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Finding Your Brand’s Voice

When it comes to standing out as a business online, it’s not enough to just write content. Writing good content is the first step, but differentiating yourself from your competitors is key. Now that we’ve talked about the basics of content marketing, it’s time to really focus on your brand’s unique voice. Does your content match your message and your brand? Making your content’s message accurately present your brand is an important way to stand out as a business.

What does it mean to develop your brand’s voice?

Your brand’s voice is your brand’s personality in writing. A unique voice will help you connect and be recognizable to your audience. Whether it’s formal or very casual, you want your brand’s voice to be consistent across all of your written material. By doing this, your customers will start recognizing your brand as soon as they start reading your words. A consistent voice gives your brand strength, and makes your message more memorable. This is important, because it helps you to build real connections with your customers through your writing. It also allows your customers to feel like they understand your company, and it helps them want to buy your product or work with you.

How to Establish Your Brand’s Voice

Just like you did with the design aspects of your brand, your brand’s written voice needs to be a reflection of your company. Take some time to think about how you want your customers to feel about your brand.

What sets your company apart?
How would you describe your products or services to a customer in person?
Does your customer base resonate with a more casual tone, or would they prefer something more formal?
Does your brand’s voice match what you’re selling?

When developing your brand voice, it’s important to keep your goals and brand personality at the forefront.  Make sure that you’re not alienating your customer base by focusing too much on being different, and losing sight of what your product or service can do for them. Knowing your customers and doing the research from the start will help you narrow this down.

Once you have an answer to these questions, these are the important points that you need to keep in mind in order to create a cohesive and effective brand voice:

1) Have and enforce a consistent writing style.

If you have a conversational style for your website copy, make sure that the same style translates to your blog posts, advertisements, email marketing, and any written material that represents your brand. This doesn’t mean that you can’t target your customer base in a different way, but it does mean that your customers should universally recognize your voice and your brand. This same style will help your brand feel consistent and trustworthy.

2) Pay attention to your sentence structure and formatting.

Do you like long flowing sentences, short sentences, or a combination of both? Do you write long academic essays one day and follow it up with short technical articles the next? The way you structure your sentences has just as much impact as your tone when you are creating your brand’s unique identity. It is important that you don’t confuse your customers by altering your style too much. Don’t fret if you’re not sure which style works for your brand and your customers right now. You can try out different styles and test them to see what works and matches your brand voice and goals.

3) Make sure that everyone who writes for your business is on the same page.

Remember that your brand voice needs to be consistent through all of your written material, including your social media, your website, your blog, and your advertisements. Different writers don’t have to sound exactly the same, but they must work on invoking a similar feeling through their writing.

4) Connect with your clients by actively using your brand voice in every situation.

How do you reply when a customer is angry, or to a customer who is extremely enthusiastic? Your written interactions need to continue to match your brand’s voice when customers contact you or refer to you in writing. This is especially important in the social media environment, where other potential leads and current customers will take note of your interactions. Have a written plan on how to address these customer interactions, and make sure that everyone in your company uses it.

5) Change what isn’t working.

If you notice that a certain aspect of your brand’s voice is not working, don’t be afraid to make a change. As your customers change and your product offerings and services evolve, so will your brand’s voice. Just as you learn and grow as business owner, your brand’s voice will continue to develop and become more complex to match your goals and audience.

Why is all of this important?

With so many conflicting voices out there, developing and consistently using your cohesive brand voice will help you continue to stand out in your industry. Don’t be scared to make changes and test new concepts during your development stage to see what really connects with your clients.

Remember that a clear and consistent voice has the power to make you a trustworthy and reliable source.

Like always, if you need help developing your content marketing plan or building your digital presence online, feel free to contact us for a quote. We’ll be happy to walk you through these steps towards helping you build a strong digital presence to meet your marketing goals.

laptop open on table in morning light outdoors

Why Your Website’s Design Matters

First impressions are important. Whether interviewing for a job, meeting with a client, or giving a presentation, this common sense conclusion seems to be ingrained in most of us. When the stakes are either not as high, or not as personal, this is often forgotten or misunderstood (wearing nice fall clothes before going for a hike, for example). When it comes to appearance, it doesn’t work to look good if the visual impression doesn’t match the context. This should also be kept in mind when designing a website.

