‘How will I find you?’ 5 ways to build brand awareness

promotion and marketingSuppose you are meeting someone for the first time in a public place. Wouldn’t it make sense to tell this person what you look like? It seems only natural to describe your most identifying features so you can quickly find each other. Yet, it doesn’t always happen, leading to embarrassment (“Are you Dave?”), wasted time and missed opportunities.

Now think about your business. Your success depends on connecting with new customers in your market. Wouldn’t it make sense to describe to them who you are? How they can find you?

It seems like a no-brainer, but so many people fall down when it comes to marketing themselves. Here are five questions you should be asking yourself to build brand awareness:

1. Can you be found on Google?
It’s been said that if Google can’t find you, no one can. Many articles and books have been written about search engine optimization (SEO) and other strategies for popping up near the top of Google searches. Google actually makes it easy to see which keywords your customers might be using to try to find your business or services.

Google Trends allows you to view the relative popularity of search terms over time (since 2004) and by country. You can compare up to five keywords, which makes it useful for determining the relative strength of terms. For example, suppose you are a heating and air-conditioning contractor. You could type in “heating and air conditioning,” “HVAC,” “air conditioning,” “heating” and “building contractor.” What you’d find is that “heating” is by far the most-used keyword. As you might imagine, you’d see that “heating” spikes during the winter months and “air conditioning” spikes in the summer. Google also gives you a list of related searches and the relative strength of those keywords.

Google AdWords Keyword Planner is available for free, even if you haven’t purchased any Google AdWords for your business. It provides helpful information for selecting keywords and a “suggested bid” price for specific keywords, i.e., what it might cost per click. You can enter keywords that describe your products or services and/or a specific landing page. It gets interesting when you type in your own website or a competitor’s. You can search on date ranges, geographic locations and product categories.

Google My Business is a new tool that puts your business information on Google Maps, Google+ and in Google searches. It’s especially helpful to retailers since it allows you to post photos of your location, business hours, telephone number, driving directions and Google reviews. I have not used it, but I understand that it replaces Google Places and has a dashboard where you can make changes to your profile, view traffic via Insights and Google Analytics and check your reviews.

2. Do you have a social media presence?
Think of Google and other search engines as a wide net that is constantly being cast into the digital sea. Your goal is to be a big enough fish to get caught in a search engine’s net. You can do that by increasing your presence on social media. Keep in mind, getting noticed online requires effort and persistence. I’ve had people say to me, “I need to be on social media”—as if all you have to do is flip a switch, and “voila!” you instantly have 10,000 followers! When I explain to them what it entails—the same careful and steady nurturing of relationships that’s required in the real world—they begin to hem and haw. The advice that I give below for real-world networking applies to virtual networking, too. In order to be known, you have to engage. Choose one or two social media networks to get active on—ones that make sense for your business—and then start to participate. Make comments on other people’s posts, and post your own content. Social media is an excellent way to push out your own content, but it works best when you become part of the conversation. It’s like a virtual cocktail party. You don’t want to be a complete bore by always talking about yourself. Show some interest in what other people are saying and provide value by contributing ideas and suggestions that will be helpful to your target market.

3. Are you building relationships in the real world?
We often call it networking, but a more apt way of putting it is “in-person socializing.” In your quest to add more Facebook friends, LinkedIn contacts and Twitter followers, don’t neglect personal connections and relationships. When it’s time for someone to make a hire or give a recommendation, who’s most likely to come to mind? A Facebook friend or a real friend? Genuine interactions also have many ancillary benefits. You can float new ideas, foster collaboration and form a sense of community that results in the mutual betterment of everyone in your circle. In his best-selling book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi distinguishes relationship building from the “crude, desperate glad-handing” usually associated with networking. As he notes, “It’s never simply about getting what you want. It’s about getting what you want and making sure that the people who are important to you get what they want, too.” Make a habit of getting to know people you meet at networking events by suggesting that you have coffee or simply arranging time for a follow-up phone call. You’d be surprised how one thing leads to another and a lasting relationship begins.

4. Are you talking to your customers?
Active listening is a skill that seems in short supply these days, but successful business people have learned the art of paying attention to what their clients are thinking and what they need. A few years ago, I invited veteran DC marketer Bob London to speak to the Independent Public Relations Alliance. “Every client has an ‘elevator rant,’” he told us. “This is what keeps them up at night. It’s the thing they would tell you in the space of an elevator ride that is really bothering them.” London has been able to create added value by translating his clients’ rants into marketing solutions. “Once you’ve talked to customers and better understand their concerns,” he said, “questions about strategy, message and channels just fall into place.” Taking the time to listen to your customers—drilling down to discover their needs—shows that you take a genuine interest in their business and want to help them succeed. It also puts you top of mind with your customers and further strengthens your brand.

5. Are you taking advantage of earned media?
The old adage that earned media is better than paid media still holds true today. Being quoted in a publication is one of the most credible ways of building your brand. News outlets are always looking for story ideas. If you have an interesting client project or news item, send an email to the appropriate reporter. You might just find yourself being interviewed. With the proliferation of online media, there are many ways to get exposure for your business—most of them free if you are willing to provide the content. It’s not that hard to approach bloggers, website editors or e-publishers to see if you can write a guest blog or occasionally submit an article. You’ll be creating awareness for your brand, plus you’ll have some great content that you can link to your own website and social media accounts. Social media also has the power to “amplify” your content many times through sharing and likes. I have found blogging to be a wonderful way of communicating my views, engaging in conversations and demonstrating my skills as a producer of digital content. Find the medium that works best for you, then set out to make yourself known so that no one ever has to say, “How will I find you?” They will already know.

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