Great Expectations: Brand Building and ROI

coin returnBrand building and the return on the investment it takes to build a brand are, to a great degree, difficult things to measure. They can be a bit elusive and hard to define. The measurement involves participation in and understanding of a process that takes place over time, utilizing and considering numerous variables and methods to create a sense of familiarity, awareness and trust in a product or brand name. *Note the phrase “over time.”

There are some seemingly lucky dogs that hit on an overnight success, but those instances are rare, and most often only have the appearance of overnight success. The behind the scenes relentless messaging, marketing, PR, promotion and brand building work that takes place is usually not visible to the naked eye. And it really shouldn’t be.

Patience is key here. Focusing too heavily on tangible and quick ROI, dollar for dollar is futile. Investing in a promotional campaign that sends traffic to your site, starts people talking on the internet and elsewhere about your brand, increasing your Google ranking, getting your brand more attention from other media and other venues, though it may not seem like a strong dollar for dollar return, one has to consider what awareness is worth. When does the dollar return come from a promotional investment? Maybe not for months or even longer. What will greater brand awareness lead to? Customer trust and loyalty, new business, and more sales, but it most likely will not be right away. To expect to pay a dollar for promotional work and the next day get two dollars back is unrealistic, but that oftentimes is the expectation when a client asks about ROI.

Data is useful, no doubt about that, but data can be deceiving. If a promotional campaign does not immediately and directly produce sales, but does drive traffic and produce positive awareness, is that considered to be a poor return on investment? I would argue that ROI doesn’t necessarily have to translate directly to dollars out vs. dollars back in. The return may not come in ways that can easily be counted. The return can come in ways that are impossible to measure. It can come from a positive consumer feeling about and recognition of a brand, trust in a product, understanding of and connection to what the brand stands for and what a company is all about. All of that has to come before many consumers will be willing to spend one penny to buy. How do you measure and value the various elements of ROI?

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Has Social Media Cheapened Creative Talent?

pulpfictionOne of the basic concepts in social media and online networking and marketing is about giving, yet there seems to be a lot more taking going on lately. Although I agree that the participation in the social web absolutely needs to have that element of helpfulness, it doesn’t mean that professional creative services should be expected to be given away for free or for a few bucks. Here are a few recent scenarios that have come to my attention:

In various LinkedIn discussion groups:
Someone asking for “suggestions” for a new tag line for their company.
Someone asking for “suggestions” for re-branding of a web domain.
Someone asking for the best solutions to market their brand.

Craig’s List:
Someone asking for product designs on spec: Create it, design it, give it to us and if we like it, we’ll pay you.
A prominent children’s brand looking for a product designer to work unpaid for 3 months which “may lead to a paid position.”

Numerous online news or information sites:
Writers provide free content or content for a few bucks an article in exchange for “exposure.”

Online printers:
Offering a free clip art logo with every printing job.

These are just a few of the myriad of examples of businesses looking for and/or taking free or nearly free, design, marketing or content to build their own businesses. There’s nothing wrong with helping people, offering advice and yes, sometimes offering limited services for free or at a discount, but there seems to be a disconnect somewhere that discounts talent and quality which, in turn, devalues and cheapens creative work.

A good example here is the case of the online printing service offering a free clip art logo with every printing job. This company is not a graphic design house, they are a printing house. A more appropriate offer might be to giveaway an extra few pieces of whatever is being printed. Giveaway the printing, not low level clip art logos. Yes it’s a logo, and yes, the customer might need a logo, but it’s not doing the customer any favors by offering them a logo that looks like it was designed by a 5th grader. There actually is no value in doing that, because even if their customer doesn’t realize the low quality, the marketplace probably will, and a poor unprofessional image will be projected.

It seems that it’s becoming a common practice to not only ask for, but expect creative work for free or virtually free. There is that old saying that “you get what you pay for.” This isn’t to say necessarily that the more expensive something is the better, but it’s safe to say that most professional quality work is not going to be found for free. The problem here lies in when businesses don’t see or know the difference between professional quality work and low level work that appears to fill a particular need at a particular time for a bargain or lower than bargain price. Is it really still true that content and quality is king or is a bargain the new reigning ruler? Is this a larger cultural question? Let me know what you think…

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Branding Rule #1: Avoid Conjuring Up Images Of #2

portable toiletI came across a company name the other day and when I saw it, I truly had to do a double take. My point is not to embarrass anyone here, so I won’t reveal the actual name, but let’s suffice it to say that it conjured up images of baking diapers in an oven, quite literally. O – k-aay, I thought to myself. I’m picturing a lovely woman in a nice white chef’s hat and coat with oven mitts and a nasty tray of …oh, I can’t continue. With this image in my mind, I felt compelled to go to the site and see for myself what this product could possibly be.

As it turns out, this business offers is an array of newborn baby items like blankets, and stuffed animals, diapers (clean) and other items arranged and assembled to resemble a three-tiered cake. These so called “diaper cakes” are sold as gifts to give in honor of a new arrival in the family. That’s fine, and although I could see how they actually might be a nice idea for someone who has just had a baby, the name was so not nice. The name did however, do the trick in driving me to go to the site, but I doubt that it was for the reason that the owner had intended.

