Steal these secrets for more powerful headlines

Headline writing tips

Now more than ever, it is important to write a great headline for your content. Your headline needs to grab your reader’s attention, whether it’s for a blog post or email subject line. Great headlines tell your readers what your content is about. Your title needs to be catchy and clickable—your content is competing for attention in a sea of online information.

If you are business-to-business, learning how to master good headline writing becomes an even more urgent matter. Because 47% of B2B buyers read 3-5 blog posts or content pieces prior to talking with a salesperson. (Source: DemandGenReport)

building construction

Start your headline writing with the end in mind.

To begin, reverse engineer your blog post. First, determine the type of blog post that you are writing. Here is a list of 5 blog post formats that are likely to go viral:

  1. List posts. Provide information in a useful, short list format so that your readers can share with others. 50 Smart Ways to Segment Your Email List Like a Pro
  2. How-to-posts. Teach people valuable skills or provide information that will help them solve a problem or achieve a desired outcome. How to Start Getting Traffic to Your Blog
  3. Resource posts. Deliver longer guides or curated content that provides a solution to a specific problem. The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter
  4. Question posts. Pose a question to your audience or provide direct answers to their questions. How Do I Monetize My Blog (Or Podcast)?
  5. Heart-to-heart posts. Share your deepest, most heart-felt stories and experiences with your audience. An Open Letter to Writers Struggling to Find Their Courage

Include infectious agents

Next, identify what feelings and emotions are appropriate to your blog post and your audience. You need to include an infectious agent that triggers your reader’s emotions. Here are some examples of infectious agents that will engage your reader’s heart and mind:

  • Awe
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Joy
  • Lust
  • Surprise
  • Shock

Use these 3 key steps for crafting blog posts and headlines

First of all, decide what format of post you are writing. Secondly, identify what main emotional agents (from the list above) are appropriate for your post. Thirdly, figure out what storyline will work the best. That is to say, what reward are you promising your reader? What value will your content provide? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I solving a problem for them?
  • Are you preventing them from doing some wrong?
  • Does this post provide useful resources and information to help them decide or research further?
  • Do I provide instructions or help on how to do something?
  • Am I inspiring or motivating my readers?
  • Am I sharing an emotional, heart-felt story or challenge that they can relate to?
  • Or do I want to engage their curiosity, sense of fun, mystery and adventure?

In short, once you have completed these three steps, you can craft a blog post and headline that will capture your beloved reader’s attention and encourage them to share your content. To sum up, you want to craft the perfect headline to grab their attention and go viral.

9 tips to fix your headline headaches and heartaches

1. Know your audience. 

Do your research to find out what their interests are. Speak to them using their words and how they talk. Keep your customer persona guide handy. Follow your industry influencers on and offline to stay current. “The headline can select the right audience for your ad and screen out those readers who are not your potential customers.”—Robert Bly, The Copywriter’s Handbook

2. Be relevant.

Write about what they care about. Delight your audience with something new, unique and engaging. The more specific you are in addressing their greatest fears and desires, the more powerful you will be in attracting and keeping their attention. Delivering bland, same-old, same-old headlines and content is a guaranteed fast bounce away from your blog post and site.

3. Write your headline last. 

Make sure it aligns with your content. Upworthy's well-publicized process suggests writing 25 headlines per blog post. It takes practice to craft a great headline. You may nail it on the first try, or it may take you 25 to write the perfect headline. Read it out loud to make sure it is conversational, not jargony or fuzzy. Test your headlines with Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer.

4. Keep your headline short and sweet. 

Front load your keywords at the beginning of the headline as much as possible. Write your headlines with search engines and social media platforms in mind. 65 to 70 characters is ideal. Google, Bing and Twitter will truncate anything longer in their search results. Preview what your headline will look like with the New Title Tag Preview tool by Moz.

5. Include feelings. 

Keep your headline short and brief if you are appealing with emotionally powerful language. Use powerful positive or negative superlatives to show why your content is worth reading.

6. Use power words. 

As Coschedule says, friends don’t let friends write crappy headlines. I have several power word cheat sheets that I refer to when I get stuck with writer’s block. It happens to the best of us. Use these tools to get unblocked! Coschedule's Power Word Cheat Sheets

7. Provide irresistible benefits or value

Solve their problem, ask a compelling question or tell an engaging story. 

Examples of headline tactics you should try out and test:

  • Solve their problem. Your audience wants fast and easy answers to solve their problems. Headlines that use this tactic start with:
  • How to Train Your Dragon. How to Choose the Right Alternative Health and Wellness Provider for Your Baby. How to Measure the Effectiveness of Online Advertising.
  • The Best Keto Recipes for Top Performance.
  • (X number) tips or ways to…using numbers such as 3, 5, 7, 10, etc. 24 Indispensable Ways to Grow Your Brand’s Social Media Presence.
  • Why You Should Stop Using These Expensive, Ineffective Diet Aids.
  • What If You Could Brighten Your Teeth in 30 Minutes Without Strips or Expensive Dental Visits?
Give advice for improvement.

Show your readers why they should follow your advice. Give them benefits that prove why it’s worth their time. Can they do something better, faster, easier with your help? Add specific numbers and data to back up your headline. Several research studies have shown that headlines with numbers tend to generate 73% more social shares and engagement. Use odd numbers as brain candy. Our brains apparently find odd numbers more believable, according to research from Content Marketing Institute.

  • Stop Eating these 5 Foods to Lose Weight and Regain energy.
  • 7 Healthy Eating Tricks You’ll Actually Want to Try.
  • Don’t Book Your Flight and Hotel Until You Read This.
Catch your reader’s curiosity. 

Our brains are naturally hardwired to be curious. We want to know the technique, idea, tool or information that we don’t know—especially if everybody else knows it! Then it becomes a potent, viral-inducing FOMO (fear of missing out) type of headline and content.

