If your operating budget or your marketing plan looks like it did five years ago, two years ago or even last year, there’s a problem.
With every advancement in technology, with every emerging social platform and with every shift from the desktop to the cloud, the ways people communicate, the ways your customers make decisions and the ways your employees work will continue to evolve. To stay ahead in today’s marketplace, your business growth strategies and tactics must evolve right along with them.
Here are five resolutions that you must make for your business to achieve success in 2015 and beyond:
Your brand is not your logo. It’s not your tagline. It’s not defined by a color palette or a graphic standards manual.
Your brand is a living, breathing entity that grows and evolves over time. It’s defined by each and every encounter with your customers – whether directly through one-on-one interactions or indirectly through your marketing communications.
In order to protect the integrity of your brand, you must have a clearly defined set of core values that serve as the guideposts directing every decision and every action. These values should set your brand apart from the competition and should correlate to traits and qualities that reflect your customers.
When you define these core values and ensure that they permeate your organization through and through, you’ll cultivate an interesting, provocative, charismatic brand personality that your customers will naturally gravitate to and want to identify themselves with. The benefit of this is that it allows you to grow and promote your brand in ways that are organic rather than merely gimmicky.
Red Bull is a great example of a brand that knows who it is, knows who its customers are and, most importantly, knows how to interact with them in authentic ways. In perhaps the most extreme example of content marketing ever executed, Red Bull sponsored a 24-mile space jump in which daredevil Felix Baumgartner broke the sound barrier and shattered the existing record for the highest altitude skydive. And this event – known as the Red Bull Stratos – was only one in a long line of sponsorships of epic stunts and extreme athletes. In short, Red Bull is a high-energy brand that aligns themselves with all things high energy, from surfing to cycling to snowboarding and beyond. Are they marketing themselves through these sponsorships? Of course. But because their brand values are so perfectly aligned with their customer base, these consumers hardly know they’re being marketed to.
What are your brand values? If you don’t know, don’t take another step without defining them and making sure that every person at every level of your organization understands and embraces them. Once you’ve defined these core values, you can follow Red Bull’s example and find innovative ways to promote your brand in ways that forge stronger, longer-lasting bonds of loyalty with your customers than you may have ever imagined possible.
You’ll never get ahead as long as you’re the one impeding your own progress. In today’s economic climate, efficiency is the number one rule of survival. The future of business is leaner, smarter and more responsive, and the secret to success is focus.
Focus on your best customers. As one responsible for driving the growth of your business, you want to hear the cash register ring as much and as often as possible.
But in reality there are good customers – the ones who are a natural fit for your products or services and who will buy from you repeatedly, and there are bad customers – the ones who don’t truly value your services, who demand too much of your time and who drain your resources right along with your profits.
Don’t waste precious time and money chasing after low-quality leads that either won’t convert or will ultimately cost more than they’re worth. Instead, direct your energy and resources toward winning and keeping your best prospects.
Similarly, when it comes to how you promote and grow your business, focus on your best strategies and tactics. Examine your past efforts and evaluate their effectiveness. Do you have active engagement on your Facebook page but not on Twitter? That’s probably a good indication that your customers don’t live in 140 characters, so it’s safe to let go of that channel. Which blog posts received the most views? Use those as your template to guide your content strategy in the months to come.
Finally, take a look at your operating expenses, and focus on the absolute necessities. What can you reduce or eliminate? Now that technology has made it possible to do business anywhere and at any time, do you still need to maintain a spacious physical office and everything that goes into supporting and maintaining it: utilities, landline phone systems, servers, furnishings, cleaning services, etc.? Or is it time to consider shedding that office and all of its outmoded systems in favor of transitioning to a virtual operating model and reaping the benefits of lower expenses, increased efficiency, higher employee satisfaction and – most importantly – greater profitability?
Even if you’re not ready to fully commit to making the virtual leap just yet, there are still plenty of things you can do to lighten the burden of the reoccurring expenses you carry. A great first step is to look to the cloud. Today there are excellent cloud-based solutions for everything from project management to accounting and even CRM. These tools are lighter, more flexible and more affordable than their traditional personal-computer-based counterparts, making the business of running your business more efficient and less costly. From Grasshopper’s virtual phone systems to Skype for voice and video conferencing to Dropbox for online file sharing and synchronization, these systems are designed to promote productivity and facilitate collaboration among your employees, whether they are tethered to a cubicle or working from a home office. So even if you can’t yet throw away the keys to your office, you can at the very least reduce your dependence upon phone systems, printers, paper, filing cabinets, on-site data storage and back-ups…the list goes on and on.
Digital marketing has been the buzzword that has dominated the conversation around business promotion in recent years. Certainly, having a presence on digital mediums – from websites to social media platforms to search engines – is critical to ensuring that your brand is where your customers are. But if you focus solely on the channels themselves, you’ll miss the opportunity to capitalize on the best tool you have in your arsenal in the digital era: data.
