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Practice Management – brand development

Marketing may very well be the most difficult aspect of managing your business. An efficient and effective marketing plan is essential to assist you with the continuous and necessary process of finding new customers.


September 9, 2009
By Timothy Feher

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Marketing may very well be the most difficult aspect of managing your business. An efficient and effective marketing plan is essential to assist you with the continuous and necessary process of finding new customers. Marketing is difficult for many entrepreneurs because it is too often a second thought; a task that is conducted without a strategy, without a plan, and without adequate time commitment.

Furthermore, entrepreneurs often enter the marketplace without an understanding of its rules; without an appreciation for the incredible clutter and competition for attention; without an approach which masters the dual tasks of persuasion and relationship building with customers.

But the greatest shortcoming in the marketing efforts of novice entrepreneurs is the failure to acknowledge the power of brand.

Short term, you want to sell your services and products, but long term, for your business to be sustainable and grow, you need to establish lasting relationship with consumers in the marketplace. You sell your products but you establish relationships with your brand.

In 1965, in his famous theory “the medium is the message” media guru, Marshall McLuhan, observed that the fundamental characteristics of society are changed by the use and consumption of media. The content carried by media is usually trivial. The real story to be observed and interpreted is the way media itself shapes our society and our modes of thinking.

McLuhan said that media, rather than its content, tell the greater picture of societal purposes and process. He observed that, in advertising for example, the trend was to “manifest the product as an integral part of the larger social purposes and processes.”

By focusing on the larger experience and context of society, the advertisement itself strives for supremacy over its subject.

It is the advertisement itself that attains icon status in our culture, by being so much more relevant and all-inclusive than the product being advertised. The new marketing, McLuhan observed, included “producer, consumer, seller and (the whole of) society in a single image.”

The big marketing idea we learned from McLuhan’s analysis is that effective marketing is a kind of persuasion that works on a much broader cultural level than the product itself. Where a product is limited, in terms of demand and use, the idea or context surrounding the product is a vast tableau. The manufactured background to the product is something we call the brand.

  • A brand is so much greater than a company or product name, or logo. The brand is the totality of what a product, or the idea of the product, can mean to a consumer and to their society. Brand development can position products and services more firmly in the marketplace by creating a larger portal for consumer attention, and a greater interface for relationship building between consumer and seller.
  • So how does a small business entrepreneur design and launch a marketing strategy using the power of brand? If the brand of your business is the totality and the potential of a consumer’s relationship with your business, then you need to view your marketing in a larger context.
  • Here’s a 5-step marketing primer to help you think like a brand marketer.

1. Position Your Business Competitively in the Marketplace
Before you run off buying advertising space in your local newspaper or ordering flyers, you’ve got some homework to do. Creating a strategy for the effective positioning of your business will create the right conditions for your marketing efforts.

• The Unique Selling Proposition:
Differentiate your business, services and products from your competitors. This is referred to as your unique selling proposition. What do you offer that others don’t? What promises of performance, quality and expertise do you offer that sets you apart from the rest? What are the customized or unique features of your services? Good marketing develops and exploits these unique features and enhances their presence and value.

• Trend Alignment:
Link with significant trends that are emerging in your marketplace which could be adapted to your business. The idea here is that consumers are already starting to buzz about some idea, lifestyle or product- line trend in the marketplace. That buzz can also carry your product message for you if you are in on the trend. While this is not to suggest you should change your services to adapt to every new trend in the marketplace, there is a tremendous opportunity to put a new twist on your traditional products and services. Trend alignment keeps your marketing fresh and helps you get the attention of new customers who may not have found you otherwise.

• Customer Needs and Niches:
Know the full breadth of customer needs in your line of business. Design your products and marketing around customer needs. Be able to easily adapt to changes in these needs. Know your customer demographics (who and where they are), their psychographics (what they think), their niches (what they prefer). Use this knowledge to design messages which speak directly to them in your marketing. Segment your marketing efforts and design a separate email or brochure, for example, for your different niche customer groups. The more you speak specifically to their experience the more they will respond to your marketing and want to form a relationship with your brand.

2. Develop & Position Your Brand Creatively in the Marketplace
Customers will be served by your products and services, but they will share a potentially loyal bond with your brand. Your marketing should provide that relationship opportunity.

Consider how the following brand architecture can be worked into your marketing messages, imagery and methods.

