graphic design toronto, graphic design, graphic strategy

How Graphic Design Plays a Role in Your Branding

When entrepreneurs first start out in business, they often envision having a company image that sets them apart from everyone else. Successfully defining that unique image requires a multi-faceted approach that involves everything from product and service offerings, company story, and unique value proposition.

However, few things can compare to graphic design when you want to create an instant and lasting impression on your customers.

Graphic design is an integral part of your brand image. It’s everywhere – from your website to social media and in all of your marketing materials. Whether you’re just starting out or going through a refresh, graphic design should always play a major role in your marketing plans.

“Developing professional graphics should be considered as an investment rather than a cost, as they’re crucial to building and defining your company’s image,” says Dennis Foot, Creative Director at Amplified Communications. “They also play a large role in creating relationships and building trust with your customers.”

Create a Design that Reflects Your Brand’s Uniqueness

It’s important to create a lasting first impression when customers initially connect with your brand. Much of developing relationships with your audience has to do with they how they respond to your design. You could have the most incredible content on your website, but if your layout, colours, and fonts aren’t doing it justice, your efforts might be wasted.

That’s why it’s so important to get your brand personality right the first time with an effective design strategy that can visually establish the brand image you want.

“Innovative, trustworthy, fun, approachable, strong, traditional, modern – these and more are traits that can be successfully conveyed in branding materials,” Dennis says. “Of course, we can’t convey every trait – as much as we’d like to – so it’s best to focus in on just a few to create the most succinct branding imagery possible.”

Creating customized brand designs is essential for any business, but it’s especially crucial for start-ups who are starting from scratch to establish their image, personality, and voice.

“In many cases,” Dennis says. “Start-ups aren’t sure what they want. They might have a concept, but have trouble choosing the best font and colours to bring it to life. In this case, I usually make branding recommendations based on client-provided reference points, such as what kind of logos they like or which colours and layouts appeal to them, as well as what kind of image they want to build in the eyes of their customers.”

Dennis notes that although established companies also tend to need a helping hand when developing new graphics, they benefit from having existing branding materials on which they can build.

“Established companies generally know what they want from their existing colour and font schemes, but it also helps to see what kind of graphics worked for them in the past in order to come up with most effective, brand-centric designs for their rebrand or new product launches.”

Using colour psychology to create personality

When it comes to choosing the right colours, it’s important to understand the subtle psychology behind colour use to ensure that you’re sending the right message to your audience. For example, orange tends to be a cheerful colour, while blue suggests confidence and strength.

Combining different colours can give you virtually unlimited options to build the exact brand personality you want to reflect. They can also be used to encourage action, such as pressing a button or opening a web page, and can be used in combination with images to sharpen the brand messaging.

“Images are often used to set moods,” Dennis says. “A suit and tie image will suggest confidence and dependability, but not warmth. A lion represents strength and competitiveness, but not creativity. Professional designers can help you design the perfect custom image, using the colours you need to create the right image that elicits the proper response.”

Also, use stock images or shapes in your branding images judiciously. They might work well with your web pages and blog articles, but your logo should be completely unique to your brand. After all, the last thing you want is branding material that someone else – especially your competition – might try to use.

How important is font design?

When we think of design, colours and images often jump to mind first. However, proper font choice also plays a role in creating the best designs possible for your brand, whether it’s on your logo or across your website. Thinking of using Arial or Times New Roman? Consider first the vast amount of more exciting font choices that will really make your messaging pop.

“Font use is very important,” Dennis says. “You can communicate a lot with your font choice, which is why it’s crucial to pick a font that matches your brand. Personally, I prefer clean, legible, simple fonts that can be used in any industry, but I will use custom or unusual fonts if there is really a need for them. I use bolder, more impactful fonts for events or anywhere you need to stand out. Companies just need to be careful not to use strong fonts all the time, as doing so lessens their impact and makes your messaging too ‘noisy’.”

Once you’ve chosen your colours, images, and fonts, be sure to keep them consistent across all of your marketing materials. It helps cement your logo into people’s minds, and also makes every piece of your communications strategy instantly recognizable.

