Category Archives: Branding – Marketing

Information on successful branding for business. Strategies for start up business branding, small business brand awareness. Building brand awareness, samples of branding done right.

Our brand story – The Beauty of All Things Connected

Our brand story con

From an early age, it has been my desire to see and spread beauty. This purpose has enhanced my love for nature and design and the appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things. Connecting nature, beauty, and design is the key component of our brand story. It is because of what makes me stop and take a picture in a city park, a foggy forest or a trendy restaurant. It has inspired interest in landscape design, interior design, jewelry, and fashion design. All the design things. Consequently, show me a clever graphic design on retail packaging with an inspiring brand story, and you’ve got an instant brand ambassador.

The appreciation of nature and beauty encouraged me to pursue graphic design training and launch Connection Group, Inc. As a result, for over two decades the Connection Group team has created beautiful logos, beautiful graphic designs, and beautiful publications that people pay attention to.

Connection Group Brand Story

Beauty is our purpose, design is our talent, and increased connection is our mission.

“In nature, we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This partnership of beauty and nature and the belief that everything is connected was the inspiration behind our name. As a graphic designer, the patterns in nature and beauty in natural form have always captivated me. My morning dog walks in nature remind me to be grateful and slow down and enjoy the beauty around me. These moments allow me to ease into my day with gratitude and clarity. I then bring to my work a creator’s mind and an artist’s eye.

Recently, a TED Radio Hour presenter on climate change expressed his belief that humans will outlive nature. Humans will live on but they will have to live without trees. No trees, no beauty. I began to wonder how much we take for granted the role nature places in defining what beauty is?  What of living without beauty, without the beauty of trees? What kind of world will it be without the sight of a tulip tree in bloom, an apple tree at harvest time, a Michigan sugar maple aglow in October? Trees encompass all of the elemental rules of design; symmetry, color, organic line, patterns, textures, and placement. Like a beautiful design, they evoke a response.

#aTreeaDay

all-things-connect-a-tree-a-dayIn response, I have slowed my walk in my favorite parks and dirt roads. I started seeing each tree individually and as a connection to each other and all of us. I started connecting with them and photographing them. The beauty of nature, the beauty of a forest of trees, the beauty of that one special tree that makes you gasp every time you see it. I am celebrating nature’s beauty in the Connection Group #aTreeaDay posts. I want to share the wonder and variety and strength and power and fortitude that is the beauty of each tree. Each day we share a tree on our social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We encourage you to spread beauty and share #aTreeaDay to our outposts too.

People find beauty in many things; in other people, architecture, art, cars, shoes, a new Apple anything, the list goes on. If sharing a favorite tree of the day helps people remember to breathe and appreciate beauty we have succeeded in our mission. I can’t think of a better depiction of our brand story, than honoring our personal practice to connect with everyone through recognizing and spreading beauty. This includes creating beautiful marketing materials for our customers and sharing posts of trees that remind you to slow down and take a long, beautiful breath.

“All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” – Chief Seattle

Stay connected!

Save 2% off postage IF You Stand Out From the Crowd

A Unique Approach to Direct Mail save 2% off postage

This holiday season is a great time to save money and capture attention by reaching people where they are. With the United States Postal Service direct mail incentive program for 2019 you can save 2% off postage for the following categories of mail:

  • Tactile and Sensory (think textured stock, embossing, …)
  • Interactive Mail Pieces (think unique folds…)
  • Emerging and Advanced Technology (think QR codes, etc.)
    Personalized color transpromotional mail (paycheck stuffer / message with billing)
  • Informed Delivery (think combing direct mail and email messaging)

Promote special events, fundraisers, and special sales with eye-catching invitations, not to be missed coupons, colorful calendars and holiday greetings people want to display. You can stand out from the crowd and save 2% off postage.  This is a winning addition to your 2019 small business marketing.  If you can combine another discount such as design, printing, or mailing lists, with the 2% off postage and plus a high rate of response – bonus!

I like to think the USPS has developed this incentive for mail items to be more attractive. This makes receiving mail is a treat again. Imagine receiving a direct mail catalog or sales brochure that felt like leather or linen. Or opening a mailing with unique folds that unveil an elegant invitation or special customer coupon. Guaranteed you will spend more time with that mailing than all the plain white #10 envelopes in the pile.