  • Do This One Crazy Thing to Lose 10 Pounds in One Week.
  • Are You Making This Deadly Investment Mistake?
  • Which of These 10 Fashion Goofs Are Making You Look Frumpy and Out-dated?
  • When to Raise VC Money (And When Not to): The Ultimate Guide.

8. Avoid clickbait. 

Be honest and tell your users what’s in it for them. You may fool your readers once by using clickbait, but they will bounce and never return as soon as they realize you’re not delivering the content they were expecting.

9. Learn how to improve your headlines and copy. 

Use a headline analyzer such as Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer. Steal great headline ideas by visiting sites such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy. If your blogging platform supports A/B testing, do it! Finally, take a good copywriting and editing course to sharpen your writing skills. One of my all-time favorites is “The Copy Cure” from Marie Forleo and Laura Belgay. Fun, entertaining and I can use the information over and over and over again.

Additional resources:

Photo by Igor Starkov from Pexels

Featured image by Anamul Rezwan, Pexels

Follow These 4 Key Branding Principles

Key branding principles

Follow these 4 key branding principles when building your brand

Branding Principle No. 1.

brain with right arrow

Brand Share of Mind (Rational). These are logical, physical features or attributes that are rational and appeal to the mind:

  • Tangible
  • Functional
  • Features
  • Measurable
  • Analytic

Branding Principle No. 2.

2. Differentiation. Your brand essence must be unique, not replaceable. You must own a single idea. See the previous week’s blog post for how to figure out your brand’s core essence or attribute.

For example, you will never hear:

  • “I picked it because it was exactly like every other car I test-drove.
  • “We bought it because it was exactly like every other house on the street.
  • “I married him because he was exactly like every other guy I dated.

Most importantly, create a new value curve to make your brand stand out from everyone else. The Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas advises that you compete on attributes that your competitors have failed to serve. For years high growth companies have entered markets by first catering to an underserved niche market.

For instance, Netflix started by mailing cult classic films that you couldn’t get at Blockbuster, Vimeo focused on professional videographers unlike YouTube, and Tesla started making luxury vehicles instead of competing with electric low-end hybrids. This strategy of differentiation is key for disruptive start-ups and established companies.

Branding Principle No. 3.

Share of Heart (Feelings) These are the attributes that appeal to people’s feelings or emotions.

  • Intangible
  • Benefits
  • Experiences
  • Judgmental
  • Intuitive
Share of heart

Branding Principle No. 4.

Relevance. There is no point in identifying an essence that is irrelevant to your audience. Essences that don’t connect are the reason behind many failed brands. Research to make sure you nail this down.

In conclusion

Test your brand against these 4 branding principles to make sure that your brand has a solid, well-grounded foundation that will appeal to people and fend off the competition. If you have any gaps, identify what is missing in your brand essence. Use it by consistently incorporating it into your messaging.

In addition, you may want to ask your customers what they think and feel about your brand. Global companies with large market research budgets do this all the time to make sure that their branding resonates with their target audiences. Likewise, follow their example, even if it means something and inexpensive as simple as picking up the phone and talking to your customer!

Trend-spotting for small businesses

Trend-spotting quote from Faith Popcorn

Trend-spotting is part art and part science. I love trend-spotting, especially when it comes to uncovering the trends that are shaping my world, both business and personal. Many research firms release their predictions at the beginning of the year, which I find laughable, since trends tend to ignore the calendar.

In today’s blog post, I have consolidated a huge number of forecasts down into 5 major marketing trends that small businesses need to pay attention to. These cover the global macro-level trends all the way down to the smaller micro-trends that may directly affect your industry niche or business.

cityscape with people

Finally, as a bonus at the end of this post, I have included the 17 megatrends that Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve research group has been tracking over the years. You may not know her name, but you will recognize her trend-spotting expertise. Many of the trends her firm has identified over decades of research work.

For example, the Cocooning trend represents our need to protect ourselves from the harsh, unpredictable realities of the outside world. It started out as a consumer home trend. It has now evolved into areas such as hotels catering to our every personal desire and need, with the integration of Small Indulgences, Pleasure Revenge and Fantasy Adventure.

The top 5 marketing trends you should know

Trend-spotting 1. Integration of online, social and mobile marketing

This trend is not new. However, it is finally starting to become a reality as companies learn how to use AI, data-driven programs and tools to make real integration possible.

In the future, it may become a strategic differentiator in your customer’s experience with your company and your brand. Previously, companies were obsessed with digital marketing, especially the technology and tactics used at the bottom of the sales funnel. These tactics creeped a lot of us out, or completely turned us off with their unethical practices.

Consequently, the pendulum will now hopefully swing back to focusing on the human side of marketing. Businesses need to learn how to use these tools to build ongoing engagement and longer-term brand equity instead of focusing on short-term lead conversion and sales generation tactics.

Pay close attention to how your customers react to AI and data-driven marketing, and whether your competitors use it.

In other words, use technology to make your long-term customer experience a priority. You have access to digital tools and technology to incorporate your customers’ stories into your brand story and empower them as your loyal brand ambassadors.  

National Positions

Brands that are more willing to interact with customers publicly will have a strong impact—and brands that can show how this engagement influences their products and services will make an even bigger impact.

adults conversing with digital devices

Trend-spotting 2.

​Personalization: Connecting Content & Data—Ethically 

Your company’s demonstration of respect for personal privacy and information will now form an important part of your reputation. 2018 was a rocky year for consumers' privacy, riddled with high-profile corporate scandals such as FaceBook.


As a result, trust tanked. New laws such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—plus California’s privacy law, which comes into effect in January 2020—means you must pay close attention to how to handle your customers’ privacy, data and financial details.


