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Photo by Gabriel Benois, Unsplash

Brands deliver value. To customers (a consistency of brand promise, or “knowing what you’ll get”). To shareholders (increased revenues, a shorter sales/conversion cycle). To employees (motivated and brand-engaged employees have less turnover, higher satisfaction, and deliver better on KPI’s).

So if the ROI of good branding is so high, why is it always so hard to keep the brand at the center of strategic focus?  One simple reason is cost.  If the opportunity cost of NOT branding effectively or efficiently isn’t factored in, decision-makers often think it is too expensive to expend time and financial resources on brand-building exercises.   Here are four strategies that are cost-effective ways to keep your brand alive and well.

1. Mine Your Own Content

A tool everyone has, but rarely maximizes is your own media library. Maybe because it’s not so much a library as a mish-mash of files that are not indexed, so no one can find them. Every graphic, photograph, video clip, newsletter article or blog post you and your team have created are already sunk costs. Properly archived and tagged with metadata, they can be repurposed and reused in multiple ways to put your brand front and center with customers, clients, employees and other stakeholders.   The key is to use a DAM (digital asset management system) or MAM (media asset management system–often for larger files like video and audio) and build workflow best practices into every time you create a digital asset. Create a consistent system that works for everyone in your organization, with anywhere anytime access–vital with teleworking–is essential, so that you can build and share branded content that everyone can access, not only the intern, editor or photographer who first created it. A photo DAM system can help you avoid those awful automatic names (IMG_001) for photos, for example, by batch renaming name on ingest. But always maintain the original name in the data. Adobe Bridge, Google Photos (heads up–free is over June 2021!) and Adobe Lightroom are tools for managing photo content. LuminarAI is out in Beta from Skylum* and has a number of great photo management tools built into its AI-powered creative engine. For video, there are a number of DAMs (digital asset management) systems out there–from Imagen to CATdv by Squarebox.  (If you are looking for a MAM, this is a handy guide.)  There are also brand-specific systems, designed specifically for the marketing department (as opposed to a video production company or broadcaster) such as Brandfolder, Bynder, and Cloudinary.

  • Bottom Line: If you can’t find it, you can’t use it. So whether you use a sophisticated archiving system or a spreadsheet, save money and create your own “stock” library of branded content to tell your organization’s story.

*disclaimer: I do some writing and marketing work for Skylum. I do not receive any fees related to sales.

2. Video Sells

According to IndieGogo, “Crowdfunding pitches with video content raise 112% more than those without.” Video certainly is one of the top-most searched items on the web. But producing a branding video in-house can be daunting. It’s a time-consuming process, and commissioning one to be made can be costly. With just the investment in a Zoom H4N digital audio recorder, a SONY FDR-AX100 4K Ultra HD video camcorder, and some basic audio recording/mixing software like Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, you can quickly share useful branded video clips to your target audience. Or consider building your community by sharing useful content with a podcast. For a quick rundown on the latest podcasting software, check out this review.

  • Bottom Line: Build video into your brand strategy. It works.

    Photo by Sam Mcghee, Unsplash

3. Show Not Tell

So many people want to say WHAT it is they do, before really explaining HOW and WHY they do it. This is the core of your brand, and that’s the story you want to tell through any platform, whether it is a speaking engagement, podcast, blog post, or branded video.  BTS, or “Behind the Scenes”, is some of the top-shared content online. Why? Because as humans we are naturally curious and love to know what makes things work. So build “How to” or “How we made that” into every production or project.  That means adding a BTS camera. At the low end, could be a mobile phone. But for under $300 you could add a LOT of quality and pizzazz with a tool like the 4K DJI Osmo Pocket Gimbal Camera. Or if that’s too pricey, throw your mobile phone onto a gimbal with this little number, also from DJI. In a future post I’ll talk about good lighting and sound.

  • Bottom Line: Make shooting and sharing BTS part of your brand best practices.

DJI Pocket Osmo Camera in action

4. Email Signature is Free Branded Space

Lately, most of my incoming emails from systems like MailChimp and Constant Contact are going into my Spam and Promotions folders. So those are lost efforts to convey branded content. Why not supplement those efforts through a free space your contacts see every day: your e-mail signature. What a great opportunity to do a little brand storytelling!  A signature line doesn’t just give you a chance to tell your name and title, it gives you space for a blog link, twitter hashtag for an upcoming event, or YouTube link to your latest video.  This simple free advertising can be employed unilaterally—and uniformly–across your organization. (Send a “signature of the week” email to everyone in your organization with easily copied information and links.)

  • Bottom Line: Creating an email signature strategy builds brand awareness for free.

