Posted tagged ‘blog post ideas’

My Brand is the Conversation?

March 21, 2013

I thought I’d do more of an opinion piece for this post. To kick this off and let you know why, the other day I visited the Facebook page of a friend of mine who is a social media marketing specialist, Sherry Crummy of Crummy Media Solutions. She is way better at the instant engagement aspects of SMM than I am, let’s be clear. Her most recent post when I visited her page was a quote about branding, apparently reposted from Pinterest. I thought this might be a relevant subject, since, as small business bloggers, we’re actually contributing to building our own brands through our blogs’ messages.

So, here is the quote: “Your brand is the summation of conversation about you, without you.” The quote is attributed to Marcel LeBrun.

Now, on the face of it you might agree with this statement. Actually, a number of people on my friend’s Facebook page did agree with this statement. As I thought about it, though, something didn’t seem quite right about the message. The more I thought about it, more and more questions started popping into my head.

My first question was: “Who is Marcel LeBrun?” I wondered how many other people who had liked this post actually knew who Marcel LeBrun was. How many of them knew why he had made this statement or knew fully what he was trying to say? I didn’t. That’s why I started questioning the quote in the first place. I didn’t know the context of the quote and it didn’t seem entirely true in essence.

I have since googled “Marcel LeBrun” to discover that he is the Senior Vice-President and Chief Product Officer of a company called Salesforce Marketing Cloud and maybe General Manager and CEO of Radian6 (depending on whether you read his LinkedIn page or his Twitter profile), and an author. He has “twelve years of experience with various technology start-ups”, according to his Salesforce Marketing Cloud profile. One strange thing is that I couldn’t find the origin of the quote attributed to him. It shows up on various other company Facebook pages, on Twitter, and on Pinterest, not to mention quote mining websites, but I didn’t find anything that originated with Marcel LeBrun himself. (So if any of my readers knows the origin of the quote I’d be happy to hear from you.) This is questionable in itself; not because I doubt that the quote did come from him, but because of the fact that so many people have bounced it around the Internet probably with no idea of the origins or context of the original message. I am discomfited by quotes that I can’t verify and contextualize. I could email Mr. LeBrun about it, I suppose, but it’s not really essential to why I’m writing this post.

So, okay, I accept that this gentleman has some idea of what he is talking about. However, that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with him necessarily. My experience in sales and marketing is probably a little thinner than his, with respect to its online aspects, although I, too, am an author and have written, contributed to, and edited literally dozens of small business start-up and career books, and my experience in sales and small business goes back somewhat further than twelve years.

Anyway, I thought I’d stop pestering Sherry on her Facebook page, trying to engage her in a conversation maybe she didn’t necessarily want to have. And, since the best place to have a conversation with myself is my own blog, I thought I’d write a post dissecting this statement. So that’s the genesis of the idea for this post.

“Your brand is the summation of conversation”; that’s the bit I had the most trouble with. I’m going to be a bit literalistic here and assume that “summation” means just what I think it means: “the sum total of things added together”. You know, like when you add 1+2+3 you’ll always get 6. There can be no other result. So if that’s true, then my brand is always no less and no more than the conversation that results when you add all the elements of my brand together. In other words, according to Mr. LeBrun’s message, my brand is the conversation.

But I don’t think that’s true. While I do agree that a positive conversation about my brand among hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people would be a wonderful thing (that has yet to happen, I admit), I don’t think the conversation about my brand necessarily represents the brand itself. Rather, it’s an outgrowth of my brand. In other words, my brand speaks for itself about itself without reference to anyone else’s conversation about it. The “conversation” is a natural outgrowth of the brand principles, rather than a “summation” of the integral parts that go into the brand itself. I don’t even think it’s true of major well-known brands that the brand is the summation of the conversation. For example, I recently took issue with Purina’s Beneful brand on the brand’s Facebook page, because my dogs started getting sick after eating it. Do I think that the conversation I had with the many others on Facebook doing the same thing represents a new summary interpretation of the Beneful brand? No. It’s probably a supply chain issue and something’s getting into the food that shouldn’t be there. I truly do think that Purina wants people’s pets to live long and healthy lives. That’s their real brand message. Like any brand, the brand principles, for me at least, survive or don’t on their own merits, regardless of the direction the conversation about the brand takes. And yet, I have stopped buying that brand until they can reassure me in a meaningful way that their food is safe for my dogs to eat.

