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How to market your brand

Whether you've just opened your first small business or you're a marketing professional overseeing multiple locations, it pays to know how to market your  brand. In a digital age with more and more channels for selling your products or services, you may not know where to start. Or, you may have already started but aren't sure of which steps to take.

No two business' marketing strategies are exactly alike. However, Sunset Hill Stoneware has some basic steps and guidelines to keep in mind if you want to bring more customers through your doors and keep them coming back.

Establish Your Brand Voice

There's a reason it's called branding—done right, your logo is a cattle prod on your customer's brain. It distinguishes your brand from your competition and helps your customers find you and recognize your products or services.

Atticus Coffee and Gifts stoneware mugsIf you haven't already, take some time to find your brand voice. This is the unique way your brand expresses itself through your marketing materials, including words, images and videos. The customers you target and the products or services you offer shape your brand voice, though you shouldn't try to borrow the brand voice of any other businesses in order to find it.

Your brand voice could also change over time as your business grows. For example, Sunset Hill Stoneware used to have a narrow brand voice that was designed to speak to exactly one type of person: People who drink coffee on their cabin porch in the Adirondack Mountains. Since most people don't have cabins or live in the Adirondacks, but practically everyone needs something that holds liquid at some point in their lives, we've expanded our horizons. Today, our brand is more fun-loving, modern and designed to speak to a much wider audience with our unique coffee mugs.

Finding your brand voice takes soul-searching. Here are just a few questions to ask yourself:

  • What descriptive adjectives best suit your brand?
  • If your brand were a person, describe who they would be.
  • Is your brand fun-loving or serious? Formal or casual?
  • Who are your biggest customers?

The more questions you ask yourself about your brand and who your customers are, the easier it will be for you to develop a well-rounded brand voice. This won't be a walk in the park though. Like all other aspects of marketing, developing your brand voice requires time and effort. You can't just establish it and then forget it. Periodically, take some time out of your schedule to see what about your brand voice is working and where you may need to adjust.

Social Media Marketing

In the digital age, it would be foolish not to consider social media marketing as an essential platform for your business. Posting your visual content, announcements for sales and other marketing materials on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram lets you interact with your customers directly and develop your business' reputation with the public.

Sunset Hill Stoneware social media mug

Determining where your audience is on social media is key to attracting the most relevant customers. Facebook has billions of active users, making it the largest platform of its kind in the world and typically a good place to start. Instagram is one of the fastest growing platforms right now and has more interactions than any other site—the perfect place to post those beautiful product photos you took. You can even go live on your Facebook or Instagram account and introduce new products with video, special events or other limited-time offers going on at your storefront or on your website.

The types of users you'll find on each platform vary. For example, Twitter encompasses a wide range of demographics, but its users tend to skew younger and less formal than those on Facebook. If you're able to sell your product in just a few photos or under 280 characters, Twitter may be the place for you.

These aren't the only options at your fingertips though. LinkedIn, a site geared toward professionals, is perfect not only for hiring new employees but getting in front of customers if you have a business-to-business model. Pinterest is perfect for those selling visually appealing products, and Snapchat allows you to post and share photos within a limited time span of 24 hours with a more casual air.

However, don't make the mistake of trying to use every single social media platform you come across. Find a few different channels that you know your customers are using and post there consistently. Otherwise, you'll be wasting your marketing efforts in places where you won't find any customers, sales or fans.

One notable exception to this rule is Google+. While it's one of the least-used platforms in the world, posting the occasional photo or link to your Google+ page will help improve search engine rankings for your business website.

A word of caution: Never, under any circumstances, purchase follower or "likes" on any social platform you use. It might seem like an easier route than waiting for your list to grow naturally, but it doesn't result in more customers for your business. Most of these purchased accounts are "bots," or artificial users.

Email Marketing

Once you know who your buyers are, email marketing is a safe way to establish your presence digitally. Customers and visitors to your business' website or social media pages can ask to subscribe to your mailing list so they will receive news about new deals, special offers or discounts they won't be able to find elsewhere.

Don't attempt this through your Gmail account or directly through your business' email address. It's not an efficient way of keeping track of your emails and leads to potentially big mistakes.

Instead, take advantage of an email marketing automation platform to help you keep your email list under control and sending to the right addresses at the right time. Services like MailChimp, Drip or Hubspot allow you to manage your mailing list without having to get directly in the weeds and send to potentially thousands of people at a time. These services and others like them are not one size fits all though—do some research on which platform best suits your needs before investing your time and budget.

