Brand or Die!

A Small Business Survival Guide

Is your marketing sticky?

  • Posted: 4:13 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

You have a message, but does it stick?

The problem with a lot of marketing and brand development efforts is that it is almost instantly forgettable. One of the 7 Deadly Marketing Sins I wrote about in an earlier blog entry was "Me" marketing. Talking too much about yourself is a sure fire way to be forgotten as soon as they (quickly) click away from your website.

Kim T. Gordon wrote a great piece for Entrepreneur magazine about how to make your marketing messages stick. My favorite is "Evoke an emotion." It's human nature to talk about emotional experiences. You see a great movie or go to a great restaurant and you share the experience because of what the experience made you feel. What emotions are you creating with your customers? The customer experience is an often-overlooked area of your marketing strategy. I know you have a customer service department, but have you taken the time to actually engineer the full customer experience, from prospect to post-mortem? Disney is a master of this, from regulating the temperature of the air that hits you when you leave a ride, to the smell of chocolate chip cookies they pump out on Main Street. Become intentional about your entire customer experience and engineer it to evoke an excitement about your business that they can't help but share. This should be a key elment of your brand development strategy.

Read Kim's full article here.

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Extreme Blog Makeover!

  • Posted: 7:52 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

So what do you guys think of the new look for the blog? I'm still doing some tweaking, but I wanted to get some feedback from the crowd. Feel free to leave comments here!

Download my new e-book!

  • Posted: 6:21 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Social media marketing is a powerful marketing tool to have in your small business arsenal. I've just written a new e-book that gives you the essential info on social media marketing.

Download it FREE here!

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The 7 Deadly Marketing Sins

  • Posted: 9:21 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

As an entrepreneur, you're probably doing a lot of your brand development and marketing work yourself. I've made a list of some common marketing mistakes to look out for. Take a look at this list and see if you're committing any (or all ) of these. If so, don't worry. Admitting you have a problem is always the first step to recovery!

Marketing Sin #1 - "Me" Marketing

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that couldn't stop talking about themselves? Everything was about how good they were, about their latest achievements, how successful they are, how much money they made, etc. Well now take a look at your website.


Yup, that's what you sound like in your marketing. What your customers want to know has nothing to do with how good you are. They want to know how that benefits them. "What's in it for me?" is what they want to know. So translate the features of your product/service/company into powerful benefit statements that are relevant to your target audience. Which leads me to number 2...

Marketing Sin #2 - Marketing without a clear strategy

As the saying goes, if you don't plan to win, then you've already planned to fail. Marketing requires attention and effective marketing requires a plan. Know your targets, set realistic goals, and make every marketing move a purposeful one. This avoids wasting time or money, two of your most valuable assets.

Marketing Sin #3 - Beliving that your product is so great, it will sell itself

Sorry, but a better mousetrap will not cause the world to beat a path to your door. If noone knows who or where you are, they can't do business with you. Quality product is important, but don't expect word to spread on its own. At best you'll need some intial "seed" work to insert your business into the marketplace conversation.

Marketing Sin #4 - Inadequate allocation of resources

Whenever I meet with a client to discuss their marketing budget, I tell them that efffective marketing doesn't have to cost a lot of money, but it's NEVER free. Personally, I use a balance model to show them what I mean. Typically, the marketing tactics that cost the most, require the lowest amount of your personal time to be effective. Conversely, marketing tactics that don't cost a lot require more of your personal attention to work properly. Anyone who has entered the Facebook/Twitter fray understands what I mean!

Marketing Sin #5 - Silver Bullet Marketing

Silver bullet marketing is what I call hanging your hopes on one big marketing push or tactic. One shot is never enough. In fact, really effective marketing is a constant communication process, not a project-based effort. You should be communicating with your audience on a continual basis. Think of your marketing as a tapestry woven together with several marketing fibers all working together to make the whole picture.

Marketing Sin #6 - Lack of marketing commitment

One thing we've learned from this recession is how valuable businesses consider marketing. More often than not, when it was time for corporate belt tightening, the marketing budget was the first to go. As many businesses learned as a result, that was a big mistake. The fact is, marketing is what drives traffic to your door (or site, as it were) and if you stop marketing, people will stop coming. A better solution would be to make your marketing budget a fixed percentage of your revenue, which keeps your expenses in line with your resources.

Marketing Sin #7 - Lone Ranger marketing

You can't do it all, and the more you try, the more your business will suffer as a result. I'm not an accountant, which is why I hired one. As much as you think you know about marketing, there is always a benefit of having a specialist take it over for you. It gives you the benefit of someone that does marketing all day, every day. Plus it frees you to focus on your core business responsibilities. And we all need help, right?

Remember, bE Extraordinary today!