In an age where people use search engines to research a company or organization before making any plans or decisions, the appearance and feel of a website is important. In fact, your website is often the first impression that your potential customers will see. How it looks, and how it makes them feel when they use it each give a conscious or subconscious impression about your brand. Does the design feel clean and fresh? Artistic and alive? Down to earth and practical? How should it feel in order to accurately represent your brand? How should it look to make your clients feel that you really understand them?

Know Thyself

First, revisit your brand’s identity. What is your mission? What are your values? What are you selling? Who are you selling it to? Is there a cultural or sub-cultural context? These should all be considered when deciding the general aesthetic of your website. Once we have a general idea of how it should feel, it’s time to move into the content we are designing for. Related: Getting started with your content strategy

Know Your Audience

What is your message? What makes your brand unique? What kind of a personality does your brand have? These should be woven together when deciding the information architecture, how content is organized and displayed, of your website. Your website should represent your brand in a way that your intended audience can understand and see themselves reflected back in. That is, your website should be relatable.

Be Crystal Clear

The design should make sense. Navigation should be easy. They should be able to tell right away what action they should take. Shop? Call? Order? Email? Read more? Restrict the available choices, and make them simple. The words and the voice of your content should keep them engaged as they choose from the available actions. The design exists to organize and display the content and calls to action. That is, design is the art of solving problems, not art for art’s sake. In web design, the “problem” we are solving is effectively communicating your brand, and encouraging site visitors to take desired actions.

Be Interesting

The design should be interesting, but modest. Clean designs with photographs and white space make sense to visitors without asking them to interpret very much before getting to the message and calls to action. This respects their time, their energy, and keeps their focus where it belongs: on your content. A little interactive design can go a long way to adding interest without adding clutter.

Be Flexible

The design should be responsive. Today, people do more with their smartphones, and depend on them as a primary means of searching and browsing the web. If your website doesn’t look good on a smartphone’s browser, you are alienating a large, and growing, demographic. It’s 2018. Every new website should be ready for a wide range of screen sizes.

Be Familiar

The design should look and feel like it’s from the same family as other assets related to your brand. I might even argue that this is the single most important point to remember. Have you ever gone to a website only to realize that you were in the wrong place just by how it looked and felt? Did you immediately look for the logo to verify that your instinct was right? You don’t want to give your visitors that false negative instinct when visiting a website. Your brand has a personality, which makes sense. After all, business is personal. Your website’s design should represent this personality.

If I Were To Summarize…

While looks alone probably won’t make your business successful, it can go a long way toward helping your future and existing clients. In a sense, your website is taking the place of an elevator pitch, a casual conversation, or a scheduled private meeting. It is available to anyone with internet access any day or time. Creating content that successfully achieves this is important, and the bare minimum we should do with design is to simply not misrepresent the content. Better still, we can support, and even enhance this same great content with good design.

Industrial designer Dieter Rams famously said that good design is as little design as possible. A similar sounding idea that really gets to the heart of good design for a website is this:

“Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.”

– Jared Spool

Surviving a negative review

How to weather a negative review

The one-star review. Every business with a platform dreads getting hit with a bad rating. How could this have happened? What went wrong? How will it affect how people see my business?

  1. How could it have happened?
    Who knows.
  2. What went wrong?
    Maybe nothing.
  3. How will it affect your public image?
    That all depends… on YOU.

The Unseen Privilege of Getting a Negative Review

Average ratings on platforms like Facebook and Google tend to be carried by their own momentum. If you have enjoyed positive (4-5 stars) reviews, you may be caught off guard by an offbeat criticism. I have been asked many times if a one-star review can be deleted, and if so, how. These questions come from individuals who have been caught off guard, and who have not yet discovered the hidden opportunity that emerges from a public negative review.

The bad news is that you cannot change or remove the review. The good news is that, if handled properly, you can turn an honest critic into a raging fan. The first step is to simply show graceful humility in your public response.

The Customer Is Usually Right

Think objectively about possible scenarios. Did you or your crew have an off day? Was the reviewer’s experience atypical of what your customers have come to expect? If you don’t know, the best thing to do is to apologize for the experience. If the review did not mention it already, ask what could have made their experience better. Simply starting with the assumption that your business was in the wrong can go a long way towards a happy ending.

Read the negative review carefully

Make sure that you carefully read and understand what was written, and what you believe they were intending to say. What kinds of feelings are being communicated, and how can you address their concerns with kindness?

Respond with humility and grace

Not many people appreciate arguing with a business which exists to serve its customers. Respect your critic as though they have the power to harm your public image, because they do. On the other hand, this is an easy opportunity to give your image a boost instead.

