The Most Important Step in Fixing a Broken Brand

There are many reasons why a brand might ‘break.’ 

A disconnect in a brand’s identity between past and present, alienating the brand’s audience. A shift in a brand’s values to the point that it’s no longer appealing to its audience – something common in small brands that experience massive short-term growth and become profit-obsessed. A misstep by someone affiliated with the brand, resulting in extreme reputational damage.

Whatever the cause, a broken brand is one in which its audience has lost faith. A business whose image is tarnished to the point that people no longer want to support it. An organization whose relationship with its customers has fractured, leading them directly into the arms of the competition.

The first step in fixing a broken brand is to understand what broke it in the first place. You need to know what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what you can do to not only mitigate the problem but also prevent it from happening again in the future. Armed with that understanding, the next step is simple – apologize.

Demonstrate to your audience that you are aware of your mistake, and more importantly, that you are willing to make amends. Work to rebuild their trust in you by demonstrating that you are committed to bettering your business. 

What this involves depends entirely on the nature of what caused your brand to fracture in the first place. If it was a small, singular incident, a simple apology and press release may be enough to smooth things over. If it’s something more complex, however, like a values disconnect, a lawsuit, or a data breach, you’re going to need to chart things out a bit more extensively.

Regardless of what route you ultimately decide to take, it’s important that you include everyone affiliated with your brand and the incident. You need to account for not just your customers, but also your employees, investors, and business partners. Engage with them to determine the best path forward – the best way to fix the problems your brand has created for itself.

Listen, learn, and do better. 

From there, it’s simply a matter of time. Of allowing the wounds from your missteps to heal, and the rift created by your errors to mend. Provided you’ve properly grasped the core of your error and made the necessary changes, your brand should be back to where it was before it broke – perhaps even better than ever. 

The Role of Image Optimization in Search Engine Optimization

Images play a pivotal role in the creation of compelling content, whether it’s a product page, a blog post, or just general site copy. They also play an important part in search engine optimization, contributing significantly to factors like navigability, readability, and load time. In some cases, they can even bring new traffic to your website.

“Although there aren’t exactly official numbers, Google stated that every day hundreds of millions of people use Google Images to discover and explore content on the web,” reads a piece on search engine marketing publication Search Engine Land. “About a year ago, Google updated the ‘View Image’ button from Image Search to ‘Visit [Page].’ As a result, analytics platforms began recording an increase in sessions specifically driven from image search and content visibility for the host pages increased (instead of random image files without context).”

Now that we’ve established the importance of images to overall SEO, let’s drill down into some specific advice about image optimization.

Formatting

Even if you’re reformatting images after uploading them to your site, overly-large image files can cause significant issues with load time. To that end, you’re going to want to ensure that any images you upload are smaller than 1 MB. There are a few ways you can achieve this.

  • Reduce the image’s resolution. You do not need photos that are 5000 pixels wide and tall. In our experience, 800 pixels-1200 pixels is where you should be aiming.
  • Use JPEG images instead of PNG images. The latter tend to be much larger than the former. 
  • Use an image editing file such as GIMP to slightly reduce an image’s quality. The dialog to do this pops up when you hit save, and you can generally cut the quality down to 80 percent before there’s any noticeable change.

Creativity

While stock photos certainly have an important role to play, many of the most common ones are by this point incredibly overused. As such, if you have the opportunity to use unique, branded imagery in place of stock imagery, do so. A good photographer or graphic designer may be well worth the cost given the unique flair their work can bring to your site. 

Naming and Alt Text

One of the most frequently-ignored steps in image optimization involves file names and alt text. Each image you upload to your site should be descriptively-named and include at least one relevant keyword. Additionally, each image should include alt text that will display in the event that the image doesn’t load properly, something which tends to happen frequently on mobile devices. 

As explained by SEO expert Moz, an image file’s alt text should be descriptive, but not overly long and stuffed with keywords. Moz also notes that accessibility isn’t the only reason alt text is important. It also helps search engines better understand and contextualize the images on your website. 

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Where SEO is concerned, that may well be true. Effective imagery is as much a part of optimizing your site as good copy and high-quality content.