As a consequence, people are starting to notice which businesses “walk the talk” and are trustworthy, and which ones don’t. Earn your customers’ trust by respecting them and being totally transparent and ethical about how and when you use their information. 


Give them control over how their data is being used. As a result, you will earn their trust. In a global online economy marked by hacks, leaks and identity theft, people will favor the businesses that can promise them a safe business experience.

flower blossom in field

Trend-spotting 3.

The continued rise of green consumerism 

Millennials are leading the charge when it comes to environmental concerns impacting their purchasing decisions. From vegan health and beauty products to free-range protein and recycled plastic products, their conscious choices around lifestyle and purchasing are driving the sustainable movement.


Consequently, their influence will only continue to grow. Global data shows firm evidence for this. Millennials (aged 22-35) are more likely than any other generation to say that they would pay extra for eco- friendly or sustainable products. Over 60% say this, compared to 55% of Gen X (aged 36-54) and just 46% of Baby Boomers (aged 55-64). Gen Z (58%) are close behind, and figures for this generation are only likely to grow as its members’ disposable income grows. (data from Global WebIndex research)

Audience taking photos at concert

Trend-spotting 4.

Gen Z takes the stage and makes big waves

Generation Z, our youngest generation, has increasingly taken the place once held by millennials among marketers. Gen Z are leading the charge towards new forms of brand-consumer relationships based around experience and entertainment. Their adoption of creative and social media tools is blurring the boundaries between experience and technology. 


Their influence is already impacting retail. As Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve research group reports, immersive events are customer candy for this generation—and the more digital integration involved, the better.


Most noteworthy, pay attention to how this generation navigates where to go and what they get. They are the predictors who will show you how their shopping preferences will influence other generations’ purchase behaviors. 


Social media is becoming ever more powerful in steering shoppers

41% of Gen Zers are influenced by Facebook ads, 30% by what they see on YouTube, and 26% by Instagram—and that doesn’t include the additional boost delivered by seeing brands in influencers’ feeds. (data from BrainReserve study)


As a result, retailers are already shifting their approach. Stacy Martinet, VP of marketing strategy and communications at Adobe predicts that engaging content is going to play a big role in retail commerce strategies in 2019, with an emphasis on nurturing customers so that when it is time to buy, your brand or store comes to mind first. 


In addition to online, the move toward experiential commerce will be felt offline as well, McKinsey’s Heller said. Studies already show that consumers who shop both online and in-store have a 30% higher lifetime value than those who shop using only one channel.


Hence, it’s no longer "Caveat emptor—Let the buyer beware," but “mercatus emptor—Let the marketplace beware.”

Stacy Martinet

VP of marketing strategy and communications at Adobe

It’s loyalty 101: The one-time transaction might bring in some short-term results, but it’s the true fans of your brand and products who will be lifelong shoppers

fan and dancers taking selfie

Trend-spotting 5.

The growth of micro-influencers

Several larger cultural trends are shaping seismic shifts in who people listen to. Influencer marketing is also a classic social media strategy. Brands have always relied on celebrities and leading influencers for product endorsements and generating credibility. That is now shifting to micro-influencers as consumers now rely on their peers.


As our monolithic culture continues to splinter and break up, micro-clans are emerging as major players. Micro-influencers are the spokespeople and commentators for these niche audiences. Witness the growth of paleo and ketogenic diets, cannabis products, meatless meat and a host of other culturally influenced products and services that did not exist 10 years ago. Each of these micro-clans and movements has their influencers and leaders.


 In short, you need to track both the macro-level influencers as well as these emerging micro-influencers who are relevant to your business and brands.
Insert Image

Bonus content: Trend-spotting with Faith Popcorn

Here is a short list of the trends that are currently rocking our world. Read her blogs for a provocative look at trend-spotting to forecast what our future holds.


  • Cannabis highHow high will we go? The legalization of cannabis is hitting like a tsunami, much like the Internet dotcom boom of the late 90’s.
  • 99 lives – People’s lives are in high-speed mode as we deal with a crisis of too little time and too many things on our plates. Digital Nomadism is emerging as a solution to provide safe, comforting third space places away from home.
  • EVEolution – The rise of women’s influence on business and society. How women think and behave is forcing major marketing shifts.
  • Your Gender-Free Future – The era of his-n-hers is dying, thanks to the rising generation. As the BrainReserve reseachers take extra pains to note: “One’s sense of gender has nothing to do with a person’s sexual identity – who they are attracted to romantically – but has everything to do with their perception of self and how they feel in their own skin.”

The bottom line from the BrainReserve team:

You need new sensitivities, flexibility – and the ability to share information and let your customer make decisions, without being told how they should feel.

Additional resources:

Discover Your Brand Essence

Discover your brand essence

What is brand essence?

Every strong brand stands for something—one differentiating attribute.

Some call it brand essence. Others call it the brand. Or any of these…

  • SOUL
  • HEART
  • MANTRA
  • PROMISE
  • SIGNATURE STRENGTH
  • CORE STRENGTH
  • CORE ATTRIBUTE
  • DESCRIPTION
  • PERSONALITY
  • DIFFERENTIATOR
  • EXPERIENCE
  • CONNECTION
  • LIFE FORCE
  • UNIQUENESS
  • INDIVIDUALITY
  • MEANING
  • CENTRAL NATURE
  • VALUE PROPOSITION

Why is a core attribute important?

Your brand essence or core attribute gives your audience the primary reason to choose your brand over competitors’ brands. Your brand personality captures what your audience feels when they experience your brand.

Examples of well-known brands:

  • Apple – The Apple essence is innovation.
  • Volvo – The Volvo essence is safety. “Driving a Volvo makes me feel that my family is safe.”
  • Jeep – Their essence is adventurous.
  • Disney – The Disney essence is magic for everyone. “Experience the Magic Kingdom.”
  • Harley-Davidson – Their essence is liberating, freedom and independence – be a rebel.
  •  VISA – Their essence is reliability everywhere.

