Blogging’s role in Branding your Small Business

Blogging can be one of the most powerful tools your small business can use to build your business’ brand equity.

This statement might be a bit confusing to anyone who thinks that “branding” begins and ends with logos, colors and images used on signage and in advertising.   Sure – those visual design elements are crucial elements in building your brand- but in and of themselves – these elements NOT your brand.

Rather – the careful creation and execution of those elements will help consumers identify your business – and help guide them on their journey to “branding” your business.

See -it is not your marketing team or advertising agency that builds your “brand” – but rather it’s your employees – the ones who have direct consumer contact – who are the “brand builders” of your business.

United Airlines learned this important lesson in 2009 when a social media shit storm arose from some exceptionally bad customer service – by not just one employee but many.  Social media is really great at telling customer service stories -and the root of “branding” is customer service.

You may THINK that your “brand” is a shiny logo, carefully chosen font and a tag line assembled in a committee meeting – but in reality – your “brand” is truly in the hands of your customers.

Just as the cattle who are branded are not wielding the  hot metal rod which marks their flesh – a business must accept that consumers are the ultimate “branders”.

Consumers have ALWAYS had the power of “branding” a company – but it’s only been since the web got “social” did businesses begin to sit up and take notice of that power.

So when you view “branding” and building “brand equity” through that lens – through the brutal lens of “we’re only as good as our last customer service transaction” – then and only then does blogging’s role become clear.

So often, business owners tend to look to blogging as a way to generate sales leads instead of a way to build trust with prospective customers.   Capturing sales leads is best done with a squeeze page – building trust is best done via a conversation.  Of course, the IDEAL situation is if you could sit down and talk with each and every prospective customer.  You could then explain in person why the customer should choose to do business with you and your company.  Even if you are able to do that today – count on the fact that you won’t be able to do that 5 years from now.   Your business blog posts can provide that information in a timeless manner.

Even better – those trust building business blog posts are doing double duty for your business.  Not only are they educating consumers to help build the trust needed to close the sale- they are also working hard to build your brand – a.k.a. your online authority if you’re a consultant or other independent service provider.

Whether you’re blogging for your business or not – your customers/clients/patients are sharing their tales of their interactions with you.  Good – bad – or indifferent – they are the ones “branding” your small business.

In the end – your business blog can act to support the good – upgrade the indifferent – and mitigate the bad.   So why aren’t your blogging for your business yet?

What The Next Food Network Star can teach you about blogging.

Season 7 of the reality television series “The Next Food Network Star” contains a powerful lesson every business blogger needs to know in order to blog successfully for their business.

You’ve got to know who you are and why you want to connect with consumers before you can successfully build your brand.

Justin D is a competitor on the show and began the competition by positioning himself as a younger version of Food Network’s own Alton Brown. Alton’s flagship show “Good Eats” is very “nerd friendly” and focuses on the “why” behind food and food preparation. When Alton originally pitched the show to Food Network, he described it as “Monty Python meets Julia Child”. The show is funny – it’s informative – but most importantly it’s successful because Alton knows EXACTLY who he is and the AUDIENCE he wants to target.

If you just want a recipe for meatloaf – you don’t want to watch Good Eats.  If you want to know why you should never cook your Thanksgiving stuffing inside your turkey – or the role osmosis plays in cooking – then Good Eats is the show for you.

If you want your business blog to success – you too had better know exactly who you are and the audience you want to target.

Contestant Justin D began the competition struggling despite the fact that he has the brains – he has the cooking skills – he even has the quirky “look” needed to be a memorable television host.

Justin D got cut in episode five for one simple reason:

He didn’t know “who” he was and what audience he was targeting – as you can see in this video clip:

Throughout the competition – Justin kept “changing” who he was and what his show would be.

The final straw was when he put on a “hip hop artist” persona to entertain a crowd during a 4th of July cooking demonstration.  First he’ “Alton Jr.” – then he’s “Harry Potter Cooks” – then he’s Marky Mark.  The judges were left scratching their heads wondering exactly WHO this young man really was.

When Justin began the competition – he openly admitted that he didn’t know WHO he was.  He often said he was trying to “find” himself during the competition – which was not the time nor the place to do so. Since he couldn’t know WHO he was – he also didn’t know who his audience was either.

By the way – I find it very interesting that one of the stronger contestants this season is a seasoned “food blogger” – Mary Beth Albright.  The judges have commented more than once on how her experience blogging is a real asset in her quest to become The Next Food Network Star.

Unlike a reality television show – when you begin blogging for your business – you don’t HAVE to be “camera ready”.  You can’t expect to “hit the ground running” when you start blogging. Even if your first blog post is a masterpiece – even if you have already “found” your voice – if you’re like every other blogger on the internet – you’ll get better at blogging over time.

Chances are – if you haven’t started blogging yet then you really haven’t had an opportunity to “find” your voice.

Blogging is definitely a skill – one that requires practice to perfect.  You won’t master your golf swing in six weeks – you won’t master the piano in a few easy lessons – and you won’t master business blogging quickly or easily either.  However, with time, patience and perseverance – you will find your blogging voice and this is a VERY good thing.

