Monthly Archives: May 2013

Putting T.H.E customer first in online branding

by Kirsten Hodgson

How can professionals and professional services firms build a strong brand online? I asked Andrea Benvie, owner of Flex Marketing & Design and a specialist in both marketing and graphic design, for her advice.

Here’s what she had to say:

In an increasingly digital world, online branding is greatly important – in many cases, your customer’s first encounter with you may be an online one.

Just as you would have heard that “first impressions” count when it comes to meeting someone face to face for the first time, the same holds true if that meeting is over the internet. And remember, the form it takes can range from a forwarded-on e-newsletter, through to a shared blog post or simply a visit to your website. Whatever it is, the customer or client experience all adds up to them forming an impression of your brand.

Branding basics

Just a re-cap on some branding basics before looking at the online specifics more closely…

Your brand is what is “built” from your consumer and customer impressions of your branded product/service or company – it is not what you want them to think of it.

In other words, it is the result of how you go about all the aspects that contribute to “branding” (including, name, logo, pricing, attributes/benefits of what you offer, values, philosophy, customer care etc).

It takes time to build a brand, especially one that is recognisable, trusted and other hallmarks of success. And because you can only shape it according to what you think your customers want and not necessarily nail it 100% of the time (i.e. their impression of your brand may differ to your intended one), the most important aspect of building any great brand is to understand your target customer really well.

Building your brand online

If you have an online presence, then your brand can be made up of the experience either mainly online (such as online retailers Amazon, Trade Me) or a combination of on and off-line. Either way, it is important to consider the brand journey throughout ALL of the interactions people have with you. If you want to increase your sales online, you need to grow your brand online first. Top of mind in creating a brand that is going to produce more sales should be “making it a no-brainer to do business with you”.


Online it is particularly about instilling trust and confidence with prospective customers and encouraging loyalty with existing customers. It all boils down to being able to answer these 3 questions really, really well…I call it putting T.H.E customer first

T. How am I helping customers or prospects to TRUST my product or services?

H. What am I doing to HELP my customers or prospects?

E. How am I making it EASY for my customers or prospects?

Tips to create a better brand online

Here are a few pointers for improving how you deliver each of these things to create a better brand online:

Building TRUST

  • Create a connection or relate to people by using their language – tone, style, level of formality and talk about or displaying information that is of interest to them
  • Demonstrate your commitment to service through open and honest communication, including your policies on refunds and exchanges. Managing expectations helps avoid disappointment too (you might even adopt an approach to “under-promise and over-deliver”) e.g. how long it takes to deliver, after sales service provided etc can be covered off via a Q&A section on your website if you don’t have a more relevant page for it to appear.
  • Use voice of others to provide testimonials. These can either be written or via online video (which will help drive traffic to your website). This is also where social networking sites can come into their own – use what’s relevant to your business.
  • Don’t hide. It is even more important online to build people’s trust by being “present”. This means not only having a fully optimised website to be easily found online, but “humanising” the brand to replicate many of the things people base trust on in face to face contact. Unless there is a good reason not to (such as compromising personal safety), show relevant images – good quality photos of yourself and team, your premises (if interesting), online map or physical address if possible, options for how to get hold of you (ideally landline as well as mobiles). Although not strictly business, it can be helpful (particularly in trades such as building/plumbing when you are going into people’s homes) to include some brief personal information – e.g. married with kids, horses, favourite past times etc as this “exchange” of information can build trust. Anything to demonstrate that you’re not going to take people’s money and run!
  • Quality via design. As a graphic designer as well as “marketeer” I have to add that it’s worth engaging a professional designer to create your logo as this helps convey your level of quality and reinforce your own values about “doing things properly”…if you yourself “do things by halves”, consumers will question whether they will experience the same “by halves” treatment when it comes to the product or service you provide them!

