Saturday, June 23, 2018

Build Your Brand In Summer to Prepare for Winter

Recessions:
Yeah, they're kind of like that.
A recession is a bit like a forest fire. It causes great destruction, but it also serves to clear away debris and waste and make room for strong, healthy trees to thrive. In a recession, many businesses will fail, but the the strong ones will survive. The strongest will actually come out of the trial of a recession stronger than they went in, expanding market share and often having the opportunity to buy up their weaker competitors.

Proper work during the boom times on establishing a powerful and robust brand is crucial to being one of the companies that thrives in the downturn rather than being one of those that is forced to sell out.

In 1862, ClĂ©ment Juglar discovered that the Juglar Cycle, in which he found that the booms and busts of the economy tended to cycle every 7 to 11 years. It is a natural part of the business cycle. There are various factors that go into this: monetary policy, government policy, the need for the economy to correct itself, and more.

Of course, we see this borne out in the last few recessions. Here are years that the last seven recessions started in the United States.
It's been 11 years since the last
recession. On average they occur
every 6 years.

2007
2001
1990
1981
1973
1969
1960

They are actually an average of 6 years apart, and the last one started 11 years ago.

We can discuss all kinds of complex economics and contentious politics when looking for reasons why the next recession will come, but it is simple math to see that the next recession is coming. Economists do not seem to believe that it is imminent, growth likely continuing into 2019, but whether it's in 2019 or 2022, now is the time for a business to prepare.

As the Bible says, "Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. (Proverbs 6:6-8)"

How do you prepare, and avoid King Solomon calling you "lazybones"? Naturally, you should make sure your business is on firm financial footing. Pay down debts. Maintain a cash reserve for unexpected downturns. But financial reserves enough are not enough to ensure that you are one of the businesses that will come out stronger rather than one of those that must sell out to a competitor.

The Most Valuable Investment
The most valuable investment that you can make today is in your brand reputation. I speak to many business owners who say, "I'm too busy. I'm turning away jobs. I don't need advertising right now."

This is an ad that runs for Amazon.com. When your
brand is as well known as Amazon, you can think
about saying you are well enough known that
you don't need to advertise anymore.
They are correct that they do not need direct response advertising like coupons and special deals. What they do need right now, however, is sponsorship and brand marketing.

What's the difference? Direct response advertising is advertising that seeks an immediate result. It's almost like day trading. You are asking for something today. Use this coupon. Get that deal. Call now. Operators are standing by. You either get a result or do not in a very short period of time. This is your Google Ad Words, many TV and radio ads that call for immediate action, that sort of thing.

Branding and sponsorship advertising is more like making an investment in the future of your business, specifically in the reputation of your business. Branding is done by sponsoring events and organizations that people care about. It is done by supporting community publications that people are connected with. It is also done with advertising, whether TV, radio, print or online, that focuses on the values and value proposition of your business rather than an immediate call to action.

Coca-Cola is the most recognized brand on Earth, yet they
continue to use ads like this one to maintain their top of
mind awareness.
It's the difference between the friend who only calls you when they need something, and the friend who's always around occasionally asking for a favor. With branding and sponsorship, your business becomes that friend who is always around, not only there when they have their hand out.

Right now, the economy is hot, and the pie is large. Everyone has a slice. In the foreseeable future, in the next 1-4 years, that pie will shrink. Those businesses that have invested their profits wisely, especially in building their awareness and reputation in the community will be those that will thrive in the next recession. Those that do not will find themselves losing their market, and possibly their business, to those that have.

How to Do It?
Many small businesses only focus on direct response advertising, so they may not be familiar with what brand marketing is. There are three key aspects to look at: Sponsorship, Brand Marketing, and Content Marketing.

Sponsors at a local Little League field.
Sponsorship
Sponsorship means putting your brand identity adjacent to things that people feel positive about. Putting your name on a Little League team, sponsoring a community magazine, or supporting a Rotary event are examples of this. It makes people think of your business as local and as a part of the community rather than simply as another business after their money.

Just because people know your business exists does not mean that their impression is positive. Placing your business adjacent to causes that they care about can move consumers from awareness of your business to appreciation for your business, a crucial improvement.

Brand Marketing
An example of brand marketing.
No call to action, details, or even
contact information. Simply a
mention of the brand to maintain top
of mind awareness.
Brand Marketing, is marketing with the intention of increasing awareness and positive perception of your business. Awareness can be increased with sponsorship activity, and it can also be done by putting your brand, logo, slogan, jingle, or face in places where people will see it consistently (many times) and persistently (over a long period).

You can engage in brand marketing on any platform, but it is more cost effective on some platforms than other. Branding on television is prohibitively expensive for all but the largest companies. Branding on most online platforms like Google AdWords and Facebook is nearly impossible given their shifting algorithms. Community magazines can be very effective at branding to a targeted market. Billboards can also be effective, although it is more difficult to pinpoint the market.

High quality, high engagement community
magazines are one of the most powerful
platforms for content marketing to
reach a targeted audience.
Content Marketing
Content Marketing is a form of marketing that puts a deeper message than simply your brand and product or service offerings. It is sharing content such as expert advice and valuable resources. It can also take the form of giving people a deeper familiarity with your business, such as business history, employee biographies, and the like. Either way, the goal is to make the market see your company are more than just a logo and a quote, but to make it human, deep, and familiar to them.

Content can take a variety of forms: print articles, online writing, podcasts, video, audio, and more. It is important to realize that there are two key elements to content: the quality of the content itself and having a strategy to make sure that people actually consume the content. The greatest article in the world will bring no customers to your business if no one reads it. I have seen amazing videos on YouTube with 50 views on them.

Tools like blogs and newsletters can be a very effective method for driving content to your existing customers and those already familiar with your business.

How do you push that great content to the rest of the community? The best way to ensure that the broader public consumes your content is to place it in a platform which they are already engaging with. The ideal, although it can be difficult to achieve, is to become an expert contributor to a community publication that has high engagement or to have a show on local television or radio.

This article, for example, is an example of Content Marketing. I am using it to share important information, to build relationships with my readers, and to establish a reputation for expertise.

For More Information
Marketing is a complex and ever changing field. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me at feedback@michaelwhitehouse.org or call 203-707-1245, and I'd be happy to help or discuss consulting options. I am also available to speak to your organization. Contact me for details.

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