Marketing is an undeniably tricky business. For new brands just beginning to walk the long road of customer retention and corporate identity, the entire industry can feel overrun with insider concepts and head-spinning jargon. Sometimes, however, in the process of learning how to handle ROI and CPC, the most important lessons get overlooked. Here, we’ve collected the top 10 crucial pieces of advice for every new marketer. Take these ideas to heart; they’re the keys to transforming your brand.
1. Story matters.
The minute you dip your toes into the marketing world, your brand is no longer purely about product. It becomes a piece of media — and like any media, its success depends entirely on the emotional connections you forge. Think of it like a movie: No one wants to sit through two hours of scenes that plod along with no discernible plot or character development. Similarly, no one wants to engage with a brand that doesn’t give them a reason to care. One of the biggest mistakes new marketers make is assuming that an amazing product will speak for itself.
Here’s the unfortunate truth: We’re no longer living in a build-it-and-they-will-come world. Macbooks and iPhones are top notch, but Apple really wins by making its audience feel something. It’s authentic and transparent. It’s consistent. It’s unmistakably Apple. To give your brand the voice it requires to thrive, you need to focus on the story only you can tell.
What makes your product relatable to customers? How will they feel when they use it? Treat your audience like close friends, and give them a reason to invest the emotional energy. Whether you’re using a clever tactic like Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man or a more subtle strategy like Google Chrome’s emotionally charged character campaigns, consumers always react to stories that elicit relatable feelings.
2. Copy and design are your new best friends.
Engaging stories start with solid brand identities, and solid brand identities start with writers and designers. This tends to be an understandable point of contention for new marketers; creatives cost money, after all, and money is usually in short supply at the start of any venture. Worried that their budgets can’t take the hit, these marketers decide to do it all themselves — and ultimately end up making a fraction of the impact they could have made with a little help.
Let’s illustrate this with a theoretical test. Suppose you were in the market for a new rug and decided to browse a few websites to find the best option. You’ve narrowed it down to two choices: Website A features an impactful logo, intuitive structure and simple but emotional tagline, and Website B is crammed with stock photography, poorly written text and a difficult browsing system. Even if both sites offered the same rug at the same price, most consumers would gravitate to Website A. It feels credible and distinct, but the second feels homemade and potentially untrustworthy. What’s more, Website A’s punchy logo could stick in a customer’s memory and eventually drive repeat business.
This is not to say that you don’t understand what makes your brand tick. Of course you do; it’s just that professional writers and designers understand the DNA of creative impact. They know why customers react to certain words, images and even fonts. They know how to spin a tagline into this year’s buzz phrase and turn a logo into an instantly recognizable image. You make the product, but creatives make it sing. What’s more, you don’t have to spend millions of dollars at an ad agency to find competent writers and designers.
Talk to your connections, reach out to a creative staffing agency, or send a note to the local art school. You’ll likely find a few professionals willing to help without incurring Louis Vuitton-level prices.
3. Marketing isn’t free, but it can be cheap.
Of course, beyond the cost of the creatives themselves, you’ll need to plan a budget for media buys. When it comes to marketing, the old adage is truer than ever: You have to spend money to make money. How much money you spend, however, is entirely up to you.
Long gone are the days when billboards and television commercials were the only games in town; in the modern atmosphere, the most result-driven pieces of marketing are often the least expensive to produce. While big-ticket items are certainly glamorous, they’re no more effective for a small business than a perfectly segmented YouTube ad or impactful piece of direct mail. This is where the ability to think outside the box becomes a serious benefit: What engaging, interruptive strategies can you use to get your name into the public fray?
Travel companies can send destination postcards to prospective customers. Real estate firms can create a YouTube campaign inspired by HGTV’s ever-popular “House Hunters.” Retail brands can launch an interactive social media campaign designed to drive new likes and follows. Marketing isn’t always about how much you’re willing to spend — it’s about how creative you’re willing to be.
4. Social media is everything…except magic.
Social media is by far the least expensive and most direct way to reach a world of potential clients. It’s where your entire consumer base hangs out, shares stories and interacts with the globe. It’s not, however, a set-it-and-forget-it solution. Any brand can put their name on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest and hope that someone notices; it’s how you use the tools that really counts.
Social media is by definition social. To truly interrupt the space, you have to regularly provide content that’s valuable, shareable and engaging. Consider these real-world examples: On April Fool’s Day, JetBlue offered a free flight to anyone named April. The social posts predictably spread like wildfire and garnered the brand a host of new likes and follows. – Dove enhanced its Real Beauty campaign by posting a video of artists sketching two pictures of one woman: The first was based on the woman’s description of herself and the second on a random person’s description of her. Though the video didn’t engage in any active selling, users shared and re-posted it all over the web, and it ended up becoming the most highly watched online ad in history. These are two winning campaigns based on interruptive strategies, but even a well-timed series of posts can make a splash in the social space. Show behind-the-scenes images of your company at work. Ask a question about something relevant to your industry. As long as the posts are curious, authentic and tightly focused on your brand image — in other words, don’t share those Grumpy Cat photos unless you’ve created a brand-related spin on them — anything goes.
