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41: Catching People's Attention and Keeping Their Interest.


I know you have something you hold precious. A website, a blog, your portfolio, your brand, your product. 

You think, no, you KNOW it has value. You want to share this value with people. So the first thing you want to do is to catch their attention. 


Catching people's attention

Catching their attention means making them notice you. And it's actually pretty easy on social media. All social media platforms are hugely visual, so what you need is to have great photos/videos. If you focus on things that make a photo/video look great, like lighting and composition, being noticed isn't impossible.

Visual branding comes to play here. It makes people trust you on sight. You don't look fishy.

Catching people's attention isn't impossible. People are highly visual beings, so if you have great visuals, you're doing good.

But how do you keep them interested after they click the follow button? You're already in their line of sight... So now what? 


Keeping their interest

It's not enough to be noticed. You don't want them to notice you in one minute and forget about you until next month or next two months, or until the end of the year. 

It may seem like I'm exaggerating, but let's look at this for a while. There's (nearly) no limit to how many people you can follow. It doesn't cost anything to follow another person on social media. People follow and unfollow on a daily basis.

So when you're on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and Youtube, there are a lot of posts that you've scrolled past. Some you remember, most you forget. Guess what? The forgotten ones have failed to keep your interest.

There's a lot of noise on social media. Having great visuals alone won't be enough to keep your audience interested.

You may have noticed them once upon a time (when you clicked the follow button), but they're not in your mind now. Out of sight, out of mind. This is a business owner's / blogger's / entrepreneur's worst nightmare.


Get people to care for you

What you want is to be remembered. You want people to keep coming to your profile / blog / website / portfolio on a regular basis. You want them to become 'fans' and 'friends'. They care for you instead of thinking of you as just another "shop".

To get them to care for you, you have to care about them first. This is the core of content marketing. You provide content that is useful and helpful and solves their problems, and they will come to you regularly. You'll get to keep their interest.

And once you do, you can share with them about your products / services. They'll listen to you, because c'mon, you're already friends. This is a much better prospect than trying to pitch your product / service to a bunch of people who simply don't care.



33: The Slightly Harsh Truth About Learning from Successful People.


The worst thing you can do to yourself (and your business) is to adopt what successful people/brands are doing 100%.

Let me clarify that further: It's good to learn from successful people. It's bad to use strategies that are not meant for beginners.

Those successful people/brands are not beginners. They're playing by different rules.

Because they started earlier than you, they are past the problems you're facing right now. Your struggles are not the same, so it follows that the solutions aren't the same too.

The best example I can give is overpersonalizing your social media content or focusing too much on yourself (instead of on your customers)

Let's say you admire Person A. She has a large following on social media (5K-10K and above) and runs a successful business. Her social media has a lot of personal content -- she posts about her cats, what she's eating for dinner, any random thing.

You think to yourself, OK, I can do that too. She's doing it and she's successful, so it must be OK for me to do that. I can mix my personal and business stuff on social media. It'll work the same way. Right?

The slightly harsh truth is no.

It doesn't work like that. Here's why:

  • She already has a stable and loyal following. These people have been following her since her early days. They're familiar with and like her personality, so her personal life is relevant to them. (Like it would to a friend)
  • She has a reputation of being interesting. This basically means that her personality shines through anything she posts, because she's had time to practice. This reputation is what attracts new followers.

You can bet that nobody on social media was interested in her as a person in the beginning. She didn't get wildly popular overnight.

What you should learn from her is how she grew her audience. What made more and more people start to follow her? What started the growth and how can you replicate it?

Don't study what she's doing now. Study what she's doing then. If you can, try to strike a conversation and pick her brain. If that's not possible, time to put those stalking skills to good use. ;) And come up with a plan so that you can have the same growth too.



18: More Trust, More Sales. (Part 2)


We discussed about projecting trustworthiness to get customers to take a chance on you in the last email.

In summary, going through your social media profiles as if you're a total stranger and potential customer will help you see what needs to change. You have to impress both existing customers and potential customers. 

We have to remove any hesitation to buy on the their part. Remove the barrier that is standing between the customers and your amazing product. What's another way you can remove the customer's hesitation?