Make it right

If the bad rating is accurate, regardless of tone, do whatever is in your power to publicly make it right. This is almost like making a public promise to take care of your customers, whether intentional or not. People respect those who keep their word and their promises, and those who admit to error in humility. Be a hero. Help restore their faith in humanity.

When the Customer is Wrong, Grace above all

If the bad rating is dishonest, or the result of a mistake made by the customer, do your best to protect their dignity as though they were your best friend. Kindly mention the correction, not the mistake. Then, just as if the shoe were on the other foot, make it right. Elevating the customer in this way is showing love, and is a great way to turn a critic into a raging fan.

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
– Carl W. Buehner

Be consistent

It can be tempting to go a little overboard when trying to convert the critic into a fan. For starters, people are not generally so naive. There is no replacement for authenticity. (This is a recurring theme that you will see us referring to often.) Be authentic in your approach, and be in control of your own emotions, as both will come through in your responses.

Also, be consistent in the way criticisms are handled. If one critic is given a freebie to smooth things over, and another is simply told “sorry,” you are showing a lack of trustworthiness. Of course, these responses may be entirely justified in each one’s own context, however, this may not be apparent if “you had to be there” to understand this. It helps to be conservative with valuable consolations, and to focus more on the relationship than the issue. After all, business is personal. (This is another recurring theme that you will get used to reading here.)

An Ounce of Prevention Is Better

When you have used this strategy in your own business, you begin to get a real sense of the power that lies just beneath the surface of the scar left by a bad rating. Even so, scars hurt. Remember the old adage:

An Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
– Benjamin Franklin

If necessary, rework your operations until you can reliably count on 5 star reviews, with only the very rare occurrence of a 3-4 star rating. Your business relies on your customers, and making them happy should be your top priority.

The Short Version

If you take away only one idea, it should be this: your business is personal, and your customers are in a budding relationship with it. Love them like your business depends on it, and they will love you back.

Getting started with your content strategy

At Grey Leaf Media, we take content very seriously. We build beautiful, functional websites, but without valuable content, your marketing effort is only halfway done.

Content is extremely important, but if you’re reading this, you probably already knew that. Content marketing introduces your brand to the world in a very personal way, and it helps to convert visitors into paying customers.

Your content is going to do the heavy lifting for your brand in the digital world. It shows off your brand’s personality, and serves as its introduction to your potential clients. Your content, along with your website, is your digital identity that your current clients can share with potential referrals.

There is a lot of content out there, and most of it sounds exactly the same. Look at your competitors’ websites. Go ahead, go to their website, and check out their message.

 

It’s OK, I’ll wait. …

 

Now, you have probably noticed some similarities in their messages and what they are offering. Their approach to content and marketing is probably similar as well. Now, I want you to close those web pages and completely ignore your competitors. Seriously.

Together, we are going to do marketing differently. Your image is going to reflect your brand, and appeal to your clients. It can be easy to fall into the trap of copying your competitors when starting out. Their message might be great and effective for them, but it’s not your brand’s message. The problem is that if you don’t stand out and establish your own style, your message will get lost in the mix of competitors and advertisers.

This is why developing your content strategy is so important. Your content strategy will include all of your written words, descriptions, and images that portray your brand and carry it forward. For this post, we are going to focus specifically on blog posts to attract and keep your client base.

Getting Started With Good Content

Before you start writing, you need to brainstorm your topics. I don’t mean just writing down what comes to mind, although you should do that as well. You want topics that specifically target your audience. Your audience is your target customer base, and not everyone who reads your article will fit into that group. This is a crucial point to understand before you get started. Not everyone is your customer. Most people don’t want what you have to offer, but your target customers do. You want to attract the people who are excited about your product or service, not just anyone with access to a web browser. Your customers are actual people with real wants and needs, so it is important that you really figure out what they want.

Research Your Audience

What are your customer’s needs and wants? What is so unique about your brand that makes you able to meet those needs and wants?

If you’re not sure, ask your customers what it is that they want. People are usually willing to share, if you take the time to ask. If you have an email list, you can send them a quick survey or questionnaire.

If that’s not a possibility, browse or participate in forums related to your topic. Read the comments section of popular blog posts to see what questions or concerns are being raised there. Spend time with your customers in person, and ask the questions. You don’t need a focus group to go talk to your target audience. Ask people these questions at the gym, the coffee shop, at church, at sporting events, at conventions, or anywhere your customers might be. Build relationships and listen to their wants and needs.

