Maria Ross of Red Slice will challenge attendess at the Content Marketing Strategies Conference to develop a brand strategy before executing a marketing program.
While publishers in the online marketing space are putting on mega-conferences to appeal to mega-companies, dlvr.it is going small with the Content Marketing Now initiative aimed at sharing best practices with SMBs. Their upcoming event, Content Marketing Strategies Conference focuses on "dlvring" straightforward advice small businesses need to make content marketing work.
Next week, in Berkeley, the conference brings small business branding expert Maria Ross to the podium to set the stage. Maria is the author of "Branding Basics for Small Business" and will draw on some of its themes in her presentation "Start with a Story - Why a clear brand strategy is vital to effective content marketing."
Maria agreed to talk to me about her book and presentation. Here are some highlights of the conversation.
The title of your presentation sounds very interesting for content marketers, including myself. What will you aim to get across in your presentation?
My aim with the presentation is to get people to take a step back. Too often I see these companies start with tactics before they think about the strategy behind what they want to do. They perform random acts of marketing. If people really want to embark on a really strong and effective content marketing strategy they need to step back and think about their brand strategy for their business: who are they, what are they about, what value do they offer and what are they trying to convey to their customers, and who are those customers?
So, I am all about just trying to convey a message of building a brand strategy first, which will save you time and money, but more importantly, will help you better connect with your customers, through content marketing.
In your book, right out of the gate you refer to a thing called an "Identity Crisis." What's this mean?
I think there are so many people out there who say "I want to be Apple." I want to look and talk and sound just like Apple. But they don't want to do the things that Apple does. An identity crisis is not just about slapping a coat of brand paint over your business and hoping that it sticks. You better be able to back it up and deliver on what you are promising to the world.
The best way to avoid a brand identity crisis is to think about branding both inside and out. Some companies think of branding as just their logo for example. But it's more than that. It's who you are in your DNA and in the personality of the company. And this has to manifest itself not just through things like a logo, cool colors or really nifty websites, but the products and the quality of the products and services you deliver.
I looked at the table of contents in "Branding Basics" and I came across something about tattooing your brand, about having rabid fans. Can you share with the readers here where you went with that and what you meant?
Yeah...It's the concept of creating a rabid tribe of followers and fans. I always find it really effective that if you can turn your customers into raving evangelists you have an unpaid sales force out there spreading the word about you.
The best example of that is Harley Davidson. I heard someone give a talk and they were talking about HD and they posed the question, "How many of you have your logo tattooed on your body?" Of course nobody raised their hand. And then he said, "Well, with Harley Davidson, many of their customers have their logo tattooed on their bodies." I thought, "OMG, that's true." How do you create such a loyal following that people are willing to ink themselves?
That was sort of the lesson that they created such a loyal following and made an emotional connection with their brand, which is not just a brand about motorcycles and accessories, but about a lifestyle, about an emotion, about capturing this essence of freedom and rebellion. That says something about their customers when they're proud to identify themselves as customers of that brand and that is sort of the holy grail that everyone is trying to strive for. Are you going to create this tribe of followers out there who are going to be so loyal to you? That's really what you want to strive for when it comes to brand effectiveness and customer loyalty.
How would you translate this to a small business or a B2B business where tattooing a logo is unlikely? What should a small business take away from this?
You might get calls when people want to do events or they want to partner with you or they want to write a guest post for your blog. Those are all really good signs that people are trying to align their brand with yours and that is sort of the first step. You've created value in your brand and now people want to be associated with your brand-maybe not as permanently as on your skin. But it's the same thing when people walk around with your brand on their clothing or they walk around with bags from a certain store. It's all about people clamoring to align themselves with your company. So I think that's a real good point for small businesses. Are you as small business creating meaning as a whole?
I guess you're saying if customers don't have a tattoo on their skin, they might sort of have it tattooed on their brain.
Exactly, that's a great metaphor. I like that!
What mistakes do you see small businesses making as they try to adopt content marketing strategies?
One is that people looking at content marketing often have a really limited aperture as to what they are looking at, literally saying how much can I talk about my products and services? Let's say you are a cleaning company or a screen door company. How many things can I write about screen doors, for example? That's taking a really narrow view about what it takes to connect with customers.
You need to look at how your products and services are used and open that aperture. So let's say you are the screen door company... Is it about outdoor living? About patios? About entertaining? Is it about having a busy household with cats and kids? You need to brainstorm those related topics that you can be talking about and what your customers care about in relation to your product or services.
You can talk about those other things within your content marketing to get them to know, like and trust you. That's a phrase that everybody uses in terms of building a brand. So you need to understand how do you help them know and trust you. They are not going to know and trust you if your blog post is always about "buy our stuff." So how can you offer value and how can you give advice and how can you talk about the things that are relevant to your customer base, to show them you understand them?
I think the second thing, another mistake, which I hear a lot from my clients and I'm sure you do, too, is well, I don't know about blogging because I'm scared to give it all away for free, especially in service-based businesses. I tell my clients to give customers a taste; set yourself up as an expert; be generous with what you know and help them.
Unfortunately there are a lot of CFOs out there that are like, well we've posted five blog posts, so how many sales did we make from that? But that's not what it's about. It's about long-term customer value.