The language used by marketing and branding pros confuses the hell out of me sometimes, ever feel that way? I mean, it’s a simple question we all have: “What do we need to do to attract clients?”, so we look to marketers for answers, but the definitions (and the models and the questionnaires and the frameworks…) they give us often fail to answer it in a way that’s actually useful.
Case in point. I was reading this today: “What is Branding?” A branding student gathered 100 definitions of branding from 100 different people in various industries: marketers, designers, strategists, authors and more.
It comes as no surprise to me that they were all completely different. Some of them I appreciated and some made me go like …
Let me just state for the record that I have a degree in communications (which includes the study of advertising and public relations among other things) and I’ve worked in design and marketing for over 20 years. I’m not saying that to brag about my résumé or anything like that (ha!), I’m sharing that because even for me, someone entrenched in this day-to-day… this stuff makes my head spin hard. Sometimes I even start to question myself what the hell it is I actually do! 😂
What really drives me nuts is how marketing and communications professionals, designers and business consultants use all of these terms differently and interchangeably at times:
Not only that, did you know there’s quite a lot of debate among professionals and academics about what some of these things mean, which is more important, what needs to comes first and so on? Oh, and there’s tons of overlap, too? Yeah. Also not helpful.
If we professionals can’t get clear on all this, how are you supposed to know what you need?
When you don’t know what you need, that creates all kinds of problems — overwhelm, jumping head-first into the middle because you’re not sure where you’re supposed to be starting, trying every tactic and trick you come across and wearing yourself out.
If you’re anything like the clients I work with, you don’t care about “branding,” you just want answers to questions like:
How can I get clients?
Do I need a website? What should I put on it?
Do I need to be on social media? How do I go about that?
Do I need SEO?
All of those questions can only be answered well when you have clarity about who you are, who your customer is, what you’re offering and the things you need to do to reach and persuade them. These are things branding and/or marketing strategy aims to help with.
Not to pick on anybody, (I realize the audience for this stuff is hard-core industry peeps), but phrases like #78, “Branding is a means of manipulating identity in order to manage perceptions,” to me is just like…
“What?! Am I supposed to say that to a client and expect them to know wtf I’m talking about?!”
People who are “doing branding” for a living may understand all this mumbo-jumbo, but these types of definitions are so esoteric, they’re rarely helpful to business owners who actually need branding. So much so that a lot of business owners don’t even think it’s important or feel they need it.
I don’t know about you but I’m a bit fatigued with all the industry jargon, so I’m going to throw it out out the window for a little while and take a stab at explaining how the puzzle of “attracting clients to your business” fits together using real-person language.
1. You need an offer that solves a problem that enough people have, who would be willing to exchange their money for the solution.
For me, it starts here. I follow a lot of business coaches and inspirational people online who promise a dream — that all you really need to do is tap into your passion and “big reasons why,” realize how special you are in the world and how needed you are, apply some “marketing magic,” and you can turn that into a business and make anything possible.
I’m not here to stomp all over anybody’s dream or even argue with any of that. You do need passion, the right mindset and to choose something that’ll fulfill you in order to create a thriving dream business. And it can be super helpful to work with a coach to figure all of that stuff out.
BUT, that’s not a business plan. No. No no no, please no.
I’m going to share a truth with you: Over the years, I’ve been hired by a lot of very smart, very ambitious business owners who’ve had ideas they were suuuuuuper passionate about, and they hustled hard … right up until the time they realized they were never going to be able to make any money at it.
Businesses fail, and it isn’t a matter of not being “passionate enough,” believing in yourself enough or working hard enough. It’s not always “marketing’s fault”… sometimes it’s that there just wasn’t a market demand.
And while we can all think of examples of how advertising has “created a need” for something where there wasn’t one before, that’s not realistic for small business owners. It’s always better for people to already have a need.
Now, if this thought has you in a PANIC OMG! because you’re worried that people don’t know they need what you’re selling, or if you yourself aren’t clear about the problem you’re solving, sometimes it just means taking some time to better understand your customer, the outcome they really need and how they’re thinking about it; then, making sure you’re joining the conversation in their mind and speaking their language.
Sometimes people don’t know exactly what they need, but they understand language they can identify with. The goal is to get to: “Oh hey, yeah! I HAVE THAT PROBLEM!” Ya get me?
The point I want to make here is that marketing is not the actual business. A business card, a logo, a website… none of that is your business. It all starts with having the right offer.
Are you clear about the problem you solve? Are you certain people have this problem and know they need your solution?
If you can answer those questions, then it becomes a matter of attracting customers who need that. How do you do that? First…
2. Know your customer
You’ve defined the problem you solve, now… who can you solve it for? The more deeply you understand who they are, and the more you can get inside their heads to understand what motivates them, the better you can speak their language and the easier it’ll be for you to attract them to you.
What is the outcome they’re after? What does their future look like if you solve their problem? What are they struggling with? What gives them pain and frustration? What language do they use to describe their problem? What kind of people are they (who do you really want to serve?) and what qualities do they have in common?
These first two things are foundational and need to be decided before or as part of any marketing or brand or digital or whatever-you-want-to-call-it strategy you create. You must know them like the back of your hand in order to move forward to the next step, which is …
3. Get visible
Your job at this stage is to make customers aware of you and the solution you’re offering. If they can’t see you, they’re not going to be able to consider you. You’ll need some way to disrupt the noise, get their attention, and remain in their field of vision until they’re ready to purchase.
