Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

Category: B2B (Page 1 of 3)

Secret Marketing Weapon: The Brand Mind Map

Does taking on branding projects make you feel slightly nauseated?

If someone asked, could you name your brand’s value proposition?

Do you have a snappy elevator pitch?

How about a messaging matrix?

If you find yourself tasked with this kind of brand development project, no one would blame you for feeling a bit overwhelmed. After all, these are Big Ideas you’re trying to capture. They don’t typically just sashay in and settle down for tea.

Instead, there is usually a sort of cat-and-mouse game. You chase shadows and random lines of thought. You review a LOT of reference materials – internal input, C-level notions, customer interviews, market research, existing brand content. You have a brilliant idea that later turns out to be crap. It can shake even the most battle-scarred marketer to her core.

When I tackle any kind of Big Idea project – like developing branding assets – I have one secret weapon that gets me started in the right direction each and every time: mind mapping.


Mind whatting?

If you’re not familiar with the joy and brilliance that is mind mapping, you can read this post in which I gush about how this brainstorming/organizing tool helps you clobber writer’s block in no time flat: Mind Mapping Your Way Out of Writer’s Block. 


And what does it have to do with branding?

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I use mind mapping for just about every creative and organizational task – content planning, outlines, research, event planning, brainstorming, assessment, etc. EVERYTHING.

When it comes to brand development, I start with a map that includes the following sub-topics: Company, Customers, Products, Service, Competition, and Philosophy. I also usually include a typical “SWOT” section (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). From there, I can start brainstorming around each of those topics and branching off into more and more detail. The sub-topic “Customers” might, for instance, branch out into hopes, fears, complaints, accolades, needs, etc. Under “Company,” I might include things like internal perceptions, external perceptions, history, personality, etc.

I do my first draft of a branding mind map while I’m reviewing all my reference materials – making notes about key ideas and words, adding reference links, and attaching documents so I can easily find key information later on. I continue adding to the map throughout the discovery meetings with the client, any subsequent customer interviews, and any other input sessions. In the end, I usually have one beast of a mind map that includes all the intel and inspiration that I’ve collected while in the research and development phase of the branding exercise.

The beauty of a mind map is that it lets you see the big picture so that patterns and trends are easier to spot. It lets you group and connect ideas. Each time I introduce a client to this versatile tool, they tell me how helpful it was to be able to see all the ideas in one “snapshot” view. A digital mind map is also a great collaboration tool. I often bring an initial draft of a mind map to a client meeting and then edit it in real time as we talk things through – moving things around, adding notes and branches, highlighting and prioritizing. It’s a fun and efficient way to get consensus on ideas, structure, and even project details.

In addition to making it easy to group and move topics, a software program like Mindjet (my mind mapping software of choice) gives you many other organizational tools. I love the little flags and other icons that help me visually identify big ideas and idea threads as well as items that have questions, need more exploring, or are ready for review. I also love the “notes” tool that lets me append notes to any item on my mind map – so I have room to capture notes as I review the mind map with clients. Assigning clickable URLs to topics is also very helpful, allowing me to link directly to existing client and competitor content for quick reference.

Whether you’re working on paper or screen, after a while you’ll probably find that you’ve mind mapped yourself right off the page. You’ll have tons of fresh ideas to play with – many of which probably would never have occurred to you if you’d been using an old school outline. Even better, you’ll have an easy-to-read, visual map that makes the connections between ideas jump off the page. You can connect the dots easily. Now, the project that was freaking you out looks like a fresh canvas, and you feel like Monet on one of his more inspired days.


What do you think? Have you tried mind mapping? How has it worked for you? If you haven’t – do you think you might give it a shot after reading this?

Branding is NOT optional – Part 2: Let them eat your dust

Some marketing lacks logic.

I’m being kind, here.


You know that saying about putting the cart before the horse? When you see it illustrated, it’s pretty clear that it’s a Bad Idea. That cart isn’t going to pull that horse anywhere and you will go nowhere fast. Even the horse can tell that something is wrong with this picture. “Cart before horse” is a sure recipe for a total lack of locomotion, if you know what I mean.

But, people do this in their marketing.

All. The. Time.


They get that cart all loaded up and climb on board. They look earnestly in the direction they are trying to go, whip in hand, and wait expectantly for the wheels to start turning. After a while, they wonder why they aren’t getting any closer to their destination. They may move things around in the cargo area to try and jumpstart their journey. When that doesn’t work, they might try a new coat of paint on the cart. They never even look at that poor horse, standing there, patiently waiting to do his thing.


