Nine steps to build an online brand

8 July 2015 By Northern Lights

Nine steps to build an online brand image

BalloonsToday every business owner recognises the importance of a strong online brand – even if it’s still on the “to do” list. Finding you on Google and researching who you are is now an integral part of every customer’s buying process.

Northern Lights works with a wide number of B2B organisations, public sector bodies, educational institutions and high profile individuals and all of them want the same thing – a strong online brand that positions them ahead of the competition.

Our own research shows that professional service firms, manufacturers and a wealth of other B2B organisations are all investing heavily in their online marketing activities, digital technologies and social media strategies as they aim to harness this lucrative new global marketplace.

We’ve shared a wealth of information on our blog about how best to tackle the myriad of opportunities the online world represents, but I thought it would be worth outlining a few of the key points you need to consider when you start to build your own online brand for your business or individual profile.

  1. Who is the customer?

Before you start creating social media accounts, writing swathes of new website copy and buying a high-end camera for all your “funny” Vine videos, first consider who you actually need to sell too. It’s a basic principle of business but, all too often, the business leaders I meet just want to be seen online. In the real world you wouldn’t pay to advertise in a glossy mag like Cosmopolitan if you sold shovels and the same rules apply online.

Think what problem or desire your product or service responds too and what your ideal customer is looking for. Ask who are the customers and what motivates them to search for the solutions you are selling? When you can hone in on your customers, then you can start thinking about how to market effectively online.

  1. What are my competitors doing online?

computer-customersThere are two types of competitors in the online world. Your real competitors who sell similar products and services and your search competitors, those who appear on Google when you enter the keywords associated with your business. As always, “me too” is never the best approach. Don’t copy your competitors but look at what they are doing and what works. Crucially, look at how you can differentiate yourself and position your business around key words and phrases.


  1. What is the customer journey?

My career as a journalist, PR practitioner and consumer of business services is a miserable catalogue of angry exchanges with websites. Usually, I just wanted to pick up the phone and speak to an individual or simply find out more about the company’s values or expertise but couldn’t find individual contact details. Often, I’ve looked up a specific product or service only to find a confusing burst of marketing jargon with little detail about how it will help my business.

Make your website all about the customer. Make it easy for them to learn about you, the company’s values, how you can help the business and, most importantly, make it easy to buy from you.

  1. How do I identify which keywords to use?

The Northern Lights blog features a number of detailed insights into thinking like a search engine, but crucially it’s about thinking like your customer. Listen to your customers and identify what questions they are asking. You’ll soon see a pattern of questions like “What is the best social media?”, “How much will Automatic Enrolment cost my business?”, “How do I get paid by a customer in China?”.

Every question is an example of the questions they are typing into Google and every one includes the keywords you need to focus on. Make a list of the individual keywords and also identify the “long tail” combinations – the full length questions – and then make sure you use them as much as possible in all of your online content.

  1. Does my online content answer customer questions?

questionsNow you’ve identified what questions your customers are asking, make sure you are providing the answers online. If you can deliver the solutions people need, you’ll quickly attract people to your site, build up a rapport and start to see new business coming in.

There are a multitude of ways to answer questions from shared articles, social media and videos to research, FAQs and blogs. Crucially, make sure all that content is linked back to your website and don’t be afraid to include calls to action. Think about the customer journey and make it easy to buy.

Don’t be afraid to be generous. We share all of our insights and experiences online, but many people I talk to are afraid that they will give away too much information. However, our experience has shown that it only helps to grow your business by demonstrating your expertise and helping to develop trusted relationships.

  1. How do I promote my online brand?

Social media is a fantastic tool for generating visibility and, in most instances, I’d recommend starting with Twitter and LinkedIn for B2B brands – consumer brands should also use Facebook. Use social media to promote key content on your site but remember it is primarily about engagement.

Share interesting and useful articles that your customers will want to read, ask and respond to questions and engage with customers directly. We’ve written guides about social media and top tips for making the most of them. As you build confidence, then start adding Google+, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest and any other platforms that appeal to your customers.

Another crucial element of promotion is identifying the influencers in your sector. Who do people turn to for advice and recommendations and who has the biggest voice in your industry or among your customers? Connect with them through social media channels and encourage them to share news about your business.

  1. Should I have a blog?

Yes. Unquestionably, yes.

Blogging or content marketing is a critical element of online success. Every search engine is looking for relevant, interesting and regularly updated content so they can deliver quality results to users. Google’s latest algorithm update has once again shifted more focus onto that regular, quality content.

By delivering regular blog updates that share insights and experiences, discuss industry developments, share opinions on topical issues and, crucially, answer your customers’ questions, you will see a major improvement in the way you are found online.

Blogs are the foundation of any successful online strategy and you can find more about writing blogs here.

  1. How do I measure the growth of my online brand?

tall-treesMeasuring success is another critical element of generating new business leads through online channels. In Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams movie we were told “If you build it, they will come”. They were wrong. Just blindly churning out blogs, web copy and social media content and then trusting that you’ll be found is a fool’s errand.

Set clear objectives that will turn into business results. Consider setting specific goals for follower numbers or new business enquiries and always ask how they found you. Also make use of tools like Google Analytics to understand where your main sources of traffic are coming from.

Identify what is working and do more. Look at what is failing and change it.

  1. What else can I do to grow my online brand?

While quality content and an engaging and active social media presence will deliver results, it can take time to grow an engaged community. If you want instant results, consider using Google Adwords or promoted posts on Twitter and Facebook.

While you pay for these, all of them enable you to target a very specific audience so make sure you have clear targets and then measure the impact and ROI.

Good old-fashioned PR can also help.

Hopefully this gives you some of the key steps you need to consider when you’re building an online brand for your business or an individual but, if you think I’ve missed anything, please share your tips in the comments below.

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