See – your business blogging voice is really just a personalized version of your “marketing” voice.  If you’re struggling with what to write about in your business blog – I wouldn’t be surprised if your marketing message isn’t a little “murky” as well.

However, something “magical” happens after a few hundred posts.  There really is an almost magical metamorphosis that happens  when you blog for your business.

I recently had a client tell me that I “scare business owners off” with my talk about hundreds of blog posts… yet that comment was followed with “but you’re right… it does take TIME to master this whole business blogging thing.”

She shared that she enjoys the challenge of finding new ways to write about her core business message and that blogging for her business has helped her in more than just marketing her business.

Writing with your customers/clients/patients in mind can really help keep you focusing on what’s important – not only in your marketing but in your business operations as well.

Fortunately – business owner’s don’t have to be “camera ready” when they begin blogging.

Business blogging can be a way to not only “find ourselves” but also find our clear, unqiue and authentic marketing messages as well.

The importance of keywords in branding

One hundred years ago – branding meant heating an iron rod and scarring the flesh of the animals you owned with your “mark”.  Not so long ago – that term was picked up by advertising and PR professionals to describe the process of creating a unique “footprint” for your business.

When marketing people use the term “branding” they use it to refer to the way your business presents itself to the world.  It was not so long ago that branding activities centered around visual design elements such as logos, images, colors and fonts.  Forward thinking entrepreneurs would begin the process of “branding” their businesses by carefully choosing a business name which would support the developing “brand”.

Creating a “brand” for a business – especially a brand for a new small business – has never been easy.  You can work for years to build a brand for yourself based on a unique combination of words only to find someone else comes along and tries to steal your branding which is surprisingly easy to do if you haven’t “established” your brand with your own business blog.  However, until recently – you could rely upon your own “senses” so to speak for guidance in the journey of branding your small business.  Many a branding decision has been made on “gut” instinct and when the business owner has a real feel for his/her target audience – those gut decisions are usually right on the mark.

However…

In the words of Bob Dylan – the times they are a changin.

I’ve been working with a client who has a great blueprint in place for her new business.  She knows the GDP (Goals, Desires, Problems) of her target audience and she’s developing packages with the GDP in mind which is really the true foundation of any”branding” campaign.

Our first step is to determine the “right” domain name for her new business blog. The “right” domain name can give your business blog an unfair advantage with the search engines if you are crystal clear on your target audience’s GDP.  (I have a client who chose the “right” domain name about 4 years ago who has  tapped into a keyword term which continues to effortlessly deliver quality traffic to her business blog – even though she is not consistently blogging for her business. )  With this in mind, I always try to start with a great domain name for clients who haven’t already registered one.

In this case, my client is focusing on helping aging baby boomers stay productive, alert, active and creative as they age and she was in love with the term “ageless” to describe the process.  Naturally, she really wanted to incorporate that word into her domain name and had already created a Facebook page under that word for her new business.

Because I’m a digital dinosaur – I still remember the days when branding meant looking into the “human mind” and creating a human eye pleasing display.  Today – there’s another dimension to the branding process; discovering what a mindless robot thinks of your “branding” statement.

A little keyword research revealed that the Googlebot already has its own “idea” about what the term “ageless” means.  It thinks the term “ageless” applies to bio-identical hormones, beauty creams and other items promoted by the consummate practitioner of “big ol batch of crazy” – Suzanne Somers.

My client quickly abandoned her love affair with the term ageless and is now happily focusing on the term “successful aging” – which from the search engine’s point of view is more in line with her products and services.

Could we have made the “ageless” term work?  Of course, but had we stuck with the “ageless” keyword focus -my client would find her site appearing in searches where people were looking to change their outward appearance instead of their inner self.  Are those people who are searching for “ageless beauty” interested in changing the inside too?  Maybe – but why not position her business blog directly in the path of people who are searching for EXACTLY what she’s providing by choosing the “right” keywords in the beginning?

Keyword research- it’s not just for SEO anymore and is becoming an essential branding tool as well.

Can you recommend a good and honest one?

I’m a subscriber to a vibrant and active online group of homeschooling parents in my area.  Like most vibrant and active groups – members of the group discuss more than just homeschooling issues.  People on the list frequently ask for recommendations for doctors, chiropractors, insurance agents, auto mechanics and everything in between.  Those requests to list often end with the same line which closed a recent request for a recommendation for an orthopedic surgeon:

“Can anyone recommend a good and honest one?”

This is the BEST reason to maintain a business blog

One of the best reasons to maintain a business blog is so that when people offer their recommendation for you, your products or your services, they can also include a link to your business blog as well.  Ideally this business blog contains ample “evidence” that you are the expert who is ready, willing and able to quickly and efficiently solve their problem.

It’s important to recognize that requests for information are happening all the time – both online and offline.  Some of those requests for recommendations are happening “behind closed doors” – like the email list to which I’m subscribed.  The recommendations offered on the list are very powerful… perhaps the most potent “marketing” tool known to mankind –  the personal heartfelt recommendation – made without any possibility of compensation.