Wake up! Branding is the horse that’ll get you (and your cart) to the finish line.

I recently read an article that made my head spin. Brand specialist and brand identity expert David Brier (@davidbrier – follow him) got tired of listening to the debate about social media vs. branding. To settle the smackdown, he compared the Google search frequency of three terms: “brand strategy,” “social media,” and “branding.”

Do you want to take a guess at the results?

“Social Media averaged around 80 on Google’s chart whereas branding came in around 20 and brand strategy was near 0 (zero) by comparison.”



A cart is just a vehicle. Social media is just a channel.

  • A cart (or any other vehicle) without an engine is nothing but a big (expensive) paperweight.
  • A marketing channel without a strategic branding message is nothing but a big (expensive) budgetary black hole.

Putting your marketing cart before your branding horse means you’re opening your mouth before you know what you want to say.

The correct order of things is horse and then cart: brand message and then marketing.

Branding is how you discover and define the unique and differentiated essence of who you are, what you stand for, and the visual and written elements that help you convey that message.

Marketing is how you get your message in front of people.

Know what to say, then say it.


Put things in the right order and you’ll put yourself miles ahead of the competition.

Time and time again companies skip over brand development (or give it a very superficial treatment) and dive straight into marketing. They start talking without thinking through what they want to say. They pile up all kinds of content in their cart, but they have no way to drive it home in the minds of their audience.

If you are willing to invest in brand development and brand strategy, you will immediately leave half your competition in the dust.


Doesn’t that sound like a good place to be?


And just because it’s loads of fun (and makes its point with clarity and hilarity), here’s the video David did for Fast Company around the importance of branding and the fact that social media is just a channel. You’re welcome.


You might also be interested in:

Best social networking sites for your business

New social networks have been springing up like fairy rings on midsummer’s eve and are equally likely to spirit people away to a land where time passes differently than it does in the Real World. Every time I turn around, people are talking  – their eyes all a-sparkle – about a new social network that’s sure to be the Next Big Thing. The rampant launches of me-too networks and niche networks and spin-off networks is dizzying to the point of intoxication. So, how do you choose the right social network for your business? How do you know which social network is best for marketing? How do you not wind up wasting endless hours with no quantifiable return on the investment of that time?


It’s a trick question.

There is no, single right answer. Most people would probably guess that some combination of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn would be the go-to social marketing solution. Maybe. Maybe not.

The trouble with social media marketing is that it involves this tricky little variable called “humanity.”

Social media marketing is not based on formula. It’s based on actual interactions with other human beings – interactions that involve emotions, psychology, desires, fears, humor, and the rest of the range of human experience. Humanity brings with it a lot of gray area – both on the brand side and the consumer side of the equation. Finding the right social network is a matter of chemistry as much as it is a matter of numbers.


Social Network Alchemy – finding your perfect match

Some would have you believe that everyone should have a Facebook page, tweet daily, engage with LinkedIn groups, advertise on Yelp, etc. If you encounter one of these “never/always” marketers, put your fingers in your ears and back away slowly. There is no one-size-fits-all social media marketing solution. Besides that pesky element of humanity, there are a number of other variables you must consider in order to determine if a particular social network makes sense for your business or not:


The People

It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles and technological wonders a social network has if it doesn’t have the right people … your right people. When looking at a social network, pay attention to who is already there. Are they your peers or your prospects? Many people fall into the trap of spending too much time in networks that are full of their colleagues and competition instead of potential customers. It might be fun, you might learn some stuff, but you won’t sell anything.

On the other hand, you can reap great benefits from a collaborative social network – one that has neither peers nor prospects, but people who might potentially partner with you on joint projects that would help you reach a shared audience.

In addition to looking at the people in a network, look at what they do there. Are they hanging out to learn, to promote their own work, to share jokes, to be entertained? When you’re investigating potential social marketing platforms, be sure you don’t overlook the marketing part of the equation. You can spend time in a huge community of potential customers, but if they aren’t in a buying mindset while they are in that network, you’re sunk.

Even though I pooh-poohed “bells and whistles” a moment ago, I will say that the ability to segment your connections is a must-have feature in any social network where you plan to market yourself or your business. Being able to create separate lists of connections, or tag them with particular attributes comes in very handy for targeted messaging down the road.


