Tag Archives: brand

THE REAL CAUSES OF NON-RESULTS

“We’ve been through two marketing companies now with no results. What are we doing wrong?”

This question in a recent post in an online networking community caught my eye. An established consulting business was expressing their frustration with the non-results they were getting from the marketing professionals they hired.

helloFUTURE LLC, according to their online profile, “helps you create innovative new products, services, and patents via our foresight, innovation and patent development programs, supported by solid technology and project management.” That’s a mouthful. Per their new website, their business would appear to be entirely workshop-based. It’s what they say they do anyway. Some very large clients are on their roster, but based on these, it’s not at all immediately clear what they do.
Based on a comment from the author, it would also seem that he’s not that clear about his brand either. As he says, “ There are others in our space, I can’t understand why we’re getting so little traction in our business. We are a unique product in a unique space.” That’s confusing. Is it a product or a service? Is it a unique product in a unique space, or not?

The company tried two completely different approaches:
first, a firm that “supposedly” used AI to create lists of people interested in buying their service offering. It “campaigned over 12,000 people” (whatever that means), and achieved only 20 calls and no business. They then hired a “full service” marketing company that “redid” their communication tools – ads, website and created content marketing. It achieved three leads and no results.

I have to say that, sadly, I’ve heard this story (or something like it) many times over the years we’ve been in business. It speaks both to poor understanding and poor advice. First, a client that has a limited understanding of their brand, its audience and its place in the market, and who is happy to throw the baby out with the bathwater because their stab in the dark didn’t give them the results they hoped for, when they should have been getting down to basics. And secondly, casting a net and hiring consulting firms that promise big, charge big, and pitch their approaches as the answers to all the client’s problems – be it the latest trend or “full service”. Neither would seem to have done the research to fully grasp the associated brand issues, or educated the client before overhauling websites, or developing new campaigns, creative and content. Simply covering all media does not constitute full service in my mind. And I think it would be a safe bet to suggest that they never delivered a brand analysis and strategy.
This company’s problems could have resulted from any number or combination of factors Content, tone, messaging, visuals, PR, media placement and timing, SEO, reputation, markets, influencers, targeting, approach, competition and corporate culture are just a few of the things that could have contributed to non-results. And there was obviously a disconnect when it came to expectations and deliverables – communication breakdown on both sides. The reality is, most all of it would come back to rethinking the brand and the business, and then developing clear, sustainable, brand-driven communication tools.

What does that mean? Well to start with, a full review and analysis of his business, category and competitors. It needs to determine whether they are truly differentiating from competitors and where the gaps/opportunities are in the market – a swot analysis. A deep dive into what they and competitors are doing and saying, and whether those are the same thing at all in the minds of your audiences.

It means an inside look and training as well – the way he and his team talk about and sell the product/service. Interviews with staff and key stakeholders to elicit key insights. And, on brand clarity, training for buy-in and consistency.
Businesses need a solid brand that makes sense and is sustainable, strategies for implementation, and the right tools for the job, used properly at the right time, in the right places. It’s rarely a smart idea to ‘start over’ completely with an established company. If a rebrand or refresh is required, it needs to be carefully developed and managed, and key messages developed to support the brand – before ever venturing into new communication tools.

With new clients, we often see so much time and money wasted in the ‘throw it all away and start over’ approach. Or conversely, the band-aid approach. Mostly, in our experience, non-results are the result of starting in the wrong place to begin with.

WHY BRAND STORYTELLING IS NO FAIRYTALE

One of the things I like most about helping clients to truly understand and engage with their brands is reaching down together for their story.

That conversation often initially elicits what effectively sounds like a resume: “I spent so many years at this company or that company, gained a lot of experience, bought or sold, and here we are.” Or, “we made this product and, as the market changed, it led to that.” These may well be how the business came to be in its current form, but it’s not the story anyone cares to hear.

