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Brand Is As Brand Does

Brian Kelley

Brand is not a logo. Brand is not a tagline. Brand is not a meticulous set of fonts and pantones laid out in a style guide. Brand is simply the points of contact between a company and a consumer.

This isn’t some great revelation I alone have been entrusted to spread across the marketing landscape. I am but one advocate for this brand of brand. Yet all shifts in ideology take time to move from theory to standard practice. So here’s my take on why this should happen sooner rather than later.

First, let me be clear—logos, taglines and style guides are crucial to brand. They help form the basis of strategic, impactful and consistent messaging. My point is it doesn’t stop there. Everything a company says, everything a company does and everything a company is perceived to believe is part of their brand.

That’s why brands can no longer be thought of as some passive object to be bought and sold. Brands need to have a point of view. Brands need to make connections with people, and they need to evolve. A brand that is rigid and inflexible can quickly become irrelevant.

Consumers today are inundated with content. They sift through the minutia for authenticity and are choosing companies that align with their values. If a brand’s content is not relevant to them, they can easily move on to the next. However, if consumers are engaged properly, they will champion a brand with every tweet, post, share and pin they make.

With the advent of social media, brand has become a conversation, and that conversation is happening whether a company participates or not. Companies that lead the conversation control their own destinies. By creating an open dialogue, a company can react to the marketplace in real time and build a more personal relationship with consumers.

Building and maintaining a brand is a lot of work, but it’s also an exciting opportunity. There are more ways then ever to connect and interact with consumers. If a company continually makes an effort to be inclusive and bring real value to them, there’s no limit to what a brand can do.

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Stop Starving Your Marketing Strategy

Matt Kurowski

You are being asked to do more with less. Expectations are high. Budgets are low. Investments must realize a return. In this type of environment, the knee jerk reaction is often to spend every dollar on outward facing tactics. But doing so may starve your marketing strategy of the research and planning needed to be successful.

It’s time to fight for the knowledge you need to do your job.

Here are two common situations I see occurring, and what you need to address them.

Situation 1: The external market is changing around you.
Markets are dynamic. Competitors reposition themselves, or add offerings. New players enter the space.  Customer needs evolve. And your business is being affected.

What you need:
It must be gut check time. Whether you developed your brand strategy two years ago or five years ago, it is time to review your brand positioning – before your first round of annual planning. Sometimes this is also called a brand assessment. This review will leverage research to evaluate if your brand is still relevant and assess it against the current competitive set. The outcome will reveal how you can best compete against the shifts and trends. The knowledge you gain can also be used to inform decisions in your tactical plan.

If not performed, you risk losing market share.

Situation 2: Internal forces pressure you into focusing on tactics.
Often, programs are launched too quickly out of urgency to be first to market.

What you need:
The most efficient and effective way to market successfully is – surprisingly – through focused research and planning. Avoid the temptation to throw tactics at the challenge.  Get the knowledge you need to develop an informed strategy first.

Depending on the time and resources you have, you always have options. If you have no time and no budget, carve out some from your tactical plan. You may feel as though you are robbing your chance to strike it big. But you aren’t. You are actually feeding your strategy the marketing knowledge it needs to thrive.

If you skip this important step, you risk wasting budget on ineffective tactics.

Yes, it is tough out there for marketers. The good news is we can do more with less. We can be focused and efficient. To achieve it, arm yourself with knowledge to laser focus the effort. It will bring results and a return on your organization’s investment.

Do you feel marketing strategies are being starved? Reply or comment below.

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A New Website Will Not Solve Your Brand Problem

John Walker

It is easy to mistake a “brand” problem for a “website” problem.  I hear this from potential clients all the time. It usually goes something like this:

Client: “We need a new website.”

Me: “Why.”

Client: “It’s not clear to customers what we do.”

Me: “Ok. Tell me more.”

Client: “It’s not clear what we stand for and how we’re different. Plus our divisions and brands all market themselves differently. A new website will help us address this.”

At this point warning bells start ringing in my head. Is this a “website” problem or a “brand” problem? Can a new website fix this? It’s critical to understand which problem the project needs to address.

Here are some indications that there could be a brand problem.

  • Company’s visual identity needs improvement
  • Company’s value proposition is not clear in the marketplace
  • Different company divisions market themselves differently- some use the parent brand identity and some don’t
  • There is not a clear strategy governing marketing communications for company divisions and brands

Many times these problems arise when companies grow through acquisitions. Acquired companies get folded into parent organizations but they don’t get integrated. Signs of this are that they have names that are different from the parent brand name. They have their own websites. They may have sales teams that operate independently. If these issues are not addressed prior to the beginning of a website redesign, several problems can arise.