Why Empathy is a Critical to Marketing Post COVID-19

Financial instability. Anxiety over the possible loss of loved ones. The strain of prolonged isolation. 

It’s unlikely that any of us escaped the coronavirus pandemic entirely unscathed. It’s been an incredibly difficult and trying time for virtually everyone. Unfortunately, it seems like many brands still haven’t gotten the memo.

Some of them tried to pretend it was business as usual. Customers were bombarded with typical marketing copy and advertising campaigns. Refusing to even engage with the pandemic carried with it the implication that it – and the suffering of their audience – was unimportant. 

On the other end of the spectrum, others hopped on the COVID marketing bandwagon. We’re all in this together, they told their audience, and we care about your struggles. Unfortunately, a lack of clear effort and personalization made this messaging come across as wholly insincere. 

Both approaches fail because they lack one crucial component: empathy. 

You need to understand what your audience is going through and acknowledge it with your messaging. Focus on connecting with your customers on a personal level rather than trying to sell your products to them. Relationship-building was already important for successful marketing before the pandemic; it’s only going to grow more important in the coming month.

There are a few stages in this approach: 

  • Start with buyer personas. Who is your audience? What do they value? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their hobbies and aspirations? 
  • Ask questions. Talk to your audience. Connect with people who’ve left positive or negative reviews to see why.  Make it clear that you’re always open to customer feedback, and most importantly, listen.
  • Know your own values. What morals matter to your organization? How can you inspire good and promote positivity in a way that aligns with your business’s brand? 
  • Leverage emotion.  Focus on positive emotions like happiness, nostalgia, and triumph.  People have already dealt with enough fear, uncertainty, and angst throughout the pandemic. Don’t try to play on those negative emotions simply to make a sale. 
  • Communicate, don’t sell.  Your goal here is to give something valuable or positive to your audience. If they decide to buy your products or services afterward, that’s their decision. They shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. 
  • Don’t tear anyone down. Focus on the positive elements of your brand or industry. Again, you want to stay away from overt negativity here. 
  • Show you understand. Demonstrate to your audience that you know them and care. There are many ways to do this, such as a how-to they’ve been asking for, an advertising spot that shows real, human footage, or a vow to donate a portion of your proceeds to charity. Focus on ways you can make the lives of your customers better. 

People are tired. Amidst all the fear, uncertainty, and angst suffered at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic, they have little patience left for manipulative or predatory marketing efforts. If your brand is incapable of demonstrating empathy, you will end up paying for it – both in the short-term and the long-term. 

Is Segmentation Still a Valid Marketing Tactic?

Segmentation is one of the oldest marketing tactics in the book. Understanding the broad strokes of one’s audience – their likes, dislikes, interests, hobbies, desires, and habits – has long been at the core of effective marketing. But in an era of personalization and relationship-focused business, is segmentation still critical?

Is it still even relevant? 

“Understanding what makes customers the same isn’t personalized marketing,” writes Aaron Raddon, Co-Founder and CTO of customer data analyst Lytics. “Understanding what makes them different is…if you’re still segmenting customers as we know it today, stop it.”

“[Customers] want marketing that feels like a personalized shopper or content curator,” he continues. “You should be thinking about decisioning, orchestration, and affinity-based recommendations.” 

Raddon’s advice isn’t without merit. The days when brands could get away with impersonal, loosely-targeted advertising campaigns are far behind us. Today’s consumers not only look favorably on personalization in marketing, they practically demand it. 

In a 2017 survey by GBH Insights and Epsilon, for instance, 90 percent of respondents in the United States expressed that personalized marketing was either very or somewhat appealing. Lack of personalized content, meanwhile, generates 83 percent lower response rates, according to customer experience specialist Monetate. And according to analyst McKinsey, personalization can reduce acquisition costs by up to 50 percent. 

In short, personalization is essential to your success. But that doesn’t mean that segmentation is, by association, no longer relevant. Quite the contrary, in fact. 

Market segmentation is the first step to understanding your broader audience. It allows you to cluster your customers together based on general, shared traits. Initial acquisition and advertising can be designed based on these traits.

Eventually, as you bring in more customers and they move further down the sales funnel, you can make the shift from a more generalized, segmented approach towards a more focused, individualized one. In this way, personalization functions as a sort of natural ‘evolution’ from segmentation. One leads into the other, and both are valuable to the savvy marketer.