Give us a call or email, before the promotion ends to save the 2% off postage.

A phone consult can cover:
  1. end result you desire
  2. best mail category to reach key targets
  3. how it will look and feel to get noticed

Did you know that Connection Group offers a discount for non-profit organizations? Depending on the project, quantity and frequency non-profit design discount range from 3% – 10%.

To be fair to for-profit businesses too – if you’re ready to step out of your marketing comfort zone and put out a memorable and impactful marketing promotion contact us today. We’ll apply our non-profit discount to your project. Mention this post and receive 3- 10% off design and still save 2% off postage.

USPS Every Door Direct mailing incentive can be another option for specific marketing goals – especially if you want to capture your own neighborhood.

5 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Local Brand Marketing Company

local brand marketing company

Are you, or is your boss a passionate entrepreneur who has worked tirelessly to ensure your business will succeed? Now that employees, additional products, services, or locations have been added, is it time to contact a local brand marketing company to get you to the next level?

A small business in the expansion mode will typically have a visual brand including a logo, business cards, and a responsive website. Now that growth is imminent, a marketing plan or social media campaign may help boost awareness or sales. If the company started with a DIY website design, it may be time ( for security reasons?) to have a professional website redesign. If there are no experts on staff, it’s time to reach out to a brand marketing firm. But, how can you find an affordable and local brand marketing company? We’ve highlighted a few considerations below.

How to find a local brand marketing company who can grow with you

1. Can you allow time to talk to more than one firm?

Your customers shop around for the best fit and price, so should you. Small business brand marketing services and costs vary. For instance, marketing consultations and complete marketing plan can range in price from $500 – to $50,000. Yes really— there is that big of a spread.

2. Do they consult, plan, and implement?

Some agencies offer marketing consultations and provide marketing plans that you’ll be responsible to implement. Other marketing agencies provide ‘the whole enchilada.’ From concept to campaign maintenance, including monthly meetings and digital reporting. What will work best for you and your staff right now?

3. Are they really a local brand marketing firm? Does it matter?

For instance, searching, ‘local brand marketing company in Lansing, Michigan’ will bring results from the firm on the next block and from agencies on completely different continents. If it’s important to work together physically, ask them if they are available to meet. If you don’t have a need for physical meetings, are Skype type meetings in order or will email correspondence suffice? Consider it working in different time zones or with different languages be challenging? (Spoiler: often more than you think!)

4. Do you have to start all over?

If all you need to do is add a blog, update content, and add a list of new services to your website can they help you? Or, does the prospective firm insist that you need a whole new website, logo, and brand campaign?

5. Are they curious about your company?

Do they know your industry, your geographical area, your customers? If they don’t know anything about your company do they ask the right questions? Do they ask questions that you haven’t considered? Do they sound like they care about you? Not just you as a new paycheck – but you as a person and company who they can help thrive?

All of these questions should result in answers you feel comfortable with. You should hang up the phone thinking – I am so glad I called them! Outsourcing one or all of your small business brand marketing services is a big decision and can be an expensive investment. When you begin your research, please give us a call, we love working with smart business owners!

New Year, New Social Media Marketing Strategy for Small Businesses on Facebook

strategy for small business social media marketing on facebook

A  strategy for small business social media marketing was turned upside down last week when Mark Zukerberg announced changes to the Facebook newsfeed. Aimed to enhance the user experience, Facebook will begin to prioritize newsfeed posts from family and friends.

A large percentage of users may not even notice the increase in cat memes or teenager selfies. Those who will be affected are small businesses and social media marketing strategists. As of 2016, there were 60 million Facebook business pages. For some Facebook just cut off their power.

A New Strategy for Small Business Social Media Marketing

Facebook pages with thousands of active followers will continue to be posted in their follower’s newsfeeds, just not as frequently. Active followers aren’t just liking a post they’re having a dialog with other followers on the post. A ‘like’ is not equal in value to actively commenting. Facebook wants to see engagement – the more people engaged the higher chance the business page will hit followers newsfeed.

