Why saving money on branding can cost you

We’ve all seen it – and maybe done it. We spend money on lawyers or accountants to build our business the right way, but when it comes to something like a logo or a website, we think, “Why, my neighbor’s teenage niece knows how to use Illustrator! Maybe she can do my logo for free.” Or, “I just need to get a simple website up. Let me just slap together a DIY template and get the page up and running.”

While these are steps you may need to take initially to get your business off the ground and money coming in the door, skimping on a well-thought-out and intentional brand strategy long-term can cost you way more in sales later on. This fundamental mistake is what inspired me to write my book.

Branding does not have to be some big expensive effort that only large companies can afford. If you run a small business, you need to spend time thinking about and conveying your brand as well – at whatever budget you have to spend.  Brand is more than just your logo or website – it’s your essence, your core. It’s the experience people have with you, the impression you leave in their minds. So you need to really think about what you want that impression to be and ensure that you communicate it consistently in three important ways: visually, verbally and experientially. Only with consistent exposure to your brand promise in every touchpoint will customers connect with you and become rabid fans, thus increasing your profits long-term.

And while brand is more than the visual identity, your design look is still a key part of it. Buyers make decisions subconsciously and need to be attracted to your look and feel first before they will learn enough to buy from you. Just like dating, your appearance does not define who you are but it does factor in to initial first impressions. So why do so many entrepreneurs try to cut corners on the very first thing that potential customers will see?

Hiring unqualified people or designers who don’t ask you anything about your value proposition, differentiators, or target audience is not the way to save money. I talk to many people that threw away money because their brand strategy was not baked yet. Good design is a skill: it’s a skill that involves taking a message and communicating it visually, not just creating a pretty picture. You will lose more in lost sales by getting this part wrong than you will save on cutting corners.

And guess what? That brand strategy will do more than just inform your visual identity. It will serve as a compass for other marketing investments: partners, advertising, events. Basically any decision your company makes will be a smarter one if you start with the brand strategy first and use it as a compass. This helps you avoid throwing away money on what I call “random acts of marketing” and ensures that you only invest in activities that move your business forward.

If you need to save money, the best thing entrepreneurs can do is to first sit down and create a clear, strong brand strategy before any marketing, design or development takes place. This entails defining who you are, what you represent, what feelings you want to evoke, what value you provide, how you price things, who your ideal audience is, and how to best reach them. This requires sitting down and answering some key questions. People that don’t do this first and launch into creating a website or investing in marketing programs are just throwing their money away. When you have no destination, every road looks like it leads somewhere.

Know thy audience and thy brand strategy and you will know the best design options, communication vehicles and marketing tactics in which to invest. Translation: only pay for things that will move you forward and give you a return on your investment. Saving $1000 and then ultimately losing $10,000 in sales opportunities because you didn’t connect with your target customer does not seem like a good investment strategy to me.

Planning for a successful 2010

In the crush of the holiday season, marketing execs and business owners are in the throes of planning for 2010. What can you do to keep your sanity while building your marketing plan? Here are a few tips to stop you from going postal.


  1. Remember your Goals: I know, I know. We all fall down on this one. But think about your realistic goals for the year and your stretch goals. Revenue, number of customers, types of products sold. Your stretch goals can be big and bold. Once you have them, then you can back into what you need to do to make them a reality. And you can see if what you are going to spend on marketing will realistically get your there. Never do a marketing activity without a goal or objective in mind. Is it 2 new customers? Is it being featured in Daily Candy? Is it increasing newsletter signups or Facebook followers? Have a firm goal.
  2. Think Depth, Not Breadth: Part 1: Focus on your main 2-3 customer segments only. If you have the luxury of a huge marketing budget, then you can build a separate marketing plan for each segment. If not, focus on the most profitable one and plan to get in front of them in multiple ways, at different stages of the buying cycle (see #2). Mix awareness ads and social media tactics with email offers and events. Don’t try to do one activity with each segment just for broad coverage. That will get you nowhere. Instead, think about trying to do different activities to that same segment each quarter.  Better to have 3 or 4 solid activities targeted to one segment than 1 ineffective standalone activity for each of them.
  3. Map to the Buying Cycle: You need a mix of activities in your marketing plan to cover the buying cycle phases: Awareness, Consideration, Evaluation and Purchase. A prospect’s info needs when they don’t even know you exist vs. when they are choosing between you and a competitor are very different. You need the constant air cover of awareness (ads, PR, etc.) to make your direct marketing activities (email offers, events) in the other phases more effective. Even just 3 or 4 tactics a quarter among all the phases, combined with ongoing awareness channels like blogs and newsletters can help.
  4. Partner with a Few to Create More Value: Don’t just buy one ad here or do one webcast there. Partner deeply with 2 or 3 media properties or associations where you can have an integrated, multi-touch campaign to a consistent audience throughout the quarter or year. For example, I used to partner with an online tech portal when I worked B2B because my investment got me ad banners, dedicated emails, a few sponsored webcasts and event presence for one packaged price. I went deep with this audience to get in front of the same group multiple times. This helps you leverage your investment, do more effective marketing and get a real presence among the same group of prospects over and over again. Most associations or online entities have multiple platforms and are open to negotiate a unique package to fit your needs and budget, so talk to the ad sales rep and get creative.
  5. Never Pay the Rate Card: Feeding off #2, never pay the listed price for ad/sponsorship space. You can always negotiate. If you can’t get the price down, then ask what else they can throw in. A dedicated email to their list? A regular column or contributed article? An extra lunch you can sponsor at the conference? Bag stuffers? Being able to introduce all the speakers at a luncheon? Your postcard/CD on attendee seats? Sponsor a weekly email with your logo and a special offer?
  6. Maintain Constancy: Spending all your cash on one bang-up event or campaign can be fun, but the hangover can last the rest of the year. If you have the money to do a big splash each quarter, great, but don’t forget smaller outreach through the rest of the year. Social media can be a great friend to you here to stay constantly top of mind.
  7. Customers vs. Prospects: Mine your existing customers more effectively. Plan different activities to upsell/resell existing customers than you do for new prospects. They have different needs and one group is more familiar with you and what you have to offer than another. Some activities may be able to do double-duty, but remember to offer some special programs/incentives for existing customers.
  8. Create an Editorial Calendar: Speaking of social media, try to plan your themes and content for at least 6 months out so you are not scrambling for what to say or what to promote. You can always do other topics as they come up. But this will keep you sane and also enable you to farm out some of the work if you can, i.e. hiring an intern to write/research blog posts, etc.
  9. Be Flexible: Be willing to try new things and measure them. If they don’t work, tweak them or move on. The dirty little secret about marketing is that oftentimes some tactics just don’t work. But you learn from it, and you move on.  As long as you have a good strategic basis for doing something, your efforts will never be wasted.