2. You should: include your customers in your narrative.

Have you ever talked with someone, and you don't feel good coming out of that conversation?

  • They didn't express any interest in you.
  • They kept talking about themselves and how good they are.
  • It felt more like a monologue than a dialogue.
  • They weren't properly listening to what you have to say.

This could be happening to any brand. How the brand tells its story (aka the narrative) must take into consideration how the listener feels.

But what usually happens is that there is no trust because there is no actual conversation between the brand and the customer. The brand only makes announcements and speeches on various marketing channels. (Properly written as they may be)

In Crafting A Compelling Brand Story, I mentioned that the brand story creates emotional glue between your brand and customers. They become loyal to you because of the brand story.

The brand story only becomes emotional glue when it's relatable.

The story has to be crafted in a way that allows customers to step into the brand's shoes, or are inspired to do so. If they think that the story is nice, but can't relate to it, then they won't buy.

Let's look at Adidas again. On its website, they listed these values as part of their brand:

  • Authentic
  • Passionate
  • Innovative
  • Inspirational
  • Committed
  • Honest

They successfully weaved these values into their their marketing strategies. Adidas' mission is to be the leading sports brand in the world, but if you look at its Youtube channel again, are there lots of videos about shoes or their other products?

NO! Eventhough they're selling those products, they constantly focus on the story as told by the various athletes they collaborate with. Because the story is telling customers that "this could be you". 

"You're a passionate and committed athlete too." 

And because a lot of people identify with these values, Adidas' products fit perfectly in their lives. They're inspired, they want to be a great athlete, so they take action. And Adidas' products are helping them take action.

That's what you should do. In your brand story, don't focus too much on your products. If you keep talking about your products and their 1001 benefits, it can get annoying pretty fast.

Focus instead on your brand values and how they relate to your customers. Sell them on your brand values first. Once they're in love with your brand, they will commit. And they will always buy. 

- Aina Ismail 



15: Less Is More.


In the last email, we talked about the impact of constantly throwing a "sale". We also looked into two methods that successful brands use to constantly be in demand, without having to lower prices.

  1. Scarcity. Not being too available for people. Makes them buy quickly in order not to "miss out".
  2. Trust. Reducing anxieties and issues related to buying so that customers don't change their mind about buying.

In today's email, we're going to dig deeper into how you can utilize scarcity when you do marketing.

Q: Why is it necessary to talk about marketing tactics if our main focus is on branding?

A: If a brand doesn't act like a premium brand, there's no point in creating a premium visual identity. Branding is as much about how the brand acts as it is about its appearance.

What is scarcity?

It's defined as the state of being scarce or in short supply. Undersupply as opposed to oversupply. In the context of marketing, your customers are unable to buy your products as much or as often as they would like. 

You intentionally limit their purchase to create an impression of being the best, high quality and being in demand. (As I mentioned in the last email, it's important to have a product that they want to buy a lot and often in the first place)


Why scarcity?

A smart brand intentionally uses scarcity to invoke: 

  1. Anticipation. They wait impatiently for the next time the product is available.
  2. Status. Not everybody can buy this.
  3. Pleasure and appreciation. They had to work harder for it, so they value it more.

That's how it works generally. But to implement this practically, it's easier to look at things you shouldn't do.

1. You shouldn't: Do everything the customer asks you to.

This applies more to service-based businesses, but can be relevant to product-based businesses too. Doing every single thing that is requested may seem like the best way to the customers' hearts, but it doesn't give you the respect and excellence required to be a premium brand.

Let's look at an example.

X is a baker. She originally set out only to bake cakes and brownies, but her regulars persuaded her to bake macarons, cookies and cupcakes for them. (Customers can be very persuasive) Soon enough, she finds herself unable to say NO to any kind of order.

Sure, she makes money. But what kind of reputation is she setting for her brand? What exactly will her regulars say about her to other people? "Order from X! She can bake anything!"

At first glance, that seems like a positive comment. But when you look at it closely, you'll see that it means that X is a quick fix. Although her baked goods may be delicious, they don't come to her because she's special. They order from her because she's always ready to bow to their needs.