Obviously, you have to have a great product or service. It obviously has to meet all the touchpoints of traditional marketing, and have a sound business plan. Ideally, you have a truly unique product that can be proven as such – but that’s rare. So the problem comes when those traditional pitches, and pat, unproven differences are used to define your brand, when really, the story is everything.

Everyone loves a good story. We root for the protagonist. We laugh and cry and groan and nod and shake our heads at their trials and successes. We can’t help but get caught up in the twists and turns. It has a beginning, middle, and an end. And it always leaves you wanting more. It resonates because we relate to it. We recognize in it something of ourselves – our own histories or problems or frustrations or passions.

One of my favourite client stories came from a startup, Thrive Fit, and I use it, and the photo here, in my branding workshops. The owner had a long history and education in personal training – a glutted market in which, like so many sectors, nothing is really different – and was about to start a new business. He was looking at all the traditional sorts of names, his mind was entrenched in the traditional fitness marketing and models, but he wanted to listen. He quickly realized that he couldn’t appeal to everyone, and nor did he want to. There were better ways to build and sustain a business.

Turns out that Brian had the drive and the spark of entrepreneurialism in him from the time he was a kid, when he built up a little business trading in Crazy Bones until he had enough for the Nintendo he wanted, and helped others earn as well. As a teen, he resold pop from his locker. Both businesses saw a need, were driven by purpose and had an end goal is sight. He was always meant to be doing his own thing, his own way. And Francis? His need to help people went back to dreams of being Superman when he was a kid.

Long story short, we embarked on a journey that began with the story, and built a completely new business model for that sector that’s, well, thriving. For us, the same approach has worked for SMEs and multinationals. It gets to the heart.

In branding, the art lies not only in the ability to reach down for that story, but in distilling from it the key messages that are the essence of your brand. And then telling that story – in many forms – in a clear, consistent, and engaging way that makes each of your audiences want to sit up and listen. It tells it across multiple media and communication tools taking those strengths into account. It tells it to different audiences in different ways that resonate with them. It tells it verbally, visually and experientially. But it always tells it truthfully.

Of course, just as we don’t all love the same stories, we don’t all love the same brands. We want to engage with those brands that resonate with us, and care about what we care about – genuinely. Businesses that understand themselves and why they make/sell/produce/love what they do. That believe in it wholeheartedly. That hire and partner with others who believe in it, and that live up to their promises.

I’m often told that I should be a mentor (I am), or a life coach, or teacher. A branding specialist is, and should be, all of those things. The common denominator is trust, client-focus, and the ability to draw out a client’s deeper story – where the spark began, developed and glowed brighter, even if undefined. Within that story is the thread that’s key to the authenticity of your brand.

Communicating it well is the other story.

Credit: Photo credit: CCO Public Domain / The Virtual Denise / Pixabay

The True Value of Relationships

Young Women Travel Together Concept


My parents always taught me to value my relationships, to treat others as I would like to be treated, and to never burn my bridges – that great big world is actually pretty small when you get working in it for awhile.

I’ve been blessed by the results of that sound advice with close bonds with my kids and parents, incredible friendships and truly great clients – some of whom have remained with Ink Tank for more than 25 years – and many who, over a short or long time, have become friends as well. My parents’ advice is both a lesson for life and a lesson for business. It applies to both the clients and suppliers I choose to work with, and also to the advice I give my clients to help them think differently about their businesses and understand how to authentically present their brands.

In our approaches to our friends and family we are (hopefully) transparent, genuine and have their best interests at heart. Our good intentions and integrity are obvious, and they respond in kind. It seems to me to be simple logic that we treat our clients and staff in the same way to achieve similar outcomes.

