description on your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg accounts or post them on your Blog .

Do you have a brand value proposition?  Are they authentic?  Share it right here and get some feedback!

7 Keys to Creating Social Media Strategy for Your Brand

by Eric Tsai

In the past few weeks I’ve experienced a decent amount of spam from social networking sites ranging from people marketing their books, selling “make money online” information, to promoting their personal brand.

It’s indicative of the fact that individuals and businesses are viewing the space seriously as it takes on the mainstream spotlight.

There are many ways to utilize social media to boost your brand.  The key is to have a strategy around building your social proof.

Let The Truth Be Told

People naturally look for social proof in any given situation.

Social proof is a weapon of influence by which we replicate what we see others do.  We tend to make assumptions in our head when we’re unable to determine the appropriate action to take.
So we turn to surrounding authorities that we assume possess more knowledge about the situation than us.

For example, if you see a bunch of people lining up outside of a restaurant you tend to think the food is good or better yet, it MUSTbe good.

Social proof is especially powerful in social media because of the available information from Twitter followers to LinkedIn connections.  People get influenced real-time on their PCs or their mobile devices.

This creates little barrier to entry for people to be perceived as preeminent experts.  Combine that with the limitless reach of social network; people will often evaluate others based on how “connected” they are.

The truth is – social media is a platform for engagement and building communities.

It has evolved to be part of a marketer’s arsenal and it’s on the path to be the next coming of email spam.

If you don’t want to be perceived as a spammer or someone just looking to gain free social proof, you need a solid strategy for your brand.

Aligning Your Brand And Business Strategy

There are lots of high profile people and companies using social media today but not all of them are getting the result they want.

Many brands are doing a fairly good job utilizing the right social media strategy while others clearly have no clue.

Here are 7 keys to create your social media strategy:

1. Define your outcome

This is perhaps the most important aspect of your social media strategy.

What are you trying to achieve?

What is your ideal outcome? Sales?

Lead generation? Promotions? Branding? Buzz?

Corporate brands generally use social media as part of their larger strategic initiatives for reputation management, product launches, and customer engagement tools.

Those methods apply to personal branding as well because social media is a cost-effective marketing and PR vehicle in comparison to the traditional media marketing.

2. Focus on your audience’s needs

If you want to sell a product such as a book across social media, you must focus on your audience’s pain point, solve their problems, and add value to them little by little.

Provide free advice that’s of high value, NOT something anyone can just copy and paste from a source like a blog.

For example, instead of relaying mainstream news, focus on syndicating news gear towards a specific niche area so you become the go-to source for it.

Better yet, compile the content and provide your own insight so you act as a filter for your audience.

3. Implement measurable ROI

This is actually difficult to do because social media is still a relatively new medium and remains largely unproven.

The best solution is to gauge the time spent versus the result you are able to measure such as inbound traffic, clickthroughs, impressions, comments, fans, followers, subscribers, and ask how prospects find you.

Track your data and chart them over time to find relevant cause and effects.

You may be surprise to find what people are saying about your brand or how effective your marketing triggers are after reviewing your statistics.

4. Actively participate in discussion groups

If you have something valuable to offer, people should know.

Join discussions and participate in forums will bring you opportunities to brand yourself and create awareness in the form of constructive promotion.

Further more by providing your audience with insights, educational content, or value support systems will help you gain social proof.

Knowledge transfer in social media is very powerful especially given as freebies.  As a result it creates reciprocation from the recipient who will want to return the favor in the form of purchasing your product or endorsing your brand.

5. Get in front of the right people

High profile people are great leverage to give you that boost of traffic especially key opinion leaders in your niche area.

Get in touch with them and do something for them first.

Contribute to their cause and the reciprocation factor will work on them as well.  Instead of asking for endorsements, participate in their discussion groups, leave comments on their blog, send them useful information, and interact with their channel are all ways to gain visibility.

Build the right relationship will also drive The Long-Tail affect in which your brand impression will be distributed amongst high profile people’s fans in significant numbers.

6. Blend online and offline social networking

This is one of the overlooked areas for social networking.

Offline networking can add more fuel to the fire especially when people aren’t able to hide behind their user name, emails or avatars.

There is nothing quite like a face-to-face conversation to get a nice dialogue started.

Not only can you hear the voice of the other person but the body language, eye contact, and physical interaction in the same space makes you more “real” and believable.

Although it can be time consuming, offline networking is more powerful than 140 words in a tweet or a two liner comment in Facebook.

It also encourages word-of-mouth marketing which is by far the most effective marketing tool today.

I highly recommend you to attend conferences, go to tradeshows, take a training course, or get with other social networkers locally.  Start a MeetUp group or a monthly seminar.

7. Nurture relationships, build momentum

When implanting social media strategies, you may wan to run tests to get feedback from your network.

You should stay true to yourself but also know what worked and what doesn’t.

Ideally you want to keep doing what works and find new ways to strengthen your relationship with your audience.

Start your own discussion group, do an online survey, create joint ventures, exchange opportunities, and continue to provide free information are all ways to foster your social media relationships.

Nothing will happen when nothing is provided and you must be patient before you get results.

Whether you’re already on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or is blogging on a regular basis, my best advice is to just let go and keep on giving!

Has social media already helped your business?

8 Tips on How to Add Value to Your Brand Effectively

by Eric Tsai

This weekend, I went to my usual barber shop to get a haircut.  When I got done, my barber gave me a customer rewards card for one free haircut after I get nine.

Interestingly, I’ve been going to this same barber shop for 10 years and it’s the first time they’ve started a rewards program of any kind.

The purpose of such a program is to keep the customers returning.  It’s a simple tactic to create stickiness by recompensing the loyal clients.