What is YOUR true brand essence?

 A strong car brand can create significant value in the automotive industry. The price consumers expect to pay for otherwise identical luxury vehicles can vary as much as $4,000, depending on the car’s brand. For mass-market cars, brand helps determine which products a consumer considers buying. Furthermore, superior brands extend their halo across every model of vehicle within the brand. It’s no surprise that most auto manufacturers make brand positioning and development a key item on their marketing agenda.

Volvo = Safety and reliability.

Tesla = Luxury and state-of-the art electric car technology.

Porsche = Sporty performance.

Lamborghini = Exotic luxury performance.

Ries & Ries

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

 A brand becomes stronger… when you narrow its focus.

The bottom line as you brand yourself and your business

Tap into what your audience feels.

Be single-minded. Stand for something and own it. One word to describe your essence is ideal. Maybe two. More than two words indicates that the brand has no focus.

Because a brand (by design) delivers a unique experience, having no focus makes for a weak brand.

Your brand essence must be authentic and credible, or your audience will not believe you. To find out what your audience believes about your brand, ask them. How did people react to your car brand description during the ice-breaker? Did they believe you? Or was it a stretch for them? How hard was it for you to zoom in on the words you chose to describe yourself?

(It’s okay for the brand essence to be aspirational, but only if your audience believes you can deliver on the promise.)

Haloway Consulting brand essence word cloud

Haloway Consulting brand essence word cloud

Build your brand essence

  1. Pick out 3-5 words that you think and feel best describe you and your business. Use a word cloud tool, word sheets or the resources below to collect words that describe your brand. Can you narrow it to one or two words that you can authentically own and defend?

Here are a few resource links to help:

Brand voice test: Do these words pass the sniff test? If people can't tell who's talking when your logo or trademark is covered, then your brand's voice is not distinctive enough.

5 Simple SEO tips for Small Business

Use these 5 simple SEO tips for small business. Make your small business is visible online and stands out from your competition. 

young woman searching on tablet

Tip #1. Understand your audience.

First of all, you need to identify what problems you solve for your customers. Do you have a unique selling proposition for your business? If you cannot speak clearly to your customers’ desires or needs, they won’t be able to figure it out. They will end up totally frustrated and leave your website. Make your content clear and directed specifically to what they want or need.

Most importantly, choose keywords that your audience uses to search online. Sometimes people think that they are looking for one thing, but in reality, they want something totally different. Imagine what Apple would have used for search terms when they first launched the iPhone. Nobody knew what an iPhone or smartphone was. Therefore, Apple would have included search terms such as “best Blackberry phone”, “best Palm Pilots,” “best Motorola phones,” etc. in their keywords list to make sure that they were connecting with their intended audience.

Follow Apple’s example. First include terms that are related to their search, and then add keywords that are related to when they are not sure of what they are searching for. Finally, use tools such as kwfinder or Ubersuggest to find related or alternative search terms to add to your list. Use your list of keywords consistently in your content, page titles, meta descriptions and tags.

Tools to use: Whiteboard, notebook, digital spreadsheet or notebook such as Evernote. Right now, I am into mind-mapping tools such as Scapple and Xmind.
Time involvement:
Medium

Tip #2. Optimize your page content.

Most importantly, speak to your audience. Use their language, not yours. Localize your content to your audience. For example, Minneapolis and St. Paul are two specific geographic regions in the Midwest, but locals refer to the entire metro area as “the Twin Cities.” If local business is important to you, make sure to include the specific geographic keywords that people use. In this example, words would include “Minneapolis,” “St. Paul,” “Twin Cities,” and possibly specific neighborhood names.  

Start by using any of the recommended tools to optimize your keywords, website page titles, meta descriptions and body content. I like Yoast, since it gives me a list of recommendations, even though I don’t always agree with it. The goal is to get all of these critical pieces working together and supporting your overall website strategy. It takes time to complete this but is an important part of a successful online strategy.

Finally, optimize your site to be more user-friendly. Here are some examples of activities that help make your site more user-friendly:

  • Optimize your site to be mobile-friendly.
  • Use SSL certification to indicate that your site is secure.
  • Create user-friendly page URLs like “yourname.com/about” instead of URLs with numbers “yourname.com/php-21565.”
  • Build an XML site map to help a) people find content and b) search engine bots to index your site pages.

Tools to use: SEMRush, SpyFu, Google Search Console, Keywords Everywhere, Yoast
Time involvement: High

auto mechanic working on brakes

Tip #3. Take care of technical SEO issues.

Some of the most common technical SEO problems have to do with:

  • Speed. Optimize your page load speed. Viewers will leave within a few seconds if your site is taking too long to load. Google now ranks page load speed as a factor in ranking your site. Check your bounce rate in your analytics dashboard.
  • Duplicate content. Google will ding your ranking if it finds lots of duplicate content.
  • Broken links. You do not want your audience to get 404 messages instead of the content they are looking for. Bad user experience.
  • Improper use of canonical link elements. Are you wasting your readers' time by sending them off on a wild goose chase? Make wise use of internal and external links to make their searches easier and faster.
  • Un-optimized pages. For example, this could include slow loading pages and unorganized content that make it difficult for your readers to scan quickly. 

Tools to use: SEMRushGoogle Search Console, GT MetrixSiteliner and Screaming Frog
Time involvement: High

Tip #4. Add credible backlinks, citations and directory links to your website.

Create business directory listings that are appropriate to your business. Make sure that your listings are accurate and complete. At minimum, include your business name, address and phone (also called “NAP”) information consistently in your business listings. Your NAP must be consistent everywhere online, or search engines such as Google will rank your site as unreliable, since the information is not reliable and potentially misleading.