5. Mobile is here to stay.
Over the past several years, the marketing world has seen an undeniable increase in the number of consumers who interact with media exclusively from their smartphones. This isn’t a passing fad; as cells get smarter and people get busier, mobile will become the single best place to capture a customer’s attention. In addition to optimizing your content for mobile viewing, consider the possibility of adding a useful, engaging app to your brand’s marketing plan. The retail loyalty benefits are incredible here; not only will you position yourself as an expert in a specific field, but you’ll also give customers a reason to interact with your brand on a daily basis. Outdoor outfitters REI launched Snow Report to keep users abreast of the latest conditions. Walgreens created an app that allows customers to order refills by scanning their current pill bottles. Heineken hedged their bets on a quirky concept that simulates the sound of clinking bottles when you tap two smartphones together. If your app somehow makes life easier for users — or gives them a chuckle — it’s worth its weight in gold.
6. Before you can talk to a customer, you have to know who he or she is.
It’s easy to assume that you’re reaching your target base, but brands often find that their products extend well beyond the intended market. To create content that’s both memorable and engaging, you have to understand who you’re reaching and what those customers want. Upscale retailer Anthropologie does this with aplomb; through years of careful watching, they know that their female base loves vintage-inspired items with a worldly flair, so they create catalogs, images and in-store displays that resonate with those desires. When you’re just starting, however, it can be tough to gauge your audience. Social media and focus groups are fantastic methods for learning more, and surveys attached to an exclusive offer combine information gathering with customer retention. It’s like Mom used to say: You’ll never know until you ask.
7. The customers you keep are just as important as the ones you get.
New marketers are often so focused on snaring new customers that they forget the importance of keeping the old ones engaged. This comes back to the product-speaking-for-itself problem; the assumption is that once you’ve convinced a buyer of your product’s worth, he or she will return with little to no prompting. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Just as you had to give that new customer a reason to engage, you have to give the old customer a reason to stick around. Bounceback offers and loyalty programs are among the best ways to accomplish this; the former gives your customer a tangible benefit to visiting again and the latter provides an ongoing reward for engagement. However, a simple buy-ten-get-one-free coupon won’t always cut it when it comes to loyalty programs. Your audience’s excitement level is directly proportional to the uniqueness of the offer. The Starbucks Gold Card is a spectacular example; everyone from infrequent coffee drinkers to cynical, dyed-in-the-wool marketing pros lined up for one of these gorgeous cards. They weren’t just buying the product — they were buying into the club.
8. If you’re not testing, you’re running in the dark.
Anyone can launch a marketing campaign and hope that it performs to par, but seasoned marketers know that testing your concepts is crucial to getting the most finely tuned results. Before you cascade your campaign to the market at large, consider running a smaller, localized launch to see how it plays. Are customers engaging with you? Are your messages cutting through the clamor? If the launch doesn’t perform as expected, take a long look at what’s missing the mark before you go full scale. It’s even possible to measure engagement with deals and discounts. Promotional codes can provide incredible insight on which types of offers get the most action, and that allows you to create future deals that focus on your customers’ preferences. Even email messages aren’t immune to the tactic; segment your sends into two creative concepts, and watch which one snags the highest open rates.
9. Good strategies don’t happen in a vacuum.
You know what they say: Imitation is the highest form of flattery. While you don’t want to steal another brand’s campaigns piece for piece, the best marketers know that inspiration is crucial to creative thinking. Spend some time analyzing the strategies of your favorite brands. What makes them exciting? Where are they most impactful? How are they using social media and mobile? You might even find some inspiration in vintage advertising books. Anything that sparks an idea is fair game. Similarly, some of the most effective concepts come from unlikely sources. Talk to your kids, chat up your mail carrier, or pick your accountant’s brain. Listening well is the first step to doing well.
10. It’s ultimately about one thing: fun.
Many new businesses assume that all marketing, no matter how creative, is purely about selling, but the reality is this: It all starts and ends with fun. After all, if you’re not engaged with your work, your customers won’t be either. Approach everything you do with a sense of curiosity and playfulness, and you’ll find that the results are infinitely more approachable than if you’d stuck to the rote, standard route. Geico’s humor is in the spirit of fun. So are Red Bull’s stunts and BMW’s irreverent taglines. Each of these brands translates the ideas into real results, but they’d be nothing without the obvious passion of their campaigns. Strive for that, and you’ll never experience a dull moment.