Man using iPad

3 top tips to extend your small business’ brand online

From the latest smartphone to the new Apple iPad, it seems like not a day goes by without a new communication device hitting the market. There’s no denying that these technological innovations can make our lives easier, allowing us to become ever more efficient and enabling the exchange of information at lightning speed. Similarly, the ubiquity of social media has transformed the way we interact and exchange information – not only with each other, but with the thousands of businesses and brands that also inhabit the online space.

From a business perspective, these new communication devices allow brands greater access to their customers than ever before. But for many business owners, getting to grips with the multitude of mediums that are out there and learning how to incorporate them successfully into your business can be something of a daunting prospect.  It’s no longer the case that being online equates to having a website alone. What about your company blog and Twitter feed? Is your website iPhone compatible? How does it translate to the iPad? Is a specific mobile application more relevant than a website? Are Google Adwords an option in your market to drive traffic or is SEO going to be more effective in the long term?

It’s easy to be overwhelmed, particularly if you’re not a tech-savvy Gen Y. All too often, businesses plunge headfirst into a new media without a clear objective and strategy in mind. It’s classic “me too” syndrome, fuelled by the fear of being left behind as your competitors blaze an online trail with their 100,000 Facebook fans following close behind. But is Facebook right for your business? It’s no use having 100,000 teenage fans if your objective is to drive sales with the baby boomers!

There are three key elements that every business should get to grips with before deciding where they should position themselves in the online space and which medium presents the best investment. Click through to the next page to find out what they are…

1.      Understand your audience. Ask yourself who it is you are trying to reach and what mediums they use. More importantly, what mediums do they use when they are seeking information about a business such as yours? A huge percentage of the population have Facebook pages, but while they are likely to interact with a fan page for a popular consumer brand or product, it’s far less likely they will do the same with a business service. A presence on Linked In for example, is far more effective for a B2B brand, offering greater benefits and opportunities to pinpoint then connect directly with your audience.

2.      Understand the media. Before deciding where to spend your marketing dollars, it’s essential to grasp exactly how these new mediums are used by consumers and ask yourself how you could utilise a particular platform to add value. For example, creating a smartphone app that is really just an optimised version of your standard website is not money well spent. Mobile apps offer the chance to communicate directly with your audience in real time and should offer your customer something extra that they can’t find elsewhere –  this is a hallmark of the online brand experience.

3.      Establish your budget. Ultimately, where you position your brand online really comes down to how much you are willing to spend and setting a budget will help to identify which mediums are within your reach. A good smartphone app will take up a sizeable chunk of your marketing budget – but if your target audience are demanding you communicate in this way and you have a brand that lends itself well to handheld devices, then it may be worthwhile considering.

It’s vital to consider all mediums as part of your brand strategy, but the driving force when moving onto new platforms should be the needs and wants of your target market. That said, there are inexpensive ways to successfully trial the positioning of your brand online – through social media, for example – which you can use as an initial testing ground. A targeted Facebook ad campaign to drive users to your own Facebook page is a cost effective tool which allows you to set the budget yourself and gauge the effect on the bottom line. But you need to manage and track it.

The most valuable lesson to learn when it comes to positioning your brand online is this: knowledge is power. If you don’t know how your customers are using these new methods of communication, then you cannot successfully integrate them into your marketing strategy. If you don’t know what the benefits of one medium are over another, then you cannot take full advantage of them.

There are no shortcuts: to reap the rewards of a fully integrated brand strategy, you have to take the time to go online and understand each environment. But remember – what’s current today can quickly become yesterday’s news and relevance to your market is key. The best brands engage their customers on the customer’s playing field by speaking their language and expressing their brand values. ‘Innovation’ should only be employed when the target audience values it.

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