  • The website project can get slowed or completely derailed by organizational issues that come to a head during discussions that are ostensibly about the website. I’ve participated in very long and, at times, heated discussions about how leads will be routed within a company or who has permission to update which parts of the site. These are organizational issues that stem from a need to integrate operations.
  • If there is lack of clarity in brand identity, or in the relationship between company brands, this confusion will be magnified once the website goes live.  Customers will start to interact with the site and they will quickly see any lack of clarity in brand position and any lack of coherence between divisions or brands.

Ultimately, these issues need to be understood and resolved prior to starting the website project. If they aren’t, the website project does not go well because the core issues are just papered over with a new communications tool. So the lesson is to carefully identify which problem needs to be solved first- brand or website. If it’s “brand,” then resolve that problem first, before tackling the website project.

Not sure where to start? Our “Is it Time to Redefine Your Brand” worksheet can help you quickly assess the state of your brand.


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Want great creative? Then get emotional.

Jessica Melhorn



I’m not sure how many times I see these two words in my daily dose of marketing industry news, but it’s a lot. I’m almost on the verge of not wanting to use these words anymore, for fear I too am sounding like everyone else! These words, only a few years ago, sounded fresh when describing what creative work should be. Now they sound nonspecific. Marketers seem to be tiring of it, too. They know they need engaging and compelling creative, but how do you know when you’ve nailed it?

Maybe the best place to start is being able to identify when you don’t have engaging, compelling creative. Campaigns don’t drive qualified leads and convert new business. Messaging and design elements feel the same across competitors. It’s enough to frustrate the best marketers out there. Does this mean everyone is engaging and compelling if we all look the same and talk the same? No, it doesn’t. It means no one is.

Scroll through your marketing pubs some more, and you may start to hear talk of something that is inspiring! It’s a word that describes what’s in great creative. At least it inspires me enough to write this blog. The word is:


You may be thinking, sure, in B2C you can use emotions in your creative.  It’s different in B2B.

However, ignoring the importance of emotions in decision making is where B2B marketing gets it wrong. We are all emotional buyers driven by a personal need. Even at work. Even an engineer, for example.

Whether you are selling potato chips or transmission parts, you are selling it to a person. The big win – and the one that is more often than not missing in B2B creative – is linking an emotional connection between your target and your brand. If you want impactful creative, find the sweet spot where emotional and rational intersect. Then cultivate the ties that bind the two together. This is called using your target’s personal value to promote your brand’s differentiation.

For example, ask yourself this question: What is the emotion your product provides an engineer? Is it your product’s consistent reliability and performance? Don’t stop and communicate reliability and performance. Keep going. Proceed past rational and head into emotional. How does that make the engineer feel when your product is reliable when others aren’t? Is it confidence? Peer recognition? Pride? This is the personal value of your brand to the engineer. Connect with that personal value in your creative, and you will have that engineer at “hello.”

Some call this “P2P” or “person-to-person marketing,” if you are into the latest marketing buzzwords. I think I’ll stay away from buzzwords for a while, and just say that it’s what makes creative awesome.

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How Google’s “Secure Search” Impacts Your Digital Marketing Plans

John Walker

On October 18, 2013 Google announced that it would no longer show website owners the keywords users entered into search to get to their sites through Google Analytics. Google refers to this change as “secure search” and industry search gurus refer to this as “not provided.” For consumers this means that their searches on Google are more “secure” because less of their search data is shared. But what does this mean to marketers?

Prior to this change, your digital marketing team could use this keyword data inside Google Analytics to optimize pages on your website for particular search terms. For example, if Google showed that “chocolate recipe” was driving frequent visits to a landing page, your team could load that page with more content related to “chocolate recipe” to drive even more traffic.  But now you can’t see these referring search terms on a page by page level. What to do?

The answer is to use another tool that Google provides- Google Webmaster Tools (GWT)*. After submitting your site to GWT, you will be able to see search terms which drive traffic to your site- you just won’t be able to see them page by page. But this data can still help you plan content and strategies to drive traffic. You’ll be able to see that “chocolate recipes” is a strong referring search term, so your team can develop corresponding content. Then in terms of measurement, you will be able to track overall traffic increases to your new optimized content. It’s less precise than before, but still a good way to plan, manage and measure website optimization. To learn how to view search queries in Google Webmaster Tools go here.

Note: * Bing also provides Webmaster Tools.


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New Reasons Why Link Building Can Help or Hurt You

John Walker

Building links to your website is a critical way of increasing website traffic. Links create pathways to your site (obvious) and they send a signal to search engines that your site is popular so it should have high visibility in search results (less obvious). However, new developments show that building links the wrong way can actually hurt you so your SEO team needs to be cautious about how they approach this.