As Sherry Crummy points out, sometimes there are two brand messages, one external and one internal. The internal message is what your brand is all about. The external brand is the perception consumers have about your brand. Those perceptions are what drives the conversation about your brand. And as Sherry rightly says, brand perception can make or break a brand.

After considering the quote carefully, I do agree that conversation is a vital part of any small business’s branding of itself. However, core brand principles are equally vital. If people don’t read, understand,  and like the message of your brand and its underlying principles, there likely won’t be any conversation about it anyway. As Simon Sinek of startwithwhy.com says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. That’s why I think that small business blogging is so essential to your brand and your brand message. People can easily start to have all kinds of conversations, both good and bad, about your company in the fast-paced world of social media engagement. But a well-written blog that constantly reiterates your core branding message and teaches people why you do what you do will always be a point of engagement that helps you influence the conversation in positive ways. That starts with having a clear and likeable message that people can relate to. What are you doing to get that message across? If you’re doing nothing else online, you should at least be blogging. Visit our website to learn more.

Finally, I would flip Mr. LeBrun’s statement to say that “conversation, with or without you, is the result of the sum of all of your brand principles and message”. And you can quote me on that.

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Entrepreneur or Provocateur? How to recognize when you’re writing a vanity blog, not a small business blog

November 19, 2012

(“Girl showing hearts on laptop”, Stuart Miles, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net)

What is a “Vanity Blog”?

Business owners who write on their company blogs about personal subjects not related to their business and its customers are what I call vanity bloggers. A small business owner who writes only to share cute personal stories, or share their personal philosophies and opinions is a vanity blogger. If you’re not using your valuable creative energies to promote your business and enhance your reputation as an expert in your industry in order to increase sales, you’re probably wasting your time blogging.

This may be an issue that has never occurred to some small business owners who blog. The subject relates back to my earlier post, “Batman’s Butler”, when I posed the question, “Why do we blog?”. The answer, you may remember, is that we want to communicate important information of value to other people. Unfortunately, we’re not always communicating the right kind of information as entrepreneurs. Instead, we may actually be impacting our readers negatively.

This concept cannot be emphasized enough: if you’re not writing for customers, you’re vanity blogging. Unless somebody knows you personally, they likely won’t give your vanity blog a second look. Why? First and foremost, you’re not offering them any useful information about your business. Second, and worse, you may be alienating potential customers because you’re sharing personal views about society, politics, etc., that they find disagreeable or even  offensive.

Write for the Right Audience

If you think you may be a vanity blogger, a good question to ask yourself is: who am I writing for? In other words, who is your audience? Are you writing for friends and relatives, or do you seriously want to find new customers? Most people who are curious enough about your company to check out your website and blog are so because you offer products and services that they need. If they are confronted with…

  • Your political views
  • Your religious beliefs
  • Your navel-gazing, personal confessions or other unsolicited revelations about your personal life
  • Puppies and kittens (unless related to your store mascot, animal welfare organizations you support or your pet store)
  • Your latest vacation
  • Anything else that is too personal

…your blog is likely doing little to support your company’s content marketing objective or generate new sales leads. In fact, it might be having the opposite effect.

Don’t Be Confrontational

Note the word “confrontational” above. To some people reading your blog for the first time your personal views may be confrontational. You wouldn’t greet a customer in your store by immediately broaching the subject of politics or religion, would you? Would you start telling them about your personal relationship issues? No.

