The most successful entrepreneurs, business owners, and individuals have set their sights on developing a long-term platform for brand and buzz building over time—instead of hoping for an overnight success.
That’s really the key to the new branding and marketing mindset—the recognition that building a brand, be it personal, team, or business, is the result of an ongoing, steady stream of consistent small efforts, not a series of one-off, gigantic pushes.
As a branding and marketing consultant, I’ve observed three specific shifts in my field that every entrepreneur and executive needs to be aware of.
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Shift 1: From the Lucky Few to the Persistent Many
Social media has leveled the playing field and made obsolete the old mindset, which favored the lucky few. In other words, if you were fortunate enough to get written about in The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times (or appear on Oprah), you moved to the top of the press heap and considered yourself as having arrived. That was the old model.
Today, businesses that are consistent in their branding are getting PR, buzz, and attention. It doesn’t take a big, complicated marketing plan, but it does require a persistent approach to promotion.
Consider the world of book marketing. In the past, when an author would sign a book deal, a publisher would do all the legwork to promote the book. The highest-profile authors (the lucky few) got the most PR support from the publisher, and the larger pool of smaller fish received just a month or two of minimal PR support.
Today, many authors, whether their books are self-published or traditionally published, have taken book promotion into their own hands with the background support of PR firms, webmasters, online services, and marketing and branding consultants. The average self-managed campaign can be done on a budget of $12,000 instead of $20,000, and the window for promotion has grown from a few months to a few years (or more) for books whose topics are evergreen in nature. Book promotion is no longer a sprint won by the lucky few but a marathon conquered by the persistent many—and at a lower cost.
The same holds true for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Those who are making themselves ubiquitous in their fields through the consistent use of content marketing, PR, speaking, and other brand-building strategies are getting noticed as the thought leaders in their industries.
Shift 2: From the Big Stick to Small and Targeted
Another change in the branding and marketing mindset is that success is no longer the result of two or three big media hits. In the past, the goal was to be covered by a major magazine, newspaper, or TV program. Those hard-to-come-by hits were considered to make or break your business, book, or product.
Today, success doesn’t hinge on a few hot hits to a huge audience but on hundreds or thousands of smaller ones targeted to just the right users for your brand. For many entrepreneurs, experts, and executives, it’s difficult to shift out of the old paradigm since the allure of the most popular, biggest, and best-known media outlets is so deeply ingrained. But finding the right audience (small and targeted) instead of going for the one with the most viewers (the big stick) can make all the difference.
Be honest. If I asked you which you’d prefer, a popular pin on Pinterest or an appearance on the Today show, which would you choose? I’ve put this question to thousands of people in my keynote speeches, and the vast majority raise their hands for Today. It’s perfectly understandable but not always the right answer.
One of my favorite examples of this is entrepreneur Holly Xerri, owner of the online retail business Camibands. In August 2011, Xerri was offered the opportunity to appear on Today to discuss her sartorial creation, the Camiband—a multipurpose wardrobe extender for women that acts as a cleavage cover, among other things.
The result of Xerri’s appearance on the show was 3,500 hits to her website and an influx of orders. In December of that same year, a huge flood of orders suddenly came in. Xerri checked and saw she’d received 40,000 hits to her website over a four-day period. The source of those hits, according to Google Analytics? Users on Pinterest who’d pinned images of the Camiband found on her site.
Xerri’s brand was helped by being on Today, but it went viral via Pinterest—a social media site representing her exact audience. Eighty percent of Pinterest users are women between the ages of 25 and 54. According to an analysis by Shopify, Pinterest customers spend an average of $80 with each order, twice that of Twitter and Facebook customers. It may be a smaller audience than Today, but for Xerri, it packed a bigger impact.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to get booked on a major media outlet. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking:
- It’s all you have to do.
- It’s the only way to go.
- It’s always going to produce the best results.
Today, you don’t have to wait for “the big sticks” of media to deem your work worthy of attention. You will be much more successful if you aim your brand building at smaller venues that attract the perfect audience for you, instead of that one giant hit. Just remember: Getting in front of a huge audience won’t grow your business if it’s the wrong audience for you.
Shift 3: From a Sprint to a Marathon
Press releases, social media, blogging, and other content-marketing and business-development activities—both online and off—are about the persistent, ongoing process (a marathon) of building a platform, creating credibility, and increasing the number of people you funnel into your potential client pipeline or network. They’re not about a quick sprint toward a short-term outcome.
Converting the people you’ve funneled into your pipeline into clients, fans, or connections may take weeks, months, or years, but this new mindset leads you to strategies that will keep that pipeline full. In short, you need to start and maintain a bunch of small fires to keep your brand burning hot. Here’s an example from my own business.
Years ago I wrote a marketing article for my then-column in The Huffington Post. I got paid nothing to write it, and I don’t even remember the specific topic. Regardless, I received an email from a reader saying she’d enjoyed the post and thought I should connect with a media trainer named Susan Harrow.
At the time, I had no idea who Susan was, so I Googled her. We seemed to have some professional crossover, and she looked interesting enough, so I sent her a LinkedIn invitation. She accepted it and sent me a to-the-point message saying, “I looked at your website, and I loved the vibrancy. Let’s set up a time to chat by phone.”
A week later we were on the telephone and discovered that we live in the same city—about ten minutes away from each other. Taking advantage of geography, we decided to meet for lunch. Over lunch, we chatted about our personal and work similarities. At the end of the meal, Susan looked at me and said, “Let’s order dessert.” That’s when I knew we’d be friends for life.
About a month later, Susan sent me a client referral. It was a small branding strategy project worth about $3,500. A few months later, that client called me saying they had a vendor who was looking for the type of work I did. That resulted in a six-month branding strategy and implementation project with a $30,000 price tag. For a period of two years, I kept track of all the business that came to me through Susan’s referral, and her referral’s referral. At last count it was $150,000.
My point is, we’re so busy trying to measure the immediate return we get on branding activities (be it social media or speaking at a conference) that we’re missing out on the long-term impact of these actions. When I wrote that one little blog post (for free), I didn’t know where it would lead. I had no expectation that it was going to do anything beyond increase my credibility. Ultimately it not only led to business, but to this day, Susan is one of my closest friends and colleagues—and that is priceless.