Should you hire a graphic design professional?

Hiring a design professional might seem like an unnecessary extravagance at first, especially if you or a colleague has some sort of design talent. However, before you set them up with a Canva account, be aware that to successfully create the graphics you need, you need to work with a “view from the outside” approach.

That’s because your customers are outsiders, know nothing about your company, and are counting on your design to effectively communicate your brand values. As an insider, your “inside perspective” might prevent you from knowing what your customer needs in order to form the right relationship with your company. Hiring a design professional will give you that important 3rd-party perspective, along with the designer’s eye that will successfully bring your brand image to life.

Plus, you’re assured of quality work. Someone in-house might have some design skills, but not at the level you need to maximize your growth potential. So if you don’t have budget for professional designer at the outset, be sure to invest in one as you start to generate revenue.

It’s just one of the many reasons why unique graphic design is paramount to creating a recognizable brand that sets your business apart from your competitors.

email marketing

Email Marketing: Building and Marketing to your Database

Email Marketing is still the King of Marketing…if you do it right.

Remember when email first became available to the public? It wasn’t that long ago, and I barely can picture the world without it.

As fast as the public started using email, it seemed that businesses identified it as a great marketing tool. Without the costs of printing, inserting, and mailing, targeted email marketing became an efficient and cost-effective method of reaching thousands of people at once. Finally, we’d found the King of Marketing!

The zeal for email marketing showed no signs of stopping until mass messaging (otherwise known as spamming) became an issue. Public reaction to unscrupulous use of their email address led to businesses taking a more selective approach to emailing their database and, more importantly, using emails for prospecting. CAN-SPAM in the US and CASL in Canada have put consumer comfort first, forcing marketers to take a more strategic approach to email marketing. The threat of stiff penalties for rule breakers also encourages compliance in not only messaging, but also how companies acquire, store, and maintain their database.

With the threat of penalty over their heads, as well as the growing sophistication of spam filters, marketers may be tempted to abort their email marketing plans. But if you follow some simple guidelines, you can still roll with the King.

How Often Should You Email?

How many times do you check your physical letterbox per day? Once, right?

Now, how many times do you check your email per day? If your answer is 150, according to Business Insider you’re only at the average.  My email program is open as I write this, and yours might be open as you’re reading. And now that I’ve mentioned it, chances are you’re tempted to check it.

Checking email is almost second nature to connected folks, especially on mobile. The reason is simple: it’s a fast, easy, and efficient way to keep in touch. And because of this, we can conclude that email is also the fastest, easiest, most efficient digital marketing method to directly reach a large number of people at one time.

But how often should you email? Finding that balance of keeping top of mind with your customers without spamming them is a concern for many marketers.

“Most companies should be looking at one email per month,” says Mark Brodsky, owner of Mark Brodsky Digital Communications. “There are certainly exceptions – Groupon sends out emails almost every day.  Shoppers Drug Mart also frequently emails, but they always have a special, limited time offer. Loblaws does the same thing with their PC Points emails. The key is setting up expectations and giving people a choice. If you want to send something more than once a month, set up two databases and give people the option of getting that email or the monthly email.”

Service providers such as real estate agents, mortgage brokers, or insurance agents who don’t do business with clients on a frequent basis can also apply this philosophy. But what kind of content would they send out?

“The key is knowing what kind of content your audience is interested in, and delivering that,” Mark says. “If you can keep your audience engaged in between the times that they need you, they will remember you when the time comes, and refer you to friends and family.”

Building Your Email List

Chances are, if you’re just starting out, you have an empty email list. There are many list purchase options available on the market, but many of them simply aren’t CASL compliant. It’s best to avoid any legal issues by building a CASL-compliant list organically.

“Include a signup link everywhere you are online,” Mark says. “Take the link your email system provides and put it on your website as prominently as possible. Add the link to LinkedIn, Facebook, your Twitter bio, and Instagram. Don’t forget to include the link in your email signature.”

Once on your landing page, your prospect will be able to fill out a signup form. Many businesses collect no more than the email address and first name at this point. Long forms tend to increase the abandon rate, and other information, such as last name, location, and interests, can be collected over time as you develop a better relationship with your customer.