In other words, she's letting her customers set the agenda instead of sticking to her own plan. It'll be very difficult to grow her business if she goes on like this. Look at any luxury brands and you'll see that they dictate what they sell, not the customers.

If you want to be extra nice to your customers by doing something they've specifically requested, have it be the exception rather than the norm.

Related article: How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet (In this one, I discussed the importance of doing one thing at a time and how you can use it to your brand's advantage)


2. You shouldn't: Torture yourself to make a sale.

Hey Aina, you've insisted on putting the customers first when we looked at the brand details. Why not go above and beyond for your customers now?

There's a difference between giving customers an exemplary service and letting them run the business. 

Boundaries are necessary for your sanity and for customers to fully appreciate that you also have other customers. It's professional and efficient.

It's important to have a proper system in place, for both sales and delivery.

  • Sales: The process of taking an order for a product/service from the customer.
  • Delivery: Getting the product/service to the customer. Many business owners handle this personally by going to the post office themselves. 

When you process orders personally, there will always be customers who don't want to follow the guidelines you've set. Maybe they don't order at respectable hours. Maybe they don't want to use the established payment options.

When it comes to deliveries, they may want the product/service sooner than possible. Maybe they want you to deliver at weird hours. I'm not saying this nastily; most times customers don't even realize that they're inconveniencing somebody.

If it's an emergency and you choose to process it for them, then it's awesome. But if it's normal for customers to demand for the product however they want it, consider this; If they can order anytime and any way they want, where's the urgency? 

Why would they rush to buy your product after you say "newly stocked" or "limited stocks"? They will disregard that because they know they're going to be entertained anyway.

They know that you're still going to play nice with them even if they follow your process. They're used to that kind of behaviour.

A premium brand sells at their own terms. They take customer experience and satisfaction into consideration, but they don't bend over backwards to cater to the customers' whims.

You owe it to your brand to not be a doormat.


Because the email is crazy long already, I'm going to talk about Point #3 (diluting your brand power) in the next email. Keep an eye out for it!



10: Should You Get Business Cards?


In the last email, we looked at these points:

  • You can brand physical and visual details of your business. 
  • A limited budget means you need to carefully choose the detail or item that will make the most impact.
  • To choose, the underlying principle that should be kept in mind is to put the customers first and prioritize their experience with your brand.
  • One way you can do that is to identify a touchpoint, which is a point of contact between you and the customer. Even an email conversation is a touchpoint.
  • A touchpoint that ticks all the important points is the packaging. Unboxing is a very special moment that businesses should maximize. (Think about opening presents)
  • If you make the packaging special, you can keep your brand at the forefront of people's minds.

If you're doing something service-based, where you perform a service or don't have ready made products, the packaging aspect like we talked about in the last email might not be so relevant. 

But you're not at a disadvantage. There are other brand details you can use that can provide the same impact. Business cards have been used to exchange contact information for so long that it makes so much sense to have one. We're even advised to always have a few on us to give out just so we don't miss a chance to network.

But think about this: a regular business card is just a piece of thick paper with your contact information on it. Do you use it to 1) just provide your contact information OR 2) promote your brand to the recipient?

If it's #1, then it's all good. But if you're aiming for #2, can business cards really do the job for you?

Should you order 100, 200 pieces of business cards every couple of months just so they could be kept and never looked at? I'm saying this out of my own experience. The business cards I've received go into my purse, sitting quietly and forgotten.

And when my purse becomes too bulky for my liking, most of those business cards go into the trash can. I only keep those I deem "important" and "urgent". This is a fact of life. We weed out things that aren't important or useful to us.

It's also why 5 months into setting up Narrativity Consultants, I still haven't ordered any business cards yet. I'm reluctant to invest in them because I'm afraid they won't actually make a difference for my brand.

What if we do something different? What if we go above and beyond the norm to show customers that ours is a brand of quality?

Put aside the traditional, rectangular business cards. Don't worry about making them small enough to fit in wallets and purses. Don't conform. Focus on being useful and relevant to your customers.

It's no different from the principle we applied to the packaging. By making the things we give out useful, we're in fact putting the customers first.