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Authenticity is essential

  • Posted: 8:30 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

I always tell my clients that your company's brand is like a personality and your marketing should put that personality front and center. Your customers should come to know your brand the way they would get to know a person. They should be able to characterize your brand in human terms.

With that in mind, social media can be a powerful medium to communicate your brand to your audience. The nature of social media is that it connects people to interact and communicate with each other. The problem is, most people try to express their own personality, instead of their company's personality. Worse, they don't express any personality at all!

If you understand the personality of your brand, you can use that "persona" to bond with your audience in a remarkable way.

For example, if your brand personality is "friendly and helpful," then you can express that in the content and tone of your blog, your facebook and twitter updates, etc. A lot of people shy away from social media because they don't want to "put themselves out there." Or they don't use it properly and make it just another advertising medium.

The reality is, the people that populate the social media world are there to connect with people. The companies that use social media well are the ones that make their brand a person, and put that person out there for their audience to get to know. Dell has done a really great job with expressing their brand personality through the content on their social media pages.

In some cases, companies will actually create a person. TGIFriday's is a great example with their recent "Friend Woody on Facebook" promotion.

The point is, you have to know your brand personality, and then express it with authenticity thoughout all of your marketing.

Remember, bE Extraordinary today!

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Register today for Engagement Marketing on 10/23/09

  • Posted: 9:39 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Every business is looking for ways to do more with less. Marketing is undeniably essential to growing your business, but what do you do when you just don't have the money? The good news is, there are a lot of options available for high engagement, lower cost marketing. What you need is a plan! You will walk away from this workshop with a greater understanding of the tools available and a strategy on how best to use them to grow your business.

Topics covered will include:

  • Understanding the social media word

  • How to take your business viral

  • Determining which social media venues are most appropriate for your business

  • Creating an engagement strategy that works for your businss (and your time!)

  • How to effectively incorporate non-traditional marketing into your overall marketing plan

Full continental breakfast is included with registration

This will be a powerful investment in the future of your business. Register today and share it with a business associate!

Click here to register

Remember, bE Extraordinary today!

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Change is a-comin'...

  • Posted: 11:40 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Starting Monday August 24, 2009 Brand or Die will transform from an ordinary blog to a hip, happening Web 2.0 video blog, or "vlog." So get ready true believers, we are on our way!

Day 2 of the Tallahassee Commerce Annual Conference

  • Posted: 4:37 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Well, I'm almost done with Day 2, and with all of the information flying around, my biggest takeaway is that I need to unplug more often. I've gotten a lot of strategic thinking done here at the resort, without all my usual distractions. I've probably done 6 months worth of strategic thinking in 6 hours. My advice: schedule time regularly for a strategic planning retreat, even if you're the only one invited.

If Obama was my client...

  • Posted: 3:30 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Sometimes I like to imagine that certain people or companies in certain situations are clients of mine. My latest project is our current POTUS, Barak Obama.

He entered office riding super-high approval ratings and something of a mandate from those that elected him. Since then, he's run head-first into the realities of politics in Washington. He's remained true to his major campaign promises to promote economic recovery and reform health care. Unfortunately, he's taken some hits on both fronts and his approval numbers are no longer in the clouds. His political adversaries smell blood in the water and have gone on the attack, and support among his friends is getting shaky.

As I see it, this is a classic brand and marketing problem. The problem isn't the product. Most Americans say they want health care reform and overwhelmingly want economic recovery. The problem is brand and marketing related. Which is why (in my imagination) the White House called me. I'll let you know what I told him, because the same advice I gave him works for any business facing opposition or a highly competitive market.

So I said, "Barry." (That's what I call him, cause we're close like that)

"Barry, you're letting the competition define your brand. It's what Apple was doing to Microsoft with the 'I'm a Mac, I'm a PC' campaign. They're saying everything your plans are and are not, but you're not spending enough time saying what they are. Selling against competition isn't about tearing down the other company or product. The most effective competitive selling is in amplifying your unique qualities that are in stark contrast with your competition and letting the customer make the comparison themselves."

"Barry, what you need to do is start framing the discussion yourself. You have lots of positive things to show from your stimulus and your healthcare proposals. You need to be much clearer and more agressing in making sure they get front and center. And while you're at it, make sure you obey the first law of sales and marketing: What's In It For Me. Find out what your customers need, what's important to them, and make sure you clearly communicate your product's benefits in ways that are meaningful to your target customer."

"Last thing, you have the advantage of holding a majority of the market share. If you're the 800 pound gorilla in the room, then start throwing your weight around. Make as much noise as you can and make your side of the argument so loud that it's all your customers hear."

So he thanked me for my service to the country and then swore me to secrecy.

So don't tell anyone....

Why should I hire a consultant?

