Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Making the Hashtag Work for Your #Business

Fans of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt got laughs watching the protagonist adjust to several changes in the world after being apart from it for a decade, including the explosion of social media, with her (mis)understanding of hashtags quickly becoming a meme.

Still from "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." Kimmy is showing a woman her phone, and the caption is , "Hashbrown no filter."

However, if social media is part of your marketing strategy (and it most likely is), it is important to know how to use the hashtag to your benefit.

Basically, a hashtag used on social media is a way for the user to gain quick access to the content tagged with the "#" sign and a word, name, or phrase. The hashtag links to a list of posts that include it - or some iteration of it - and can serve as an instant news feed or an up-to-the-second trend measurement.

Hashtags will help you:

  • Categorize posts: We are bombarded with information on social media, and it can get very overwhelming very quickly. The last thing we want is a frustrated user, so keep your hashtags simple and to the point. Since this post is about using the hashtag in social media, it would make sense for us to use #socialmediamarketing in a hashtag. The category hashtag will most likely be the broadest in scope, potentially covering a number of topics that fall under the category.
  • Reach followers of a specific hashtag: Hashtags can get specific, and they can be all over the place in terms of topic. I just went to Twitter and looked at the current trends, which include #NationalFriedChickenDay (silly), #mondaymotivation (ongoing trend), and #WalterReed (news). This will be considerably more narrow in scope than your categorizing hashtags. For this post, we would use #hashtagmarketing to reach people who have an interest in the topic. Users searching for that exact term, or for #hashtag and/or #marketing would be included in the results. Hashtag trending can generate a great deal of attention, with news programs often recapping news events that became hugely popular in that news cycle.
  • Speak to person or company monitoring a hashtag: If we've heard it once, we've heard it one hundred times - social media is a conversation. Some brands will hold online conversations on a specific date and time and assign a hashtag for participants to use: think of Jimmy Fallon asking viewers to Tweet about a specific subject using a related hashtag and then reading responses during The Tonight Show. Others use a hashtag to organize a meetup of users, or during a "takeover" by a user who is given temporary control of a brand's account. Even if users don't actively participate and only monitor the action, they will still come away with more insight into the topic.

Much like The Force, the hashtag must be used wisely:

Photo of Yoda with the text, "The hashtag is strong in this one."
Even Yoda knows.

  • Do your homework: Research hashtags to find out if what you have in mind is being used, or if there's a similar one that already has some traction. By knowing what hashtags are already in play, you'll learn what your audience's interests are and what conversations are already taking place, so you can fine tune your hashtags if need be. You also don't want your hashtag to be so specific that you're the only one using it.
  • Be unique: Using terminology that's too common in a hashtag will result in a lot of static for your user to wade through, and not many will have the patience for that. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but can be tweaked by adding a little extra to the hashtag. Remember our categories? #Socialmedia may result in a lot of noise, but #socialmediamanagement will filter out much of that.
  • Know when to say no: Hashtags can backfire big time, especially for a takeover or a Q&A. Chances are, if you're a politician or if your brand is at all controversial, stay away from these unless you're ready to go toe-to-toe. Just ask E.L. James or Bobby Jindal about their recent Twitter Q&A disasters (there are many people who literally believe that their handlers hate them and were setting them up for failure - that's how awry things went). Sure, any brand or person is going to have some trolls, but with preparation and an understanding of the undertaking, these events can be successful.
  • Be prepared: If you're using a hashtag for a contest or a giveaway, be prepared to have someone dedicated to monitoring the conversation, and have a list of possible disagreements along with your official responses to them. Being very clear about the scope and the rules at the get-go will prevent many of these issues from arising. It's also a good idea to anticipate questions and/or arguments for any hashtag event by preparing a FAQ that covers potential scenarios with appropriate responses (social media monitors are only human, and their nerves can be plucked, so a script will help them - and their blood pressure - stay even and avoid an argument).
  • Engage: A very specific hashtag can be incredibly successful...as long as people know to use it. Promote the hashtag across all of your social channels, and consider devoting a blog post - even a brief one - to it. Start rolling out the hashtag about a week before you want the conversation to start in order to get it in front of as many eyes as possible. On the flip side, don't hesitate to seize an opportunity to engage your audience with a hashtag conversation if an opportunity presents itself suddenly, just do it wisely.
  • Don't go overboard: Too many hashtags are obnoxious to users. Just don't. Keep it to two relevant hashtags, max. Trust me.
Hashtags used strategically can help you build and engage an audience for your brand. Following the guidelines above will help you plan and implement both a hashtag campaign and enhance your current social media strategies and policies. For guidance with starting or managing social media campaigns, contact Brockett Creative group by email or by calling 315-797-5088.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Beyond the Logo: Your Brand Is Your Word

The above names represent well-known products. We can all probably conjure up their logos, descriptions, and our own feelings and/or beliefs about each in a matter of seconds because each of these products has gone beyond simply choosing names and logos and created brands. Case in point: the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia brand isn’t just a multimedia company, it’s a lifestyle, and a great deal of effort went into crafting that identity.

At BCG, we tell clients “Your brand is your word.” The information that you convey to consumers through your brand is your promise. It stands for not just the product, but what the product means.

Branding is not a modern concept – not by a long shot.  Artisans have been marking their wares with identification since prehistoric times, and as commerce evolved, branding followed.