Using these four strategies, you can gain ground with your brand, and decrease the cost of creating or trying to find existing content to share with your audience.  More story. Less hassle. And that adds to your brand ROI.

 

Amy DeLouise is a video and virtual event producer, brand strategist, author and speaker. 

The following is a guest post from one of my favorite people–Katherine James, Founder of ACT Communications, who shares a unique understanding of how to communicate effectively.

Back to school. It conjures up feelings and memories for everyone – many of them less than thrilling.  When I suggest that you conjure up your worst school memory, chances are it has something to do with feeling “stupid” in class.  That time the teacher pointed out that you were twelve different kinds of an idiot for not “getting” her point.

Notice how it doesn’t get any better if I ask you to conjure up a bad time while learning something at work?  The time that boss or colleague made you feel like a dolt because you just couldn’t get the concept or the process?

Now I want you to think of the last time you were explaining a concept or teaching a process to someone as a part of your work life – and that person just “didn’t get it”. Didn’t it seem obvious to you?  Wasn’t that person ridiculous for not understanding your clear and expert demonstration and/or explanation?

Why does this happen?  Why do we believe that we teach perfectly and yet sometimes people don’t understand what we are teaching?  Why do we believe that we learn perfectly, and yet some teachers leave us feeling like idiots?

The answer is simple: because different people have different learning styles. And if you want to communicate information as well as you can to the people you meet in business and in life, you need to learn about the different ways in which people learn.

There are many learning theory gurus in the world of Education.  The one that I find the most useful in my work is Bernice McCarthy whose 4-Mat System of Learning is easily adaptable to communicating in business and life.  I have been using her shorthand system for years, with great success in my business as a litigation consultant.  I use it when teaching attorneys a new concept, when working with witnesses, when “selling” a new lawyer on my business, when creating a presentation at a national conference – I am even known to use it with friends and family members.

McCarthy divides the world into four different learning styles (1, 2, 3 and 4).  It doesn’t matter what makes up the person’s culture, age, religion, socio-economic status, level of education, or life experience. This is very helpful because it allows you to put aside your own prejudices about the person in front of you and listen for the clues that will tell you how this person will learn best what you have to teach.  Why is this important?  You, too, fall into one of the four categories – which means about three-fourths of the time you are going to have to adjust the way you teach, since you are probably used to teaching to the “perfect” learner – yourself!

Let me give you an example of how I use this system in my work as a litigation consultant. I am working with a witness who I am meeting for the first time.  An attorney and I are in a session to prepare this witness to give testimony in court. I ask the witness one question, “What concerns do you have about testifying in court?” I will get one of four answers:

1.      “I am afraid that no one will believe me. That they’ll think I’m lying when I’m telling the truth.”

2.      “I am really nervous that the footnote in the contract on the bottom of page 45 is confusing.”

3.      “How is this going to work?  Where do I sit? How long is this going to take?”

4.      “I’m not really worried.  I’m just going to say whatever comes to me off the top of my head. I find things work out best if I just ‘wing it’, you know?”

Each of the answers puts the witness into his or her learning category.  Let me break it down for you into the 1, 2, 3, and 4.

The first group of folks I call “Emotional”. They are often fearful of new experience. They often need to know “why” they are being asked to learn something new – what it has to do with them.  Once they are on board, they learn more quickly than anyone else.  They do not respond well to being told “just do this and you’ll be fine.”  Slow down.  Be patient.  Take your time. If you rush teaching, not only will no learning take place, you are establishing that they will never be able to learn – especially not from you.

The second group of folks are “Fact Based”. They believe that the answers to everything in life are in the details.  They will often ask you to “just show me what you want me to do.” They aren’t lazy. They aren’t going to do it exactly the way that you do it – but they really benefit from demonstration. Teach them first through detail – they aren’t going to learn from you if they don’t believe you “know your stuff”.

The third group of folks are “How Does It Work?”. They learn best through doing.  They love agendas.  When they say, “How long is this going to take?” and you think, “That’s an insulting question!” think again.  They just need to know how the next minutes or hours of their life are supposed to unfold.  If you teach them what you want them to learn as a “system” they will embrace it.

The fourth group of folks are “Rule Breakers.” They don’t like it if things have been done this way a million times over a million years – they need it to be brand new in order to respect it.  I find it best to emphasize the uniqueness of the situation: “I have never had a case exactly like this before!  This is going to be really interesting for us to figure out together just how to put your testimony together!” It doesn’t matter that the situation and case are far from unique – I know that this is how this kind of learner best gets information.

Good luck in your journey back to school – it will really pay off as you learn how to communicate and teach “perfectly” to the learning style of everyone you meet.

