Think of all the ways you communicate with your current and potential clients and customers: social media, website content & blog posts, press releases, marketing materials, brochures, business cards, letterhead—the list goes on and on. How does your messaging come across? Is it clear? Concise? Consistent? Is it written to appeal to your specific target market?
I recently participated in a webinar with Charity How To on how to complete a communications audit for your non-profit organization. This enlightening session offered several tips that can be adjusted and implemented as best practices for any business, non-profit or otherwise. Here’s how to examine your business communications strategies and ensure you’re reaching your customer base.
Lay It Out
One way to start your assessment is to set aside a few hours and some open space. Print out all of your materials—in color. This may seem like an arduous process, but you’ll be surprised at how many inconsistencies you might find when it’s all laid out in front of you. Print as many of your materials as possible. This includes your letterhead, business cards, marketing brochures, a screenshot of your Facebook page, your Twitter profile, your LinkedIn profile, your blog, and your website. Print as much of your website out as possible.
Once you have all of your materials printed, find a large space—your basement floor, living room, wherever—and lay it all out. Grab a pad of sticky notes and mark things up! If you see something you like, mark it! Identify your brand’s colors, your preferred logo (you’d be surprised at how many companies have three or four versions of their logo that they’re working with), your mission statement, tagline, and overall message.
For a more tree-friendly solution, you can open all of these documents up on your desktop—but keep in mind your “big picture” will be much more limited. If all else fails, you can always recycle!
Ask Yourself Questions
What is my message to customers? Is it universal? Who are my different audiences/target markets? How can I reach the majority with a singular message?
These questions can seem daunting at first. It’s difficult to narrow down your message, but it’s important. You only have about 10 to 20 seconds to get your website visitors’ attention. That’s not very long—and the time is even shorter for ads. In this day and age, we literally have a matter of seconds to reach our audience and get our message across. Having a clear, concise, consistent message is mandatory!
Managing multiple audiences can be a challenge. Perhaps you have different types of clients or customers—maybe your organization markets to small business owners as well as private residences. Maybe you offer services across a wide range of industries. For example, a restaurant owner, a dentist, and a bride may all be looking for a photographer, but surely they’re each looking for a different type of photo. As a photographer running a small business, how do you convey that you can take photos of food and weddings and still take some great shots for web content?
Examine your ultimate message. (This is where your mission statement comes in.) What is it that you can provide that no one else can?
Full-color marketing and portrait photography at a great price, with unparalleled attention to detail.
Now, what image can you use to represent this? In a sentence or two, your message, logo, tagline, and brand should convey exactly what you do and why you are unique. Consider all your different audiences. The message should be universal.
Consistency is Key
No matter what your message, it’s important to be consistent. In a social media setting, this means your business site, your Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and other accounts should be consistently voiced. People are multifaceted and your personal profiles may show pictures of your pets, children, vacation, and hobbies. But your business profile should be focused on your message at all times. You can post fun content, but keep it consistent to your message and image. Profile pictures should reflect you in a business setting—if you run a dog walking business, your profile picture should show you with a dog. Your logo and tagline should appear on all documents, materials, letterhead, webpage and anywhere else you can think of.
Consider color scheme as well. Your brand should have no more than four colors (not counting black or white). Once you’ve chosen your colors, know the hex numbers (HTML numbers) and have a solid grasp of your brand colors. There are hundreds of shades of green. Make sure that you’re using the exact same green color on all your materials.
Also consider your style. Is your business sleek and modern? Do you want to convey a DIY feel? Retro? Minimalist? Whatever your “look,” embrace it and keep it the same throughout. Using a grainy Polaroid-type series of photos on your marketing materials, and a crisp, modern look on your website can confuse your audience. Give your style a name and keep a small collection of style inspirations (clippings, colors, photos, fonts) that fit with your brand.
Simple is always better. There’s a tendency for businesses to want to put their entire message out there—explaining their business, history, purpose, etc. While this is appropriate for certain marketing materials, annual reports, and in-depth profiles online and off, it’s not necessary on every piece of information you send out. Keep things visual. Too much text is an instant turn off for customers. Your materials should provide a snapshot, rather than a biography.
Avoid clip-art and “canned” looks and text for your marketing content. Hire a branding professional to create your unique and memorable look, and hire an experienced copywriter to create your brand messaging. It’s worth the investment to really stand out from the crowd.
Start Small, Work Up
If the thought of re-branding your business is causing a panic attack, relax. Start small. Simply ensuring your logo and color scheme appear universally across all your materials is a great place to start. Adding a tagline is the next step. Put it in your email signature, on your business cards, and anywhere you put your business name.
Once you feel you’ve gained consistency in your logo, color scheme, and tagline, start to work on consistent fonts. A business should have no more than four preferred fonts. Serif fonts are easier to read and dark font on a light background gets more attention. This is not to say you can’t use other fonts on projects, but there should be consistency on your website, social media, and marketing materials. Readability is key. While your logo may have a fun font all your own, your written materials should feature a clean, readable font—again, consistent across all your materials.
Next, consider your style. Rather than trying to undo the past (something that’s nearly impossible with today’s technology), move forward with consistency. Keep your personal profiles personal, and keep your business profiles business. With a little due diligence, you’ll quickly find your marketing has been “upgraded” and your message is communicated clearly, concisely and easily to your potential and current customers. And in the long run, that means more business for you!