Take time to really identify and get into the mind of your ideal clients. Oh, I know. Many of us believe we’ve done this. We might even have detailed avatars depicting our ideal clients as people of a specific demographic who read certain magazines, drink lattes, and love professional sports. But, those avatars don’t actually serve us because they articulate the wrong things. Instead, think about your ideal client within the context of the problems your work solves for them. Who are they? What do they feel? What do they need? How do they evaluate potential offers and make buying decisions? Most importantly, how do your core products/services fit into that context? This is the root of an ideal client profile, and in my experience many small companies neglect this work.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Michelle Hunter. Michelle is an experienced strategist, content creator, and speaker with a gift for bringing clarity to the often complex business issues found in the digital market. Her agency, Michelle Hunter Creative, partners with successful entrepreneurs and business owners to create customized, holistic marketing strategy which drives massive growth and delivers sustained profitability. Michelle regularly publishes articles addressing the marketing, leadership, and growth issues many business owners struggle with in the path to sustainable success. Visit michellehuntercreative.com to explore her work and ideas.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for the opportunity! Sure… When I left the corporate world to begin my own business, I quickly identified a big need in the digital marketing world. Lots of experts and gurus shared high-level theory, but there was a lack of practical application beyond the tactics the experts themselves had personally experienced. This puts entrepreneurs and small business owners at a disadvantage, and I found that to be quite frustrating.
You see, in the corporate world a business has a team that works to create a personalized marketing approach designed to align with the brand, the audience, and the available resources for implementation. Entrepreneurs are often left in the theoretical weeds trying to apply strategy to their unique situations.
I was stuck there myself… and I realized this was a problem I could solve for others like me. So many brilliant people with great ideas flounder because they are trying to make misaligned tactics work for them. I’m passionate about making personalized marketing strategy accessible for smaller organizations.
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?
I started my company in 2012, in the golden age of social media marketing. In my desire to gain traction, I began posting and pinning in a variety of ways… looking for a platform and a message that would work for me. Basically, I was just contributing to the noise out there…and presenting myself in ways that didn’t align with my personality and values.
I’m a very direct person — candid and practical. Yet on social media I was creating a gentle, compassionate persona that coated every potentially eye-opening comment with so much sugar it was nearly unrecognizable. About that time, one of my daughters commented that she was confused. She said I sounded just like my grandmother, rather than myself…and it kind of creeped her out.
Things changed for my young business when I learned to be myself — direct, but kind — and stopped trying to create an image that was not entirely true to my personality.
People think “authenticity” in marketing is demonstrated by sharing personal information, making political statements, or branding according to personal preferences — but they are wrong. True authenticity comes out of engaging people online in the same voice and manner as you would in person. I’ve embraced this…and I guide my clients to do the same.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think the thing my clients appreciate the most about working with us is the personal approach. I work one on one with all of my clients — giving them a level of attention they don’t find elsewhere. We talk about their business holistically — from marketing & sales to operations and fulfillment — and work to create sustainable profitability across the board.
My primary objective is practical marketing strategy my clients can implement over the long term to achieve growth. But, as we talk we often identify operational, pricing, or sales issues that need to be solved in order to support growth. We fix those things too.
This “total business” approach is definitely different, and I believe it gives my clients a huge advantage in the marketplace. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m so glad you asked! I’m working on a new blog strategy offer that removes the obstacles people have with content creation and combines idea generation and writing guidelines with keyword research and best practices. I meet with business owners for a strategy session — and then create blog categories, 12 months of topics and related keywords, and templates they can use to share their ideas.
This offer answers the “what should I write about “question and includes resources to simplify the writing process. Contrary to popular opinion, blogging isn’t dead. It has matured into an inbound content marketing system that leverages search to draw clients to your door. This offer allows entrepreneurs and business owners to create attractive content in a sustainable way.
I already guide larger businesses as they use inbound content marketing for lead generation. This offer makes that incredibly effective marketing tactic sustainable for smaller organizations. I’m really excited about it!
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Brand marketing is the core of your business — the personality, the energy, the essence of who you are as a company and an organization. Product marketing is a subset of that — no more, no less.
For example — think of a big commercial brand you enjoy. Maybe a giant like Apple or Coca-Cola… or even a local brand you use frequently such as your favorite coffee house or brew pub. Brand marketing creates more than name recognition — it creates your awareness of the personality of the brand. Certain people use Apple products. Certain people go to the local brewery in my town. The brand creates a connotation and a kind of buying relationship.
Product marketing ideally flows out of that bigger brand. iPhones are marketed differently than iPads, but the feel is similar and cohesive with the overall brand voice. My local brewery advertises different products — an IPA, a Stout, etc. — but all in the same “tongue in cheek” way that characterizes the overall brand.
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?