Yet sadly it’s often not the case. We’re approached by clients because they’re feeling ‘stuck’. They may be losing market share, not growing as they think they should, or not getting the responses they expect. They blame it on the market, on the digital age, on rising competition, on fickle customers, on staff not doing their jobs, or on design that’s bad, ineffective or not ‘creative’ enough. As a result, they might wish to throw their entire ‘brand’ out the window and start over. Many designers, marketers and so-called branding experts will jump all over this as an opportunity for large billings and a chance to put their own stamp on the client. It’s usually a bad idea – more focused on the supplier’s than the client’s best interests.

All of this tells me that they don’t really understand what branding is to begin with. They don’t understand their own brand and certainly don’t understand the relationship their brand has with the marketplace. They’ve thrown the basic tenets of a good relationship out the window – not necessarily deliberately – but by trying to be someone they’re not, talking versus listening, and often in the wrong relationships to begin with.

Everyone wants to feel valued. They want to know that you care about what they care about, and care about them – genuinely. That communication is a two-way street. That you’re confident in who you are and don’t try to be something you’re not. That you listen as well as talk. No one wants to be around people (or businesses) that are all about themselves or that do things to appear caring, but in fact are not. They want the real deal.

While this seems simple, many companies are too close to what they do to see it and themselves clearly. For well-established firms, they’re often stuck in old ways of seeing themselves. In the case of start-ups, they may be carried away by their great idea, or be too money-conscious to get the proper help. In both cases they tend to completely misunderstand what branding is. They underestimate the need for, time involved and cost of researching, defining and positioning their company, product or service, building their brand and creating the right communications strategy. Same goes for developing the name and corporate identity that has available domains, avoids language faux pas and is unique enough to meet the requirements of a trademark. And finally, to effectively target their marketing so they can attract the right relationships in the first place, then sell them and maintain them in the second.

There’s an old adage that often comes up in some form or another: “If you build it, they will come.” The fact is, the notion is only true in this competitive, highly communicative economy if that truly applies to your relationships, not just to what you’re selling.

Ink Tank® is a full service boutique agency located in Toronto. We offer a wide range of business building communication services from strategy to concept to execution to production to evaluation, senior level only participation and highly competitive rates. We work in all on and off line media, and pride ourselves on being able to hit the ground running, and getting it right the first time.

Digital Marketers: Redefining Branding for Themselves

It seems that ever since digital marketing became a force in the universe, marketers who work in that realm have worked hard at redefining branding to suit their vested interests.

Many of these marketers have little experience in traditional branding and are reflective (in my opinion) of a pendulum swung disproportionately in one direction. A plethora of ‘online marketing experts’ are trying (and succeeding) in convincing businesses to invest significant time, money and intellectual capital in a broad capture that sweeps up just about anyone passing through, then justify the cost with their ‘engagement’ numbers.

The true meaning and power of branding has been lost in the chase. And, unless your content is developed by a someone who truly understands your brand, your brand and marketing strategies, and who can also write well, engage and resonate with your specific audiences (and know the differences), and understand which combination of communication tools are right for you business and how to effectively use them, you could very well waste your money, dilute your hard-earned efforts, and end up with a ‘hollow’ brand – one with little substance to support it – or a brand that does not reflect your business.

There’s obviously a place for engagement and content-based marketing – it’s a necessary part of the marketing mix. But it’s just that – a part – one of many tools in the communications toolbox, each with a specific job and a supporting role. (It goes along with the misguided thinking that a logo, a website and a brochure is branding versus an identity and communication tools – but that’s for another conversation). Placing the bulk of your marketing budget in a single ill-defined tool is not going to build and sustain your brand.

And it’s frequently not the most effective tool. Content writers are the puppy mills of the marketing world. They often know little about brand strategy, differentiation, or the competitive sphere of the client. In trying to maximize engagement with a broad reach, businesses are often not actually engaging in an authentic and sustainable way directly with either the audiences who purchase or influence the purchase of their products and services. The fact is, their results are not what they’re made out to be and the lead-time to achieve any ROI of value is long, arduous and hard to gain back.