Katherine James is the founder of ACT of Communications a litigation consulting firm in California.  She can be reached by emailing katherine[at]actofcommunication[dot]com.

Oakes Red - IMGP1335 s.cThere are three kinds of unhappy customers. The ones who let you know about the problem right away. The ones who tell other people they are unhappy, but avoid telling you directly.  And the ones who are mostly happy customers and have only one issue they are unhappy about, but this is the only thing they communicate about with you, so it seems like a much larger problem.  It’s really important to discern which kind of customer you are dealing with before you can help them.  And especially in these days of social media, when a problem that is small can become exponentially larger due to word of mouth.

Learn About the Problem

If you are hearing about the problem from someone other than the customer, or through a group venue such as social media, seek out the customer to discuss the issue directly and privately. You can still make some kind of public response when all is resolved, but don’t duke things out on your Facebook page.

Really listening is key. This means a willingness to see the issue from their perspective and problem-solve in a way that ensures they will still be your customer. Okay, in fairness there will be rare instances in which you need to “fire” your own customer because, as it turns out, their goals and your mission/brand promise actually just don’t fit. But this is a rare instance. More often than not, a disgruntled customer will become less frustrated just through knowing you understand their pain.  By listening you can also discern if this is a generally happy customer (and not over-react) or if there is a big issue you need to address with a full-court press. And when you listen, be sure to share with colleagues (as appropriate, depending on sensitivity) within your organization so they understand your brand values when it comes to problem-solving.

Find a Solution

The worst thing you can do to a customer is make them find their own solution. This happened to me recently with the Smithsonian Institution, an organization of which I’m highly supportive. My family joined about a year ago because we live in Washington, DC and visit the museums regularly.  We received the magazine immediately but never got the membership card, so we had to sign in at the information desk every time we went to a museum—several times a month–for a “temporary card” in order to enjoy our membership benefits. This got tedious, and yet no one suggested how we could solve our problem and get a permanent card.  Finally, one day I walked to the Smithsonian’s main offices to ask for help. I was sent to another building. Then from that building, back to the first one. And so on. It was starting to look like a Marx brothers movie, but not as funny since I had kids in tow. Finally, a woman at the main office handed me a sticky note and said “call this 800 number and maybe they can help you.”  I recently spoke to a helpful customer service rep there and we’ll wait to see what happens.

Communicating About Problem-Solving

A lot of organizations do a tremendous job of communicating about their mission, their brand values and their goals, but do a terrible job of telling customers about how they solve problems. In the more customer-driven environment of today’s economy, customers and prospective customers want to know that you can solve their problems, even if they don’t have any right now.

You can communicate about your problem-solving in a number of ways. It’s a great blog topic. It’s worthy of a line or two in your monthly e-mail or memo to customers. It’s even worthy of mention to your own staff, so they understand a model of successful problem-solving. Do you have a good example of communicating around problem-solving in your organization? Or a problem-solving disaster? Please share…

I know, I’ve really avoided launching any blog posts with the words “I hate.”  But GF3, s.c.2this one really gets me, for some reason. In our brave new age of social media, increased transparency, and communications efficiency, those little forms that you get when you click “Contact Us” really bug me.

I recently went on a nonprofit website to find someone in the communications department I’d met at a party. I thought I’d do a simple click and send her a quick note. Instead, I got The Form of Doom.  This is a great nonprofit, doing great work, helping needy children all over the world. And I was stopped in my tracks. Suddenly their brand didn’t seem as good. I know, it’s not fair, but it didn’t.  Suddenly they seemed possibly elitist, or at least not friendly and not reachable.  If I were a donor, would I be thinking “hey, maybe there’s another nonprofit I can contact more easily”?  I don’t know, but I might.

Contact Us forms are the last vestige of Web .5 in a Web 2.0 world.  Originally, they were designed to “capture user information” and help protect executives new to email.  But now, they just seem like speed bumps—annoying and messing up my car.  It’s not like people can’t find you these days. I located the nonprofit communications executive I’d met through Linked In, where we happily connected, conversed and exchanged email addresses. But that was, like, six steps from how I should have found her with a simple link on her organization’s website.

Brands are affected by many customer experiences.  We build up our expectations of a brand, and then we expect all interactions with the brand to deliver on the “brand promise.”  When a communications transaction between entity and user does not meet the brand promise expectations, we are at a fork in the road and we may choose another brand instead.  Websites are no longer sign posts.  They are interactive communications tools with your current or prospective donors, customers or volunteers.  Check around and see if yours is welcoming them to your brand on every page, or if you still have a few of the old barriers around.

Know any other Brand Barriers or have a different view of Contact forms? Please share them!