Next, identify your local influencers who are relevant to your business referral network. You will want to work with them to create backlinks to your site. Furthermore, I recommend you make a list of your top 25-50 potential business directory listings and allocate time every week to complete one or two.

Tools to use: Yext, BrightLocal, WhiteSpark, Moz Local, Google business directory
Time involvement: Low

Tip #5. Monitor your top competitors.

Make a list of your top 5 to 10 direct and indirect competitors and build time in your calendar to check their websites and search listings on a monthly or quarterly basis. If they consistently outrank you in organic search rankings, investigate their approach with each of these SEO tips.

For example, use free tools such as Neil Patel’s SEO analyzer to compare their website with yours. Follow up by making the recommended changes and re-testing the results every month to track your results. I have been using Neil Patel’s SEO analyzer tool regularly since I launched my new website in January, and I have seen excellent progress towards better SEO rankings. It takes time but is worth the effort. My current goals are to clean up keywords and optimize scripts to reduce the number of requests.

Tools to use: SEO analyzer
Time involvement: Low

In conclusion, SEO takes time. First, set realistic expectations. It will take you weeks if not months to fix SEO content and technical problems to build up your SERP rankings. Three to six months is a reasonable amount of time to see improvements for your keyword rankings.

Most importantly, constantly test your content. Choose quality over quantity, so you do not get penalized for keyword stuffing or duplicate content. SEO research is an ongoing task, much like keeping your favorite mode of transportation clean and running well. Finally, monitor your results on a regular basis, so you can shift proactively if you notice changes to your site traffic.

Resources:

How to Build a Great Brand

Part 4 of the Build a Bullet-proof Brand series

Last week I talked about branding bad news. This week, I cover the good news about your branding, and provide some important tips on how to build a great brand.

First of all, you started your business or organization to serve a need or a purpose. You are passionate about what you do, and the people you serve. To sum up, you already own an inherently amazing story built on your values and mission. This story is embedded into the core of your business DNA—you don’t have to make anything up!

Many small business owners are too modest or bashful about telling people about who they are and what they do. As my collaborator and partner Robynne Davis likes to tell people up front (no beating around the bush with this powerhouse woman!)—most of us didn’t grow up wanting to be a salesperson when we grew up. We planned on becoming astronauts, doctors, explorers, teachers or President of the United States)—not a salesperson! 

We have this funny cultural brain-washing about what sales is and isn’t. I happen to believe that sales and marketing are not slimy, scummy activities. In fact, quite the opposite. Your brand's mission or purpose is epic. 

You are here to help people solve specific problems or achieve their dreams. Nothing scummy about that, if you do it with integrity and their best interests in mind. (If you’re the kind who are out to make a quick buck and don’t care a fig about your customer or prospect, then a pox on you.)

OUR JOB IS TO CONNECT TO PEOPLE, TO INTERACT WITH THEM IN A WAY THAT LEAVES THEM BETTER THAN WE FOUND THEM, MORE ABLE TO GET WHERE THEY’D LIKE TO GO.


SETH GODIN

You already have what it takes to make a great brand.

This means that you have highly motivated stakeholders (clients, volunteers, donors, partners and community) who can help take your message out into the world. An example of this is the power of viral marketing and cause marketing. The best brands change our view of the world. A great brand is one that makes a difference to their customers and community.

A great brand's value proposition extends beyond its products.

  • Great brands aren’t differentiated, they make a difference. Your brand should offer something to buy into, not just something to buy.
  • Great brands don't interrupt people; they involve them. Marketing that actively involves your audience is more engaging. Nike's success stems from its inclusive marketing approach. Tip: Actively involve your audiences in co-creating a democratic brand.
  • Great brands engage our emotions. Activities that resonate with audiences' experiences drive greater engagement. Appealing to emotions delivers more profound and enduring connections. Tip: Aim for heart-strings, not eyeballs.
  • Great brands help people to help themselves. Use your marketing to help people achieve their goals as well as your brand goals. Tip: Deliver value in every interaction, not just through every transaction. Deliver activities that people care about, and they'll care about your brand too.

Examples of great brands

Check out some of these well-known brands who are masters of sharing their story:

Build your own great brand.

Finally, in order for those people to help you, they need to understand what you stand for and why your product/service is the best. As a result, if you can find out what your customer values, and deliver on your promise and values, you have a sustainable competitive advantage. Follow the examples of the great brands listed above and learn how to become a champion for your category.

Next week: Part 5. How to figure out your brand essence. Until then, feel free to do your homework. Download the presentation now!

Resources:

How to Celebrate Entrepreneurs with National Small Business Week

National Small Business Week is a national recognition event to honor the United States' top entrepreneurs each year. Since 1963, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has sponsored National Small Business Week to recognize the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs and small business owners from across the nation.

This year get involved in national, local and online events. For example, if you’re an entrepreneur or run a small business, share your story, partner with other businesses and invest in your business through educational workshops and seminars.

Small business by the numbers

There are over 28 million small businesses in the United States alone. This translates to over 120 million individuals employed by small businesses. The United State’s small business community contributes approximately $8.5 trillion to the economy, roughly half of the total $17 trillion GDP. Furthermore, Entrepreneurship has always been a gateway for underrepresented populations, especially minorities, women, and LGBTQ communities.

As an example of how small businesses pack a big economic punch, let’s look at the numbers in my local Portland/Vancouver metro area. According to Venture Portland, 98% of Portland’s 19,200 neighborhood businesses have 5 or fewer employees but provide more than 270,000 jobs in total. That is to say, small businesses contribute more than $100 million in taxes annually, helping to fund essential city services like firefighters and parks.

