You may have wasted massive amounts of money on advertising that had little to no chance of success. You may have spent years’ worth of efforts on attracting an irresponsive audience on Social Media platforms, for no measurable financial return.
Social Media Marketing, more often than not, is a massive failure for businesses. For a successful Social Media Presence, you need to understand what Branding is, why the creation of your Brand is vastly more important than your advertisements, and why if you try to make money through a presence on Social Media without proper branding, you will fail miserably 99 out of 100 times.
Most businesses, especially SMBs really have very little appreciation of what Branding is, why it works and why it is crucial to your success, online or off. What I am going to share with you is truly the foundation for how your business either will, or will not be successful in its marketing efforts, so pay attention, umkay?
What is Branding, really?
Today, the competition among businesses for customers has never been greater. In this environment, a business needs to stand out and have every possible advantage to be successful. You need an authentic, positive and trusted BRAND, more than you need perfect SEO, more than you need millions of followers on Social Media, and much, MUCH more than you need advertising if you are going to win.
Your Brand is the sum total of what others perceive about your business. Perception can come from direct knowledge, from reputation, from the comments of others, and most importantly, from how you go about describing your business to your target customer. It is so much more than telling potential customers WHAT you do.
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Let’s face it, yours is probably not the only business doing what you do, or selling what you sell. In fact, there are likely many people who say they do what you do. Branding is about placing a permanent image in the minds of your target audience of who you are, what you are like, what makes you different from others and especially what you will do for THEM.
When a potential client reads or hears the name of your business, there ought to be instantly an image of your business in his or her mind. Your job, is to paint that picture, to make absolutely sure that the image is first POSITIVE, and then RELEVANT to that audience. This means that unless you have taken time to determine who your target customer is, you might spend a great deal of time creating an audience of thousands, only to find that few-to-none of them are interested in what you are offering.
In the digital space, memorable branding needs to be established and maintained across all technological platforms. It needs to be consistent whenever your client or potential clients interact with you or encounter content about your company. Branding here is more like a persona rather than a static two dimensional image. If you do not remember anything about this article except this, please remember that in ANY successful business, it is never, ever about YOUR Business.
Your potential customers don’t really care where their needs are met, only that it happens. Your branding success is also about solving your client’s problems, making THEM happy, or providing THEM with what THEY want.
Your Branding is both the persona you wish to be perceived in the minds of your target customer – it is how you create that persona, share that persona, and make that persona common knowledge no matter where your target customer happens to be looking AND your reputation of how well you address your customers’ needs.
Branding is the cornerstone piece of the foundation which all other contact activities (online or off-line) is based upon.
Branding and Social Media
Because of the conversational nature of Social Media, combined with the digital ability to rapidly share and display a wide range of media supporting an idea, Social Media represents the most powerful platform for both Corporate (business) and Personal Branding, there has ever been.
Social Media facilitates a ‘Conversation’, the ability in real time to discover the priorities and values of those who might be interested in your products or services. Social Media provides very effective and practically instant feedback from your online communications. Social Media provides your business with the opportunity to share and confirm your expertise.
If you are helpful to others, you will soon develop as a problem solver within your industry. Many businesses somewhat new to Social Media are deathly afraid of giving away information or solutions free of charge. This is the wrong way to think. Marketing has costs. Nothing is free about putting the word out about you and your services.
No matter what your business does, your mission on Social Media, or any other way you choose to engage with a potential audience, is to become a recognized authority in your field. To become an authority, you have to demonstrate your competency, your authenticity and your undisputed credibility. You cannot do that without engaging on both a professional and personal level. Even well-known food brands set aside a percentage of marketing budgets for free samples down at your local grocer. Why would you believe anyone would simply take you at your word about your awesomeness? Show them!
Do NOT Advertise, but DEMONSTRATE!
One of the most popular mistakes made on Social Media forums is to begin advertising right out of the box to an audience of people who have no idea who you are. Nothing will get you blocked, banned, un-circled or defriended faster than advertising to strangers, i.e. spamming. You might have the greatest product since sliced bread, but almost NOBODY logs into a Social Media platform to go shopping. Sure it happens occasionally. According to Facebook statistics, it happens less than 0.051% of the time.
