The growth of social media has triggered the rise of the online brand. But having a presentable, consistent online brand may be rarer than most think.
Karen Leland, branding expert, founder of Sterling Marketing Group and author of The Brand Mapping Strategy, says she fell in love with branding 15 years ago when she had to figure out how to promote a book. At the time, she was working as a management consultant; within six years, she was a full-time branding professional.
In Leland’s newest book she gives seven core elements to branding, including having an anchor statement, a unique branding proposition and brand energy.
How can brands and marketing professionals alike improve their online brand? Marketing News spoke with Leland (pictured below) for tips on how to take an online brand from sloppy to ship-shape.
Q: What role does the internet and social media play for business and personal brands in 2016?
A: Anyone can look up anyone on the internet and find out a huge amount in just a few clicks, so everyone today has personal brand and every business has a brand, whether it’s by design or by default. For a lot of individuals and business, they’re still building their brand by default, particularly smaller businesses and entrepreneurs.
Q: So basically, if you don’t take control of your brand, the control will get taken from you.
A: Exactly. If you’re not defining your brand, someone else is going to define it for you.
Q: What are the best tips you could give for branding online?
A: One of the things everyone should do is set a Google alert for themselves and their company, so when you’re mentioned on the web, it comes up.
People are often surprised, [thinking], “I didn’t realize they were going to talk about me or they were going to write about me or they were saying this.” There are certainly more sophisticated things you can do, but these are the best practices.
Make sure your core social media—LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, if you use those—are all consistent in your look, your feel, your tone, your message and the language you use. You’ll go to people’s social media and you’ll see, even a company, their Twitter looks different form their Facebook and LinkedIn. They’re not consistent, and consistency is really important.
Also, it’s important to make sure those social media profiles are absolutely well-branded and use best practices. So many times I’ll go to the LinkedIn of a CEO or executive who has called me, their LinkedIn is not up to best practices by any stretch of the imagination.
Q: That’s a common mistake; what other mistakes do you see in online branding?
A: The other common mistake that people make is they don’t think about their brand beyond a logo, a tagline or an elevator pitch.
A lot of people say “I have my brand” and what they mean is they have a logo or they have an elevator pitch. That’s really, really different than thinking your brand though. In my book, I talk about seven very distinct aspects of your brand you have to articulate: What’s your unique branding proposition? What’s unique about your brand? Not better than other people, necessarily, but what you bring to the party that’s powerful in terms of your brand.
Also what’s your signature service? What are the services you offer that are particularly unique to you? It could be something propriety or something you’re an expert in. Everyone has signature services, even if you work in a company. You’re still providing services within that company.
You have to go into those seven areas of depth to really have a brand that’s well-articulated, that’s rich and that’s deeply expressed. Those expressions have to translate to your website, your social media and the things you put online.
Q: Are there any quick fixes people can do immediately to improve their online brand?
A: Absolutely. One thing people could do, and it sounds basic but its best practice and most aren’t doing it, is they can make sure they have a professional, appropriate picture of themselves that represents their brand. I can’t tell you how many people don’t have that.
The other thing people can have … is a complete, fully fleshed out LinkedIn profile that’s up to speed and meets professional best practices. I will tell you that 95% of the people who call me to work with me do not have that.
Q: Is there a different expectation on marketing professionals to have a good online brand?
A: I think when people look at marketer’s online [presence], of course. That’s like looking at a dentist and he has bad teeth; you wonder what kind of dentist he is. So yes, I’d like to think there’s a standard people get held to, and I think CEOs get held to that standard, too.
I do a lot of CEO branding. Far from being a luxury or exercise in ego, having a CEO brand is really important. It [includes] things like the CEO having really fully fleshed out LinkedIn, doing content marketing so that they come up when searched and having an appropriate, current photo.
There’s another study called the BRANDfog 2014 Global, Social CEO Survey. They talked about why CEOs should be social and found 75% of people surveyed perceived C-suite and executive leadership is improved when they particulate on social media. Sixty-one percent of U.S. residents said they were more likely to purchase from a company where the values and leadership were clearly communicated by executive leadership on social media. CEOs and executives being on social is incredibly important.
Q: What’s the next big opportunity in online branding?
A: People aren’t even doing a good job of the basics. People have to get the hang of a basic platform online, business and personal.
That having been said, all the time new things are coming along. [Apps] like Snapchat and Periscope.
More and more, developing content is going to be the key that people are going to have to engage with. That doesn’t have to mean writing; it could mean photos, videos or podcasts, which is becoming very popular way for CEOs to establish their brand.
All executives, CEOs and businesses are going to have to embrace content marketing as part of their strategy in the next five years for building their brand online.