Success can simply be someone saying, “oh yeah, I’ve heard of you!” when you meet a new person in your industry for the first time. Success can also be a potential client telling you that they like your business card design a lot, because its unique and caught their eye. A lot companies want to know why their social media followers haven’t jumped from 500 to 5000 in just a few weeks, but those kind of metrics aren’t always indicators of success. Like anything else worth having, a great brand takes time and energy.
I had the pleasure to interview Amy Imhoff. Amy is a digital content manager who left the cubicle farm to launch Amy Imhoff Content Management, helping individuals and small businesses live their best digital lives. Amy specializes in genre fandom, pop culture, and feminist issues. She is a featured author, blogger, podcaster, and convention panel host, with over 50 panels under her utility belt. Amy wears many hats in the writing world, from literature professor to tech researcher to branding expert. She loves to travel, enjoys all things British, and wants to save the planet while wearing cute shoes. Amy is based outside NYC, where she lives with her husband and two silly cats. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @lightstar1013.
Thank you so much for joining us Amy! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I had just started freelancing, it was mostly as an editor. One of my first clients was working on a historical romance novel. It had some quite racy scenes that needed editing! I saved it under a code name because I’d work on it while at my very boring day job, where I finished all my work quickly and was forever waiting around for the next assignment. I might have accidentally sent it as an attachment to a (thankfully understanding) coworker. Lesson learned: no code names! Mistakes happen.
What do you think makes your consulting business stand out? Can you share a story?
I’m able to treat every client personally, since I am a solo business owner right now. While I have some great colleagues that I refer to things like graphic design, I am able to sit down with my clients and tailor my services to them on a case-by-case basis. I also tend to engage with clients or potential clients in my own areas of expertise so that I can use my knowledge to make them look even better. For example, I work best with those in the technology, publishing, entertainment, and lifestyle spaces. When you love the subject matter, it will show through in your work and create better overall brand engagement.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, I have two projects in the works — one is a book that I’m writing and one is a documentary. The details of the documentary are unfortunately confidential for now (but I can’t wait to talk about it!), and the book is about the evolution of female characters in science fiction and fantasy over the last 30 years. One of my areas of expertise is in genre media — meaning anything that is related to comics, sci-fi, or fantasy. As you well know from the global success of the Marvel films, these are some of the biggest properties on the planet. However, we only got our first female-driven superhero movie with 2018’s Wonder Woman. Ladies have made huge strides, but there is a still a really long way to go. Little girls have some great role models to watch, but girls and women weren’t being marketed to from a strong female character standpoint until very recently. I didn’t have nearly as much branded merchandise of my favorite scifi women as a kid, whereas my brother had every Ninja Turtle, Power Ranger, or He-Man item under the sun. Now that my generation is having kids, we can buy our daughters female Jedi toys and also encourage our sons to see girls/women as equals in their favorite shows and movies.
Ok, let’s now pivot to the main part of our interview. How would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
I see brand marketing as your company’s story, with products being small parts of that story. Branding is a much broader theme that you need to have under control before you start creating products one after the other. Each product should fit into your brand’s narrative and help you get across the message you want to put out into the world.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
In this era of information overload, I would go so far as to say that anything “general” isn’t going to do much to penetrate the noise. If you arrive on the scene with a unique point of view and the ability to create engaging content — that’s brand-building. Society tells us repeatedly to “fit in” but in marketing, you need to stand out and be different. Each business has something that makes them different and will get them noticed, but brand strategists might need to dig a little more to find that unique and special aspect. I’m trained to look for the details that will make a brand stand out, and relate it to what their market is already engaging with on digital platforms.
Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
I like working with small companies because the potential is huge! Often, large companies have a lot of red tape or too many cooks in the marketing kitchen. Here are 5 strategies for small companies:
- Digital media is visual. You need a logo or unique-to-you quirk to keep you on brand. Keep the logo, colors, and font consistent across all your media, both print and digital. You’d be surprised how many companies aren’t doing this, or only half-doing it.
- Be clear about what you do and provide examples. This is a strategy that applies to a lot of technology companies and startups. You might think it is cool or intriguing to be a bit vague on your website, but it is frustrating when your product offerings aren’t clearly defined. To be trusted and believable, adding a concise explanation about what your tech does and who it’s for without too many marketing buzzwords and jargon is essential.