“You can also offer an incentive for people to sign up,” Mark says. “Something like 15% off your next purchase can go a little further to get people to give up an email address.”

Once you’ve built your database up and are ready to send your emails out, Mark advises against using generic email programs such as Outlook, Hotmail, or Gmail.

“I strongly urge businesses to use a professional email marketing system.” he says. “A system like Constant Contact gives you the tools you need for tracking, reporting, and list maintenance.”

Mark also recommends to have your recipients help build your list by inviting them to forward your email to a friend. With every email you send out, include a request that the recipient forward to a friend they think may be interested. Make the button prominent. Also, include a link that allows people who have received the mail from a friend to sign up.

Concerns with CASL

When CASL first came into effect, I used to think of it in relatively simple terms: “Great for consumers, bad for marketers.”

I’ve changed my opinion since then. It’s really only bad for marketers who are more concerned with the quantity instead of the quality of their data. It also affects marketers not concerned with the content they send out, or disinterested in building strong relationships with their customers.

For businesses interested in data quality, relevant content, and building strong customer relationships, CASL only reaffirmed their email marketing practices. In short, it’s actually good for everyone.

But what should email marketers be primarily concerned with within CASL’s complex guidelines?

“CASL is a complicated subject,” Mark says, offering three strategies that will help ensure that companies don’t receive complaints:

  • Get consent to email: There are two kinds of consent: implied and express:
    • Implied consent:  Clients who have done business with you fall under implied consent. This means they can be emailed for two years without asking, after which marketers have to seek out express consent
    • Express consent: This covers people who have opted in to your mailing list, either online, in writing or verbally. Express consent never expires and is valid until the customer opts out
  • Include contact information: The sender is required to provide a physical business mailing address and a secondary way of contacting the sender, including a website or phone number, to the recipient with each email
  • Provide an opt-out opportunity: Business must give recipients the option to unsubscribe. Email systems process the request automatically, but if you are fulfilling requests manually they must be completed within 10 business days

“In short,” Mark says. “CASL just means the government is forcing companies to use email marketing best practices. Only email people who want to receive your email, and when they no longer want to be contacted, remove them from your list.”

The DIY Approach

Most of us can compose and send an email. Most of us can send a mass email too. But while the process of email marketing sounds simple, the strategic planning, content generation, and database maintenance can be complicated, time-consuming, and frustrating.

The answer? Hire a professional.

“One benefit in hiring a professional is that you know it will actually get done,” Mark says. “For small businesses, especially those with a sole proprietor, marketing often falls to the bottom of the to-do list. Work to be done for customers always takes precedence. Hiring an email marketing professional means that your email will get out so you can continue to generate more business. They will also be on top of the latest trends, ensure that your emails will look great across all platforms, and be able to understand and provide perspective on analytics within your industry.”

to-do list,content marketing strategy,copywriting tips,contact us,copywriting services, seo copywriting,to-do-list

How Do You Build a Content Marketing Strategy?

The proper content marketing strategy can make or break an online business. But how do you know which strategy is best for yours?

For the past few years, there’s been heavy emphasis on the quality of online content. And for good reason too, as the effectiveness of your content contributes to the success of your SEO, social media, and conversion strategies. In short, the better the content, the better the results.

Sounds like a no brainer, right? The concept is certainly easy to grasp, but for many businesses, organizing all the different aspects of content marketing into a manageable plan can be a challenge, since results depend on the success of many different facets of your strategy, each of which requires a specific skill set.

Each of these skill sets, whether SEO, social media, conversion, or otherwise, all come under the umbrella of a solid and coordinated content marketing strategy.

Establishing your Brand Voice

Remember that old saying, “You are what you eat?” You can apply this concept to your brand as well, as in, “Your brand is your content.” This is why it’s important to reflect your brand voice into every piece of content you publish.

But should business owners worry about this content right from launch, or build their brand voice as they go along?