Content Marketing

One of the ways to be useful is to share useful and relevant information. This concept is known as content marketing. I've written on this topic once (Why and How Content Marketing is Good for Your Business) and personally made it the basis of Narrativity Consultants.

How it works: Promote products/services indirectly by creating content that are relevant to the customer. Instead of asking customers to buy right away, show trustworthiness by helping them out with their problems using information.

By focusing on their needs and problems:

  • You get their gratitude for helping them out. People who are grateful are much more receptive.
  • You are seen as an expert. Experts are trusted. Toothpaste in commercials = Always "recommended by dentists".
  • You are seen as a "teacher". Teaching is a good source of income that you can explore when you've gained sufficient credibility.

There's so many types of content you can create. Anything from videos, e-books, infographics, posters, podcasts, articles and even your tweets/Instagram photos. But to effectively replace business cards, we're going to look into content that can be easily explained on print. 


Preparing useful and relevant information

Relevant means the info has something to do with your industry. It makes no sense to share something totally unrelated, even if it is useful, because the ultimate aim is to promote your business.

On the other hand, useful means it's something that your customers actually need. If the information is too insubstantial, it's not going to make any impact at all. You have to be judge of whether something is worth sharing or not.

For example, if you're a baker, something that's both useful and relevant is the "differences between Italian, French and Swiss meringue". The info isn't too basic and not everyone will know there are actually different types of meringue. (I didn't, and I actually love baking!) It hints towards your technical expertise as well.

Your other job is to structure the information to make it easily understandable. Short and sweet will do the job well. If you're exploring other types of content like videos and e-books, you can make the information more lengthy and comprehensive.

But since we're looking into printed items that you can give out to people, we have to consider the cost as well. Besides, condensing and simplifying the information highlights your ability to teach. 

Other questions you can ask yourself when preparing the information:

  • What did you google when you first started ___?
  • What are the technical terms in the industry that people might not know? (Tip: Avoid common terms to make the information more valuable)
  • What did your friend/relative/colleague who's not in the industry ask you about the things you do?
  • Has anyone asked your help on how to do something in your industry? Is it something other people might want to know too?
  • Are there any classes in your industry? What do the classes teach?

Following the baker example I gave above, other information that's useful and relevant are:

  • The types of baking tins and trays that you should get
  • A list of great baking supply shops in a particular area
  • The different types of icing and when to use them
  • How to store cakes/icing/fillings to make them last longer
  • What to use as substitute if you don't have a particular ingredient

And the list absolutely goes on. There's no limit to what you can share. 

Once you have the information, you have to think about how to display them. I recommend small to medium accordion-type cards or small booklets, but you can always talk to your local print shop to see if they have any cost-effective options.

Be sure to include your full contact information at the end. The name of your brand, email, phone number, website, Instagram handle or anything else that you would include in a regular business card,

If your content is great and the design is good, your business card replacement will basically become a gift. Do you like receiving unexpected and useful gifts? I do. It makes me view the giver in a better light. I'm more inclined to be friendly and open to what the giver says and does. And I always remember who the gift is from.

I realize that using these "special business cards" instead of the traditional ones will cost more money, so it's perfectly fine if you mix it up. Depending on the quantity you have, you can always reserve the special ones for people in your target market.

Related: 6 Reasons Why You Should Only Sell to One Customer

Content marketing is awesome. When you create content instead of just consuming them, you get to change the relationship you have with your customers. You're the expert, you're the teacher, you're the one they come to for that product. And that's good for business.



9: Choosing The Best Details to Brand First.


Hello! How have you been doing?

In the last email, we talked about the need for branding even when your business is not big/successful/established yet. Here's a recap of the points:

  • There are businesses that don't need branding.
  • But if you're planning to expand your business, branding is unquestionably necessary.
  • Great and versatile branding can be scaled up and added to without any problem, no matter which direction your business will take.
  • All the frills of branding are important, but understanding the big ideas that will drive your business is even more urgent. If you don't do that first, your branding will have no meaning.

If you've established the meaning and purpose of your brand, it's time to address the physical and visual details of your brand. 

  • Physical details: Things that can be seen, held and felt. Examples include packaging and business cards.
  • Visual details: Things that can only be seen. Examples include social media profiles and website.