“Segmentation is a relatively early tactic on what we term the personalization maturity curve,” reads a blog from cross-channel marketing expert Sailthru. “That curve begins with a single message mailing, then moves through simple forms of personalization, such as putting someone’s name in a subject line, and segmentation. But more sophisticated strategies have a bigger impact on revenue and retention: personalized recommendations, omnichannel optimization, and eventually, predictive personalization.” 

In other words, you start with segmentation, then move towards a more dynamic and focused approach. An approach that puts the customer front and center. An approach that, using a combination of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to provide them with precisely the content they’re looking for. 

Personalization is the future. There’s no doubt about that. But at least for the time being, segmentation still has its place in marketing.

How Artificial Intelligence is Shaping the Future of Search Engine Optimization

Artificial intelligence is increasingly useful as a tool in online marketing and search engine optimization. It’s seen widespread usage in keyword research and proved invaluable from a content marketing standpoint. Some AI platforms can even offer functionality such as related keywords, recommended word counts, and semantic analysis summaries. But it goes deeper than that.

Google’s search engine – really, every search engine – is, at its core, AI. Increasingly-advanced algorithms designed to trawl and analyze content in order to determine the best fit for a particular user. This algorithm evolves in tandem with the algorithms SEO specialists are increasingly using to examine and tweak their own content.

What this means is simple. 

“Content for content’s sake won’t rank,” explains Tony Adam, Founder & CEO of digital marketing agency Visible Factors. “You need to cater more specifically to user intent, and not just one intent, but as many as you can imagine…the ideal strategy is to develop marketing efforts that put the user back in the spotlight.” 

Google’s own AI pushed this evolution forward, but AI platforms can be instrumental in helping your organization adapt to it. With the right analytics platform, you can provide advertisers, marketers, and content creators alike with invaluable insights into not just your audience, but also your products and brand. Throughout this process, the most important thing to remember is that in order to be one hundred percent effective, machine learning requires a human touch.

No method is entirely error-free. AI doesn’t mean you no longer have to rely on the insights of marketing professionals, nor does it mean you can do away with editors and proofreading. Rather, it allows you to augment what you’re already doing, creating compelling, data-backed content for your readers that also aligns with Google’s algorithms. 

AI also allows you to breathe new life into old strategies, automating tasks like keyword research and technical SEO. It can also be applied practically in the content creation process, optimizing and tweaking elements that might otherwise go untouched. Again, though, be careful.

Although machine learning has advanced a great deal in recent years, it’s still not on the same level as human intelligence. A spun article – one generated entirely by algorithms – is still fairly noticeable. It should be looked at more as a means of supporting your marketing team’s efforts rather than a way you can replace them entirely.

Over time, whatever AI platform you decide to use will gradually adapt to your business, and learn how to most effectively optimize for your brand. But again, you still need to teach it.  As for what the evolution of AI means for the immediate future?

As search engines become more intuitive, the quality and relevancy of the content they retrieve will increase. Content marketing teams, meanwhile, will be able to dedicate more towards ensuring that level of quality, and less towards mundane tasks like data logging and analysis of metrics. AI can generate and parse all of this data in real-time, at a scale impossible for the human mind to achieve.

You don’t need a degree to understand the benefits of AI. At its core, it’s not just about improving the intelligence and capabilities of machines – it’s about leveraging those improvements for better business outcomes, greater efficiency, and more compelling insights. Even now, it’s a valuable resource in the arsenal of every marketing professional.

That value will only increase as we move forward into the future.

3 Tips for Customer-Focused Branding

Scrutiny for how businesses are run is now at an all-time high. Customers are comparing their experience with your business to that offered by your competitors more frequently than ever, particularly with the recent large-scale shift towards full digitization. It’s therefore imperative that you employ customer-focused branding and marketing wherever possible.

This can take many forms.

  • Using provided feedback to improve policies and operations.
  • Employing artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to understand the needs of your buyers.
  • Comparing sales and traffic metrics to better determine customer preferences.
  • Developing tailored products and services based on your understanding of the audience.