Your Name is the Cornerstone for all Marketing Efforts

Whether you are naming a product, a business or a blog, creating an effective brand name is the most important place to start in building a marketing strategy. Your name needs to say who you are, what you do, and capture the essence of your business in one simple word or two. It needs to evoke not only an understanding of what your business is, but it should create the feeling that you want to convey. Always be careful not to use something that might have a hidden or not-so-hidden meaning to a different segment of the population, otherwise it might draw in the wrong crowd for the wrong reasons.

Make Your Name Unique In The Searchable Marketplace

In the modern world of marketing, a brand name also needs to be unique enough so that it is searchable without thousands of other results coming up instead of your business. If your name is Susan and you sell cookies, logic might tell you your business name should be Susan’s Cookies, but in the web world, a name like that would be impossible to search.

Make Sure There’s A Primary Domain Available

Ideally you would want your domain to be: If that is not available, .net is the second choice. You should avoid names like or No one will remember that, even if the “root” word of your brand name is catchy. Keep it short and sweet.

Protect Your Name With A Trademark

Your brand name also should be able to be trademarked. It’s pretty quick and easy to do an initial trademark search online. If someone else has already trademarked it, then think of an alternative. If it’s in another industry completely, then you could still potentially trademark it, but the best names are ones that have little chance of being confused with another business or contested. Thinking outside of literal terms or making up a word can often lead to a clever and compelling name. Making connections to your brand story or making up words that play with the definition of what your business is can lead to finding memorable names that most often can easily be trademarked.

Naming For The Future

Think about not only what your business is now, but also the larger picture of what it could be in the future. Try not to be too specific to a particular product, when you might be expanding into other arenas that may pose a future branding problem. Kentucky Fried Chicken was faced with the dilemma that fried chicken is not as popular now as it was back in 1952 when the company was founded. People are now interested in more options, like grilled or roasted chicken and other menu items instead. This is why they needed to rebrand themselves as KFC, taking the focus off of “fried.” Sometimes rebranding can work, but most often it fails miserably, especially for established brands. Best to try to anticipate possible changes to your business model at the beginning, rather than facing a rebranding crisis later.

Don’t Fall For Trendiness

A name has to have some longevity and timelessness. Trendy names might seem like a good idea for today, but they won’t make any sense for tomorrow because they will be out of step and dated pretty quickly. It’s like a tattoo – it might look hip when you’re 20, but when your 70 year old body is sagging in unanticipated places, that skull and cross bones imprinted in your skin might not have the same appeal.

Know Who You Are

Coming up with a fresh and effective brand name is not an easy task. It takes creativity, understanding of the marketplace, some savvy use of language, an understanding of your brand as a whole, and even some intuition. It’s like naming a baby. Try to name your business to last a lifetime. (But if you are having trouble, you can always hire me to help ; )

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Social Media And The New Age Of Accountability

Mommy, There’s A Caterpillar In My Pickle Jar!

When I was a kid, I can recall one day finding a pickled caterpillar floating in the brine in a jar of pickles from which I was eating. The little creature was about the same size as the gherkins in the jar and it had been pickled to that same unnatural yellowish green hue. After I finished screaming out of disgust from the realization that I almost ate the thing, my mother quickly typed (yes, on a typewriter) a carefully crafted letter of complaint to the company. She put the letter in an envelope and sent it off in the mail along with the jar containing the caterpillar. A few weeks later, my mother received a lovely letter of apology along with a slew of coupons for free pickles and other products from this company. She felt acknowledged and satisfied with the response and that was that. It was a matter between my mother and the pickle company.

Today, if that same scenario popped up, a modern mother might run right over to her laptop and tweet about the disgusting experience to her 3,000 followers on Twitter and maybe blog about it with a close up picture of the pickled caterpillar and a YouTube video of the thing floating around in the brine. Maybe some of her followers and readers would re-tweet or re-blog about the experience and before you know it, that one tiny caterpillar in the pickle jar could cause quite a big PR and QC problem for the pickle manufacturer.

Consumer Responsibility

As consumers, we need to know that what we say in our online communities can be very powerful, both in a positive way and a negative way. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that what we say online is there forever. Once done, in most instances, it’s pretty hard to retract. Consumers now have ethical responsibilities that were never on the table before the onset of the Internet, and were previously reserved just for businesses. Consumers now have unprecedented power to make or break a brand.

Corporate Responsibility

As businesses, we have the responsibility to make sure our practices are above board and our products and services are the best they can be. People are watching and listening, and if our products are not what we say they are or as they should be, then everyone will know about it within a few instants. If we are entrusting our products to the power of social media, then we must be willing to take what comes and deal with it, good or bad. Businesses can no longer keep problems quiet, most often they have to deal with them out in the open forum of social media.

The Changing Landscape Of Business

Social media has changed a lot of things. It has changed the way we communicate. It has changed the speed at which we can disseminate, find and devour information. It has also drastically changed the way we do business from researching, selling, and promoting, to communicating with our customers and colleagues and monitoring the marketplace and our own businesses. Social media has thrust a new age of power, responsibility and accountability onto businesses, consumers and anyone with an Internet connection. No longer can businesses hide behind carefully crafted copy and corporate speak when one customer could potentially create a brand’s name as a trending topic on Twitter for good, bad or evil. We all have an awesome responsibility here to be fair, honest, responsive to both consumers and businesses. Suddenly we are all swimming in the same pool, and we all have to take that responsibility seriously.

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