“Content is arguably one of the most important things you can do to establish your brand,” says Hollie Hoadley, Founder of Creative Solutions. “It’s how you build relationships, sharpen your image, and solidify yourself in your niche or market. ”

Although you can develop and refine your brand voice over time, your overall brand messaging should be established prior to customers having the ability to interact with you.

“Your brand content is the first impression people will get of you or your company,” Hollie says. “This is why it’s important to really know your voice and brand values, and have a defined strategy for every aspect of your content. From the words on your website, to your social media, to your email signature, none of it should be an afterthought.”

What Do You Want to Talk About?

Although it’s great to have a wealth of content on your website, it’s important to know what your particular business goals are in regard to the content you publish. In other words, what do you want your content to do for you?

Just as importantly, you need to determine what your customers want from what you publish.

“Decide on your goal and the goals of your audience,” Hollie says. “You can then decide what sort of content will get you there and develop your content marketing strategy based on your findings.

“For example, what are you trying to do? Increase engagement? Sell a new product? Acquire new clients? Increase your brand presence on social media? And from your client’s standpoint, are they trying to solve a problem? Look for advice? With this information, you can create a content marketing strategy that brings results.”

Creating your Online Content

Now that you’ve established your voice, know what you want from your messaging, and have a plan in place, it’s time to create the actual content.

Easier said than done? Perhaps. Many businesses struggle with this because, although they may be able to write about their business, they may not be able to necessarily write in a way that will resonate with their customers. This touches on the above point about knowing what your customers want, and tailoring your content accordingly.

In theory, it works. In practice, however, too many businesses fall flat because creating marketing content from a 3rd-party perspective can be challenging. This is when you have to make the decision of whether to create it yourself or seek outside help.

“If you have the in-house talent to do it, go for it,” Hollie says. “However, it’s always good to get a second opinion from the experts who know their stuff. They’re experts for a reason! Ask for a second pair of eyes, because something that looks good to you may not look good to an unbiased audience who has an eye for sharp lines and fonts, or a keen eye for video editing.”

Hiring outside help to handle aspects of your content will also free up your time to build your business through networking, public speaking, and attending events. Wouldn’t you rather be doing that than sitting up at night trying to figure out graphics software or creating copy for web pages?

“With regard to copy,” Hollie says. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to hire a professional writer. A lot of professionals try to write their own blogs, even if they don’t consider themselves writers, and most of their customers can tell the difference. Don’t waste your efforts – hire someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s a smart investment.”

Mix Your Content Marketing Strategy Up

Have you thought about which type of content would be best for your business? Words, pictures, and graphics are a given, but what about audio and video? Or some sort of interactive features, such as quizzes, games, or calculators?

The rule of thumb is to integrate content elements that will delight your customers, and avoid creating a certain content type simply for the sake of doing so. As long as the content is relevant, it’s a good idea to include it.

“Depending on the brand, “Hollie says. “A good content marketing strategy has the right mix of all different kinds of content. For some brands, video is really key whereas with others, video doesn’t quite fit in. However, every brand should consider a strategy that hits all the marks – video, social, blogs, and images.”

Hollie also says that because different people consume content in individual ways, hitting the right marks is especially important.

“At the very least,” she says. “I would recommend that every brand have a blog, newsletter, strong copywriting, and call to action on their website, as well as an engaging social media presence. Lots of images and engaging, relevant content will go a long way to meeting your business goals.”

In addition, from an SEO standpoint, Google smiles upon websites with a good content mix, especially video. Using video increases online session times, contributing to higher rankings.

But always remember: relevancy is key!

Once You’ve Created, Keep Creating

Your customers are dynamic, always looking for something new. Google is dynamic as well, favouring fresh, current content over old that has been posted for a while. Keeping this mind, it’s important to keep your own content regularly updated with fresh information.

“In order to build any sort of following or top any search engine ranking,” Hollie says. “Content has to be relevant, timely, and regularly updated. There’s nothing worse than going to a blog or a Facebook or Twitter page and seeing a post that’s a few months old. Your customers may never come back. You don’t want to lose eyes on your page because you couldn’t keep up with your content strategy.”