  • Posted: 10:29 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

As a brand strategy and marketing consultant I get this question a lot. Whether explicitly asked or just implied in a potential client's general attitude, it is a valid question that every business owner should ask before retaining a consultant's services. The fact is, however, that outsourcing certain functions is extremely beneficial to a small business. Here are my top 5 reasons why:

1) Expert knowledge and insight

Most entrepreneurs tend to be do-it-yourself types. But just because you know your product or service inside and out, doesn't mean that you're an expert in all of the disciplines that are required to run a successful business. Hiring a consultant gives you access to a subject matter expert that can help guide you in directions that you might not have considered before, or would have even thought of.

2) Cost savings

Have you priced hiring a permanent employee with the skills you need? Not just salary, but benefits, the cost of training and more. If you weigh the cost of hiring an employee that provides the same level of experience and knowledge as your consultant against the consultant's fee, you'll see that the consultant represents a significant cost savings. In addition to that, you also have better control over project costs by hiring a short term consultant.

3) 10,000 foot view

Sometimes, as a small business owner, you are so busy running the business that you never get a chance to step back and see the big picture. Hiring a consultant gives you an objective, third party perspective; someone that actually can see the forest and not just the trees. Effective action requires strategic planning and a consultant can help you gain that strategic advantage.

4) Access to additional resources

As a marketing consultant, I have developed relationships with some of the best graphic designers, PR consultants, SEO providers and other specialists in the business. I've already vetted them and if I maintain a professional relationship with them, it's because they do great work. Any consultant should also provide similar access to a network of service providers that will take the guesswork out of choosing one yourself. In addition, they should be able to negotiate reduced rates for you, based on their professional relationship.

5) Time savings

By hiring an outside consultant, you free up you and your staff's time to focus on core business. It brings an efficiency to your business when you can outsource certain business functions like marketing, payroll, and HR. You're free to focus on business development, or servicing your own clients...or even just taking some time off while people like me are busy working on your business for you.

Wait, on second thought....

Another argument for originality in branding

  • Posted: 3:07 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

So this guy, Les Otten is running for Govenor in 2010 in Maine. So like most candidates do these days, he got himself a website....that looks alot like a certain former presidential candidate whose name also begins with "O."

There's a lot of debate on this one, for some reason. Let's be real here, anyone that looks at the site will see the similarities. From the logo to the font choices, the site is an obvious ripoff. For his part, Otten is claiming no Obama influences. Umm...okay Les. If you say so. Click here and judge for yourself.

Either way, here's the lesson for you: BE ORIGINAL! That doesn't mean that you can't riff of of something else that's out there, but make sure it's either an obvious (and intentional) parody, or that you've made enough substantive changes that it becomes something new that's just slightly reminiscent of what came before. Your brand is unique, so take the time and create ways to communicate that uniqueness.

Take me to your leader

  • Posted: 9:52 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

"Take me to your leader!"

Remember those old alien invasion movies? That was always what the aliens said when they contacted earth. They didn't want to deal with anyone else. The only person they wanted to interact with was the person they thought had authority, expert knowledge, and the ability to make decisions that would advance the alien's goals.

Did you know your customers are asking the same question? They want to deal with leaders, not just another member of the crowd. They want a service provider that they believe has the authority and knowledge to get them closer to their goals. Have you established yourself as a leader?

Perception is the goal here. You don't have to be the biggest to be percieved as a leader in your field. Look for opportunities to position your business in the public eye as an expert. Write articles, start a blog, participate in panels, present workshops, or anything else that gets your name attached to a field of knowledge relevant to your business. Do this well, and when customers say "Take me to your leader," they'll be looking for you.

Zero to Success in 90 Days!

  • Posted: 6:06 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Zero to Success in 90 Days!

Shared via AddThis

Consider this my personal invitation to join me for a special webinar about our new jumpSTART program. jumpSTART is an exciting new business development and marketing optimization program that has been producing phenomenal results.

This will be a brief overview of the program, but there are a limited number of spaces available. Be sure to RSVP early!

Are you in the business of Big Ideas?

  • Posted: 7:37 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Victor Hugo said that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As an entrepreneur you should embrace that same philosophy with your business. Every business should have what I call a Big Idea. It is one of the most powerful business development tools you have, and its proper use can (and will) spark growth and build brand loyalty with your company.

A Big Idea is the essence of why your company exists in the market. It's bigger than the product or service you sell. Your Big Idea is the real reason why your customers buy from you and not someone else. It often has less to do with the tangibles of how your product or service works, and more to do with how people feel as a result of doing business with you. If you haven't really thought about what your Big Idea is, you should definitely do it now, because that is one of the most important elements of your brand and one of the keys to true brand penetration.