A horse effigy comb made of antler or bone from the time of Iroquois contact with Europeans. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY.
In North America, many artifacts from the time of European contact and earlier have marks that were likely made by the artisan to identify who made it (more likely a tribal affiliation than a personal attribution). In other words, the idea of branding is old, you guys. You can find the comb pictured at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

Marketplace competition requires anyone who makes a product – from the Etsy artist down the road to BMW headquarters – to set his or her goods apart from similar merchandise. Enter a branding strategy and execution.

As the Caterpillar said to Alice, “Who are you?

Everything about your brand should reflect what your business stands for, not just what you produce. Is your product cutting-edge or classic? Are your ideal customers in their 20s or their 40s? Do you offer the affordable option or the luxury one?

In other words, are you Prabal Gurung for Target or are you Burberry? Both are clothing lines, but they target divergent audiences and trigger completely different responses from consumers. You must be clear on your identity and then build your brand around it.

Four models wearing bright, modern clothing from the Prabal Gurung for Target line.
Are you this?

Four models wearing classic Burberry raincoats in a botanical garden.
Or are you more of this?

In fashioning your identity, some straightforward questions can guide you:
  • Do you have a mission statement? If you are a not-for-profit organization, you certainly do, but they are also worthwhile to corporations. While making enough money to be successful and keep the doors open is important to you, corporate values such as supporting specific initiatives and programs (TOMS shoes), a commitment to green practices (Adobe Systems), or providing opportunities for those living in impoverished areas (Nike Foundation's Girl Effect) are important to more and more consumers. As our individual identities as people are a mix of characteristics, so are business identities, and you want consumers to know what sets you apart from the competition.
  • What makes your product special? Why should the consumer pass over their usual choice and try your product? It’s not easy to lure people away from items in their comfort zones, so this needs to be compelling. Again, it’s setting your product apart from the competition.
  • Even if your company is a startup, there are people out there who have experience with your goods or services – they’re your first focus group. What do they think of your company, your product(s), and your customer service? If you’ve been in business for a while, you have a great opportunity to look at your customers’ behavior and learn what they love, what they dislike, and what they think.
  • What do you want people to think of when they see your logo or hear your name? Keeping this list down to two or three descriptive words will help you maintain brand focus. 

Logo Mojo

At BCG, the step following defining your identity is logo development. Logos can be the brand name, an image representing the brand, or a combination of both. Sometimes a tagline is included; for example, often Nike uses “Just Do It,” but it’s just as recognizable if they only use their name and/or their swoosh.

It’s important to take your time on logo design, as it needs to represent your brand for many, many years. Changing an established logo should not be undertaken lightly, as that is how consumers recognize you immediately. If someone says “Wendy’s,” what is the first thing that pops into your mind? It’s probably not a Frosty or a burger, but their name with their red-haired, Pippi Longstocking-esque mascot. People get familiar with logos and think of them as the brand itself. Because the brand and the logo are often one and the same in people’s minds, you want to get it right (Google “worst logos” for confirmation). Your logo will be almost everywhere, from your signage and business cards to your invoices and advertisements.

Next comes the decisions about how to use the four “W”s to promote your brand: what, where, when, and to whom.
  • What is your message? This is where having a solid sense of your corporate identity comes back into play, because your message must be consistent. Your logo will remind people of your message and the two will become intertwined in the minds of current and potential customers.
  • Where are you going to spend your promotion dollars? Your target audience will probably help you to determine this. Do you reach them through television advertising, remarketing web ads, or through an app such as Pandora? These certainly aren’t mutually exclusive avenues, but you’ll want to throw resources behind some more than others. If your product is geared toward people who like to cook, a Pinterest plan and ads on food and lifestyle sites could work to your benefit, so you'll want to focus your investment there.
  • When are you going to promote? This ties in closely to knowing your target audience, as you will want to be aware of their interests and their patterns. For example, if your product appeals to active men in their 20s and 30s, you may want to look at advertising during sporting events or remarketing on websites devoted to outdoor activities and sports.
  • Who is your target audience? Knowing what you want to communicate to specific demographics and what their behavior is cannot be underestimated. This will influence all of the above factors, from type of advertising to its placement and timing.

Team Spirit

It’s important to not overlook the front lines when it comes to communicating your brand: your staff. Your staff should be interested in your brand and care about it enough to act as an ambassador for it. They should be able to comfortably convey the spirit of the brand and be proud of it. They should also care enough about it to bring up any issues they see in order to strengthen the brand; for example, if a customer service rep notices customers taking issue with a particular aspect of your brand, he or she should feel able to bring it up and know that the brand managers will take it under advisement. Team support will only make your brand - and your business - better. Of course, employees who are enthusiastic about your brand are invaluable for many other reasons, but that’s a post for a human resources director!

Johnson & Johnson employees in red running suits with the company logo in white.
Johnson & Johnson employees are the happiest in the United States.
Resentful employees don't gladly wear the company logo emblazoned on running gear.

Your Brand Is Your Word...

...so make sure that it conveys what you want and promises only what you can deliver. A well-developed brand is one of your greatest assets, and taking the time, effort, and resources to get it right will pay off in the long run.

If you'd like to talk about your brand, please email or call us at 315-797-5088.