Refreshing your brand(ing)

A purposeful, flexible approach to connecting with customers will help you rise above the noise

The average businesses spends a tenth of its revenues on marketing and Gartner researchers say a quarter of that has in recent years shifted from traditional to digital media. But with the world growing ever more cacophonous, discordant and distracting every minute, how can company leaders communicate their messages without getting lost in the noise?

“Consumers have more power than any other time in marketing history,” says Ann Howard, a consultant with web development and digital marketing firm Centresource. “They have so many choices with what media they consume that they aren’t going to engage with anything that doesn’t understand who they are. In traditional advertising, you would put a message out and it was very difficult to measure the impact. Now, because digital communication is measurable, we can learn and iterate and get better over time. That’s how you cut through the noise.”

For Colby Jubenville, Principal at the innovation and design firm Red Herring and professor of Human Performance at MTSU, no matter how much technology changes, marketing will always be about telling a story. “So before you get your channels picked out,” he says, “you need to get your story right.”

Learning to become a strategic storyteller will help you better deploy your marketing budget amid the digital noise. Here are a few elements to consider as you set out to innovate and redefine your brand:

Build your culture

Before you take your message to customers, Jubenville says, answer some simple questions: Why do you exist? How are you better than the competition? And most importantly, how do employees behave when no one is looking? Your answers define your culture and everything else grows from that soil.

Take Southwest Airlines, for example. Former CEO Herb Kelleher established one of the nation’s top airlines on two core values: fun and love. That culture led to free baggage claim, comedic flight attendants, affordable tickets and a coalition of customers that rarely looks elsewhere for flights. Kelleher didn’t choose that culture because it’s warm and fuzzy — he chose it because it’s strategic.

“You can do all the marketing in the world, but the minute you connect your marketing to your core business, your marketing ends and your culture begins,” Jubenville says. “The more you can articulate your core values, the more you’re going to attract the right people. ”

Open a spill tab

Even with a rock-solid culture, it’s inevitable that things will go wrong for customer. That’s why Jubenville suggests that every business maintain a “spill tab.” It’s an idea he learned at a favorite local restaurant. A server cleared Jubenville’s not-quite-empty beer glass before he could enjoy the last few sips. But when the bill arrived, Jubenville was shocked to see that the drink wasn’t listed on the ticket.

“That’s when culture is working!” says Jubenville. “The manager was trained to notice my frustration and he had the authority to take care of it. So now I ask businesses, ‘What is your version of a spill tab?’”

Know your people

If you see your clients face to face, take them to coffee and ask them why they choose you over the competition and about their typical experiences with your organization. With that knowledge in hand, business leaders can make informed decisions about messaging that will resonate.

In the world of digital commerce, where your customer can be thousands of miles away, it’s even more critical to understand the person in front of the screen. Consultants such as Howard use analytics to learn about the people involved. They look to see if your customer a busy mom who found you via social media or a professional on the hunt for a specific product.

“These personas are going to care about different things and look at different media,” she says.

Dive into data

Having such information at hand makes it much easier to measure the impact of digital marketing. The information at your fingertips points to what is working and what is not. To take advantage of those numbers, start looking at them as a detective would. Take the necessary time — or hire the necessary experts — to evaluate key analytics like referrals, search terms and time spent on a page.

Through those numbers, you can learn the same things you would over a coffee meeting. How do customers find your business? How do they interact with you before making a purchase? Why they choose you over the competition?

Strategize and be flexible

When crafting your message, bring the right people to the table. That probably means a customer who knows the business well, a professional marketer and a company leader immersed in the culture.

“That’s when the really good ideas come out,” Howard says. “That’s when you get innovation.”

Digital marketing offers a number of outlets — social media, Google search optimization or even redesigning your website — to try your ideas and the measuring tools make it easy to, as Howard puts it, “put your bait in the right area of the ocean.”But don’t think that measurable digital initiatives will produce results that much more quickly. Hannah Paramore, president of the Paramore Digital agency, says it’s a process that still takes time.

“Digital makes us impatient,” says Paramore (right). “We expect that because we can get measurements faster, we think that we should do something about that measurement faster. We have to have honest conversations with our clients about what the numbers are telling us, because it doesn’t always mean the marketing is wrong. Often we have to stop reacting and start setting specific goals.”

One Paramore client, Tennessee Tourism, learned that targeting outlets like Trip Advisor and Google Search has helped generate revenue far better than an older email blast strategy that was losing subscribers in throngs.

“We had to rewrite the whole strategy because social media changed the role of email. Now, we send fewer emails, but the response is better because we know [our] groups and what time during the year email is more effective,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to see strategies work, and it’s important for us to get the right message out.”

— Claire Gibson