This might seem like a lot of work to just get started, but trust me – the more time you spend understanding and perfecting your message, the more cohesive your content marketing plan will be. Do not try to skip or rush over this step. It will save you time and frustration in the future. Content marketing is not about getting the most page views per visit or the most traffic; it is about helping your ideal customer find you.

Help Your Audience

Now, while your competitors are targeting anyone and everyone, you are ready to start your targeted content marketing campaign. You now know what your customers want and need, and you know how your product or service can meet that need. You are not writing an advertisement with each article, you are providing valuable content that your ideal customer wants. You’re helping them learn that working with you or buying your product is a benefit to you both. Use this information to start creating your blog posts.

Your posts should be able to do some very important things:

  1. Answer your customer’s questions,
  2. Highlight your brand, and
  3. Show off your expertise.

Keeping those three points in mind, organize your notes into a list, and prioritize, and write down, your topics. At this point you should have a long list of topic ideas. Once you have your list finalized, decide how often you want to publish a new post. We recommend a weekly posting schedule, if you can manage it. Quality content will always win out over frequent and sloppy content, so don’t worry if you can only post once or twice a month when you are just getting started.

Organize Your Publishing Schedule

Now, you’re ready to set up your editorial calendar. Your editorial calendar is where all of your important publishing information will be listed for each of your topics. You can create your own calendar, or you can choose from the various options available online. For each of your topics, list your temporary title, some potential keywords, your writing and publishing dates, and how you will share your content. You can add more complexity and detail to each topic once you get more familiar with using your calendar. Your editorial calendar is going to help you stay on track with your marketing plan. It will also help you keep track of your keywords and your working headline while you’re conducting keyword research to optimize your post. We’ll discuss how to set up your editorial calendar and SEO optimization in later posts.

For now, stick to the plan. You will not see an immense amount of growth overnight, but, when done correctly, you will reap the benefits of your content for years to come.

Plan your marketing efforts for maximum impact

How To Create A Basic Marketing Strategy

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

– a timeless proverb

One does not reap the benefits of a tree for several years after it is planted. The expectations of immediate results is born in the mind of a fool. And yet, the result of the patience demanded of nature is worth more than the cost of planting. A tree that bears fruit does so for many, many years.

What is the marketing equivalent? Is it banner ads? Social media likes? Branded merchandise? Guess again.

Marketing asset that keeps on giving is content. More specifically, evergreen content.

What Is Evergreen Content?

Evergreen content is web content that is always relevant, and is not made worthless by a short passage of time. Just like an orchard of trees is expected to produce fruit, a website’s evergreen content is expected to produce visitors. With the right approach, visitors can be converted into leads. The right leads turn into customers. And customers are the key to success. But how do you get your content in front of the right people who could turn into leads, and later, into customers?

Market Your Content

This is where strategy comes in, starting with publicizing, SEO, and beyond. We will touch on three common approaches, each deserving greater attention than we have room for here.

Share On Social Media

The first way that comes to mind for many, is to share your content on social media. This is a great way to bring awareness to your business. Before you jump right in, take some time to figure out which platform your target audience uses most often, and consider how often they click through to external content.

While you could take the time to share a link to your article with an introductory paragraph on each and every platform, there are things you can do to spend less time getting the same amount of work done. Look into social media management platforms, for example. At Grey Leaf Media, we have a suite of tools to get it done automatically, so you never even have to think about it for most platforms.

Be Found On Search Engines

Another strategy is to write your content to be as useful, relevant, and actionable as you possibly can, given the subject and context. Once you’re happy with the quality of your copy, you can begin to make tweaks to maximize your Search Engine Optimization.

SEO, as it is called, is simply writing web copy strategically, so that it ranks as highly relevant by search engines. This is essentially free traffic, as you are not paying for ads to entice visitors to click through to your website. Google has a free keyword analysis tool, which is helpful. At Grey Leaf Media, we use a host of tools to help your content rank.

Email Your Subscribers

Most online businesses which depend on website visitors and sales use the email marketing strategy as a key part of their marketing efforts. In order to email a list of subscribers, you first need a list of subscribers. There are a few ways to build an email list, which is a topic in its own right. The key thing to remember is that you need to ask them to sign up somehow, and you need to make it worth their while. There are several online businesses who specialize in the management of email lists, and many offer free account levels.