Small business facebook followers mark see firstAnother strategy for small business social media marketing on Facebook is to ask followers to select “See First”  under the “Follow” tab.  This will help business pages continue to get into the newsfeed. Currently, Facebook users can only select 30 total people and pages to ’See First’. Small brands may have a hard time selling the “See First” option. If followers have selected family, friends, or other pages to see first already, new pages lose.

What options do really small business Facebook pages have?

Small businesses who have 300 or so followers who are lucky to even get likes on their posts – let alone dialogues – are going to lose the organic target they once received. So what is a small business to do?

social media strategist boost postSpend money. Facebook is a business, they’re going to continue to post advertisements in the newsfeeds. Boosting page posts, and investing in Facebook ad campaigns is another strategy for small business social media marketing. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. It can be time-consuming though.

Essentially there is no more free ride for small business Facebook pages. But, this industry is anything but static. New platforms and new strategies for small business marketing may eliminate Facebook marketing.

I must admit when I heard of the changes I thought of the question I get most from small businesses: “Do I need a website, I have a Facebook page’. My answer is and always has been, invest in your brand, not somebody else’s. Using Facebook for your online presence is like having your customers call Facebook to reach your business phone. It’s time for small businesses to take back control of their brand. Find new ways to stay connected with your audience. If you need help, connect with us, we can help get your small business online.

Building A Purpose Driven Company

Identify Your Brand Purpose Begin with the following exercise.

5 Steps to Define Your Brand Purpose

What is your product or service and what does it have to do with your brand purpose?   Are you a product manufacturer? Do you have a retail store or online shop? Does your company provide property management services? Even if these questions seem very basic to you, you may be surprised what is revealed through this practice.

Taking a few moments to determine your purpose by penning a products and services list is invaluable whether you are a start-up company or an existing business. The list helps your customers know what products and services they can expect from you, plus helps your company identify its purpose and where you want to focus your energy.

Begin to identify your brand purpose with this product and service list exercise.

Consider what a customer may need when they are seeking your product or service. Do they just want yarn or do they need online knitting classes? If you are a product manufacturer, will you provide one complete product or replacement parts, will you create multiple models that offer unique features?

Below I have used Connection Group as an example. I began with core services and then added subcategory items under each as applicable. I have purposefully left some items off at the risk of creating a 20-page blog!

The main services Connection Group provides are:

  • Graphic Design – Including logo design, digital graphics, print collateral, publication design, web page design, signage design, display advertisements,
  • Printing – Including – offset and web press, short-run digital and large quantity print runs, proofs, delivery
  • Website Design and Development – Including website design, user interface design, navigation and content flow, digital graphics, website maintenance, hosting
  • Brand Marketing Management  – Including digital graphics, display and internet advertising, direct mail, brochures, event marketing, product marketing
  • Content Marketing – Including graphic design creation, blog writing and distribution, social media post creation and social media management

1. Create your product or services list.

Begin with your core product or service, then add the elements of each. After that step is complete, you can also break down tasks that are part of each service. For our example, we could add specific tasks required for publication design, or website design, etc.

 2. Read through your list.

Do you see some services repeated under multiple categories?

In our example, graphic design services are under all categories. Graphic design is our core service.  It makes sense that we have included it in all of our main service platforms. Although it may appear repetitive, we include a service under each applicable category because we want to communicate clearly to our customer what is available for them.

Graphic design created for print and digital graphic design developed for the web requires a grasp of each medium. Not all creative services firms have expertise in both areas. Adding it to all categories helps our customers know we can be a one-stop solution. Creating a full suite of branding services that helps our customer connect with their target audience is our brand purpose.

3. Could you make changes to increase customer satisfaction?

Can you be a one stop shop or is offering a specific niche a better brand purpose for your company? If another creative services agency did this exercise they may realize they need to bone up on their website graphics capability. Or, they may choose to focus on their print expertise and decide not to offer website design or web graphics at all.

4. How can your brand purpose list help you plan for the future?

Did you recognize you have some extraneous products or services that you are currently offering which do not offer value expected by your customer? Do you find some holes that you could fill in with new products or services? Sometimes companies can create entirely new divisions with a new product or service that utilizes core competencies or current staff, equipment capabilities, etc.