This is a proven marketing tactic that increases the impression of value – the trick is knowing what value means to your customers.

What Does Value Mean To Your Customers?

Most business owners already understand the importance of continually adding value to their business.  It’s by knowing and consistently adding value, brands remains competitive and have the opportunity to grow.  Companies must focus on:

  • Increasing customer retention
  • Knowing what value means to your customer not to you

So what does value mean to your prospective buyers?  Is it the competitive pricing?  The free add-on services ? Or is it the customer loyalty program?

The answer: focus on customer needs and always demonstrate value through trust. In my article on “How Opinions Disrupt and Transform,” I observed that public opinions are good indicators of what’s important to consumers, especially when opinions shift from “wants” to “needs” like it is now.

Creating value is about staying relevant in your customer’s minds. It enables you to connect with what you do with what they value so your message resonate with them emotionally.

You’re not going to stop a consumer from purchasing generic soup over Campbell’s or picking up no-name tissues over Kleenex. You can either compete on price, value or both.

Here is a sample comparison for the two types of customers:

Buy Name Brand

42-15556081– Quality is priority
– Price is important but not the main concern, it should meet my needs
– Had good experience in the past, going to stick with what I know
– Saw lots of marketing about it, going to try it
– Heard good things about it from trusted source

Buy Generic Brand

– Price is priority
– Quality is important but I’ll settle for second – it should meet my budget
– Had good experience with generic brands in other categories
– I may get more value with generic brands since all the money goes into the product instead of marketing
– Fits my basic needs – I am willing to try if it means I save money

Clearly the two types of customers have very different needs.

Depending on the product or service, a customer may choose name brand at times and generic under other circumstances.

Pricing competition will shrink profit margins over time. Competing on value must be consistent with the change in the perception of value. This goes back to knowing your customer’s needs and bridging the gap between their needs and wants.

For example: a few years back Coca-Cola started selling the 8 ounce mini-cans.  They anticipated a consumer trend towards counting calories and becoming more health conscious.

Per ounce,  the mini-can isn’t cheaper than the regular can. In some cases the price could even be the same as the regular 12 ounce can.

So why would someone pay the same stuff for less?

Don’t we all want a deal?

Coke did its homework and found that the mini-cans reduced the amount of guilt that a consumer felt for snacking while minimizing the chances of overeating.

Coke realized that consumers were no longer relying on the value-for-money as the sole factor for deciding to buy.

Instead, consumers wanted to eat smaller portions, particularly in the sub-100 calories area which Kraft originally started with its mini snack packs of chips, cookies and crackers.

The company understood the emotional needs of their customers and they provided a solution to solve their problem without loosing their brand integrity or customer perceived value.  The product is still the same…just smaller portions.

In similar fashion, the smaller portion strategy has recently been implemented by many fast food chains.

Jack-in-the-Box’s “mini sirloin burgers,” Burger king’s “BK Burger Shots” and Quiznos “Toasty Torpedo,” are all tactics to tempt consumer.

Consumers who are spending less on meals away from home due to the recession NOT for health reasons.

8 Tips to Increase Your Brand Value

Here are 8 tips on what you can do to have an immediate impact on adding value to your brand:

1. Stay on top of your customer needs – Be “high touch” with your A-level customers, build solid relationships, and keep tabs on their problems.

Setup Google alerts, search on Twitter or discussion forums, read all reviews (yes, don’t ignore them!).

Visit customers regularly not only when they need something, and attend network events are great ways to strengthen the relationship and expand your reach at the same time.

2. Be visible to your customers – Make sure they’re aware of your value continuously; try to remind them of your value strategically.

Offering an updated version of your product or tagging on a free service are good ways of letting your customer know you are constantly improving.

Convince your customer that your existence makes their lives easier, better, happier by providing them with information they value and care for.

3. Know your competition – Always be on the lookout for what others are doing out there.  Be ready to explain your value proposition versus your competitors’.

You must be able to provide the facts to back up your claims.

It will make you more competitive if you can level the playing field just like how all the restaurants are offering smaller portion meals in their own way.

4. Go the extra mile – Do things that are outside the scope of your business.   Go above and beyond your normal routine by solving their “other” problems.

This will help you stand out from the competition.

5. Reward loyalty – Similar to the rewards program, give your customer something more for sticking with you or using your products and services.

It could be tickets to a baseball game, gift certificates or discounts for doing business with you in the future. You want to build a relationship that extends as long as possible so focus on customer lifetime value.

6. Try new ideas – If you’re in a highly commoditized market, you need to think about where you make your profits.  Most of times there is no point in competing on price or service alone.

Try new ideas like the “freemium model” where it may be worth it to give some of your products or services away for free and charge for value-adds or premium account later in exchange for maintaining the relationship.

Gmail is free because Google makes their money from ads displayed in Gmail, giving them more advertising channels.  Some Apple iPhone basic apps are free because they have a full version that will cost money.

7. Improve experience – The entire experience in doing business with your company should be present from start to finish.

Try to make every step as frictionless as possible and think from your customer’s perspective.

They should know that they can contact you with their concerns with the expectation that you will respond quickly and effectively.

This also creates great leverage for word-of-mouth marketing.

8. Include a human element – Many companies don’t focus enough on humanizing their brand.  As a result, customers can feel out of touch.

They need to feel like they are more than customers.

Logos, slogans, taglines and websites are just references, they’re marketing vehicles.

Besides receiving your newsletters, brochures, emails and phone calls, allowing your customer to reach you in other engaging ways can help your company grow.

Don’t be afraid to be creative about it; throw events, create a blog, or connect via social networking tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.