In regards to the above, we’re going to go over a few critical pieces of advice. 

Anticipate the Needs of Your Audience

Everything from your messaging to your brand imagery should be geared towards your audience. With that said, the better you understand and anticipate their needs, the more effectively you can tailor these materials. In this regard, artificial intelligence is an incredibly powerful tool.

AI allows you to gain deeper insights into your audience and their browsing and purchasing behaviors than ever before. It also allows you to take customer service to an entirely new level, providing tech support, creating and processing orders, and automating common processes. Through insights and automation, machine learning allows you to laser-focus on the customer experience.

Artificial intelligence isn’t the only tool here when it comes to understanding your audience, though. When developing a product, focus on fulfilling a specific need, and pay attention to purchase patterns which might indicate the strengths (or weaknesses) of a particular product. This, in turn, can inform your marketing and branding even further. 

Leverage Customer Feedback Effectively

Listen. That’s the most important piece of advice anyone will ever give you about modern marketing and branding. Be open to communication with your customers, and pay close attention to any feedback you receive from customers, including and especially reviews.

When a customer takes the time to provide you with feedback, listen to it. Address it in a timely manner, and have a customer service representative reach out to them to see if there are any improvements to be made. Positive feedback, too, should be engaged with.

The idea is not only to demonstrate that your brand cares about the needs of its audience but also to leverage that audience’s feedback to further improve and refine your business. 

Focus On The Audience Experience More Than Anything Else

Your branding and marketing efforts should effectively present you as a problem-solver, focused on what’s important to your audience. To that end, you should pay attention to the following:

  • Overall experience. How does the buyer feel about your services and the purchase process? How convenient is it to order goods and services via your online platform? Ease is extremely important when it comes to making an online purchase, and first-time discounts or rewards can be an effective strategy for bringing in new customers
  • Design and presentation. Your website is, in essence, something of a resume for your business. It’s the first thing your customers will see, their first impression of your brand. With that in mind, your site should in all ways reflect your identity as a brand, while also being easy to navigate and understand.
  • Speed and performance. People are frustrated by a poorly-functioning or slow website. Make sure your pages don’t take too long to load and don’t include too many errors.
  • Competitive pricing. Comparison shopping is now more frequent than ever. All other things being equal, customers will inevitably choose the better price. You want to make sure that price is yours, whether through artificial intelligence or manual analysis. 
  • Mobile optimization. Particularly if you run an eCommerce storefront, it’s imperative that your site is navigable on mobile devices. This is non-negotiable not just from an SEO standpoint, but also from the perspective of general functionality.

Most businesses by now accept that success requires a focus on the customer. Some, however, are a little hazy on what that means. By understanding the needs of your audience, including what they enjoy about your brand, you can adapt not only your marketing materials but your entire business to them. 

What to Do With Google My Business During COVID-19

As you might expect, the coronavirus has had a significant impact on local businesses. Many have had to either close their doors completely or work on severely-reduced hours. To its credit, Google has been relatively quick to respond with several updates to Google My Business. Here’s what you need to know.

By now, if you’re a small business owner, you’re likely feeling the strain of the coronavirus. 

Maybe you’ve been marked as nonessential and forced to close temporarily. Maybe you’re working reduced hours, keeping your doors open with a skeleton crew of employees. Or maybe you’re struggling with the challenges of digital work and ecommerce, things you were never fully prepared to support. 

Whatever your situation, you now face a challenging landscape. The most important thing at this stage is that you keep your customers up-to-date about what’s going on. Let people know about your current situation, and what they can expect in the coming weeks (and possibly months).

Google has provided some excellent guidance on the topic, which we’ve summarized below. 