Just like purchasing social media followers, purchasing email lists is strongly discouraged. Not only is it a bad strategy for getting the payoff you're looking for; it's also illegal. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 strictly prohibits the buying and selling of email lists, and you could pay a hefty fine if caught.

Experiment with your Marketing Strategy

Good marketing has a long shelf life. That doesn't just mean that your post or email will stick with your customers for a while to come—when you absolutely nail it, it could mean using the same materials or strategy for future campaigns, and maybe even for years.

Green stoneware mug for Inventors BrewpubFinding the right marketing materials for your business is never a simple fix. It usually involves working across multiple channels in order to pull off your various campaigns, and you may find over time that some simply don't work  as well as others.

When that happens, don't stress. Simply adjust your campaign to focus on the ones that are working.

This also happens with a phenomenon known as ad fatigue. Ad fatigue occurs when your target audience sees the same marketing materials again and again, eventually becoming less responsive to your ads. This is common on Facebook and during election years, where you see so many attack ads that you start to simply mute your TV during commercial breaks when you're watching the 6 o'clock news.

On the other hand, Sunset Hill Stoneware products are made to help your brand leave lasting impressions on people's minds over long periods of time without being as intrusive as other promotional marketing tools. The mugs themselves last potentially for decades without wearing out the way shirts or pens do, so your customers will be able to remember your brand distinctly for years to come.

Use Targeted Brand Marketing

There's a technique that marketers call "spray and pray," or sending your campaign materials to all of your customers and contacts at once and then hoping sales come out of it.

That rarely happens. In fact, this strategy is like performing surgery with a chainsaw. You'll likely lose more customers than you gain if you send emails to your entire contact list announcing a sale through MailChimp or any other mass mailing service.UW Oshkosh college of nursing mug

Instead, you'll want to be precise when you're deciding who to target in your marketing efforts. It may not always be the same group of people at the same time. For example, if you're a florist, your customers ordering floral sprays for funeral homes aren't going to be interested in your seasonal sale on corsages for the local high school prom. In fact, they might even get annoyed and feel like your emails are clogging up their inbox.

Instead, focus only on the people who would find your sale or campaign relevant for the best results. Revisiting the florist example, in order to get the most out of your corsage sale, you would instead send emails and targeted messages only to older students at that high school and possibly their parents.

Some social media tools have made marketing to specific audiences easier than ever. Facebook allows you to find your audience based on everything from whether they're of a certain age to their professional field to whether they like football or baseball. Use these tools to your advantage and cut into that very specific territory that you know will love your products or needs your services.

Use Creative Marketing Content
Sunset Hill Stoneware stein in Root Beer Float glaze

Frequently, your product visuals will be the first thing your customers see of your brand when they're shopping online or browsing social media. Photos and videos of your product must be dynamic, or your online customers and fans on social media won't even spare them a passing glance.

We have plenty of tips for good product photography in marketing, including the rules of composition and lighting. Some important pointers to remember include keeping your product cropped tightly within the photo, be aware of the lighting you want, and avoid using your camera's flash indoors.

It also pays to know how to edit photos using editing software like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP. Photoshop has famously been used to create some of the greatest artwork of the modern era, in addition to touching up wrinkles and gray hairs. GIMP is a free and open-source editing program that allows you to touch up photos and change graphics as you see fit.

Here are just a few tools you can use in your photo editing software to help your product photography look picture perfect:

  • Brightness. Adjusting the brightness of your photos will affect their mood and your customers' perception.
  • Color Balance. Done right, changing the color balance in your product photos brings out its more subtle hues. 
  • Saturation. Adjusting the saturation in your product photography can enhance your products' colors and make them pop, especially if your inventory is brightly colored.
  • Spot healing. Newer photo editing software usually has this handy tool, which corrects everything from unwanted mustard stains to shadows or fabric wrinkles. 

These four tools barely scratch the surface of what photo editing software can do to help you fix your photos or even make entirely new images. On the other hand, all the editing software in the world can't make up for a poorly taken photograph. Keep composition in mind and try to use more than the camera on your smartphone for the best possible results before relying completely on editing.

Conclusion

Marketing is not something that can be done on the side. You also can't "set it and forget it" and hope for good results. You have to wear many different hats as a marketer, whether you're crunching numbers to see how your efforts have paid off or where you need to make adjustments to your plan in the future, or if you're coming up with creative new ideas to advertise your brand.

Marketing your brand takes time and effort, but these tips and others from Sunset Hill Stoneware can help you get started on helping attract new customers to your shop and get them buying your shop's unique product offerings.

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