Screening Sales Leads for More Productive Reps

Let me put my B2B marketing hat on here. I recently chimed in on a Linked In discussion about leveraging outside firms or inside sales teams to help set appointments/screen leads for experienced sales reps. I have used both methods to great success – and a few failures – and want to share them with you. Some of this could apply if you sell consumer products via direct sales reps as well.

Many account execs these days have moved from a strict “feature-function-benefit” sale to a more “customer-centric selling” technique. This used to be called “solution selling” and there is a great book on this topic if you want to learn more. For those of you not familiar with this from enterprise software, this means that the rep acts more like a consultant and detective and less like a “hard sale” pusher – they take the time to get to know the person’s business, ferret out their pain points, find ways to measure value and then build a solution/package that meets the person’s needs. They have strategic business-level conversations, rather than getting down in the weeds on features and functions. This is a much more collaborative and consultative relationship that can yield future sales down the line, since the client sees you as a partner.

Many firms with dedicated, “high-touch” sales reps sometimes hire outside firms to either telemarket for leads or screen incoming leads for real opportunities. This allows the account execs to focus more on relationships, building value, strategic partnering and business solutions – rather than cold calling and wasting their time with “tire kickers’ who will never buy.

I’ve used both external firms and inside sales teams for this function. Aaron Ross is a great consultant who built a top-notch Inside Sales team at Salesforce.com and now helps organizations refine their sales processes to get results. I’ve worked with him in the past and he’s great. Vanella Group is also a wonderful prospecting firm full of professionals who used to be big whig sales execs and know how to find real opportunities (she doesn’t use people right out of college to do this kind of prospecting and screening).

Here’s what I have learned are the keys to making it work:

1) Have buy in from Sales leadership: The key factor is aligning with sales and ensuring the Sales VP is on board, has a say in the selection of the firm/new hire, helps define which leads are “appt worthy” and actively enforces good follow-up behavior among his/her reps. If the Sales leader is not on board and enforcing the process but its all coming from marketing, you’re dead in the water.

2) Nail Down a Clear Process: Sales needs to be well-informed about the initiative, know what the next steps need to be and how the whole process will be measured. Create a clear appointment-sales-rep handoff process so nothing falls through the cracks (put your operations hat on, create a process flow with decision points for all parties and ensure all reps know and agree)

3) Track and Measure. We had appointment setters who could enter the lead directly into our salesforce.com (SFDC) sales and marketing automation system. If a rep did not follow up or take the appt, we knew exactly when and who and could call them out. We also could track leads through to the sale from this initiative by using SFDC’s analytics.

4) Agree on What Makes a Qualified Lead: Ensure the definitions of a “qualified lead” worthy of an appointment are clearly understood and agreed to between marketing and sales so no one wastes time or money. This misunderstanding is one of the biggest reasons such initiatives fail. Have clear criteria for both sides on what makes a lead appointment-worthy. For example, we had company size, level of the person, if they were going to spend on a solution within 6 months, etc. as part of this criteria.

5) Maintain Accountability: Track all your activity to generate the lead and appt, so that if sales drops the baton, misses the appointment or doesn’t dollow up, you can know this and can remedy it quckly.

6) Make a Superstar That Others Will Follow: Celebrate success by enlisting the help of a well-respected, successful rep to “try the system out” and when he/she gets a win, promote it broadly. Reps will only spend time doing things that they know for a fact will yield commissions.

7) Put Communication Channels in Place: Ensure you have a process in place for the outside firm to make the appt and the rep to KEEP the appt. I’ve seen outside firms make appts and not clearly communicate time, date, etc to the rep (or not know which rep to send it to). There needs to be a mechanism to quickly check the rep’s availability so the prospect is not left hanging. I allowed my outside firm to send emails directly to my reps, even though they would put the lead in the system, just to ensure the appt was kept.

8) You Need More than People Who Can Dial a Phone: You need experienced sales reps who can listen, overcome objections and ferret out opportunities and pain points. They need to know what to listen for, how to ask probing questions and how to get past gatekeepers and talk about value. Again, Vanella Group does a great job with this.