  • If your business hours have changed as a result of COVID-19, update them by clicking Info->Special Hours on your Google My Business profile.  Note that if you fail to do this, Google may include a disclaimer on your profile that your business info may not be up-to-date. 
  • Create a COVID-19 update post. Once you’ve logged in to your Google My Business profile, click on Posts in the menu, and choose the COVID-19 update tab. Be sure to include all relevant information about how the coronavirus has impacted your business, such as hygiene practices, modified hours, and how customers can support your organization.
  • Enable messaging through the Google My Business mobile app. Once you’ve downloaded the app to your smartphone, simply tap Customers -> Messages -> Turn On. 
  • Edit your business description to include details about delivery, extra services, and whether or not customers can expect delays. 
  • Alternatively, you can mark your business as “Temporarily Closed.” Click on Info in your profile, then click on Close this business on Google. You can then click Mark as temporarily closed. Note that you should only do this if you aren’t currently offering digital or delivery services. 
  • Pay close attention to any reviews you receive during COVID-19 and make a point of responding to them in a timely manner. Note that in some regions, reviews, Q&As, and review replies may still be disabled. 

These are difficult and uncertain times for both business owners and consumers. Until the pandemic ends, the best thing any of us can do is keep in touch. Make sure people know what’s happening and what they can expect. 

Your Google My Business profile is only one way to achieve this. We’d also strongly recommend updating your Facebook Business Page and website if you’ve not already done so. Beyond that, simply keep in touch with people.

Your audience will appreciate the effort. 

3 Characteristics of Manipulative Marketing (And Why You Need to Avoid Doing It)

Some unscrupulous brands are playing off COVID-19 anxiety to drum up sales. Yours should not be among them. You need to avoid exploitative marketing. Not just for the well-being of your audience, but for the long-term health of your brand. Here’s how to recognize and avoid it.

We live in trying times.

The coronavirus pandemic is now entering its fifth month, and there’s still no clear end in sight. People are exhausted, frustrated, and on edge. And some businesses, whether out of desperation or an opportunistic desire for higher sales, are attempting to play off of that.

Don’t make their mistake. While it’s certainly true that manipulative, exploitative, and dishonest marketing tactics can lead to a short-term increase in sales, that small bump isn’t worth the long-term damage you’ll do to your brand. Once people key-in to the fact that you manipulated them, they’ll very likely abandon you. 

Here are a few tactics you’ll want to avoid like the plague, especially right now. 

Making Inaccurate Claims

Honesty and transparency represent the only valid approach to your business. Allow the quality of your products and services to speak for itself, and avoid making any sweeping promises or claims you cannot fulfill. Where the pandemic is concerned, be open with your customers on how it will impact your business. 

If you are experiencing shipping delays, inform people about them. If there are shortages of a particular product, make that clear.  Show your customers that they can rely on you to be truthful and accountable. 

Playing on Negative Emotions

A lot of the shadiest marketing tactics rely on making the audience feel bad, or on prodding at a negative emotion that they’re experiencing. In the case of COVID-19, this could be uncertainty about one’s future, frustration at quarantine and social distancing requirements, or fear of the pandemic itself. This can also apply to broader manipulation tactics, such as:

  • Causing a customer to feel inadequate if they fail to purchase from your brand. 
  • Intentionally creating offensive marketing materials. 
  • Attempting to co-opt existing movements for the sake of making a sale.
  • Creating anger, sadness, or anxiety to browbeat a customer into buying. 

Making Connections That Don’t Exist

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, advertisements related to the coronavirus inevitably all strike the same chords

They speak of uncertain times. They display imagery and use media that evokes loneliness, isolation, and unease, usually featuring sad piano music. They conclude with a promise that the brand paying for the ad is there for its customers. 

Regardless of whether or not this message is sincere, the delivery is officially overdone. The market is saturated with emotional ads about the pandemic, and it’s likely that people are sick of seeing them. If COVID-19 itself has no direct connection to your brand, then do not create one

Issue a press release informing your customers how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Offer direct support to your audience. Speak honestly and openly with people.

But there’s no need to put advertising revenue towards another campaign which will ultimately come off as insincere.

Focus on Persuasion, Not Manipulation

There’s no shortage of brands attempting to use COVID-19 to their advantage. If you value your relationship with your audience, yours should not be among them. Instead, just focus on doing what you were doing before. 

Be open and authentic, and work to build relationships rather than generate sales. 

How Should Your Brand Address COVID-19?

By now, most of us have been flooded with content related to the coronavirus. 

Emails that explain, in great depth, how every brand we’ve ever worked with is approaching the pandemic. News stories about the virus’s progression, and about the multiple flubs and fumbles being committed by businesses both great and small. Social feeds flooded with memes and arguments.

