The winter holiday season is a time for looking back and looking forward. As you review the past year and make your resolutions for 2014, consider these four ways to become a better marketer and boost your brand.
1. Audit your brand
Yogi Berra once warned, "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there." A more coherent corollary: You've got to know where you are before you can figure out where you should go.
Take the time to assess where your brand stands. I know this can be a complicated, multi-step process. Here are some simple ways to get started.
There are two dimensions to measure your brand success: power and reach. As I've written before, power is the degree to which customers prefer your brand to your competitors. Brand power is not a numbers game: it is a measure of how much each customer prefers your brand. Reach measures how many people prefer your brand. Ask yourself: How strong is my brand's power, and how broad is its reach? Based on what you find, you can use something I call a Brand Board to plan your next move.
To understand your brand's power, first look at how many people find you via your URL versus keyword search. If most of your search traffic begins as a generic word search rather than a search for your brand name, you have some work to do to earn a spot in your customers' minds.
Second, determine how many of your customers were referred by other customers. Think about it: First-time sales will tell you that your advertising and promotions are working. Repeat sales will tell you that your product is working -- at least for customers who've come back. But referrals mean your customers are passionate about your brand. That's when you know you're on the right track.
2. Broaden your scope
Now that you know where your brand stands, take a moment to assess yourself. How can you better serve your clients, customers, and colleagues? How can you better serve your brand?
You are -- or you should be -- an expert of your own business. That's necessary, but it's not quite enough. As Einstein once said, "You can't solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level."
In the coming year, look for ways to expand your frame of reference and to discover ideas you wouldn't normally encounter. Chances are that's where you'll find your next big idea for your company or brand.
Some websites I like to explore for new perspectives include TED (a smorgasbord of inspiring and thought-provoking presentations), Brain Pickings, (a self-described "human-powered discovery engine for interestingness"), and Farnam Street (one man's quest to "master the best of what other people have already figured out"). Resources like these are especially great because you can always find a way to fit them into your day, even with just ten minutes to spare. For something that can set you up for big payoffs down the line, that's an easy commitment to make.
3. Spark your creativity: read
Marketers, branders, and entrepreneurs have a lot to learn from one another -- and, happily, many have taken the time to put their best thoughts into writing. With hundreds of thousands of books on the market, it's impossible to read them all -- but here are three I'd put on my "required reading" list:
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Dr. Robert Cialdini's classic volume, now in its fifth edition, unlocks the mystery behind getting people to say "yes." An insightful examination of human behavior, as relevant today as when it first appeared.
Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day. Todd Henry has written the definitive "how-to" for contemporary professionals seeking fulfilling careers and lives. Full of provocative ideas and practical advice to make your working life the best it can be.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. No matter what you set out to do, author Steven Pressfield says you will be certain to encounter resistance; it is the normal state of trying to do something new. Successful people understand that resistance is not something to avoid, but something to push through. Pressfield (who also wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance) provides valuable advice on how to do just that.
4. Shake things up: Try something new
It's easy to get comfortable with whatever marketing approach we already have -- be it print advertising, direct mail, digital, or a combination of these and more. But don't let comfort morph into complacency. Don't get stuck in a rut. Sometimes brand-building requires us to try a different tack.
Counter-intuitively, your best approach may be to try to help someone else. My corporate giveaways company, Branders.com, was reminded of that this fall, when we heeded a customer's request to stop selling mints in prescription pill bottles because of the inadvertent signal the product might send about the seriousness of prescription drug abuse. After hearing out our customer, we removed the product because we agreed it was the right thing to do. To our surprise, the story got picked up by the Associated Press -- bringing positive brand coverage for the Raymond Coalition for Youth --our customer -- and for Branders, too.
Another idea: Consider using promotional products to build your brand. I know that sounds self-serving, coming from me, but the truth is that they work. Research confirms that eight in ten people keep the promotional products they receive; about half of them use their promotional product once a week or more; and six in ten consumers keep the typical corporate giveaway for two years -- far longer than most people (but not you) keep their New Year's resolutions!