The Importance of Branding
I apologize for the time lapse from the last installment of the Conversion Chronicles. Since getting back from the Roadshow, it has been very hectic. The fact that my time is so limited actually fits in pretty well with today's topic.
You see, I'm going to discuss branding. Not as a person holding an MBA would discuss it. Not even as a student of marketing would discuss it. Rather as a person who runs a small internet company would discuss it. My intention here is not to "teach" anyone anything. My intention is only to give you some insight into how one small business operator sees the partiucular challenge of how to compete with the Oracle's, Google's, Nike's and Yahoo's of the world.
Let me state right up front that I don't have a college degree in marketing. What I do have is the responsibilty of paying corporate, payroll and personal taxes, meeting payroll, being sure I'm in compliance with hundreds of laws and restrictions, setting budgets and making sure I don't go over them, holding staff meetings, sales meetings, meetings with accountants, attorneys, bankers, customers and peers. I have to handle employee training, recruiting and evaluating. I handle customer relations, public relations and even the far too few romantic relations with my own wife. The same as many of you reading this now.
My point is simply that while I realize branding is important and directly related to conversions, where am I going to find the time to take college courses to learn what it is, when to use it and how and why? My hope today is that I am able to de-mystify the concept of branding and show you how I see it and how I use it with little more than reading a few books and webpages in what I laughingly refer to as "my spare time". I also hope I can open a platform for a discussion about branding as it applies to small business operators and encourage those who really do have those degrees to offer their input. Those people, we can argue with.
Let me start by offering a couple of sites that I found helpful.
This is one is short and to the point. Just keep following the links to the next section at the bottom of each page and it will cover, VERY basically, the major points of branding. Great for those on a time budget wanting to spend less time learning and more time making mistakes faster.
This place is pretty good for some real world, offline examples. It illustrates that branding is about more than just making something recognizeable. It also provides some printed material that makes for pretty good reading.
Finally, this is a pretty good little resource page for the topic of online branding.
To me, as a small business operator, branding is about establishing the perception of trust. When you see golden arches, you know exactly what to expect in what kind of environment. When you see that distinctive check mark on a pair of shoes, it implies a certain amount of prestige and a perception of a quality assurance. Fine, we all understand that. What I didn't understand for a long time was how I would establish that type of perception for my business.
I had read somewhere years ago that the MacDonalds corporation spent something like $60,000,000 annually on promoting their brand. Well, I knew I wasn't going to spend that much but what I didn't know was that the less you can afford to spend on branding, the more you need it.
So, branding can be used to target a specific market. The Absolut Vodka example on the iconocast site is a good example of that. By creating the brand as they did with the distinctive bottle design and graphics, they were identifying the product as being made for the young, smart, stylish market. BUT, that is something you do with branding when you can afford to set aside a significant amount of money to get the brand out there. I don't know that the bottle design would have been as effective in a text link without the visual impact a magazine can add. That is not to say it can't be done by small online business operators. Patrick Gavin's text brokering service (http://www.text-link-ads.com), comes to mind. He has positioned himself very well across the SEO cyber tundra and has captured the lion's share of that market. So, it can be done and it is scalable.
Even so, with my limited knowledge of what branding was and what it was worth, coupled with my ultra conservative budgetary restraints, I had to boil it down even more. In my business, I represent a lot of clients who represent a wide spectrum of services and products. None of these clients come to me for branding consulting or services. They come to me for two things. Traffic generation and conversions. That had little to do with branding I thought and THAT was my mistake. It had everything to do with branding.
What's the point of writing a title tag if it does not illicit a response from a human seeing the title in a search engine result or on a webpage? Placement without clicks is a labor in futility. Traffic without conversion is the epitome of waste.
A title tag is the first step to online branding. Think about what you are saying and what you want the person reading the title to do. See it as a sales proposition more than just keyword stuffing. If you do that, you have started building a brand and you have done it with no more expense than you would have had anyway and only a small increase of our worst enemy, time. The thing is that without branding, conversions are reduced and without conversions, placements mean little if the client cancels.
Once the purpose of the title is defined there is more that goes into branding a specific client, product or service. Things like what the website actually says, the links you provide, where you get links and what they say and the graphics you display. But with a purpose, (objective could be another word for purpose), in mind, branding can become second nature and you don't even have to think about it much and your branding falls into place with little effort.
Now for some of us, due to the very volume of title tags we are likely to produce, establishing an objective for each one is not very practical. It is much more likely that if you plan on generating a lot of pages for a specific keyword set or theme, you are going to be much more concerned with only the keyword and not so much with the branding. That is fine and that is what the majority of us reading this do now. BUT, I can tell you from experience that increasing conversions is easier, faster and cheaper than generating more traffic. Naturally it takes both but we all know we are going to generate the traffic, the purpose of these articles is to reduce your expense and increase your profit margins by discussing and thinking about it being easier to increase profit margins by getting more from what you have than simply going out and trying to get more of what you don't have. Branding is one of the absolute easiest ways to increase conversions and I believe you'll see why I feel that way once I show you how I see branding amd how I use it.
Remember, branding is all about perception. For my purposes, the perception of trust is the most important. So what I most want from someone reading my title, my anchor text and/or my web page is to accept the validity of the statement. How do we accomplish that fast and cheap?
By giving them what they expect to see when they made the decision to click whatever I gave them to click.
There you go. There in one sentence is one small business operator's definition of online branding. Giving the visitor what they expected to see when they clicked the link.
Stay consistent. Don't alter your grammar, (this is one reason why making sure your spelling and grammar is correct is important. No one notices it when it is but lots of people notice when it isn't),your tone or your personality.
Stay on message and stay in character. If you are speaking to a target market of women, don't change in the middle of the page to also try to appeal to men.
Use consistent graphics and navigation. If your interior links are on the left on one page, don't put them at the bottom on another. If you have a graphic of a product as a header, don't change the header on another page. Those kinds of things create doubt in a prospects mind and doubt is the seed of mistrust.
Most importantly, AVOID THE 3 SECOND BACK BUTTON BOOGIE. You do this by making sure that they land on a page that lets them know within 3 seconds they found what they were looking for. I happen to use some custom content management scripts but it doesn't have to be anything any more sophisticated than making sure the link text matches the page text the link goes to. If a click comes from a title that says CANCER CURE, make sure that click does not go to a page that has an H tag at the top that says AMERICAN DOCTOR LOCATOR. If a visitor has to read more than 2 or 3 seconds to find what they expected to see when they clicked the link, that is not branding. That is very likely wasting their time and yours. If the visitor sees the text match but it is smaller than other text, it looks like that is not as important as whatever it says that is bigger. That is NOT what the visitor expected to see when they made the decision to click your link. See what I mean?
There you go, the over-worked, under-paid mans guide to online branding.
Now, you kids quit pesterin that dog and come on in and get cleaned up for supper.