Either your brand is among those that have yet to issue a concrete response, or you’re wondering if what you’ve done thus far is sufficient.  You wouldn’t be here otherwise. Let’s talk about what you should be doing (and what you shouldn’t), both in your messaging and your overall business practices. 

You should:

  • If you operate a digital storefront, add warnings on your website that customers should expect shipping delays due to COVID-19. 
  • Create and share branded content related to the pandemic where both relevant and appropriate.  This content should provide direct value to your audience in some way. 
  • Send out a single email blast to customers who have subscribed to your mailing list, explaining how your brand is approaching the pandemic.
  • Allow all staff to work remotely, and put the necessary frameworks in place to ensure they can do so and remain both mentally and physically healthy. 
  • Follow the news related to COVID-19, and update your policies and processes accordingly.
  • Scale back on your marketing and advertising efforts. While it’s true that people are spending more time online, these are uncertain times. People may, in light of the financial challenges posed by COVID-19, be less likely to spend money. 

You should not:

  • Ignore advice given by medical professionals, or respond to them in an insulting fashion when they offer advice. Accept that they likely know more about the situation than you do, and remain professional while interacting with them. 
  • Attempt to use the coronavirus to drum up business. As reported by news publication The Star, the owner of a Subway franchise in Calgary, Canada tried offering free masks with the purchase of food.
  • Engage in any manipulative marketing tactics that prey on your audience’s fear or uncertainty regarding the pandemic.
  • Overdo it with COVID-19 updates on any of your channels. Again, a single email blast is enough, and may even be overkill. Most of your customers are likely tired of hearing about the virus by now. 

Like it or not, we live in a historic time. The challenges presented by the coronavirus and the changes it’s forced onto businesses around the world are both unprecedented. But they are not insurmountable.

It all goes back to understanding your audience and empathizing with what they’re going through. Do that, and everything else should fall readily into place.

3 Things You Need to Work From Home as a Marketing Professional

Remote work is now the rule rather than the exception. As more and more businesses either by choice or by necessity put measures in place to support a distributed workforce, employees across industries are adapting to a world where they can work entirely from the comfort of their own home. Believe it or not, that’s not necessarily as great as it sounds.

For one, distractions abound, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be an exercise in futility. Beyond these, working from home as a marketing professional presents several of its own challenges. We’re going to go over a few of the most common, and explain how you can overcome them. 

Security Tools and Best Practices

When sensitive assets such as product roadmaps or press releases are on a workplace PC, your clients can reasonably expect that data will be kept secure. As such, before you download anything to a personal smartphone or desktop, you need to be absolutely certain that the device is up to the same security standards as your workplace systems. We’d recommend the following: 

  • An antimalware solution
  • A password manager
  • Two-factor authentication on all critical accounts
  • Secure file-sharing software that allows encryption of and control over sensitive files 
  • Active mindfulness when opening emails and browsing the web 

A Virtual Private Network (VPN)

If you need to access corporate servers or software from home, there’s a good chance you’ll use a VPN to do it. Secure access to corporate resources isn’t the only reason to install one, however.  VPNs actually have a multitude of applications beyond supporting an encrypted connection.

For one, they can allow you to get around region locking and location tracking. While this is only relevant in niche use cases, it can nevertheless prove invaluable from a market research standpoint. It’s also helpful if you’re working with a client whose website automatically changes its content based on the visitor’s location, allowing you to access the data you need in order to do your job.  

High-Quality Audio and Video Hardware

Last but certainly not least, working doesn’t negate the importance of face-to-face meetings. With that in mind, we’d strongly recommend investing in a high-quality webcam and a professional-grade headset. You need to be able to connect with both clients and colleagues via video conferences, and not just because it’s important for collaboration.

Especially if you live alone, teleconferences are absolutely critical to staving off the effects of prolonged social isolation. While they’re still no substitute for face-to-face contact, they can still help a great deal. 

Marketing in a Digital, Distributed Future

Even once the coronavirus pandemic dies down, it seems likely that remote work will still feature prominently in many workplaces. As such, you have a lot to gain from familiarizing yourself with it. Equip yourself with the necessary tools now, and you’ve everything to gain in the future.