Guest Host: Reza Alavie, Professor at Seneca College
Our guest host is Reza Alavie, who is a former agency owner now teaching at Seneca College. He is also a lifetime student of marketing communications. His passion is promoting entrepreneurial organizations and is currently working on his doctorate in this discipline. He had lunch with Henry Wong.
3.1 ON CREATING A BRAND PROMISE
Reza: Thanks so much for inviting me. Now how does a company in your opinion with a modest budget go about creating a brand. They don't have funds to saturate the airwaves to saturate the online world. They have a modest budget. How do they go about creating a brand in the first place and then maintaining it. [READ MORE]
Henry: At the core of any business is really their interaction with their customers. So being able to live up to that promise does far more for their brand then simply providing that outward promise and outreach. There’s that old saying that you’re familiar with as I am. And that is, there’s nothing that can kill a bad product faster than good advertising. So at the heart of it, your brand is still your promise and it needs to be there internally. It needs to be part of the DNA of the company. So if it exists, the word will get out. And there are any number of ways and we’ve both faced this with clients who have limited budgets and who have a limited opportunity to get the word out. Social media as we know is one way. PR is another. They’re not bought media. They’re referred to as earned media and that’s a very effective way of doing it. There is still a cost. Someone still has to put it together whether you hire someone or you can certainly do it on your own. But at the heart of it, in my opinion, if you’re able to live up to it, word gets out, we have the entire public at our disposal who through reviews, through interaction, through sharing on their own social media are opportunities to be human pieces of media to get the word out
Reza: So you think ultimately if a small company lives up to its promise, it will create a brand.
Henry : It will create a brand. It begins internally and I think at least if we centre on the theoretical side that if a brand is able to manifest itself internally, going external is really just a matter of dollars and opportunity to get the word out.
Reza: So when you say internally, what do you mean by that?
Henry: It means if you run a retail store, for example, and your promise is that we will provide the best customer service that exists anywhere. That needs to exist through your entire operation, through all of the people that you hire. If it doesn’t, then you’re not honoring the promise that you’ve created. I’ll give you an example – Lee Valley Tools. No marketing. All they put out is a simple catalog every year. Their promise is that they would always look after the customer no matter what. He has through the years empowered all their salespeople to make decisions on behalf of the corporation. Make it right for the customer. Make sure they leave happy. They come back with a product, they’re not happy with. It doesn’t matter if they it don’t have a receipt. It doesn’t matter if it’s unpacked, they give them their money back. Wonderful brand promise right from the beginning. With that they’ve built up a multi, multi-million dollar company that has succeeded for well over 40 years based on very little advertising but simply living up to the brand promise that they’ve created.
3.2 ON PRICE AND COMPETITION
Reza: I'm working with a graphic designer. She has been in business for 10 years, maybe 15 years. Breathtaking work. Very reasonable prices and very focused on her existing customers but repeat business is not coming in because all of a sudden she's competing with graphic designers overseas who can create things for 50 bucks. And there's no way she can do. So she's thinking of broadening her offering to include other things even though she has done what you and I would describe as the right thing is suffering because her client base has not spread the word they haven't become the medium that we were talking about. They haven't spread the word to other people enough to sustain her. What is she doing wrong? [READ MORE]
Henry: Every brand, every marketing initiative is made up of many components. So it isn’t just one thing that will lead you to success as you know. It’s really the brand promise at the beginning. The second part of it is defining what she is as a brand – what is it that she can offer that the other lower paid offerings can’t. And that is the competitive advantage. Being able to identify it and be able to communicate it makes it ideal.
I don’t know what makes her special. It could be that it is the work, certainly. But it’s the ability to justify the higher cost and the work that goes into it. Maybe there’s a process that’s involved. Maybe there’s the ability to turn it around quicker than anyone else. Maybe it’s the understanding of a certain product or business category that no one else can. As you know with the outsourcing of all the creative, is that it becomes very subjective. With what we know between our years in the business we know that there’s a certain process that goes into place to create a campaign or create a brand. If it simply is a subjective piece of creative then it can be satisfied by anyone. If we can ascribe it to a process. If we can ascribe it to a manner in which the work that is presented is the right answer and right for the business and can impact the business, there’s a greater chance of success for both the business and the person itself. Otherwise, all it is is creative art that the engager is simply looking to fulfill and maybe use as a sign, use as a logo. With that It doesn’t fulfill a business promise or a business problem that they’re hoping to solve along the way.
Reza: So it’s not a question of how well you do something. It’s also a question of how well you set the value of it.
Henry: And define it for people so that when they engage you in your services they know that this is what I’m paying for.
Reza: And they see the value upfront.
Henry: The idea is really to push it beyond a commodity because right now design is like many products and services in our society. It’s a bit of a commodity. Someone with a Mac with a student or someone outsourced from overseas has the ability to put something together. Where we can succeed, where certainly your client can succeed is really at higher level of of being able to provide the solution required to answer a business problem.
3.3 AUTHENTIC CONTENT
Reza: How do we come up with authentic educational content that also engages people? [READ MORE]
Henry: There’s no set formula but a lot of it as you know is providing an audience profile to understand what and who you’re talking to. So if you have a retailer who is looking to appeal to a certain customer base, there’s a certain connection through the product. There’s so much content out there. You know we never thought this would happen but we do have a thousand channel universe through which we can watch all sorts of entertainment. The challenge for many people in marketing is to try to stand out amongst all of that because you’re vying for attention. It isn’t simply you’re vying for attention against other types of promotion or advertising, you’re simply vying for people’s attention. So what sort of value can you create? What sort of content that you have that you can offer up that will be of value to people? So while you may have a thousand people liking a certain piece of content, is it relevant to the business? So it’s important for businesses to understand that it isn’t always the number. Because isn’t it better in the end, let’s say to have two people come into the store with zero contact through social media than it is to have a thousand engagers but no one coming into the store? So having things that are relevant, having things that tie back to helping to promote the businesses is not a bad thing.
Certainly you want to increase the numbers and that’s often what you want to build – enough of an audience base by which you can communicate to them. In the old days, the reason why we advertised in magazines or bought newspaper ads or TV ads, of course, was because you’re tapping into the audience. The reverse is true these days. People are looking to create their own audience by drawing them in through some interesting content so I can later communicate to them on a different basis. It’s a lot more work as you can imagine but you do need to identify and isolate the type of customers that you’re ultimately after. So your question is, how do how do we engage? How do we find the right content for people to engage with?
Reza: What is a content strategy?
And certainly if the parameters and what we do with all our clients is to ensure that there is a content strategy in place that it helps fulfill the brand. And the content that is created helps to further that along. So there’s some tie-in. Because it’s easy enough to create a cat video and have people watch but is it relevant to the business at hand. So it needs to tie back to your promise, your brand structure, your brand personality and everything else that goes along side with it.
We may find you’re a professional service and you have some amazing thought leadership that you can share within the area, of let’s say, litigation. Being able to put content out there to establish your expertise in that area: It informs people. It educates them. At the same time it positions you as an expert. If you’re a retailer selling electronic goods, for example, you may end up doing let’s say reviews of those electronic gadgets so that people can look to you as a bit of an expert. What is the position that you’re trying to occupy in the person’s mind, in the customer’s mind. You help fulfill that through content. It may be a little bit more enhanced and it may be areas that you can find certainly entertaining because it relates to the brand in some way but it has to come back to the brand. So a content strategy ensures that whatever pieces of education or entertainment you put out reflects where you should be going with the brand.