I see many people who are focused on advertising and product marketing while ignoring the brand marketing aspect of their business. This is a misstep. When you create a strong brand image, you set up individual products for success. People will purchase a new product simply because they identify so strongly with your overall brand. It works for Apple… it will work for you.
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.
First — and most important — a small company needs to take a step back from day to day operations and reflect on the values they want to be known for in the marketplace. This is a crucial step, but many of us don’t take it. We let ourselves drift into a brand position that simply isn’t reflective of our passion and personality.
Second — take time to really identify and get into the mind of your ideal clients. Oh, I know. Many of us believe we’ve done this. We might even have detailed avatars depicting our ideal clients as people of a specific demographic who read certain magazines, drink lattes, and love professional sports. But, those avatars don’t actually serve us because they articulate the wrong things. Instead, think about your ideal client within the context of the problems your work solves for them. Who are they? What do they feel? What do they need? How do they evaluate potential offers and make buying decisions? Most importantly, how do your core products/services fit into that context? This is the root of an ideal client profile, and in my experience many small companies neglect this work.
Third — evaluate your operations from the perspective of your first two answers. Does your team live the values you articulated in step one? Does your customer service system align with your core values? Is your marketing message designed to speak into the needs of your ideal client? These are amazing questions to answer…not quickly, but with thoughtful reflection.
The first three steps are reflective and strategic. The last two I recommend are action based.
Fourth — shift your operations to better align with your core values. Revise your internal and external messaging to reflect what you’ve identified as your core values. Your visual brand might need to shift a bit too, but in my experience the messaging is most crucial. Get the message right. Inspire your people…and inspire your customers and potential customers.
Fifth — and unfortunately this is where many of us begin — master a single marketing channel. If social media is your channel, spend time learning and iterating until you own social for your brand. Focused on content creation? Put a sustainable system for creation and promotion in place and work it intentionally. Get really good at a single channel and master your audience. When properly aligned messaging meets skilled execution, your visibility and brand identity will take off!
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?
One of my favorite brands is Michael Hyatt & Co. I’m specifically impressed by the consistent high-quality content generated by this brand and the core values of Michael Hyatt and his team. The company does more than talk about balancing work and family life. They model how to create a business that is aligned with what is most important in life.
To replicate this type of strong brand identity, we must “walk our talk” — meaning every engagement with our audience (from potential client to former client) must be aligned with the core values that drive us. We must be real…and our audience must see us working out the bugs in a very real way. That’s what makes a brand believable.
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?
Certainly metrics like number of sales play a role in evaluating marketing success. For brand building, however, I think it’s important to dig a little bit deeper than specifically sales results or the volume of lead generation.
I guide my clients to consider the quality of the leads generated and the overall ease of the sales process. When your brand inspires relationship and loyalty, everything in the sales process is simplified. The buying cycle is shorter, customer retention is higher, and repeat sales are increased. When people know, trust, and love your brand they are happy to buy your next new offer. The overall process is much easier and more lucrative.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media plays a minimal role in how I brand my company simply because it is not the marketing tactic I’ve chosen to master. My focus is on content creation and using my words and ideas to generate leads for my business. However, social platforms are quite useful for many of my clients.
In general, social media is a great tool for visibility, engagement, and building community. We often network online — some of my deepest collaborative relationships began through connections on Twitter or Facebook — making social a great place to invest energy. When done right, advertising on social media can deliver impressive results. I think the starting place is always in your overall brand strategy and an understanding of how your ideal clients use social media. Once you’ve identified that your people purchase through a particular platform, it makes sense to invest time and money there.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
A poorly thought out marketing strategy will not deliver sustainable results no matter how many ways you implement it. Invest in the underlying strategy and then master a single tactic before adding variation. This is the path to sustainable success without burnout. You don’t need to do MORE. You need to improve on what you do to market your business and maximize its impact.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have a huge passion for women in difficult circumstances and I see entrepreneurial success as a path to self-sufficiency for many women. So many women have great ideas — they just need guidance to help them bring those ideas to market in a way that provides for them economically. I define women’s empowerment as coming alongside individual women and giving them the tools and support they need to thrive. Several people are already championing this cause…and I’m looking for ways to do more.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt. This is my go-to quote when imposter syndrome makes its presence known in my life or when I contract a serious case of self-doubt.
As she so aptly pointed out, the opinion of others is irrelevant unless we agree with it. Marketing is a long game. There are always those who think our products, our approach, or our services are inferior. We don’t have to agree with them.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to meet Todd Herman for a lunch or breakfast or just a conversation. His practical approach to all things business really resonates with me. So much of what we do as business owners comes down to our mindset and how we execute on our goals…and that’s what Todd’s work has helped me to hone.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My articles are published on my business Facebook page — Michelle Hunter Creative. I’d love for your readers to follow me there. Also, people are welcome to visit my website and download my free guide to Creating Profitability and also join my list if they choose.