In short, show your support by joining the celebration. Download and display a ‘Portland Celebrates Small’ sign in your window, take some photos and tell us all about it on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Here are their recommendations on Five Things to Do for National Small Business Week.

CALENDAR OF EVENTS TO CELEBRATE ENTREPRENEURS

May 2, 2019

SCORE, SBA’s resource partner and NSBW fiscal agent, will host a NSBW Twitter Chat on Tuesday, May 2nd from 12:30-1:30 pm ET. SCORE’s handle is @SCOREMentors and the chat hashtag is #SmallBusinessWeek. Additional information and chat questions will be provided next week.

May 2, 2019

2019 Small Business Week Luncheon at the Portland Art Museum

Sponsored by the by U.S. Small Business Administration Portland District Office.

This year the Portland District will host a great luncheon event for approximately 200 active partners in growing small business. Attendees will include small and medium-size businesses, lenders, SCORE and WBC advisors, members of the network of Small Business Development Centers, community members, elected officials, and SBA leadership. 

Link to Tickets

May 3, 2019

SBA and GBYO Partner for Webinar

The SBA is partnering with the US Small Business Administration to host a free webinar session on Wednesday, May 3rd, hosted by Anastasia Kudrez, speaker for Google’s ‘Get Your Business Online’ program.

April 28-May 10, 2019

National Small Business Week: Celebrate at the Microsoft Store-Pioneer Place

Come to your local Microsoft Store in May for complimentary workshops tailored to small businesses of all sizes. Learn high-level fundamentals, obtain licenses and permits, and build your brand. Plus, master the little things that make a big difference, like how to create a compelling PowerPoint presentation, set an air-tight budget in Excel, or promote your business on LinkedIn.

See a full list and register today at www.microsoft.com/pioneerplace

May 7-May 8, 2019

National Small Business Week 2-Day Virtual Conference

Hosted by the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE Association

Event Time: 11:00 AM – 5:30 PM Eastern / 8:00 AM – 2:30 PM Pacific

The U.S. Small Business Administration and SCORE Association will host a free, 2-Day Virtual Conference during National Small Business Week. The conference will take place Tuesday, May 7 – Wednesday, May 8.

 

Registration is free to the public. Participate in all the webinars or pick and choose the topics you like. You will also have the opportunity to meet other business owners and chat with industry experts. The Virtual Conference offers all the best parts of an in-person conference, but without the hassle of traveling.

Register here.

How to Build a Bullet-proof Brand: Part 3

Information overload

Why bother with branding?

First, let’s talk about the bad news, and how to address the mess. Next week we will tackle the good news.  

1. Attention is the new value in our economy. It is a very scarce resource.

Research shows that humans are totally incapable of seeing what is right in front of them, if they are completely focused on something else. This phenomenon is called Inattentional blindness. It is the inability of the human mind to process anything that is not the specific and direct focus of attention at that moment. Magicians such as David Copperfield and Criss Angel use this to create their amazing magical feats.

This is also why we ignore banner ads, billboards, email subject lines and other advertising unless we are specifically interested in the subject. Once we have seen them and determined they are not of interest, they literally become invisible to us. In his book, The Buying Brain, A.K. Pradeep mentions that the brain is frustrated by clutter and messages that distract us or don't apply. It will ignore anything and everything it can, that is irrelevant to us.

Combat this phenomenon by making sure that you are speaking directly to your customer’s deepest wants, needs and fears. Craft your content and visuals to appeal directly to what they desire.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

2. You are now competing in a global marketplace for attention.

Research shows that as of 2018, businesses send and receive 124.5 billion business emails each day, while consumers send and receive about 111.1 billion consumer emails each day. And that’s just emails flying around the world. People spend time watching almost 5 billion videos on Youtube every single day.

The cure: Provide value and interesting content. People are attracted to stories, visuals, videos and meaningful information. Use your content and branding to build meaningful, long-term relationships instead of gunning for the quick sale.

money jars and coins

3. You have limited resources and capacity.

If you’re a solopreneur or small business owner who does it all, "tag, you’re it." As in, you get to do everything, unless you have a fairy godmother on your side or an unlimited back account. We are all limited by our access to resources and capacity to get stuff done, regardless of the business size. We have only 24 hours in every day, and 365 days in a year.

This may feel contradictory, but this actually helps us. Limitations force us to prioritize our efforts and energy on what is most important. The old saying goes, “if you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.” The consequence of standing for everything is that you end up watering down your brand and wasting your efforts.

I tell my clients to focus on being the best possible version of you instead of attempting to be someone else or a generic everybody—what is it that only you can provide? Be laser-focused on delivering this brand promise to your ideal audience. Make sure that your brand reflects your specific uniqueness. Limitations also mean choosing our marketing tactics and communications carefully and purposefully, to ensure that we are getting the brand impact that we want.

large crowd of people

4. You often have multiple markets, audiences, products and services that require a complex, multi-dimensional message.

Most businesses have more than one group of customers or target audiences. Product-based companies can have multiple brands with hundreds of products. That being said, your business should have only one thing that your stand for. Otherwise you will confuse the heck out of everyone.

The world’s greatest brands have known this for generations, and standing for one thing is baked into their brand DNA. You may see campaigns or sub-branding that promote slightly different value propositions depending on the audience, market, product or service offerings, but they always link back to the main brand essence. A great brand flexes and bends when needed, but always stays strong at the core. The core never changes.

Marco Rangel, left, and his daughter Montserrat Rangel load up on cookware during Walmart's Black Friday events on November 27, 2014 in Bentonville, Ark. Walmart is offering deep discounts on items across multiple categories in stores and online though Cyber Monday. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun/Invision for Walmart/AP Images)

THE BOTTOM LINE: You already have a brand.

Whether you like it or not, whether you are aware of it or not, you already have a brand. Your brand is the feeling, interactions, images and other intangible attributes that others associate with you and your business.

