Ask An Expert: How To Meld The Digital and Physical When It Comes to Branding

Q: Hey, Steve  — I have started three businesses and one big difference between the two good ones and one bad one had to do with visibility and branding. I have to admit that my bad business really did not stick out from the crowd but the good ones do. I learned my lesson and hope your readers don’t make my mistake.  Sherm

A. You are preaching to the choir, brother.

Check out these interesting statistics:

► There are 30 million business in the U.S., 99% of which are small businesses
► Of those, only about two-thirds have a website
► And fewer than half have a business social media presence

But, that said, where do new customers come from? You bet, a lot these days come from online searches and interactions. Indeed, roughly a third of all customers now find businesses online, and 25% of Millennials find new businesses primarily via social channels.

What all of this means is that, especially with all of the competition for eyeballs these days, if you do not have a unique, identifiable, memorable brand, new customers are going to flock . . . to your competitors.

I was recently speaking about this very subject with Scott Bowen, the VP and GM of digital services for Vistaprint. You may know Vistaprint (as I did) as a leader in high-quality, affordable, custom-printed products like signs, business cards, brochures and the like. What is interesting is that, like the millions of small businesses it serves, Vistaprint has had to evolve and in the process has upped its digital game.

Today Vistaprint serves its 16 million small business customers (most of whom are the self-employed) with a robust mix of both print and digital services. And, according to Bowen, this is the key for any small business that wants to get noticed:

“What really works for a small business,” he told me, “is to create a brand identity using a combination of both physical and digital tools; that is the unique intersection,” he says. “Your in-store display should be reinforced your signage, logo, business cards, and brochures, and those in turn need to be reinforced by, and coordinated with, your digital offerings.”

Bowen emphasized that the world beyond print is especially critical now, and that of course starts with a good domain name and website. “Your small business site needs to be high quality, good looking, responsive, and mobile optimized,” he notes. Beyond that, it is a matter of creating and using social channels that buttress your intended brand identity. As mentioned, (and as discussed in my column last week), this is especially how your millennial customers will likely find you.

Bowen calls this juncture of websites, digital marketing, social media  and physical marketing “omni-channel marketing,” and it’s easy to see why he thinks this is not only the future, but the present of small business: People are far more likely to understand — and remember — your business and brand if they encounter a unified theme wherever they encounter it — be that your site, a blog, on social channels, a brochure, or simply by driving by your shop.

Yes, we all know that our online presence is increasingly important. But don’t stop there. In this digital world we are in, the physical is becoming, ironically, maybe even more important. What we are finding is that people are interacting with businesses in a variety of ways today and you do your a business a disservice if you concentrate on one at the expense of the other.

Omni-marketing: The future of small business.

Today’s tip: A blog and podcast I am especially fond of is that of author Tim Ferris. Tim recently posted a blog where he lists the books his guests (like Tony Robbins) have found most valuable. It was a really interesting read that I think you will like. Steve says check it out.