 Giving HELP

  • Information. For some brands this is the biggest thing they can help customers with and add real value to the relationship. Especially if the product or service is complicated or technical. Providing information is also a fantastic platform to establish an authority on a subject and many brands end up becoming the “go to” source for important/reliable information online…imagine how that improves their search engine rankings too! How to inform? The online choices are vast – downloadable pdfs/ebooks, website pages themselves, electronic direct mail, social networking sites, blogs, video, slideshows/images, links, search functions on websites etc.
  • Advice. This is similar to above, but suggests a 2-way dialogue between a representative of your company and the end customer. So, it could be as simple as a form that allows customers to email you or something more instant like live chat with customer service reps and online “call back” services. Even responses to posts on social networking can be a route to providing “advice”.
  • Freely available. “Help” should be something that demonstrates a brand is “giving”…few people want to enter any kind of relationship that is take, take, take. Freely available, means that it’s easy to find, and within reason, without charge. Just remember the “giving” bit when it comes to “help”…that is why this section is titled “giving help”.

 Making it EASY

  • Consistency. Online, offline it doesn’t matter – where it is the same brand, it needs to feel like it. Consumers should not have to “work hard” to figure out what you do, what you stand for etc.
  • Seamless conversion. So you’ve grabbed someone’s attention, “sold” them on your product or service, all online, now you want that converted to $ in the till. Are you making that process easy for customers? If they have engaged with you online, chances are they are going to want to make that purchase online too – providing them with different online payment options is helpful too
  • And repeat. Once they are officially a “customer” you need to make it easy for them to come back. There are plenty of tools to use for this depending on the nature of your product/services, however having a good understanding of customer behaviour modelled off history with other customers is a great starting point as it can help you predict recency, frequency and monetary value (RFM). Online supermarket shopping is a good example – they make it easy for customers by saving their favourites and last purchased shopping lists to cut down on the time factor which can be a big motivating factor behind grocery shopping online. They use transactional data to trigger when the next promotional activity (e.g. free delivery) needs to be timed to prompt a “lapsed” customer to order rather than just giving away margin for a purchase that was going to happen anyway.
What other advice would you give? 

Andrea Benvie is the owner of Flex Marketing & Design. Andrea has over 20 years experience in the marketing & graphic design fields and in recent years has brought these skills together to offer creative, one-stop shop solutions for small & medium businesses. A popular area of helping clients is in the area of branding because this combination of marketing & design knowledge allows her to truly understand where the commercial opportunities intercept with the creative ones for growing client’s businesses.


Introducing the new LinkedIn contacts feature

by Kirsten Hodgson

In late April LinkedIn announced the launch of new LinkedIn Contacts, designed to bring your contacts together in one place.

It’s a relatively slow roll-out and, at this stage, you still have to request it. To register go to (n.b. you may be put on a wait list).

Here’s an overview of this great new mini-CRM system.

What do you think of LinkedIn Contacts? 

Integrating social media in your offering – 3 great examples professional services firms can learn from

by Kirsten Hodgson

It’s essential to keep an open mind, and to be willing–better yet, eager–to try new things - Michael Abrash

In the last week I’ve seen three examples of professionals and professional / financial services firms doing things  differently. Not simply to be different, but because they’ve come up with a smart idea.

Example 1: 140#ukemplaw tips in 140 characters

David Morgan at Burness Paull in Scotland has been tweeting employment law tips since 16 June 2011.

Burness Paull’s employment law marketing strategy is ‘first to market with legal developments’ and to communicate these in an easily digestible, need to know way.

David decided, in an attempt to engage others, to put out his own tweets using a new hashtag #EmploymentLawTip and to combine this with the well-used #ukemplaw hashtag. He set about tweeting numbered employment law tips. He tweeted his 100th tip in May 2012.

He put together a publication 100 #ukemplawtips in 140 characters shortly thereafter.

The original publication struck a chord with many HR practitioners and employment lawyers alike. As a result David’s continued to post tips on Twitter and has just released the second edition of his book.

This contains some great tips that would prompt HR managers to take action and seek further info if needed. It also demonstrates David’s understanding of social media – I imagine that’s important for an HR lawyer – and gives readers a flavour of who he is. He comes across as approachable, and slightly self-effacing, someone you could easily pick up the phone to if you had an employment law issue.