As an example, let’s pick on Wal-Mart. When I say, “Wal-Mart” to you, and if you are familiar with this brand, you will immediately have a mental and emotional response based on your perceptions of the Wal-Mart Brand.

Branding changes are not always better for the brand

In 2007, Wal-Mart dumped their old tagline “Always low prices” to “Save Money. Live Better" to combat the brand perception that they’re cheap, cheap, cheap. I get the business rationale behind wanting to change the tagline. If they wanted to shift to selling more upscale goods to compete with Costco and Target, the consequence is that they can’t always offer the lowest prices on everything. This strategy change ended up creating a huge consumer disconnect with their brand—they can’t be both the cheapest and the best at the same time.

As a result of the shift, the shiny new tagline and ad campaigns didn’t fix their brand image problem of being the cheapest on the block. The new warm and fuzzy advertising campaign created confusion with audiences who didn’t experience warm and fuzzy with their in-store experiences. It was same old-same old Wal-Mart. Nothing had changed except for a branding band-aid.

Brands should encourage customers to remain loyal, not push them away

Branding expert Rob Frankel said outright, "This campaign is a 100% guaranteed failure. It's not a brand strategy, it's a price claim. It doesn't do anything to encourage you to be loyal, and it's even insulting—people don't need to be told that it's a good idea to save money."

In fact, he said, emphasizing price adds to Wal-Mart's image problem. "To shop at Wal-Mart is almost the same as admitting you are poor. As soon as people can figure out a way not to shop at Wal-Mart, they do." As a result of their 19-year branding strategy, Wal-Mart is now finding itself locked into a brand perception of dirt-cheap, shoddy goods and service at the bottom of the barrel. Wal-Mart has a tough time competing with Target and Costco with that kind of brand baggage dragging it down. Especially if their new tagline loos suspiciously like the Target tagline which is “Expect more. Pay less.”

The irony is that Target once had a similar brand image to Wal-Mart in its early beginnings, but the company consciously chose to evolve into a more upscale, trendy yet affordable brand. I’ll save that brand evolution story for a future post.

In conclusion, if you don’t know what you do and can’t communicate it well, neither do your customers and prospects. You need to proactively manage your brand. Don’t become a Wal-Mart branding disaster.

Resources:

Next week: Part 4. After this week’s brutal reality about branding, we could all use some good news. I’ll talk about how to leverage what you already own to make your brand a brand worth getting to know.

Until then, feel free to do your homework. Download the presentation now!

About the “Build a Bullet-proof Brand” series

This series of blog posts is based on a branding masterclass workshop from last fall. The topic is evergreen, based on the number of brand-related questions my partner Robynne Davis and I field every week in our marketing meetups. This series is designed to bring all of these important elements into alignment with your authentic brand:

  • Your true brand essence
  • The visual experience behind logos, fonts and color
  • The emotional connections with feeling that happen with images and videos
  • The power of words to convey your brand promise and your brand essence
  • How you appear in the many worlds of social media – consistently and meaningfully.

8 Tips for Insanely Productive Networking

Penguins with nametags

True confession time: I HATE networking. Almost as much as I hate telephones. Just ask my family and business colleagues. I resist the idea of networking, mostly because it feels really contrived and pointless. I go to an event, and come home exhausted and cranky afterwards, because of deafening noise levels, resisting tempting food I can’t eat because of my food sensitivities, and having to pay for expensive parking (or a long commute via public transportation).

What do you think of when you hear the word networking? 

I envision being stuck in some windowless meeting room with a bunch of people I don’t know, milling around. Furthermore, I’ve got a “Hello, My Name Is…” sticker that no one can read stuck to my boob, er, jacket lapel. Painful – I would rather go get my teeth cleaned. At least my dental hygienist is genuine and cares about me and my teeth. She even remembers my dog’s name, and asks how my family is doing, and sincerely means it.

That’s the dark, unfriendly perception of networking, especially for us introverts. However, networking shouldn’t be a painful event to be endured. Most importantly, it should an ongoing, organic process of building relationships with people you actually might like and appreciate. Look at it this way—you want to make this a lifelong practice of meeting new friends who you can contribute to.

Here are 8 simple yet useful tips (especially for you introverts) to networking that will help you feel more comfortable and natural instead of fake:

  1. Focus on giving instead of getting. How can you serve or help someone out? Do you know someone that the person you are talking to should meet? Help make a connection! Share a great book or blog recommendation. This suggestion doesn’t have to relate to your business, and you don’t have to be an expert—just focus on give, give, give. Volunteer at an event or make a point of just meeting one new person and learning about them enough to share what you know or help them make a connection.
  2. Be present. You’ve seen a lot of people looking around when they are talking to the person right in front of them. We’ve all done this, don’t deny it—how does this make the other person feel about us? We don’t care, right? Be aware and stay present. For example, here’s a tip I got from a tip from a CIA agent about body language and the other person being present—look at the feet of the person you are talking to. Or your own feet. Are the other person’s feet pointed towards you, or away? Feet don’t lie. If we aren’t interested, and don’t want to be there, the feet will be pointed away towards where we want to be.
  3. Listen more than you talk. The most interesting people to talk to are the ones that really want to know about us.
  4. Think long term vs. short term. When you meet someone new who might be able to help you, don’t jump in with an immediate request for yourself. In other words, ask questions that will open up a genuine dialog. Maybe you will learn something that will help you to help them out—going back to #1—focus on giving.
  5. Do not overcommit or feel guilty. If you start going to a lot of conferences and networking events, you will meet a lot of people. It’s fine not to stay in touch with everybody. It’s ok to meet people and say hi and all that jazz, but you do not have to make a commitment to speak to them again or stay in touch. For instance, I make a goal of meeting only one or two new people at a networking event. First, I focus on quality rather than quantity. Secondly, by setting a reasonable goal, I can give myself permission to relax and have some fun instead of feeling overwhelmed by being in a mob of people.
  6. Be honest. Don’t make false promises or agree to do things just to be “nice” because you’re there with someone in person. For instance, if someone wants to go to coffee with you and you don’t want to do it, don’t say, “Oh sure, we should do that sometime.” Here’s what you say instead. “I really appreciate the offer, but my work schedule is full, and I don’t want to promise anything that’s not going to happen.” Kind, but truthful.
  7. Take action immediately. If you do agree to do something for some, take action immediately. If you’re going to make an email intro to someone, just whip out your smartphone and get it over with instead of waiting until you get home. Taking action right away is an awesome habit to build PLUS you won’t just pile up work to do when you get home or back to your office. I love using my CamCard app to snap pictures of business cards on the spot.
  8. Only go to things that excite you. Whether it’s parties, conferences, coffee dates, networking events – only say yes to the things that you really want to do. Your networking goal is to meet and bond with other like-minded people. I am getting really good at saying “no” if my heart and my gut tell me that the opportunity is not a good fit for me. Trust your inner radar!