The first thing you normally do after greeting a customer and a little chit-chat is ask something like, “What may I help you with today?” That’s the same attitude you should have toward your blog. How can you help the reader who is interested in your company and its products and services?

Take It Outside

If you have strong opinions you want to share about anything not to do with your company, your products and services, or your industry, consider starting a personal blog detached from your business. Whatever your opinions about non-business issues, no matter how profound or well-thought out, there will always be people who disagree, people who can’t get past your personal beliefs or opinions who might otherwise have done business with you. So take those opinions somewhere else, outside your company.

Of course, there may be people who agree with your views. Would you rather have 20 new customers who happen to agree with you on a personal level or 100 new customers by being neutral about everything except your own business? Remember that you’re trying to appeal to as many people as possible at the business level so they will buy from you.

Pet Peeve

I pick on puppies and kittens a lot when I’m writing about content marketing, but it’s for a reason. I personally have two dogs, and I love animals. But I would never blog about them or share photos of them (unless a number of readers specifically requested me to do that, of course) in my blog for the sake of having something to post.

Now, writing a one-off story about your cat isn’t going to kill your small business blog; likewise writing about a favourite animal welfare group. If that’s all you write about though, or you write too frequently about your pets, then you’re not helping to promote your business. In a sense, you’re only promoting yourself. If you’re a pet store owner, you’re excused from these guidelines (but even then posts about pets should be business-related).

You could certainly post occasional blurbs and pics of your pets on other social media platforms, such as Facebook. That’s really more the place for that type of material. Social media platforms are where you go to engage people on a more personal level with your business.

Vacations

This one could go either way. A post about your latest trip to the Mayan Riviera with pictures of you in swimwear strolling the pristine white sands along the beach or whooping it up at the hotel bar properly belongs on your personal blog or shared with friends on Facebook. However, a business-related trip to the Mayan Riviera where you attended interesting workshops or seminars is a perfect blog subject, so long as any posts you create are about what you learned and how you think this new information will benefit your customers. See the trend here?

Think Strategy, Think Sales

People blog for a lot of reasons. The only reason you should be blogging on your business website is because it’s part of your overall content marketing strategy. The information you share through your business activities, therefore, should be “strategic”. In other words, you’re blogging for customers, and if you’re not you should be. This is the only way your blog is going to generate increased sales revenues. And if you’re not sure how to do that, you’re reading the right blog.

 

 

Today’s Title: I wanted a title that reflects the dichotomy of today’s feature issue, that we can either write as entrepreneurs or simply write  articles that reflect our personal beliefs. Provocateur is more often used in the context of “agent provocateur”, one who incites others to commit illegal acts. I’m using the term provocateur to mean provoker, as in provoking our customers in negative ways. (Being provocative is not always a good thing.)

 

The Small Business Bloggers’ Blog, is written with the small business owner in mind. Remember: Small business blogs should be about the business and its customers, not about the owner.

Have a comment or question about small business blogging? Comment below or visit Pearce Enterprise Research on Facebook!

Use Your Business Plan to Create a Content Marketing Strategy

November 17, 2012

English: A woman typing on a laptop Français :...

Have you run out of ideas for blog posts on your small business blog? Did you start your blog with great enthusiasm then encounter writer’s block, wondering what to write about next? This is pretty common. Many entrepreneurs who started out full-steam ahead haven’t written a blog post for months and now wonder why they even have a blog in the first place.

Don’t despair and don’t give up just yet. There are strategies to overcome this situation. Short of hiring a small business blogging service, here are some tips that will help you to create a viable, long-term content marketing strategy for your business.

Mining for Content Gold: Revisit Your Business Plan

Many small business start-up owners have written a business plan prior to their opening day. Business plans are often compared to a road map of where the business will go over the near- and long-term life of the company. If you’re an entrepreneur thinking about creating your own small business blog, you’ll be pleased to know that some elements of your business plan can help you to work out a clearly-defined content marketing plan, too.