Where’s your customer most likely to be looking for their solution? What words are they using to describe it, and how can you join that conversation in a way that’ll get their attention? How much time and money can you devote to getting their attention? What strengths can you play to that will help them to notice you? What personality traits and superpowers can you communicate with visuals and words so people begin to recognize and remember you? How will you create a connection with them until they’re ready to purchase, and what steps will you take along the way to nurture that relationship and remain visible?
Once you’ve created your plan for getting visible with your dream customers, then you need to …
4. Convince them they should choose you (and not someone else) to solve their problem
When someone becomes aware they have a problem, they’ll do a bit of research before trading their money for a service that solves it. They have lots of options to consider, so your job at this stage is to articulate why you’re the best one.
This means understanding why the experience of working with you is different and explaining the specific benefits and outcomes they can expect. Then, overcoming all their objections and answering any concerns they have and proving all of the claims you’ve made.
During step 3 and 4, you’ll communicate what it’s like to work with you and what you stand for — your values, your philosophy, your personality. These are points of difference and comparison that will help your customer notice you (step 3) and choose you (step 4).
The main way to communicate all of this is through words, but also through visuals — which are essential for recognition and memorability, facilitating understanding and helping to establish credibility.
Are you clear about who you are, what makes you different and the specific reasons your customer should choose you over the other options they’re considering? Can you prove it to them?
If you can put these puzzle pieces together, you’re well on your way to creating a plan that’ll help you attract clients
It doesn’t really matter what lingo you use. Some of this is brand strategy, some of it is marketing strategy, and there’s a lot of overlap. The fact is, you need both.
When I tell colleagues who know all the cool-hip lingo that I do “brand and marketing strategy” they ask me, “What do you mean by that?” I always feel like a big old dork trying to clarify that because well, I’m a dork, yes, but also because everybody has their own ideas about what ‘branding strategy’ and ‘marketing strategy’ mean and it takes quite a lot of words to get on the same page.
When I explain it to potential clients, it’s much simpler. I just say that I help people get clarity on these aspects of their business (see #1-#4) and give them steps to follow to attract clients based on what we discovered (spoiler alert, there’s a #5).
Now you’ve got all of the pieces, but the puzzle needs to be put together and framed…
5. Understand the decision-making process from the customer’s point of view
In everything you “do” in an attempt to attract clients to you (branding, marketing, promoting, advertising, whatever-ing), your customer must always be at the center of the story, and what you do depends on how close or far away they are from choosing you and handing over a bag full of money. 💰
This is where understanding what’s going on in their heads really comes into play. Things like:
- Have they ever heard of you before? If not, it’ll take effort before they even see you and some time before they remember and trust you.
- Do you have competitors? They’re probably checking them out and weighing their options, they’re looking for information that’ll help them move toward a decision.
- They’ll have some questions and may even try to talk themselves out of it, so they’ll be looking for reassurance.
Here’s a super-stripped-down version of how all this comes together. (I tried to make it as simple as possible because OMG IF I SEE ONE MORE OF THESE WITH A BILLION THINGS ON IT!)
The headlines indicate where your customer’s head is at and underneath are the actions you take…
You don’t need to know that this is a “customer journey model” or a “buyer’s journey map” or a “marketing funnel”, you just need to know that all of this stuff works together and that it can all fall apart if you don’t have clarity before you go out and “just do things.”
The “SPECIFIC HOWS” come last, but businesses without a strategy get this backward. The tactics you use will depend.
“How” do you get visible?
It depends. It might be social media, SEO, a blog, a podcast…
“How” do you demonstrate you’re the best choice?
It depends. It definitely includes your website copy, but it may also include sales pages, an email program, reputation-building through book authorship or public speaking…
How do you help them make their decision?
It depends. The stronger the objections the more reassurance you’ll need to give. It might be as simple having an FAQ, testimonials and case studies on your website, or it might require a “free trial”, a demo, a low-price offer as a first step or a free initial consultation.
Getting clarity, understanding how the puzzle fits together, and creating a plan that makes sense for you helps you avoid being random and inefficient (and wasteful, and overwhelming, and…) in your actions.
This is all a strategy is and why it’s so valuable to have one; simple as that.
All of that said…
You don’t have to wait until you have a strategy to put yourself out there
I know this is a lot to process, but you don’t need to nail everything down before launching your business or taking action to get more clients coming to you so you can make that cash-money.
If your client pipeline is empty and you just need clients now, or if you’re just getting started and you’re still testing the market… you don’t have to wait for every puzzle piece to click together. Getting clarity takes time, and creating a plan that works for you usually takes some experimentation too.
Just get out there and find clients to work with as quickly as you can. This is actually a great way to learn more about what they’re really struggling with (collect the language they’re using to describe their problems so you can use it later) and how you can best serve them (create offers your future-clients will love and be drawn to). This also serves the purpose of getting case studies, testimonials and reviews that will help your future-clients’ overcome their objections.
Okay, now I have to know — was removing the jargony-lingo (as much as possible anyway) helpful? Or have I just made matters worse? 😂 Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!