Recently Search Engine Land reported that the travel website Expedia lost 25% of its search visibility. It appears that the site was punished by Google for unsavory link building tactics like buying links in bulk. So here are dos and don’ts for the right way to build website links.

  • Do: Build relationships with other websites that genuinely relate to your site.
  • Do: Place links to articles and guest posts on blogs only where they naturally belong- not all over the place.
  • Do: Build links where they provide a useful reference for the reader.
  • Don’t: Build links exclusively for SEO benefit.
  • Don’t: Pay for links.
  • Don’t: Automate link building for scale.

For more on this subject, Rand Fishkin of SEO Moz provides a helpful perspective.


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Social Media Marketing with Style

Kelly Kautz

You already know the importance of using brand standards to guide your marketing efforts. But applying those brand standards to social media can be a challenge even for experienced marketers. From Facebook to Twitter to Vine, each platform requires its own nuances in tone, topics and frequency.

A social media style guide can help. A good style guide will make it easy to capture your brand’s identity across multiple platforms, and reap the benefits of a successful social media marketing strategy.

But what does a social media style guide entail? Is it a one-page document of recommendations, or a lengthy handbook? The answer depends on the complexity of your social media strategy and goals – though the more accessible the guide, the smoother its implementation will likely be.

I’ve helped to create social media style guides for B2B and B2C clients. In some cases, I used the document to guide my own content creation. In others, I helped clients disseminate those style guides to their own content marketing teams.

I’ve found that while style guides can vary, the most effective documents contain the following elements.

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Top 3 Questions to Help Prioritize B2B Digital Marketing

Jessica Melhorn

Is your online investment in digital marketing lost on a website that does not convert leads? One of the more common questions I receive when consulting clients is how to prioritize digital efforts for measurable sales results. I prefer to reply with a question of my own: Is your website working hard enough to funnel new business into the pipeline? Most digital tactics will direct a potential customer to your website. It remains that final destination, validating what you claim anywhere else. When they arrive, what kind of brand experience awaits them? Is it consistent? Is it relevant to their needs? Do you make the decision making process easier than competitors? Or does it reveal disconnects? Before prioritizing your digital efforts, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Have you recently evaluated which devices are trending across your customers, and what that experience is like for them? If you are noticing a trend, determine what customer needs are driving it and how you can respond by designing the optimal experience on that device.

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Through the Looking Glass of Content Marketing: Stock and Flow

Kelly Kautz

If you’ve read Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, you might remember the Red Queen’s race. In it, Alice discovers that a brisk run with the Red Queen has brought her to the same place she started.

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Managing a content marketing program often feels like running the Red Queen’s race. In addition to plotting out strategy and messaging, you can spend considerable time just keeping up with the latest social media platforms and technologies — not to mention the etiquette for each.

Content creation is a separate race: what topics do you cover? What format should you use? Where should you publish, and how will you drive people there?

Finding balance amidst all these decisions can seem like an impossible feat. But it doesn’t have to be. Most content marketing can be divided into two fairly simple categories: stock and flow.

Stock and flow is a concept first used by writer and media inventor Robin Sloan. Stock, Sloan explains, is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

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The Case for Search Engine Marketing

John Walker

Think of search engines as the customs gate of an airport through which every person entering a country must pass. The country they’re entering is the Internet, and 1.3 billion people use search engines every day to find stuff there.

That’s a big number and it’s easy to find dramatic ways to illustrate just how big– it’s the size of the entire population of China. But what’s more important than the size of this number is the idea that all your customers and potential customers are using search engines every day and if you don’t reach them there, your competitors will. So your opportunity is to connect with these people as they pass through this narrow gate.

But the reality is, for many marketers today, search engine marketing is merely a sideshow beside the seemingly more important activities that make up the core of their marketing plans. This approach misses an enormous opportunity and it needs to change.

How Your Customers Use Search Engines

There are three critical ideas related to how people use search engines that should guide your search engine marketing strategy.

First, potential customers are not just searching the name of your company, product or service, they may be searching for information that relates broadly to what you offer. So your search marketing efforts should focus on ensuring that your marketing content appears when users enter copy related to what you offer, not just when they enter your company name, product or service.

Second, of the 1.3 billion people using search engines daily, 1.1 billion click on the unpaid listings- versus the paid advertising that appears on the top and sides of the search engine results. So this means that paying for search engine listings through services like AdWords cannot be the core of your long term search marketing strategy. Ultimately you need to create organic visibility for your marketing content (“organic” is the term that describes non-paid search engine listings).

Finally, know that 1 billion daily search engine users (out of 1.3 billion) never look beyond the first page of results. So this means that achieving page-one search results listings is crucial.

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