I can guarantee much better odds that someone unfamiliar with you will perceive your unsolicited advertisements as a rude interruption. I don’t know about you, but I hate being interrupted, even by cake (well, not German Chocolate).
Believe it or not, while you will read about success stories all over the Internet about advertisements on Social Media forums, they are actually the #1 reason that business fail at Social Media, and do not attract the kind of online relationships that can be converted into an audience, then from audience to lead, then from lead to customer. Please understand, until your business has developed its positive and authentic brand, advertising does more harm than good, and you will waste money, period.
Then, when you have that postmortem with your “Social Media Expert”, because you can no longer afford to pay them, you will hear things like: “Well, the markets were off for your solution ” or “for some reason, we failed to engage” or my favorite: “Frankly, with your limited budget, we simply could not advertise enough…”
Consider the plight of a bad-ass lead guitarist about to audition for an opening in a successful Rock Band. He’s got the hair, he’s got the look, but nobody has heard of him before. He’s loaded with attitude, but to the band, that’s just an advertisement. The dude can stand on stage with the band all day with attitude, but until the audience hears him play, they really could not care less.
That is your business on stage, and sorry, you gotta play, and you gotta play your ass off. No holding back. You must think of every single thing you do or say to a prospective audience as what might be your only audition or your opening night. Then, once you are known for your bad-ass music and performances, your fans will buy tickets to your concerts and other associated products.
Put your knowledge, ability, products and services out there. Not as advertisements, but as living examples of what can be expected from a business relationship with your organization. Any reluctance to discuss or demonstrate your ability openly is subject to interpretation as a lack of confidence or credibility in you or your business.
Do not just “Dive In”
It is a popular meme to suggest that businesses unfamiliar with Social Media should just “Dive In” and start communicating. At my business, we recommend against this, because of what we call the “Social Media Spotlight”.
An extremely important thing to understand about Social Media is that it will amplify whatever you do or say in ways you might not understand. If you develop a reputation for quality products or services, along with a reputation for authenticity and trust, word will spread; trust me. However, the same is true if your business is lacking.
A bit of soul-searching should be a part of your Branding Strategy, with an understanding that your negatives will be amplified to a GREATER DEGREE than your positives. If you are an untrusted entity, Social Media will serve to expose you, faster than you can say “Plagiarist”.
Okay J.C., so what do I do?
Even before you take the time to identify your target customer, take the time to identify yourself and your business. Not what you want to be, but what it IS. Make an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses as a business. Have you done a business plan? No? Shame on you. Run, don’t walk, and purchase a license for Business Plan Pro, or some other Business Planning software and get to work. Use the long form, not the easy form.
Why? So you can find out what you don’t know about your business and your market. Force yourself to take the time to answer every question as accurately as you can.
Your next step, once you have an honest assessment, and not just a steaming pile of wishful-thinking, you are ready to brand your business. Do not even think of doing this alone without professional assistance. If you do, the odds against your success are astronomical.
Your Brand MUST be an authentic representation of who you are and what you do. This is the promise you are making with your potential customers, and the moment they sense a lack of credibility, or a disconnect from your promise, it is over, Bunkie. Worse, if your potential customer, angry over your deception decides to tweet or Yelp about it, that is going to ruin your day.
From the name of your business, to the URL of your web site, all the way down to the very keywords you use in your search engine optimization, must be descriptive of YOUR brand-not just some generic nouns or phrases that could belong to any business in your space.
Your job is to back up what you say with positive action and examples whenever or wherever you choose to engage. How well you do this, will determine whether you develop authority and trust. Do that successfully, and watch your following grow by leaps and bounds. Once established, do not be surprised when you get unsolicited requests for your expertise.
Essentially, the social media space provides powerful ways to establish the cornerstone piece of your online success – your branding. With a recognizable, respected, relatable persona, your engagement will soar and commercial activity will be successful. Key to success is to keep your social media space and ecommerce space separate but forge vital links between the two.
Now, get out there, stop angering people by interrupting them with advertisements, until you have branded your business, and given people a reason to care about who you are.