Good market research is one of the building blocks of a well-written business plan. It will help you better understand your industry, your competition, and your target market. That’s why the marketing section of your business plan is the perfect section to re-visit as you start thinking about your content marketing plan. This plan will include your blog, social media usage such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on, and any of the other ways that you share information valuable to potential and existing customers (e.g. newsletters, eBooks, etc.).

Five Short Steps to Blogging Success

Here are five steps you can take to get your content marketing plan working for your business:

  1. SWOT Analysis
  2. Position Yourself
  3. Stake Your Territorial Claim
  4. Create a Content Marketing Plan and Schedule
  5. Execute Your Content Marketing Plan

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis is a good place to start. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You should have a clear idea in your mind of who your competitors are, whether you’re a start-up entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner. You have your strengths and weaknesses, and so do your competitors, whether in the form of the inventory you/they carry, your/their customer service, your/their marketing efforts, etc. You can exploit their weaknesses to strengthen your business, just as they can yours. Remember, you should look at local direct competition, local indirect competition, online direct competition, and online indirect competition, even if you’re a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer. You especially need to know what competitors are doing online to position themselves in your market.

In addition, you should be aware of a variety of opportunities and threats in your industry. Opportunities are things like new products coming to market that you can jump on, consumer buying trends that you can exploit, a local competitor business owner retiring or selling (e.g. this might mean that you could shift your products and services a bit to accommodate that business’s customer base), and so on. Threats could be anything from new government regulations (at all levels of government), a competing business opening up, a supplier going out of business, and above all, the activities of direct competitors.

The Microsoft Office website has a number of free SWOT analysis templates that you can try out or simply create the SWOT grid in a spreadsheet and fill it in. This is a good place to begin if you are in the start-up phase or you are already in business but you haven’t looked at your business plan for a while.

Once you understand your market and your competitors, you’ll be able to position yourself better in the marketplace and stake your territorial claim. How to do that in your particular industry is outside the scope and intent of this blog (however feel free to direct questions to our comments section or by email). Helping you to understand how your content marketing plan fits in with that positioning is our goal here.

Now that you know your business’s positioning in the market and have staked your claim, you can start to take it online in the form of content marketing. One place to start is simply telling potential customers about you and your business. You could answer the following questions that customers might have in your first blog posts:

  • Who are you?
  • Why should I trust you?
  • What products and services do you sell?
  • What is your customer service policy?
  • Why are you better than the guy down the street?

These are all questions most of us have asked when considering a new business, whether it’s retail shopping, eating at a restaurant, or even hiring a lawyer or realtor. Many customers want answers to these questions.

Of course, you need to make the answers seem like they’re not answers to questions at all. They should just come out “naturally” over the course of several articles. You’re writing blog articles that must be interesting and informative, after all. Simply writing a two paragraph blurb that amounts to, “I’m Jane Doe and I’ve been in this industry for 20 years and decided I want to have my own company”, really isn’t telling customers who you are or what your business ethos is or much of anything else. Be creative. Explain your passion for your industry. Get your customers excited about it, too.

Next, write to your position in the marketplace. Again, what specifically to write is your decision because you know your business and your market. Remember, though, that this generally means writing quality content that will get you recognized as an expert, because people who like it will share it with others. This sharing creates more and more traffic and makes it more likely that search engines will pick up your blog first. Sharing your own blog post links on social media sites like Facebook is also essential for visibility. To use that process most effectively, you may need to hire someone who specializes in that particular type of content marketing.

As to how to put together a sound content marketing plan and an editorial schedule for writing your small business blog posts, that is what this blog is about. In future posts, you’ll find creative ideas for blog posts for your business and details about how to put together an editorial schedule that will keep your blog interesting and constantly fresh. Please follow us to access the latest information.

The Small Business Blogger’s Blog is written with the small business owner in mind. Remember: Small business blogs should be about the business and its customers, not about the owner.

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