Now you have more ways to capture information about your customers and their preferences than ever before. If you’re active on social media channels but you’re not examining the engagement statistics available to you, you’re flying blind. Similarly, if you’re not examining traffic analytics for your website, how can you be sure you’re providing an optimal experience that will capture and convert as many customers as possible, based on how they’re arriving at your site and what they’re doing while they’re there.
And that’s just the beginning. Today, highly sophisticated marketing intelligence ecosystems can give your business a serious competitive edge by making it possible to provide a highly personalized customer experience. Known as machine learning, these systems use algorithms to build models from data; as more data is collected, the algorithms are “trained” to adapt to changes.
While this may sound highly technical – and it is – you likely encounter such systems on a daily basis as you use the Web. Netflix, Pandora and Amazon are all familiar examples of machine learning in action. All three use recommender systems powered by complex algorithms that collect data about your browsing activities, past selections and any ratings or reviews you may have provided. They then segment you into clusters with other customers who have demonstrated similar interests or behaviors and use this data to suggest movies, songs and products that might appeal to you based on the browsing and purchasing habits of these other customers.
You don’t need the resources of major e-commerce giants like Amazon or Netflix to take advantage of machine learning to to improve your e-commerce site and your online marketing efforts. By enhancing your existing site with systems that allow you to create a virtual marketing intelligence brain, you can create a more personalized – and therefore higher quality – shopping experience for your customers.
By establishing this type of marketing intelligence ecosystem, you can mine the data provided by customers every time they visit your site to answer vital questions that will help you fine-tune your site and your online marketing strategy – questions like these: How likely is a given website visitor to convert? What behaviors characterize customers who are likely to buy? Which products or services appeal most to a given segment of customers? Given the contents of a particular customer’s shopping cart, which additional products are high-potential recommendations? And how can website visits be optimized to provide the best possible experience for each individual customer?
Just imagine how much more powerful your marketing efforts could be if you were armed with this level of information!
When it comes to how to promote and grow a brand, there’s no lack of conversation around content marketing, social media and SEO. Unfortunately, most of this talk treats these tactics as unrelated objectives when, in reality, they do not exist in silos. Instead, like the familiar food pyramid, they must work together, each playing a critical role in supporting the healthy growth of your brand.
At the base of the pyramid is content. In 2015, content remains king. There is simply no better way to build trust and establish your voice of authority in your niche. But content is about more than blog posts. You must consider your target audience, what type of information and advice they’re looking for as well as their preferred method for consuming this content.
For “how-to” advice, video may be a far more effective medium for the delivery of your expertise. Moreover, your customers are more likely to search for this type of content on YouTube rather than wading through a sea of results on Google. If your clientele are time-starved professionals, you might be more successful delivering your content in the form of a podcast that they can download and take with them on the road. And never underestimate the power of images. If, for example, you own a home renovation company, your most valuable content could be photo galleries of your completed projects that potential clients can browse, save, share and pin for ideas and inspiration for their own projects.
On the next level is social media. When it comes to putting your brand in front of new eyes and keeping your name at the forefront of your customers’ minds, social media is invaluable as a means for the distribution and amplification of your great content. Sharing your content via these channels is also a great way to jump start conversation both between your brand and your customers and among your followers as well.
At the top of the pyramid is SEO. Building on the strong foundation you’ve established with your content catalog and social media engagement, ensuring that the fundamentals of good SEO are in place will help the search engines identify your content and elevate your visibility on results pages. Forget old, ineffectual tactics you may have heard of before, like stuffing your pages chock full of keywords. Instead, make sure that the technical underpinnings of your site – such as your page structure and your meta data – are well-formed so that the search engine spiders can do their job.
By bringing your content marketing, social media and SEO efforts into balance as part of a fully integrated strategy, you’ll provide your brand with the fuel it needs to achieve new levels of growth in the months ahead.
If you want to cultivate long-lasting relationships with your clients, customer service can’t be relegated to a policy manual or a department. It must be an integral part of your company’s DNA.
Every single person within your organization is in sales, and every single one of them is in customer service, too. Like CEO Tony Hsieh has said on many occasions, Zappos is a service company that happens to sell shoes.
From the receptionist at the front desk to the junior-level guy behind the scenes doing the work that your clients will never see to the accountant that generates the invoices, each action and decision that these individuals make has a cumulative effect in defining your brand.
The key to creating a culture of service that permeates every level of your organization is empowerment, which means you need employees to whom you can entrust this level of responsibility.
Take great care with every hiring decision and seek out individuals who understand the importance and value of their role in shaping your customers’ experience of your brand. Most people can be trained in the nuances of a specific job role, but there’s no orientation program that can instill charisma and work ethic where it does not exist.
Once you have the best people in place, foster a culture of execution in which every employee is empowered to make decisions. Make sure they understand your core brand values and that your policies and procedures are consistent with these principles.
High caliber employees will be able to take this philosophy and apply it creatively to their tasks, the way they perform their work and the decisions that they make so that everything they do reflects and promotes your brand values.
Passion is contagious. When your employees perform their jobs with genuine enthusiasm and take ownership of providing the highest level of service, your customers will feel that they’re more than just a number and will find themselves irresistibly drawn to your brand.Carey Arvin
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