Sales, marketing and branding are intrinsically entwined. Too often, however, businesses make the mistake of confusing the flow. Many companies, particularly B2B, get caught up in sales driving marketing, or confusing the two, and brand is misunderstood and thus overlooked. Many of them feel that sales got them where they are and so, “Why change?” Others, particularly start-ups and growing businesses opt to have marketing drive their brand. Such is the case with digital content. Brand needs to drive marketing, which in turn will drive sales. And ensuring that your brand isn’t lost in all of that requires ongoing central management. Without it, designers, content people, web developers, PR folks and everyone else – none of whom really understand brand – put their own stamp and spin on what they’re doing, or regurgitate the same information, and you’re left wondering how you could have invested so much for so little.

Branding is tricky business. It requires experience and expertise to define, build and manage. It needs substance and focus, and more than just a single communications tool. And the bottom line is that branding is all about your interests and those you care about. Redefining it to suit a business model only helps many digital marketers to help themselves.

To celebrate our 27 years in business, we’re sharing 25 things we’ve learned to help you successfully create and market yours

Since 1984, 26 years and counting, !nk Tank has developed logos, built brands, launched new products and services, packaged, promoted, publicized and marketed in a multitude of media and across almost every industry sector. Along the way, we like to think that we’ve acquired some valuable knowledge along with our experience. Here are 25 things we’ve learned.

  1. Great looking creative is only great if it sells. Strategy counts.
  2. Everything has a brand, and people will form opinions about you and your business regardless of effort on your part. Effective branding is critical to your brand achieving its potential.
  3. Do your research. Know where your brand sits and decide your brand position. It will have a greater impact on the success of your efforts than anything else.
  4. Lead, don’t follow. It’s hard to stand out when you look like the rest of the pack.
  5. Just because it’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Think outside the box.
  6. If someone sees it, or reads it, it impacts your brand. Every ad, mailer, email, corporate or sales tool – in fact, anything that reaches out or invites in – should contribute to your brand image.
  7. Consistency is not the same as sameness. Massage your message for your audience.
  8. Build your brand inside and out. Everyone is a potential ambassador.
  9. Interact. Entice your audience, don’t bore them. Inbound or outbound, inside or out, most importantly, invite them to get involved.
  10. Offer clear benefits and back them up. Promise nothing and gain nothing. But no empty promises please.
  11. Mixed messages deliver mixed results. Pick one objective, benefit or message and drive it home. Same goes for colours and fonts – clutter creates confusion.
  12. A great strategy will live or die by its execution. Quality and creativity count.
  13. The better you look, the better they feel. If your image, marketing or communication tools are poor quality, poorly designed, dated or lackluster, that image will reflect back on your product, service and business.
  14. Go big and go simple. Your audience is inundated. They need to be knocked off their feet, take notice and take action.
  15. Do it well. Well-written, well-designed, well-placed and well-considered tools, consistently built, to find their mark.
  16. Testimonials are one of your greatest sales tools. Cultivate and appreciate them.
  17. Say it up front. The headline and visual are the sell. The rest is gravy.
  18. Marketing doesn’t work in a vacuum. Manage your mix.
  19. News is only news when it happens. It’s easier to grab attention ‘in the moment’. Seize the opportunity!
  20. Flash is too flashy for most businesses.
  21. Words to Web by. Populating your website is an art. The right words, in the right place, will make the difference between landing and losing interest. Keep it simple up front with easy access to more – if they want it.
  22. Incoming! Inbound marketing is just as important as outbound. And cheaper!
  23. Outward bound! Great creativity, copy and design make the difference between compelling and invisible.
  24. Word count counts. And it differs for different purposes.
  25. Less is usually more, but sometimes, “the more you tell, the more you sell.”

Is this all we know?

Of course not. Over the past 26 years, we’ve learned a lot more along the way and used it to help scores of clients succeed. Let us put our knowledge to work for your business.

Call us. It’s how great conversations begin.