Staying-on-message.pngby Sherron Lumley.


Who, exactly, are you? Amidst a veritable sea of sales pitches that consumers must navigate daily, that’s the essential question they are trying to answer when it comes to your small business. But if your company’s message is muddied or constantly shifting, connecting with potential customers in a way that reinforces trust and credibility becomes difficult, if not impossible.


“The world has changed,” says Sander Flaum, former chairman of Euro RSCG, one of the world’s largest advertising firms. “The whole concept has to be a unified one, because you look like an idiot otherwise. The marketing message has to be consistent. You can’t have one message for one channel and a different message for another channel.”


Pull-Quote.pngStaying on message means articulating a single passion or vision across all of the different platforms that your small business uses to advertise or promote itself—everything from Facebook to the phone book, from the graphics on your homepage to the signage on your front door. Keeping the content and appearance of your message consistent builds awareness, reinforces credibility, and fosters customer loyalty, while enabling you to reach multiple target audiences through the medium and style that they each prefer.


Many digital channels, one human voice.


Photographer and small business owner David Lutz, of Portland, Oregon, recently started promoting his events on Facebook. As one of the top commercial photographers in the Northwest, he understands the value of local marketing, but he also wants to position his business at the cutting edge and push it into larger markets. “Large companies have the resources,” he says, “but how does a smaller business do it?”


According to a recent social media survey from Social Strategy1 and Office Arrow, nearly nine out of 10 small business owners recognize social media does or will impact their ventures, yet half still say there’s too much social media to manage. Additionally, 44 percent of small business owners are concerned that social media can feed an “information overload,” and negatively impact a business’s image. While these fears aren’t completely unfounded, social media remains a powerful way to bundle and multiply the effectiveness of a small business’s integrated marketing strategy.


To marshal his marketing forces and keep his message consistent, Lutz’s company website, blog, and Facebook pages are all linked. He also has the ability to simultaneously post to Twitter and LinkedIn, making communicating that single message via all of these channels as simple as posting to one.

And as social media giants like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook have struck deals and formed partnerships, communication between the different applications and platforms has gotten even easier for users.  (For a quick and easy how-to, check out Mashable’s articles on syncing social media, such as this one: “Twitter to Facebook, Five Ways to Post to Both.”)


Whereas Lutz’s previous methods of reaching customers mostly included art shows, galleries, and direct mailing, he says his new marketing focus is mostly digital, with an emphasis on his website, online store, and PDF versions of his catalog. “My goal with all of the social media is to drive people to my website home page, from where I get business,” he says. And while his Facebook page lets him showcase frequent photo updates, his business’s website is more content-rich, with consistent images.


Match your message to your market


“Your marketing and PR is meant to be the beginning of a relationship with buyers, and to drive action such as generating sales leads,” says market strategist David Scott. Here’s the rule: “When you write, start with your buyers, not with your product.”


Ernie Valdez, of Ernie’s Paint and Body Shop, in San Marcos, Texas, says with a wide range of customers from ages 16 to 80, his company’s slogan, “Just take it to Ernie’s,” works well because it solves a problem. Rather than selling any particular product or service, Valdez likes the idea of giving the customer a simple, reassuring answer to an age-old question: “How will I get my car fixed?”


For years Ernie’s advertising has included occasional TV commercials, billboards at the nearby college stadium, and local little league sponsorships. Now, with an increasingly saturated market, Ernie’s is expanding its marketing channels by adding an online component, highlighting its 25-year history and expertise on the company website, while also positioning the company as a trusted cornerstone of the community.


This tactic of sharing with the world your business’s expertise and developing messages that your buyers want to hear is a wise move, says Scott. Small businesses gain credibility and loyalty with buyers through content, he adds, so smart marketers will deliver messages targeted directly at their audience.  When the message and image are consistent, such as with Ernie’s, the reward is a loyal customer base.


In marketing, it pays to sweat the small stuff


Consistent marketing also involves choosing psychographic symbols that trigger a repetitive recognition in the customer. These brand standards can encompass something as small as an email signature or as broad as a musical melody (think Intel’s distinctive “bum-bum, bum-BUM”). The four most important elements are: logo placement and sizing, consistent graphic symbols and shapes, specific font styles, and, finally, color, which is perhaps most important because of its link to memory retrieval and emotions (think red for Coca-Cola and brown for UPS.) A good starting point for finding a cohesive color palette is Color Scheme Designer, a free online tool used by graphic design professionals.


Once the brand standards and marketing message are set, some companies stand by them forever, but they don’t have to be etched in stone. “When a company begins to lose market share, this is when it’s time to change the message,” says Flaum. As a cautionary tale of strategy and marketing gone awry, Flaum cites one of the world’s top brands: Ford. After losing market share and dropping from the 30th to 41st most valuable brand in 2007, he notes that Ford acted quickly to refocus its operations and simplify its image—killing off its underperforming mid-range brand Mercury and selling off its expensive, luxury marques Range Rover and Jaguar.


Nowadays, a small business may reach its customers through a retail store, a website, social media, direct mail, email, or even text message and online chat, making it possible to tap multiple market segments and socio-economic groups of consumers. However, to build the trust and loyalty essential to strong customer relationships and long-term success, all of those various marketing channels must speak with a unified voice, so the customer can answer that key question “Who are you?”