Customers don’t buy products, they buy ideas. Think about it: Do you buy a Mercedes just for transportation? Or do you buy it because of the air of luxury it represents and what that means to you? If you had your heart set on a Mercedes and another car had the same specifications and capabilities, you’d still most likely choose the Mercedes. That’s the power of a Big Idea. It not only creates demand, it creates brand loyalty.

Apple is a great example of how to use a Big Idea to create a demand for your product and claim market share. Although Microsoft had a near-monopoly on computer operating systems, Apple decided to compete on a totally different playing field. They launched the iPod not as a product, but as the symbol of an idea that said: "We are the definition of cool." They were completely brilliant in their launch of it and immediately the idea caught on. Not fully realizing the mortal danger they were in, Microsoft was slow to respond, and by the time they had a similar product, they had already lost the idea war. iPods were cool. Everything else was not.

From there Apple used the power of that idea to breathe new life into the Mac Computer brand. Macbooks became synonymous with cool, just as the iPod was. You can see that same Big Idea still being used in their "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC" ad campaign. Apple's success wasn't truly built on the strength of their product (although quality is still vital), but on the power of their Big Idea. And for the record, they launched the iPod in a recession!

You might not be as big as Apple, but your Big Idea is, and you can use it the same way that Apple did to grow your business. Understand your Big Idea well enough to articulate it simply and clearly, and then begin spreading that Big Idea in your marketing. If you have employees, create a communication and coaching program that ensures each of them know and exemplify your Big Idea. Using every touch point you have, spread the gospel of your Big Idea, and watch how many of your customers become true believers.

Don't miss Shoestring Marketing on 5/29/09!

  • Posted: 7:14 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

We're doing it again! The wildly popular workshop on how to get maximum marketing results on a minimum budget was so well recieved that we're having another one in May.
This is the one workshop you must attend if you're in the Tallahassee area. Register today and I'll see you there!
Click on the post title to go to the event page.

If you only go to one marketing workshop, this is it! Shoestring Marketing 3/27/09 @ 8:30am

  • Posted: 8:42 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Don't miss this chance to supercharge your marketing efforts. Everyone knows the economy is tough right now, but within your organization is a secret weapon that will allow you to maximize your marketing results. This workshop will give you the tools you need to grow your business right now.

Early Registration: $49 (ends 3/20)

General Registration: $59 (begins 3/21 -day of event)

Registration includes breakfast and a free 30 minute individual marketing consultation.

For more information, click on the title above or click here

We have lift-off!

  • Posted: 5:23 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

We have officially launched brandEdge!

And the buzz around the new company is building steadily. Most importantly, it is rapidly getting out of my control. That's the ultimate goal (and test for success) of any buzz campaign. The idea is to come up with a great idea, determine the best communications strategy for your target audience, and then release it into the wild to fend for itself. But we have even more planned, so just watch out! Once all this is done, I'll post a case study of my own process.
P.S. Follow us on twitter to keep up with what's happening!

New Workshop coming 2/20/09!

  • Posted: 9:13 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

For those that are in the Tallahassee area, I'll be hosting a new workshop this month. This one will be a very intense Brand Development Boot Camp. Bring all your branded materials and lots of questions. We're going to get into the guts of what branding is, what it means to your bottom line in tough economic times and how to make it work for you. There will also be an individual session with each registrant. Check it out or register online by following this link:

Hope to see you soon!

The Countdown Begins!

  • Posted: 6:04 PM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell

Here's the teaser video for brandEdge that was developed as part of our February launch. Feel free to share!

It's been a long time coming...

  • Posted: 6:40 AM
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  • Author: Mikal J. Caldwell


That's what I said when I realized that I'd let an entire month go by between posts here. It's not that I was lazy (really!), it's just that I've been busy! As most of you that own businesses know, the end of a year and the beginning of another means more than just dates on a calendar. For me though, it was a time of reflection and strategic planning. 2009 will mark the expansion of my business into separate units, one locally focused(KCG) and one nationally focused(brandEdge).

New years always bring with them new optimism. It's like you get another chance to reach goals you missed in 2008. So what goals do you have for this year? Well, you won't get there without a plan. Strategic planning is probably the single most important element for your business and your marketing and brand development is no different.

Examine what problems you want your brand marketing to solve. Then work on a plan to get there. Perhaps you can do it yourself, or you might need someone like me to work on it with you. Either way, you have to have a plan.

It should also have a few key elements:

  • A fixed, measurable goal
  • The larger objective should be broken down into smaller goals, each with its own task list
  • A survey of available resources and allocation of resources, both fiscal and human
  • A time line for completion and component timelines for tasks

Again, be sure to get help if you need it. The single biggest reason I see companies not get the return their looking for on their marketing is the lack of a clear strategic plan.

All I need now is a plan for getting this blog done...

Go Forth and Be Ruthless!