There are many reasons why businesses fall behind on their content strategy. They may have become too busy, can’t think of anything new to post, or simply let it lag due to lack of interest. This again speaks to hiring outside freelance help, as their input and interest will keep you excited and interested too. Also, you can continue to concentrate on other aspects of your business, knowing that your content strategy is in good hands.

Content Content Content!

Recently, a marketing friend of mine said that she was so sick of the word “content” that she was refusing to use it for the rest of the year. I’m not sure if she made it then, or could make it now, because the benefits and demands of a content marketing strategy continue to be an integral part of online business success.

There’s just no getting around it.

video marketing

Is Video Marketing Right For Your Business?

Video marketing has been around a long, long time, and keeps being reinvented for the modern marketer. But is it right for your business?

Video marketing is almost as old as the moving pictures themselves, and people then, just like now, aren’t immune to its effects.

Even as children we were subjected to it. Think back to that breakfast cereal commercial during Saturday morning cartoons. The cartoons themselves featured characters that were also available in toy form. Or that catchy “Let’s all go to the lobby” short before the movie started. Those are both examples of using video to market something.

Speaking of the movies, have you noticed that not only do we have to sit through trailers before the movie starts, we now have to sit through commercials too? Yes, even that innocent-looking snowman stuck in the refrigerator is video marketing in disguise.

And, as of late, even going to the bathroom in your favourite restaurant exposes you to “well-placed” video ads.

So why are we inundated with videos everywhere we go? The answer is simple: because video marketing works.

Why Does Video Marketing Work?

Why wouldn’t it work? Hypnotic, flashing lights, catchy music, happy, attractive people doing things they love and, most importantly, solving a problem by way of buying a product or service. If you have great written content to enhance the video and are able to target the right audience, you could have a monster (or snowman) on your hands.

But that’s a surface observation. Like many things, science and human physiology play a big role in the success of video marketing as well.

“Using video in your marketing mix is the best way to build emotional relationships with your audience online,” says Michael Wood, Corporate Video Creator and Video Marketer at Helium Marketing. “People are hardwired to pay attention to eye contact and non-verbal communication. Viewers are able to process information faster with better retention by engaging both auditory and visual stimulation. For these reasons, videos are 12 times more likely to be watched than text and have significantly higher click-through rates.”

How many times have you watched a video over and over again? And then clicked through for more? Capturing and delighting their target audience is every marketer’s dream.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Finding the right video production house that understands your needs is key to your video’s success. As with anything, referrals and word-of-mouth advertising within your network are very effective ways to find the perfect service provider. Ideally, they’ll be able to understand your vision, bring it to life, and have a keen sense of what generates the right response from your audience.

Knowing what works in video goes beyond the on-screen action itself. It also involves graphics, sound effects, and music. Also, a production house should be able to offer a scriptwriting service to really help your message hit home with viewers.

But wait! Are you the do-it-yourself type? I am. I love developing new skills and showing people what I’ve accomplished. But one thing I’m not really good at is taking photos or creating video. I have no idea why this skill escapes me. You could give me the best camera in the world and the pictures will still turn out horrible.

For the rest of you intrepid DIYers living in this age of empowerment, it’s easy to find tools to make your own videos. If you have a smartphone, you probably already have a video camera. But does that mean you should create your corporate videos using your handheld device?

“When promoting your business, it’s important to send the right message,” Michael explains. “You want to show off your product or service in the best possible way. While doing a DIY video is inexpensive, if the quality is not representative of your brand then you will be doing more harm than good. A professional also offers specific skills that will help the video creation process run smoothly and get maximum impact once it goes to market.”

In other words, you could have the best product in the world, but if you promote it with a poorly-made video, you risk leaving a bad taste in the mouth of your customer.

Avoiding a DIY approach can also apply to marketing your video, as a great video production house will not only create an amazing video for you, they will also be able to suggest the best channels to get it in front of the right people.

But if you do plan on marketing it yourself, at least get a marketing plan from a professional, so you can maximize the return on your investment while delighting your audience with your great new video.

Go for an Epic? Or a Short?

Have you ever sat through a video wishing for it to be over? Chances are, it was overly long and stuffed with filler information that didn’t engage you. Conversely, a video too short might not have included enough information to be compelling, leaving one wondering if that was all the business had to say. How do you determine that optimum length?