Is it important to distinguish between these two types of brand details? Yep! It's going to affect your choice if you have a limited budget. I'm going to talk more about it below.


The underlying principle of branding

Branding isn't for the owner. Not really. Sure, you need to be able to identify with your brand personality, and it must be something you don't actively hate, but the bottom line is this: put your customers first.

So in choosing which detail to brand first, it's important to prioritize something that would add value for your customers.

If you're like me, it's so easy to justify any purchases for my business. Custom email? Yup, looks professional. Business cards? Sure, for networking purposes. Stickers? Umm, for boosting morale. 

But I can't say for certain that those things add value for my audience (i.e. you). 

They make me look professional and trustworthy, but what do you get out of it? It doesn't impact your life in any way.

It becomes important to distinguish what is for you and what is for your customers when you have a limited budget. When you invest for your customers' experience and convenience, the investment will pay off ten-fold. In other words, prioritizing your customers will help your business grow.


Branding the touchpoints

There are a lot of ways you can improve customer experience. A limited budget means it's necessary to focus on only a few or one at first. How to choose? At a glance, these are the steps:

Identify touchpoints (points of contact between the brand and the customer)

Identify the touchpoint(s) that will

  • allow for maximum impact visually and physically.
  • last for a reasonable amount of time.
  • help you deliver freebies. 

Ideally, the touchpoint you choose first should fulfill all the above requirements. By points of contact, I mean any kind of contact you will have with a customer or potential customer. Any interaction, even if it doesn't involve a sale. I'm going to explain a bit more on each requirement.

A touchpoint that allows for maximum impact visually and physically needs to be attention-grabbing. At the very least, it needs to be camera-ready. With the visual trend of social media platforms these days, any touchpoint that can take advantage of this will be able to market itself.

Anything that can last is good because 1) it's a sign of quality and 2) it's a constant reminder of your brand in the customer's home. If it's exceptionally useful or attention-grabbing, it might even pique the interest of their visitors. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic here, but you can't deny that a physical reminder that stays with the customer is powerful.

Freebies are always a pleasant surprise. More so if they're completely unexpected. You don't have to give out freebies every single time (or even to every customer), but a touchpoint that allows you to do so will help you exceed customer expectations in a big way.

It's pretty clear where I'm going with this right?
The touchpoint that ticks all the boxes in 90% of the cases is the packaging.

  • It's a physical detail. Something that can be seen, felt and held.
  • It goes with the product, so it's for the customer.
  • Depending on the design, it can have a great impact on them. It can convey your brand personality in a very obvious way. You'd want the customer to get it right the first time around.
  • Depending on the quality, it can last for a reasonable amount of time. 
  • You can put the freebies inside of the packaging so that your customers get a pleasant surprise when they unbox.

You only have to look at the duck scarves Instagram to see how these requirements are applied. The account reposts photos of the customers duck scarves boxes proudly arranged and displayed. And that's only the packaging!

It can make a huge difference to brand loyalty and memorability. Unboxing is a very special moment that brands should take advantage of to the fullest. Don't be a brand that gets its packaging thrown away the second the product is taken out. 

We're going to discuss how to make your brand details (other than the packaging) extra special in the next email. This is particularly relevant to businesses that are service-based!

P.S. I used to have one of these Crabtree & Evelyn's biscuits tin. It was given to me by my aunt for me to store things in. The cookies were long gone by then. Years after, the brand still stood out in my mind, eventhough I don't always run into its outlets. Just because of the tin. 



7: If You Try to Please Everyone, You Will Fail.


In the last email, we looked into basic desires as reasons for purchase. I mentioned that:

  • People may process brand message differently. For example, I may think that Brand X is cool, while you may think that Brand X is trying too hard.
  • Different or multiple basic desires may be "activated" by one single product. For example, some people buy Beluga caviar because they genuinely love the taste. Others buy it as a sign of status because Beluga caviar is expensive and hard to procure.

Looking at it like this can be overwhelming. If different people have different reasons and different reactions, how on earth are we supposed to appeal to them without going bonkers?

The answer is simple but a little hard to digest:

If you try to please everyone, you will fail.