The Takeaway

The first step is to create great copy. If you need help, feel free to contact us for a quote. This content will be indexed by search engines, and the more traffic you can attract from other sources (think social media and referrals from other sites), the more importance search engines will give your site.

The content strategy is the only future-proof strategy, and, like planting trees, it is playing the long game, building a solid foundation for future success.

Sailing into the sunrise

Boats, Business, and Market Growth

The rising tide lifts all boats.
Henry B. F. McFarland

Have you enjoyed the rise of a niche market as it grows into maturity? Have you also noticed that some businesses seem to enjoy enhanced buoyancy compared to others? What about in search results?

Do All Boats Rise?

If you are a legitimate player in your niche industry, it is expected that your business will experience growth when your industry’s market gains in popularity. This is the “rising tide.” A rising tide raises the market equally, however it often appears that some “boats” enjoy greater “buoyancy” than others in this period of growth.

Some Rise Less

There is something to be said for the lean startup. When it comes to managing cashflow, business is just like your personal life. It pays to keep costs down, and to be careful with investments. People who have not learned this lesson in their personal lives often find themselves drowning in debt. So, too, with businesses.

Lesson 1: If you want your boat to rise with the tide, cutting unhelpful costs is like throwing extra weight overboard, and eliminating debt is like plugging holes. A tight ship floats well.

Some Rise More

You may be the best, but how many people in your market know you? Of that number, how many know that you are the best? Have you told them? This is where brand identity and public relations play their part. Customers and clients are aware only of their perception of quality. What have you done to encourage the right perception?

Marketing has the power to transform your merely floating vessel into one that has the ability to rise higher. The message you send out to potential customers is a key part of this. If you are a restaurant, have you talked up the quality of your ingredients? Have you bragged of the flavor combinations in tantalizing detail? Has your staff provided the service that delivers on guests’ expectations of quality? If you have not, now you know what to do.

What Not To Do

What you don’t do can be just as important as what you do. Take note.

Don’t Talk About Your Competition

Think about whose business you want to be promoting. When you talk about your competitors, you take the focus off of your business. When you speak negatively of them, you portray yourself as judgmental, or lacking confidence. If someone else mentions another business to you, briefly say something kind, and tastefully divert the attention back to your own business. Portraying your competitors positively only makes you look better, and referring to your own business in the same context shows that you are confident in your venture. Both are good for cultivating a positive perception of your business.

Don’t Stray Off Course

Many businesses are founded with a specific mission. Anything worth doing for long is bound to become tedious, boring, aggravating, frustrating, any combination of these, and more at some point in the journey. In the beginning, what brought you to the path of entrepreneurship? What sparked the passion and confidence to strike out on your own; to show the world what you’re made of? Remind yourself of why you chose this path often, and grasp tightly to it as though it were your life line — in many ways, it is.

Don’t Lose Confidence

Entrepreneurship is often the surest, and rockiest path to wealth in the United States today. It also carries the risk, some might say the promise, of failure. This is where we recognize one trait that all successful entrepreneurs have in common: persistence.

Bad times are just part of the game, and the secret to success is to never lose confidence in yourself, your product (or service), or the future. Remembering why you initially had the courage and faith in your idea can be a huge help for staying the course.

Mistakes will be made, and the rate of future success is determined by how much you have determined to learn from your failures, and how much you have determined to never give up.

Marketing and Visibility “Salts the Sea”

Successfully establishing and developing your brand identity is of great importance. Can you think of any brands that everyone seems to know? Of those you thought of, which bring to mind a certain feel? When you see certain colors, fonts, ideas, or situations, do certain brands or products come to mind? These automatic triggers give those brands an undeniable advantage. Remembering our floating vessel analogy, marketing is like adding salt to the sea in which you are floating: it increases your buoyancy, making it easier to rise more.

The Power of Marketing.

Marketing is making your ideas, your products, your solutions, and your availability publicly known. To market effectively, you should have a distinct voice for your brand. Your ideas should be clear, and communicated so that they resonate with your target audience. Your visual identity, your logo, colors, and designs, should work towards inspiring others to adopt your the ideas. If the ideas are already common in your market, your brand should inspire confidence and agreement. You want your customers to take up the mantle of your mission, and to wave your banner proudly.

If you do not already have a distinct voice, work on developing one. If you need a stronger logo, get one. If you need a more cohesive message, work on clarifying your mission. If nobody knows about you or what you’re offering, speak up.