“Over the years, there have been statistics showing that short videos have higher engagements,” Michael says. “This may be because over the overwhelming amount of short and silly video clips that are shared every day. We have found that long-form videos have achieved results surpassing competitive short videos because of the quality of the content and level of detail. A video should be no longer than it needs to be, but you should not sacrifice content for a target video length.”

A great video production company will be able to help you determine the appropriate length of your video, ensuring that it contains just enough of your core message to initiate direct contact from your audience.

Be Found More Often

One of the best aspects of getting your video seen doesn’t mean purchasing expensive airtime anymore (although it would be cool to be seen during the Super Bowl). You can simply host your video on your website, as well as upload to such video hosting platforms as YouTube, and promote it through social media and other channels.

But did you know that your SEO rankings can dramatically improve with video too?

“Statistically, videos are 50 times more likely to rank organically in search results,” Michael says. “This relates to videos hosted on platforms like YouTube, but having a video on your website will also increase your website ranking. This is because of how the video will influence your website traffic.

“High-ranking positions in search results are awarded to websites that offer longer session times, high click-through rates, and a mix of media content. Presenting a video for visitors to watch will increase your session times, while also giving you higher conversion and click-through rates.”

That’s a Wrap

Clearly, almost any business would benefit from even having just a short introductory video on their home page. Investing in something your customers enjoy goes a long way towards building brand loyalty, and increases the chances for additional revenue.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you at next year’s Webby Awards.

write blogs

How to Write Blogs that Drive Business

Most professionals know they need to write blogs as part of their content marketing strategy. But how can they write blogs that actually drive business? Write blogs: it seems to be the mantra of nearly every content marketing strategy these days. But writing blogs involves more than putting words up on your website. There’s a strategy […]

seo strategy

Why Isn’t My SEO Strategy Working?

Getting their SEO strategy to perform at peak levels is a common challenge for business owners. In fact, their SEO might actually be taking them in the right direction, only needing a few simple tweaks to maximize results.

Business owners who manage their own SEO strategy often follow the self-optimization tools provided in SEO packages, such as Yoast, to guide them through the tricky waters of search marketing.

As robust as these tools can be, there are some key custom elements of a complete SEO strategy that many businesses tend to overlook, causing them to potentially miss out on better rankings. Much of them have to do with content generation, which SEO software won’t (and shouldn’t) help you with, and where you publish your content outside of your own domain.

Here are examples of those little extras that can help better your search results:

  1. Long-tail keywords: Let’s say you sell shoes in Seattle. You decide to implement an SEO strategy on your website and start brainstorming SEO keywords. The first one you might think of is “shoes”. “Footwear” might come in second, followed by a list of your top brands. While these keywords are certainly relevant, they’re also in high demand and might not rank you very well in search results. This is why long-tail keywords play an important role in setting you apart from your competition. Try something like “Imported leather shoes from Italy in Seattle” or “Steve Madden shoes Seattle”. There – you just improved your odds of being found. Long-tail keywords also work great for your blogs, such as: “Which shoe polish is best for brown leather shoes?”
  2. Write for people, not search engines: Have you ever tried to read pure SEO-oriented content? It’s not a compelling read for humans or search engines. That’s right – search algorithms are so intelligent that they can separate good content from keyword-stuffed mumbo jumbo. And even if the keyword-stuffed mumbo jumbo ranks highly, who’s going to read it and be moved to convert? The bottom line is to write for humans, optimize for search, not the other way around.
  3. Off-site SEO: Here’s one that a lot of businesses miss. Off-site SEO refers to “authority building” that Google uses as a ranking factor. This authority is measured by inbound links from external sources that are of high authority themselves. If these sites are linking to yours, Google will perceive your site as having authority as well. Guest blogging and social media syndication are two great ways to raise your off-site authority.

On a final note, remember that, like content marketing, an SEO strategy can’t be successful with a “set it and forget it” philosophy. It needs to be revisited from time to time to reinforce what’s been successful, and tweak what hasn’t.