How to Maximise your Online Potential & Develop your Brand
Written by Professional Academy Guest Blogger, Patrick Foster
The online world offers a wealth of marketing opportunities. Whether you want to set yourself up as a niche influencer on social media, or start your own business community, embrace the digital world as a place to make long-lasting, global connections.
One of the key metrics of success in the online world is successful branding: your ability to create a legacy that goes beyond purely what’s in front of people today. Make the most of your digital space, and start to develop a brand that is going to get people to sit up and take notice.
As the boundaries between funding, marketing, and branding blur, how can you take advantage of these shifting sands?
The importance of digital branding
What makes a brand so important? As the infographic summarises, a strong brand is all about reputation, trust, and connection. All these things converge to create a fully fledged brand.
- Creating a good online brand hinges on your willingness to put in the research and development time needed to create a narrative and a culture around your products and services. Tell people why you are here, not just what you’ve come to do.
- The best brands offer value, getting people to trust them and spend money with them time and time again. Your online brand starts with your website and is conveyed in everything — from simple things like your logo and company story, to your company mission statement and social media feeds. Think about whether all these different touch points come together to create a coherent whole for your customer.
- The best brands aren’t insular, but look to others for advice and feedback. No matter what branding consultants tell you, you still need to test your brand out with your actual target audience. It is in their hands that your brand can fully come alive and start to breathe. Involving people can start with a simple survey or questionnaire, or it can take the form of more involved user groups and tests.
- Personal branding is a great way stand out in a saturated industry, and it can also help bolster larger brand and company profiles. Good branding can elevate people to experts and influencers in a short space of time. People-based branding should focus on personality and context.
Sam Hurley is a great example of someone who has been able to build a successful personal and professional brand through the power of social media and content curation. His signature emoji-laden tweets on digital marketing fill people’s Twitter feeds, and he spends a tonne of time interacting with his audience, creating a sense of community. He definitely puts a lot of time into helping people and sharing knowledge, always thanking people for shares and shoutouts. What can we learn from his personal brand?
- Focus on one channel and dominate there
- Develop a consistent visual style
- Interact and share as much as you create
- Focus on one clear topic and message - diffuse messages don’t deliver.
Build fruitful relationships
Some of the best digital marketing campaigns were founded on the principle of partnership, not competition. Building digital relationships isn’t about finding friends; it’s about finding mutually beneficial collaborations.
- Content partnerships are a great way of maximising marketing ROI. If your brand doesn’t have a notable reputation with a certain demographic, why not partner with someone who does? Collaborating with non-competing brands is a great way to engage a whole new audience, like GWR did with NME for their Tracks on the Track festival guide, complete with curated Spotify playlists. It’s a great example of how non-competing brands can come together and create something exceptional that breaks down barriers. This is a strategy that can be easily scaled down: bloggers partner on content all the time, so why don’t you?
- Need to get started with some brand PR? Reach out to media publications and websites and simply offer up your ideas in exchange for some feedback. Actually ask editors and journalists what stories they’d like to see, and deliver on your promises. Work with editors, and be flexible in order to make the most out of the opportunities presented to you. Other than email, consider how social media (and good old phonecalls) can help you gain more traction with busy media outlets.
Once upon a time...
Everyone is always lauding the power of stories and narratives. And rightly so; they do work. But before you go off and start telling yours, ask yourself:
- Do you know when you’ve got a good story to tell?
- Who is going to validate your story?
- How are you going to stop yourself from sounding formulaic?
- What’s the point of you story?
The best stories aren’t merely content styled as stories, they are actual narratives with tensions, protagonists, and a final resolution. You need to go beyond words to create a deeper, emotional connection with your readers — try to appeal to universal truths or fears, or then speak very directly to one specific pain point.
Notonthehighstreet.com make their retail mission not just about their success as entrepreneurs, but about their deep investment in the success of 5,000 other small UK retailers and creative entrepreneurs. The story they tell is all about overcoming, and creating a community of likeminded creatives and entrepreneurs who weren’t finding a voice in the traditional retail world.
Their message is that by buying from them, you are able to support many people at once. Not only that, but on some level you are also buying into the culture of overcoming by supporting the retail underdog. They haven’t lost any of that initial personality and ethos, even as the company has grown and evolved.
Remove yourself from the equation
Brands are about other people, users, customers, the market....not you. Though you need to develop your own story, mission, and values, you definitely shouldn’t become a brand dictator. It’s very important to keep an open mind and promote flexibility, as well as listen to other people’s opinions. Too many brands fail because they become insular and wedded to conformity, listening to their own internal ‘experts’, rather than the market (Pepsi, anyone?). The whole richness of digital marketing is that you have an open platform to experiment with and gather audience insights from.
- Innovate and move out of the way: listen to other people and give frontline staff enough training and ownership to make the right commercial decisions for your business and brand (like Samsung’s witty Twitter takedown).
- Brand guidelines help add structure, without too much rigidity. These are essential for anyone who is looking to outsource or train others to do their marketing or social media.
- Follow brand engagement metrics and be mindful of any negative responses or comments — there might be a storm brewing...
Develop the right brand culture & be fearless
People can only embrace digital if they know what they’re doing. Creating employee buy-in and having the right culture is so important: digital should be an exciting opportunity, not something that’s hard to understand, and even harder to implement! Share your branding vision, and provide training to different departments and teams if needed.
Digital can help enrich communities and local activities, and shouldn’t be seen as a source of conflict. Build digital into customer services, events, marketing, sales, branding — everywhere.
Bristol business Spoke & Stringer have embraced digital, without losing their sense of community. Their Shopify store and lively social media channels run in conjunction with a brunch cafe, deli, retail store, and events hub. They have created a lifestyle brand that marries digital with the local community — giving the community different ways of interacting with them.
Social media in the form of user-generated content has been a marketing and brand driver for London teatime favourite hotspot: Sketch. Their unique decor and quirky interior found its perfect match in people’s Instagram feeds. Customers are happy to share shots from inside the establishment, and Sketch post them up on their website and social feeds too. This is a great example of how a social channel can run seamlessly in conjunction with a physical brand.
Traditional investment has been changed by crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a great way to find your online tribe and create a media storm around a great product — all through the power of words and digital branding. Even simple products like leather wallets get funding if the proposition is strong enough!
Crowdfunding success is all about creating an evocative brand story — getting people so worked up that they will part with their money, without having ever having seen a tangible product or service.
Caulirice food business, one of the biggest Crowdcube success stories, is a great example of a UK business backed by crowdfunding. A simple value proposition and tapping into a popular food trend, enabled Caulirice to launch in the UK and the US — and it all started with a simple idea and a plea to the online world.
Branding is a great way to add value to anything that you do. When you start a new venture, make branding core to your strategy — it will help you not only drive sales and leads, but also ensure that you have a futureproof business on your hands.
What are you going to do to develop your brand this month?
Patrick Foster, ecommerce writer & marketer
Ecommerce marketer with 10+ years in the industry. I’m currently writing as a side hustle – I love to create content for entrepreneurs and business owners that helps them hustle and succeed. Big advocate of online branding and social media — businesses need to get on board with these strategies in order to succeed.
If you would like further information, you can visit our Digital Marketing Qualification (DMI) information page, download a copy of our DMI Qualifications brochure or contact a qualifications adviser today.