These recommendations are so powerful that several local businesses have joined the group with the sole intent of responding to requests like the ones above.  What keeps this list “vibrant and active” is that those who join with the sole intention of promoting their business are quickly removed from the list.

Such requests for trusted recommendations are also happening on “public” sites like Facebook and Twitter.  Recommendations and responses on public sites can play a powerful role in crafting your online reputation.

It doesn’t matter where those recommendations are made, they can become much, much more powerful when people can refer to your business blog – filled with helpful posts which illustrate your expertise.

When a visitor arrives at your business blog based on the recommendation of a friend or trusted co-worker -do you think they care whether or not the current post is 15 hours old or 15 weeks old?  The answer is almost always a resounding “no” – as long as that 15 week old post isn’t touting an event that took place 14 weeks ago.  😉

What the visitor is looking for is additional “proof” that this professional – whether it’s an attorney, a doctor, a chiropractor, a CPA or a even dog trainer – knows his/her “stuff”.

Providing that kind of content – content which exhibits your expertise in your chosen field – is the KEY to creating a business blog that really “works” for your business.

Providing  evidence of your expertise is probably the best reason ever to begin blogging for your business.

 

5 reasons your business blog isn’t “working”

Your business blog is a great business building tool – but like any tool – it has to be used correctly to deliver results for your business. Most business blog failure is rooted in failing to answer the question,  “Why” are you blogging for your business.

Here are the top reasons I’ve seen over the years as to why your business blog may not be working for your business. If you can think of any other reasons – be sure to share them in the comments section.

#1: Your business blog isn’t working because you are expecting your blog to generate sales leads.

Expectations are everything – and many business owners have jumped on the blogging bandwagon assuming that a business blog will quickly and easily”generate sales leads”.

The harsh reality is – business blogs are HORRIBLE for lead generation. If you don’t believe me – read Jason’s post on “Why business blogs should focus on cheerleaders not lead generation.

Creating a business blog with the goal of generating leads is a lot like planting an acorn in your backyard with the goal of lowering your air conditioning bill this summer.  Maybe at some point down that acorn will grow into a shade tree – but it won’t be providing any significant amount of shade this summer or the next.

If you want to effectively generate sales leads, I strongly recommend that you invest in PPC or direct mail marketing.  Set up a squeeze page – create a powerful offer – choose the best way to deliver that offer to your audience and then get to work converting those leads into sales for your business.

#2: Your business blog isn’t working because you aren’t focusing on the right keywords.

Properly set up WordPress blogs are absolutely amazing when it comes to creating search engine friendly content.  I’ve had clients who do not possess the technical expertise to set up Outlook Express to download their email who were able to create business blog posts which landed clients/patients for their business.

However, the key to creating such business blog posts is knowing WHY your customers/clients/patients are searching the web. If you don’t know – then there’s no way you can create blog posts which will “pop up” in their search for answers to the problems they’re having.

#3: Your business blog isn’t working because you expect too much from your visitors.

You’re expecting too much from your visitors if you expect them to subscribe to your RSS feed without some guidance.  Unless your target audience are web experts, that most of your blog’s visitors just aren’t RSS savvy.

You’re also expecting too much from your business blog visitors if you expect them to buy the first time they visit your blog.  Instead you have to have a WAY to “stay in touch” with your blog visitors.  A great way to do that is to set up an email marketing newsletter.  Even though business blogs are horrible at lead generation, they can be used to effectively begin building a RELATIONSHIP with visitors – a relationship that ensures they consider YOUR business when it comes time to make a purchase.

#4: Your business blog isn’t working because you don’t have the expertise needed to succeed.

Business blogs are GREAT at building credibility and trust when you’re truly an expert in your field.  Even if you don’t HAVE any clients – yet – you can still use your business blog to win clients if you can demonstrate your expertise via your business blog.

Ah – but there’s the rub.  If you haven’t put in the hard work needed to EARN the expertise needed to succeed in your chosen profession – then your business blog will almost certainly illustrate your ignorance.

Trying to “fake” expertise over a hundred or so blog posts is impossible.  It’s why a business blog filled with posts highlighting your expertise is a GREAT way to build authority, credibility and trust with prospective customers/clients/patients.

#5: Your business blog isn’t working because you haven’t posted content to it yet.

I wish I didn’t have to include this as a reason why your business blog isn’t working.  I wish I hadn’t had more than a few conversations with business owners where this point needed to be made.

The only thing as “bad” as a business blog with “welcome to WordPress” as the sole entry is the business blog which is not updated on a monthly basis.

Business blogs make it INSANELY easy to publish content to the web so there’s no excuse for not updating your business blog on a monthly basis. I understand that you’re busy – but saying you don’t have time to blog is like saying you don’t have time to answer the phone when customers/clients/patients call.

Those are the top five reasons I’ve seen for business blogs which aren’t working.  Did I miss any reasons why your business blog may not be “working” for your business?