Our marketing has a goal: ‘remove the first 30 seconds in a conversation about Clarkson College,’” said Clarkson College Director of Marketing Alex Maltese. “By that, I hope more people will know who we are, where we are, and what we do…If I can associate the who, where, and what of Clarkson College with a recognizable brand, I won’t have to burn time in anyone’s short attention span. I can get right down to the product or service that I’m trying to promote.”
Strong brands exude a clear sense of their core value. Think about Volkwagen and their eco-friendly brand, or Coca-Cola and their image of being with customers at every important event in their lives. That may be straightforward enough, but the word’s gerund form, “branding,” is more difficult to articulate. And that is becoming more difficult as the electronic world moves at the speed of a Porsche, not a Volkwagen.
Tom Luke, founder and owner of Luke Direct Marketing since 2004, said any branding, especially digital, is creating a look that people recognize and associate with an organization or company.
“Then creating a look that we use everywhere as much as possible to brand that business in a way that is consistent in every medium as much as possible,” he said, adding that with more channels than ever, “It’s become more complicated…Every day it’s something new and different in the Facebook/Instagram world.”
Clarkson College was established in 1888, so the public knew about the institution, Maltese said. Unlike Coca-Cola, which often gains a consumer in youth and retains it through the years, the college has to gain new clients every year, and they need to appeal to each generation. That is why they partnered with MediaSpark to work on digital branding—to define their image for a new generation while respecting long-established brand equity.
“We wanted to retain as much of that brand as possible because it was recognizable and strong, but at the same time introduce some new elements of it that were more appealing for people who are interested in pursuing education in 2019. It’s more of a ‘brand refreshment,’” Maltese said.
New channels, especially in social media, have emerged. “MediaSpark had a plethora of data sources that were able to allow us to really hone in,” Maltese continued. “We’re definitely dealing with a different generation of students.”
“We really focus on data-driven advertising, specifically in the digital space, PPC [pay per click] and social media,” said Patsy Sumner, who founded MediaSpark three years ago. “We pull research and understand who the audiences are. We reach them with the appropriate message and we measure frequency, we measure optimization; there’s a lot of data on the back end that we’re also measuring to drive these campaigns to the fullest potential. [With Clarkson] our role is to deploy that brand into the market, to get more applications and to find more people interested in nursing and health care careers. We’re using several tactics between traditional and digital.”
Clarkson has a strong marketing team and plenty of resources and cash flow devoted to branding, but the concept is as important for small businesses as large ones.
“Branding doesn’t make you quick money, it makes you money in the long-term,” said Phil Rhoades Jr. of Futuramic’s Clean Water Center. “As a small business that’s been around 50 years this year…we were branded well with our customers but had very little general branding.”
Digital media, especially social media, has been a game-changer for small businesses like his, Rhoades said. His company has been working with Luke on branding since 2016 with a focus on social media.
“As a small business you don’t have a big advertising budget,” Rhoades said. “Ten years ago only our customers recognized our company name. For us, the advent of social media and internet advertising in general has changed that. It has been affordable and is definitely showing big results.”
His company started using Facebook internally but didn’t have the resources to be as engaged with it as he desired. “We found we were able to get better results by hiring a professional; that’s how we were able to bump up to the next level,” Rhoades said.
As a small company, they lacked the manpower to be consistently or actively engaged.
Luke added Instagram to the mix and ensures regular responsiveness and engagement. Another branding initiative was making the company logo consistent (“We wouldn’t even always use the same font before”) and appling it across media, from Facebook to the company’s fleet of vehicles.
“It’s a very focused message. Now we are recognizable when people see our logo,” Rhoades said. Futuramics is finding that more people are aware of them specifically because of their social media efforts. They ask customers how they found out about the company and have discovered that customers are finding them through social media. About one out of three people recognize their name now—that used to never happen.
Luke said the biggest impact on customer retention and acquisition is to present a relatable and consistent brand. For Futuramics, he focused on the fact that the business is local, family-owned, and carries a reputation of high integrity.
“To really be a good brand these days you have to stand out, you have to be authentic and true to yourself and really follow through on that. And you can’t sit by idly; you have to adapt to the different types of platforms around us,” he said.
Sumner agrees that understanding the audience and presenting the business authentically makes good branding, and she is glad that her team can help organizations such as Clarkson.
“It is critical to stand behind your product or service and make your consumers happy,” Sumner said. “We deploy the messages to the right audience.”
This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.