There are many reasons to attend networking events. Above all, my reasons include meeting potential new customers, finding networking or referral partners and project collaborators. Most importantly—showing up and being visible in my community. Meanwhile, by focusing on these simple rules, I have found that more often than not, I can connect and help someone, and often experience getting useful help in return. It’s amazing how the universe works to support me and the work I do once I get out of my itty-bitty comfort zone.

P.s.—Still not convinced networking is worth all the time and agony? Read these books to help prep for networking marathons:

How to Build a Bullet-proof Brand: Part 2

Generic tomato sauce

Why is it important to build strong brand differentiation?

Your brand is about intangible perceptions—how people feel about your products, services or business. Similarly, what people experience when they interact with your brand. Most importantly, you want to create powerful brand differentiation that helps you stand out from the pack. 

For instance, you can use the power of brand differentiation build a strong, bullet-proof brand. As a result, you prevent your brand from becoming a generic commodity such as kitty litter, cornflakes or catsup. 

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room.”

    ⏤ Jeff Bezos

“A brand is not a product or a premise. It’s the sum of all the experiences you have with a company.”

    ⏤ Amir Kassaei

What happens when people don't see any perceived value in your brand?

Perception is in the eye of the beholder. Some see them, some don’t. However, when people don’t perceive any intangible value, it’s a commodity to them. You're as good as generic kitty litter or catsup in their eyes. 

A commodity is a product, service, cause or organization with NO perceived intangible benefits or attributes. On Wall Street, commodities of the same type are interchangeable with each other. Therefore, If you are a commodity, you are stuck in a no-win price competition.

A brand differentiation lesson from tomatoes and catsup (ketchup)

Catsup (ketchup) is catsup, right? The stuff you squirt on hamburgers, hotdogs and French fries. You say "toe-may-toe," I say "toe-mah-toe." you make catsup by smashing tomatoes up into a tangy sauce and put into a bottle. Brands range from the generic to exotic. People who don't care about their tomato catsup (ketchup) brand will buy the generic, cheap stuff found on the big food chain shelves. 

In contrast, catsup (ketchup) connoisseurs (aka "food snobs") will go out of their way to discover exotic flavors and brands, including Harry and David and classic Sir Kensington. As a result, in the minds of the buyers of these prized gourmet brands, they are most certainly not interchangeable commodities. This is a vastly different mindset from the regular folks who buy generic brands.

All these brands have their place in the market. Who do you think is able to charge more for their product? Who gets more social media buzz and loyal customers? 

"Almost as American as apple pie"

Market Pantry™ promises freshness and quality always at a great value. The essential condiment for barbecues and picnics.

"America's Favorite Ketchup"

Heinz updates its classic with organic tomatoes, no high-fructose corn syrup for a well-balanced version that appeals to the organic food crowd.

"Share more"

Harry & David appeal to people looking for thoughtful, gourmet food gifts that reflect well on the giver.

"Quirky sensibility"

Sir Kensington's was designed to appeal to people who wanted a tasty, non-GMO ketchup on their grass-fed burger with their farm-to-table side.

1. BRANDS COMPETE ON THEIR INTANGIBLE ATTRIBUTES.

2. COMMODITIES COMPETE ON PRICE OR CONVENIENCE.

3. YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE VIEWED AS AN EASILY REPLACEABLE COMMODITY.

Keep these three rules in mind as you work on creating your branding.

In conclusion, all these brands have a legitimate place and purpose in the condiment market. The lesson here is that if you do not want to be viewed as a generic, commodity product or service who can only compete on pricing, you need to build strong brand differentiation to survive. Take a cue from Sir Kensington and figure out what's in your "secret sauce" that will make you irresistible to your customers and prospects!

For those of you who are into the classic red stuff and love a good food fight,  read the Epicurious "tell all" blog post for the insider scoop on which brand makes the best catsup (ketchup). 

Next week: Part 3. Guess what? You already have a brand, whether you know it or not! I will show you how to identify your brand essence and start to put your secret sauce to work.

Until then, feel free to do your homework. Download the presentation now!

About the “Build a Bullet-proof Brand” series

This series of blog posts is based on a branding masterclass workshop from last fall. The topic is evergreen, based on the number of brand-related questions my partner Robynne Davis and I field every week in our marketing meetups. This series is designed to bring all of these important elements into alignment with your authentic brand:

  • Your true brand essence
  • The visual experience behind logos, fonts and color
  • The emotional connections with feeling that happen with images and videos
  • The power of words to convey your brand promise and your brand essence
  • How you appear in the many worlds of social media – consistently and meaningfully.
>