I say that it's hard to digest because it's natural to want approval. To be liked. (Social approval, remember?)

That extends to whatever we create. The creation becomes an extension of ourselves. In this context, our business becomes a part of us. There's a phrase that goes, "It's not personal. It's just business."

Well for a lot of us, business is personal!

I'm going to break down what I feel about my business, Narrativity Consultants. See if you resonate with it.

  • Narrativity Consultants is my baby.
  • I've spent a lot of time and energy putting together the products (website, articles, branding package and social media materials).
  • I genuinely think that my products will help people and their business.
  • Eventhough it's my passion, I do aim to make a comfortable living out of it.
  • I was frustrated when some people diminished the importance of branding and questioned prices.
  • I spent a lot of time focusing on followers on social media to validate my business and products.

But after countless articles and podcasts telling me that I had to focus on a target market and a personal experience confirming it, I finally decided that enough is enough.

I can't please everyone, and I won't try. It's impossible and will bring my morale down.

People are so diverse in their personality, desires and circumstances. You can't get every single one of them. Your bestfriend might prefer a different brand than you, no matter how alike you both are.

But we can focus on people who are similar in personality, desires and circumstances. It is possible.

Let's say you're a customer of Fashion Brand X. A and B are also customers. Fashion Brand X is a mature label targeted towards female professionals in their 30s to 40s.

Some aspects of your personality, desires and circumstances are similar enough that Fashion Brand X was able to appeal to you, A and B.

In other words, Fashion Brand X managed to focus on your similarities and used them to attract more customers like you. Together, you, A and B represent the target market.

Your target market needs to be big enough in order for you to make money. Only thorough market research and actual results can point you in the right direction.

A recent article that I wrote is 6 Reasons Why You Should Sell to Only One Customer. I addressed why you should use the beachhead strategy when your business is still new and a little bit on how to find The One. I'll reiterate again the reasons, but word them differently.

You shouldn't try to please everyone because:

  • Everyone is different and require different approaches.
  • Different approaches require different preparations.
  • Different preparations require a lot of time and money.
  • The time and money you spend will be disproportionate to the profits that you will make.
  • Even if you make profits at first, it's not a successful long-term strategy.
  • For a brand to be successful for years and years, there needs to be brand loyalty.
  • In order to build brand loyalty, there needs to be consistency.
  • If you're trying to appeal to everyone's tastes, there won't be any consistency.

When put like that, it forms a neat little circle doesn't it? 

There can be a time where almost everybody will like you. But to be a household brand name, you'll need a lot of resources that's not available to a solopreneur just yet (not just branding).

Focus on the now. We'll get there eventually.



3: Is Branding Just About The Looks?

Is branding just about the colours, patterns, icons, and all the visual details?

In a way, YES. One of the most important ways your customers perceive your brand is through their eyes. They see your brand by looking at your Instagram photos, packaging, company stationery (among many others).

But this visual identity is the result of branding. You don't start with the visual identity first.

When we want to do branding, we don't go into it blind. We can't just pick a colour palette and hope for the prettiest look.

Of course, you can design the visual details first and assign meaning to them later. "The yellow represents... Ummm... Sunshine and growth!"

But it will make it so much harder for you to expand your business and attract the customers you want to be selling to.

Related article: 6 Reasons Why You Should Only Sell to One Customer

The design that has no basis will be so ingrained in your business that you might find it near impossible to change. A reputation that has stuck could force you onto the same unprofitable path month by month. 

Helter-skelter branding will not produce the brand that YOU will feel happy about.

But enough about that. I'm not trying to scare you into branding. It's just that with two prior businesses under my belt, I'm seeing all the things I've done wrong. I focused on the visual identities without thinking about the way I wanted to position my brands in the market. Sounds like a bit of soul-searching, doesn't it?

I should have sat down and mapped where I want my business to be 2, 3 or even 5 years from now. I should have dug deep and analysed why I wanted these brands to exist.

So the other answer to the question is NO, branding is not just about the looks. It's not meant to be shallow or one-dimensional. 

Branding = Meaning + Visual Identity. Without Meaning behind your Visual Identity, there is no branding.