If you’re thinking about starting a business or have a business that needs more strategic direction, then you could benefit from branding knowledge and expertise. One thing is clear though – success will not come overnight. “Building an online brand can take years” says Janet Murray, PR consultant and business owner.
It’s always prudent to speak to experts if you want to impartial advice. With that in mind I spoke to Janet Murray owner of Soulful PR – she specialises in teaching and empowering people to take control of their own PR. By sharing her expertise, individuals and businesses can raise awareness of their brands and attract more customers without hiring an expensive PR company or writing numerous press releases. With a proven track record in pitching, writing and editing, Janet has had countless stories published in national newspapers and magazines including the Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, Times, Sun and Daily Mail. Having worked as a journalist for over 15 years she knows what other journalists are looking for in a story “and, crucially, what they’re not”.
If you’re looking for some straightforward, easy to implement advice then follow the simple rules outlined below and you can start to measure success in the short term.
The key to successfully promoting yourself or your business depends on ensuring your customers are receiving useful, valuable content alongside the product or service you are offering. With so many businesses embracing online marketing you need to stand out from the crowd and offer something extra. Janet strongly suggests “posting regular content: blogs, vlogs, podcasts, newsletters, at least once a week”. By adding value to your business offering you can create a community of people who engage with you and share your content amongst their colleagues and friends. People are increasingly media savvy and will spot a hard-sell so by providing genuinely useful content in the form of an article (you might be a food company providing recipes), or video content (a yoga instructor providing YouTube video exercises), you can start to build subject-related content.
Building a successful brand means being consistent across all media channels. In simple terms this means ensuring your brand identity is distinct and recognisable so you can start to build a strong presence across all your social media platforms. Creating graphic elements with a strong aesthetic, colour palette and photographic style have helped Soulful PR build a beautiful Instagram account (see images below). Janet’s top tip in this area is to “hone your skills on one particular social media platform” and once you have established a look and feel and built an engaged audience then you can focus your efforts on replicating this success on other platforms. Rather than spreading yourself too thin over multiple platforms, this way you can experiment with one and when you feel you’ve nailed it (this will be measurable by analysing your insights, comments and follower numbers) apply this winning formula for continued success to other platforms.
Often overlooked when starting out – collecting email addresses from people visiting your site is an important way of gathering data and reaching out to your customers. “Too often successful businesses discover too late that they’ve missed an opportunity to collect customer data”. Set up an account with an email marketing platform such as MailChimp from the very start and begin to capture email addresses by offering useful, exclusive content. Use this information to talk directly with your customers in the form of a newsletter and offer discounts. By creating a special ‘club’ for people who subscribe you can entice them in – but don’t forget people don’t give away their details freely (do you?) so offer something they don’t get on the website as a casual browser.
Don’t be afraid to “work with your competitors” says Janet. The internet has democratised information in such a way that users have become arbiters of consumer choice. Just look at the plethora of comparison sites like moneysupermarket.com and Google Shopping etc. Use this to your advantage by working with and linking to your competitors. It might seem like an odd thing to do but by creating a niche for yourself as the “go-to business to discover what’s happening in your particular industry” you can make competition into a positive attribute of your business identity. Also by keeping an eye on what your competitors are up to you can be quick to offer alternatives.
When starting out in business it’s difficult to know how and when to invest in your brand. One piece of advice Janet feels strongly about is your brand identity (unique logo, website, marketing collateral, product design). We all have such short attention spans these days and the internet is a visual medium so investing in a strong brand which is aligned with your company values can really help make you stand out from the crowd. Websites which hark back “to the 90s” won’t help you either. These things needn’t cost a lot of money particularly if you can’t afford a graphic designer or a web designer. There are plenty of free online tools now that can help you create artwork and logos, such as Canva and website building sites such as WordPress and Wix. The important thing is to keep it clean and simple if you go down this route – you can always add photographs and illustration to liven up content – sites which offer free photos such as Pixabay are a good place to start if you don’t have a budget. If you are using your phone camera to take photographs then try using apps such as ColorStory and Snapsneed – both excellent photo editing tools which enable you to add filters, crop images, overlay text etc.
More top tips
If you are a bit further along your business journey and want to take things to the next level then Janet offers in-depth training and services: Soulful PR Studio (£42 p/m, or £378 per year); book coaching or consultancy (£300 – £2300 +VAT); sign up for the Done-with-you PR service £5000 (&VAT).
Janet is following…
Sara Tasker: Me and Orla
Me and Orla is a highly successful lifestyle blog by Sara Tasker. With a focus on beautiful, ethereal photography and styling, Sara documents her life in rural Yorkshire with her daughter Orla. Her success on Instagram has created a demand for courses teaching others how to take better photographs and grow an online brand. Janet has learnt a great from Sarah about how to improve and grow her Instagram account and is a big fan of her work.
By Amy White