- Engage with what’s trending — I work with a small local design firm (JB Design, run by CEO & founder J Berry), and everyone in that small office was super excited that Game of Thrones was returning for a final season. I had them brainstorm what the House sigil and words would be for “House Berry” and then their lead graphic designer created it for social media. We got traffic from using the Game of Thrones hashtag, and the designer enjoyed creating something fun to support the company.
- Make your passion work for you. Small companies often start as passion projects or to fill a need seen by the founder and small pool of new employees. Use that excitement to create videos, let your employees do a “social media takeover” for the day, and tell the world why your company is great. This builds excitement around the brand and draws others in — enthusiasm is infectious!
- Work your network and the industry’s network. This might sound obvious, but after a long day at the office, we’re tired and want to go home and put on Netflix or spend time with family. Which we should all do…but a small business thrives on connections. Depending on your at-home responsibilities, carve out some time for networking and professional engagement. Once a week, two-three times a month, can make a big difference in who you meet and how your business grows. I especially encourage women to join women-in-business networking groups (Ladies Get Paid is fabulous and brilliant, I can’t recommend them enough) to meet like-minded ladies.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I think Anthropology has done an amazing job building their brand. This was a company that was founded by the president of Urban Outfitters in 1992, but I hadn’t heard of them until well after I’d graduated college (class of ’06, holler!). Even though I couldn’t afford them in my 20’s (and I’m still priced out of some of their offerings, to be sure), I still enjoyed the immersive experience of the store and browsing their clearance section. The way their clothing, accessories, and furniture options feel curated is very appealing. The fact that they use local artists to create fantastic window displays and free-hanging art in their stores really does impress me, as they aren’t just putting clothing on mannequins or draping some fabric as a background. Everything is obviously intentional in their merchandising, but I still feel like I’m having an eclectic, romantic experience when I shop there.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
There are similarities, of course, but I don’t measure branding success only in sales. Success can simply be someone saying, “oh yeah, I’ve heard of you!” when you meet a new person in your industry for the first time. Success can also be a potential client telling you that they like your business card design a lot, because its unique and caught their eye. A lot companies want to know why their social media followers haven’t jumped from 500 to 5000 in just a few weeks, but those kind of metrics aren’t always indicators of success. Like anything else worth having, a great brand takes time and energy.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media plays a huge role. I have gotten nearly all my independent and freelance work from connections made on social. Not to mention that some companies don’t have the first clue what makes for great social engagement, let alone know what kind of content works on which platform, which is where I step in to save the day.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take vacations — big, exciting ones and small, restful ones. We are all chained to our phones 24/7 and getting out of the office no longer means that work stops for the day or the weekend. I find that an afternoon to myself does wonders for my creativity and sanity, as does planning a big trip overseas. I went on a Scottish road trip with my brother last year and it was delightful to have only spotty cell service up in the Highlands, where we saw one jaw-dropping landscape after the other and ate too many scones.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Most likely, such a movement would be related to ending sex trafficking of women and girls around the world. The majority of people in first-world countries have no idea how prevalent and common it is for young girls and women to be sold into sex slavery — especially poor women of color. I’ve attended several talks at the UN about this horrifying problem, and if readers want to educate themselves and know more, the UN Office of Drugs & Crime has staff dedicated to this issue: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/index.html
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“One voice can be stronger than one thousand voices.” I’m going to fly my nerd flag here, because this quote was said by Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. I’ve had it pinned to my wall or on my desk since I was a teen, and it helps me remember that I have a unique point of view that no one else can possesses. I didn’t like a lot of the messages that society gave teen girls in the 90s, and I was determined to be more original. I developed a strong inner voice (there was a lot of journaling involved) and it has proven relevant in my career as I help brands and individuals find their voices.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? Why?
Right now I have a major girl crush on Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones) — she’s really changed the way I view myself as a tall woman and helped me make peace with my body image. Girls are told in both overt and covert ways not to take up too much space. I felt that societal pressure often while growing up, but I couldn’t help being tall! I don’t have a sister, so I’m finding loads of inspiration in not only Gwendoline’s ability to play fierce warrior women but in how she isn’t shy on the red carpet with her fashion choices. We often make a first impression without saying a word, and I want potential clients to see me as someone who is put together from a sartorial standpoint and, therefore, can handle my own business and take care of theirs.
How can our readers follow you on social media or connect with you?
To work with me, head to www.amyimhoff.com. Find me on Twitter and Instagram posting about geek adventures (and cat photos, let’s be honest) @lightstar1013