The Topics

After you’ve determined that your “right people” are present and accounted for, and they are engaging in activity that could potentially generate leads for your business, it’s time to take a look at the topics of conversation on the network. Are they more geared towards business or pleasure? What’s the ratio between the two? Is the network a general one that has no specific focus, or is it a niche network that serves a specialized interest? How does your business fit into the landscape of the conversations? What kind of value can you bring to the people by way of your expertise or ability to entertain? What kinds of questions are people asking? What terms are they searching on?

Explore the network from top to bottom. Do some searches on keywords relevant to your business and see what comes up. Who’s talking about what and how often? Does what you see inspire you to jump in and join the conversation, or does it leave you cold and wondering what the heck you could add?


The “Atmosphere”

You’ve probably heard social media likened to a giant, global cocktail party. It’s a tired cliché and one that is increasingly inaccurate as people – both marketers and consumes – get savvier about the rules of brand engagement in this space. However, the metaphor still has relevance when comparing different social networks in that each network has its own ambiance or “feel.” For me, Facebook is mostly for family and friends, so more like a house party than a cocktail party. LinkedIn is a business mixer, and Pinterest is a night out with the girls.

A social network’s atmosphere will dictate which types of content and interaction fare well, and which leave people whispering behind your back about your bad manners. Just like you would at a real world party, hang back a bit at first. Watch the other guests. See what and who people gravitate towards. Inject yourself politely into conversations. Behave in a way that is harmonious with the network’s “groove” and you’ll make headway much more quickly.


The Content Style

Finally, each social network revolves around a particular kind of content. YouTube is obviously all about video. SlideShare is all about presentations. Pinterest is about cool images of crafts we’ll never make, foods we can’t eat, and outfits we can’t afford. (Just kidding … sort of.) Twitter is about the beauty of brevity in communication – short and sweet and fast. Facebook is more and more about visual content. (Have you tried to find a text-only post in your Newsfeed lately? They are a vanishing species.) Different networks also have different tolerances for irreverence, conjecture, promotion, humor, etc.

As you tour a social network, make a casual assessment of the types of content that perform well. Do some experiments with different types of media, play with short-form vs. long-form, interject some personality or humor. See what works and what doesn’t.

At the same time, give some long, hard thought to which types of content you a) are capable of producing and b) can continue to produce with consistency over the long-haul. If you hate writing long-form content, a site like Quora where you’re expected to provide insightful answers to questions might not be the best fit. If your business has no obvious visual assets and you’re lousy at creating graphics, Pinterest will probably be a bust. Pick a network that caters to your style of content marketing. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t stretch yourself and try some new things, but don’t over-extend to the point of being a network member in absentia.



Two final bits of advice:

Don’t leave well enough alone.

Once you have selected the social networking sites that are best for your business, don’t forget to step back regularly and measure the results of your engagement. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but look at some high-level stats like post engagement and traffic referrals to see if what you’re doing is working. When you connect with a new person or land a new lead, ask that person how she found you.

To measure most effectively, you should start out with some predetermined goals. Are you trying to increase brand awareness, build your mailing list, improve traffic to your blog, convert people from within the network? Think about these things as you begin making connections and generating content, and then circle back to them after you’ve been in the network for a while.


Make redundancy part of your strategy.

Some people fall in love with one social network and don’t feel the need to stray outside that comfortable territory. They build up their audience, interact regularly, and focus all their social media efforts in this one space.

Big mistake.

Though I don’t think anyone needs to be everywhere, and we should each choose the social networks that are the best fit for our businesses and our personalities, you put yourself at huge risk if you keep all your “social eggs” in one basket. You must remember that you do not own the network. If Facebook were to implode tomorrow, what would happen to all those nice people who “Liked” your page? Poof! They disappear into the ether.

Duplication is not a bad thing in social media. You can and should have crossover between your connections on various networks. More importantly, however, you should also be driving people back to your home base – your website or blog. Ultimately, you should be cementing your relationships by getting people to subscribe to your blog or, better yet, opt in to your email list. Your social networks are not the end game. They are a tool to drive people to your “real” home – the piece of the Internet that’s yours and which you control.


Lots to think about? Sure. But don’t be overwhelmed. Start small. Pick one network and experiment. You’ll know soon enough if it feels like a fit. Branch out from there, always making sure to clear the path from each social network back to your own front door.


How do you choose which social networks to join? Which are your favorites? What kinds of content come most easily to you? Where have you seen the best return on the investment of your time?



Social Media Balance: A rant, a lament, and 5 tips

The secret to getting your content shared

Building your social network from scratch


Image Credit: Chuck Pettis

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