5. How will you serve your customer better?

Determining your core brand purpose is the first step in putting your customers needs first. Your company will also benefit because you can identify ways to streamline resources. Optimizing your equipment, raw materials, knowledge, and staff is key to a purposeful and profitable business.

Let us know if we can help build your company brand roadmap. From a purpose-driven brand assessment to a full blown brand marketing plan we can help you create a unified brand image and increase your brand recognition.

5 Steps to Effective Content Marketing

effective-content-marketing

Effective content marketing not only keeps your website current, it is critical to coming up on the first page of search results.

Search engines look for keyword rich content on your website related to your industry, products, and services. Adding new information to your web pages, blog posts, service, and product descriptions, promotions, video, branding visuals, are a few examples of digital content.

You can’t just rely on search engines to bring people to your website though. Distributing content to new audiences helps you get in front of many more prospects.

Where does your target audience hang out? Look for outposts where you can share content, discover niche forums, social media platforms, news websites, blog sharing websites and more.

1. Identify your audience(s) and topic(s)

Allocate your content distribution.

  • If your top sales are in one product or service, allocate 60% of your content to that product, 25% to your second producer, 15% to your third…
  • Or focus on lead generation and dedicate 50% for prospecting, 25% to current customers, 25% previous customers.

2. Create a Content Calendar

Effective content marketing begins with planning.  This shareable resource helps the whole team visualize how content will be distributed throughout the year.

  • Plan content around events, product releases, holidays, etc.
  • Be realistic on the time commitment you’re capable of each month/quarter/year…
  • Divide up the person hours with staff, partner with colleagues, or budget to outsource content creation.

Download our free content calendar.

3. Take stock of your content assets

You may have a lot of content already. Presentations or training session slide decks, e-books, videos, infographics, old blogs, etc. You can also partner with colleagues to share their informative videos, photos, transcribed interviews, blog posts, etc. Have them do a guest blog posts or a series of them. These content assets might take the form of:

  • re-purpose content – update old blog posts with current information
  • interview colleagues, local leaders for audio or video content
  • how-to videos, videos just for fun, introduce new staff

4. Schedule, publish, promote

We find it works best to set a specific day each week to work on content. Blocking time out on your schedules gives it the importance it deserves.

5. Track, and tweak your content

Compare stats from tracking systems of posts or pages viewed, during key campaigns or time frames. Assess which types and posts have proven to be the most effective content marketing.

  • Install Google analytics or other tracking software on your website. Follow visits, engagements, and sales.
  • Track feedback, insights, etc. from chosen social media platforms,
  • Review email campaign reports

Need an extra boost to get started?

We can help you determine what the most effective marketing content is for your business with a brand content consultation. You’ll get one-on-ones with us, an entire year roapmap outlining the most effective marketing content to capture your audience. See list of features for your personalized content roadmap.

You can choose to develop all of your content from there or we can help you with as little or as much of it as you would like. Contact us today!

Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan Small Business Marketing Solutions

small-business-marketing-solutions-lansing-michigan

Looking for small business marketing solutions? We receive calls everyday from small businesses looking for answers to their marketing needs. We also receive phone calls from other marketing companies trying to sell to us! I am amazed by the volume of calls (some robo calls, don’t get me started on those-ugh!) from marketing companies. Each call promises increased  Google rankings, website visitors, social media followers, decreased pounds   – wait, no, that is a call that could actually be helpful…

I met with a customer this week who received one of these calls. The call spurred a discussion about Google rankings and how we could help. We’ve also met with a couple of small businesses in Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan have monthly marketing package agreements with Town Square Media. Town Square Media have a large sales forcey, targeting small businesses in mid-Michigan and throughout the country who need help with web design and marketing. They build responsive websites and offer social media management. They also promise search engine optimization (SEO) and monthly edits to small business websites for a set monthly fee.

Marketing Packages for Small Business

Marketing packages are beneficial small business marketing solutions if they offer consistent, fresh, customized content, at a set affordable cost. We were surprised to hear Town Square Media customers were paying twice as much per month as we charge. Plus, their customers were getting a very  small percentage of the service we provide. Some of the small businesses who had WordPress responsive websites built were paying over $200 a month. They also told us that if they wanted to cancel they would lose their website. After over a year of paying for a website the didn’t even own their website!