  • Values espoused by the brand;
  • The spirit, soul, poetry and belief system of the brand.
  • Lifestyle and culture promoted by the brand.
  • Trustworthiness of the brand.
  • Customer service associated with the brand.
  • Standard of performance promised by the brand (quality/ value/customer satisfaction/sector leadership).
  • Getting others to talk about your brand and have it show up everywhere. Use your social and local business networks. Connect with local charities, community groups and any organizations that might share a common mission to your business. Negotiate cross-promotional campaigns with local business partners.
  • Affinity for the brand. Having others want to be associated with the brand and what it represents. We call this “affinity.” This is why consumers will actually buy a T-shirt which is emblazoned with corporate logo of a company (think NIKE). The brand has power beyond its products. It has attitude, status and character and attracts a like- minded club of individuals who want to associate with, and through the brand, to other people in the marketplace. This opportunity exists for any business, even small ones, who take the time to develop a relationship with the greater experience of their consumers.
  • A compelling and memorable brand name and logo

3. Execute Your Marketing Creatively
Marketing is costly. You’ll want to execute in the most creative way.

In fact the character, look and feel of your marketing is part of your message. It’s part of your brand.

  • Get sticky. Design sales and advertising materials with ideas and images that will stick in the memory of consumers. It’s a noisy and crowded marketplace. You will have to compete for their attention.
  • Inspire your potential customers. Build an experience around your products/services with words, images, and a colour pallet that invites the customer into the unique world of your brand. Go deep into your brand and pull its essence to the surface in your marketing materials. If you can afford it, a creative marketing agency can help you.
  • Keep your marketing materials uncluttered and easy for the reader to navigate. Less is more, and it’s more attractive too. You will probably have less than 3-5 seconds to capture the attention of a prospective consumer once they come into contact with any of your marketing materials. I call this the billboard opportunity. It is a simple image and message, designed to grab attention and get your audience interested in hearing more. If you need to provide detailed information as part of your marketing, consider the technique of providing a website address, or place the detailed information further back in your print materials.
  • Articulate a clear call to action. Now that you’ve got their attention, what do you want the consumer to do? Ensure that the call to action is simple, easy to remember. Providing an incentive for early action is a good technique to engage potential customers while their interest is peaked. Probably 50 per cent of consumers are impulse buyers.
  • Select cost efficient advertising and promotion that will deliver measurable customer response. Track the response. Be prepared to engage the response of potential customers. Develop a receptive and welcoming system to capture information from consumer enquiries. Follow up with those potential customers immediately. Initiate a dialogue.

4. Use Persuasion Modes
Marketing is creative persuasion. Ineffective marketing often takes the form of information dumping. While information can be persuasive you won’t find many consumers who will give you the time to process lots of information. Effective persuasion uses other less time consuming techniques. I call these “Persuasion Modes.” Some are the motivators of a consumer culture. Others tap into deeper human motivations.

Here are a few persuasion modes.
In marketing they are used to create the need for products and services in the marketplace. Ideally you should be clear on what mode of persuasion you are using. Build your brand messaging and imagery around that mode.

  • Value
  • Trust
  • Authority
  • Belonging/Affinity
  • Entitlement
  • Fear/Death/Pain/Prevention
  • Sensuality and stimulation
  • Novelty
  • Exclusivity
  • Change your life
  • Escape/Fantasy/Transcendence
  • Keeping up with the Joneses

5. Keep Relationship Building at the Heart of Your Marketing
At the heart of lasting marketing programs is relationship building with your customers and prospective customers. The foundation of most business models is repeat customers. Your objective is consumer loyalty to your brand.

  • Develop a real and sincere customer dialogue. Design a regular routine for your business, using techniques that work for you (interactive newsletters and blogs, birthday greetings, thank yous, customer feedback forms, interviews or focus groups etc.)
  • Design a customer loyalty program with benefits or rewards
  • Develop and publish a customer complaints process with clear measures to empower your staff to resolve customer dissatisfaction.
  • Identify a list of priority relationships from which you will service and maintain active relationships with local business partners, community organizations, and charities. Establish partnerships that are of interest to your customers.

If you spend some time nurturing your marketing program with these five steps you will create a noteworthy position for your brand in the marketplace. Develop your brand so that it can become the medium for your marketing. The medium is the message.

About Timothy Feher
Timothy Feher is an organizational and business development consultant. He operates M2V Strategic Consulting and Communications in Ottawa and Toronto. He is also a part-time professor and lectures on marketing, business and organizational development.


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