Fortunately, we have been able to help these Lansing and Charlotte, Michigan businesses. They now own their website designs and have control of their internet marketing. Can we help your small business save money and get more ROI and higher brand recognition?

If you are a Town Square Media customer in Lansing or in the surrounding small towns please give us a call today. We believe in small businesses and we relish the opportunity to help you grow. For those of you who are paying monthly for a responsive e-commerce website or other small business website that you will never own – cut your losses.

Affordable Small Business Marketing Solutions

We will build a custom website for similar or less cost than you have paid and you will own it once paid in full. We will also train you on how to edit your responsive website. Have problems with edits? Call us, we’re here to help and we will walk you through updating your website. We’re here for you if you have major changes you prefer not to attempt. We will provide an accurate time-based estimate to get your website design developed quickly. You don’t have to take our word for it, our reviews speak for themselves.

For small businesses with professional websites who need answers about social media management, email marketing, SEO and getting reviews posted on Google, etc. please give us a call. Don’t sign on with a company you haven’t researched or with a company who doesn’t know you, or your local area.  We will meet with you over the phone or face to face. After the meeting, we can develop a custom plan. Plans can include fee based services, or we train you how to achieve similar results. Take back ownership of your brand, connect with us today!

Business Card Design for Small Business

business card design for small business

As a graphic designer I have been known to break a few corporate rules. However, I choose to play by the rules when it comes to business card design. At least when it comes to the shape and size of business cards. As in most industries, there are standards to follow that help consumers and industry professionals.  Challenges, expense and frustration occur when products vary from  industry standards.  An innovative product may be deemed unusable. A company who chooses to break from the norm may be striving to create a new standard (Hello Apple iphone7 headphone). In other instances they may not have compiled the proper research. Or they are just going rogue!

Lately, when attending networking events the business cards I have garnered are in a variety of shapes and sizes. Creative business card design is a valuable investment for start ups as well as established corporations. But, it is important not to get too far away from the norm.  It is your logo and business card design that people see most. Business cards will be exchanged at networking events, one on one meetings, and cold calls. If your card looks unprofessional, then so do you.

What is the size of business cards?

The standard dimensions of a business card design is 2” x 3.5”. Traditionally the 3.5” is the longer, horizontal measurement. Over the years vertical business card designs have made a mark as well. The most widely accepted business card shape is a horizontal version. Industries such as banking, insurance, manufacturing, and education use traditional, clean designs. Comparatively, vertical business card designs, tend to be used by creative industries such as architects, interior or graphic designers, crafters or arts and craft products, etc.

Business card design styles

Business card designs that break away from the normal business card size stand out. But, having an outstanding design is different than having a design that stands out. The goal of a professional business card design is to be memorable, communicate clearly and be easy for the recipient hold onto it. When a vendor hands me a square business card that are all the rage right now I don’t know what to do with it. It doesn’t fit in my business card holder, it doesn’t fit in a pocket folder slit, it doesn’t fit in my phone case! Plus, with square business card design, nearly all are two sided – so now you’ve created more work for the recipient.

Don’t get me started on the small business card designs that resemble the size of keychain loyalty cards. Why would someone choose these to promote their business? Does the small business card save that much on paper cost? I will confess, I do not know the actual printing cost of business cards in this format. Why? The answer is because I would never recommend them to my customers. Consider using them as a small product insert but please don’t use them as a professional business card.

Size matters

In closing, I will share that it is common practice to scan business cards into a customer relationship management (CRM) system. All of those tiny business cards get stuck in the scanner. Additionally, square, two sided business cards must be scanned twice. In one sense you have achieved the goal in standing out to me by choosing an odd shaped business card design. Increased scanning and input time has been created for me. This doesn’t leave me with a good impression of you and your company. Isn’t leaving a good impression the first goal of networking?

We’re happy to take a look at your business card and offer feedback. Fair warning- it will be honest feedback! Email or give us a call today.

Stay connected!