This is a great way of adapting your offering to social media and of re-purposing tweets.

Example 2: Ray White social platform site: by the people, for the people

Thanks to Joel Barolsky for alerting me to this one...

Ray White, the real estate company, has set up a platform in Australia designed to be the ultimate site for property hunters. It lets people choose the community they want to live in based on the feedback and experience of others. Content is generated by those who live/work or have lived/worked in a suburb. It’s designed to make the house-hunting process easier and more streamlined.

This feature, called Ray White Neighbourhood Knowhow’ is on the company’s website, under the ‘Community’ tab.

According to an article on

“users can also rate, review and rank their community much in the same manner of a type set up. And it’s no surprise, because The Ray White Group has signed an Australian partnership with to create the social platform.

“…the new features will give users a sense of community-orientated feel with “Unedited commentary help [ing] you choose your ultimate community based on the experience of others.”

A quick look at the platform revealed lots of information about suburbs and streets (which have been rated) to answers to ‘the best pizzas in a suburb’ to the ‘best coffee in Melbourne.’ It’s local nature and helpful info means people are likely to return. And that’s got to be good for the Ray White brand.

Here’s hoping they roll it out in New Zealand!

Example 3: Interactive infographics: travel guides by HCC Medical Insurance Services

Thanks to Tony Vidler for sharing this one…

HCC Medical Insurance Services have created a series of interactive travel guides designed to answer travellers common questions and to have a bit of fun.

They range from:

  • travel tips for business travellers, where people can select if they are ‘novice’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘expert’ travellers. They then see handy hints and can link to a range of apps to help them work while travelling, to assist with check-in or just to make them laugh,
  • a tool that tells you the full international exit and entry code you have to dial to call anywhere in the world, 
  • tips and info on US visas, 
  • through to Explorer Travel – an extreme guide to the world (I quite like the bucket list on this one). 
Relevant blog posts are then set out below each infographic. According to a post on the Marketing Sherpa blog, the Explorer Travel infographic generated 3.9 million views and “significant lifts in email revenue (up 96%)”
I love that they’ve gone beyond a static infographic and have injected some humour into these while still ensuring their usefulness.
There you have it. 3 great ideas that those in professional services can learn from.
What do you think of these examples? 
What other good examples have you come across? 



What makes a LinkedIn group valuable…and what frustrates group members?

by Kirsten Hodgson

Having fairly recently set up a LinkedIn group I realised there’s not a lot out there to help those who are looking to do the same. As a result I’m currently putting together a resource for those of you who run, or who would like to set up, a group that members will value. 

But what exactly is that?

In order to find out, I asked the question ‘What makes a LinkedIn group valuable?’ in a group I run ‘Social Media for Lead Generation in Professional Services firms’ as well as the ‘Marketing the Law Firm’ group on LinkedIn. You can view verbatim responses there but…

it essentially comes down to 5 things:

1. A proactive group owner – who moves posts that are self-promotion to the promotions category and who doesn’t tolerate spam, including off-topic posts. The group owner needs to be active, regularly posting interesting discussions and trying to encourage group members to feel comfortable commenting/voicing their own opinions.

2. A high signal-to-noise ratio – successful groups minimise the noise and maximise the number of relevant, thoughtful and insightful contributions (thanks to Gihan Perera for this term).

3. Good interaction/engagement amongst members – a good ratio of comments to discussions is important (although I do acknowledge that if you’re targeting certain groups such as legal counsel the vast majority will never comment). Many group members want to have conversations with others in order to learn and grow so exchanging views is something successful groups encourage. Simply posting links with no attempt to engage others in a conversation just doesn’t cut it and results in too much noise.

4. Regular posts – it’s important that there’s regularly fresh content in order to encourage group members to keep revisiting the group.

5. A discussion moderator who stays active in the thread – the person who initiates a discussion needs to stay involved in the thread. Their role includes monitoring the thread, responding to others’ comments (where appropriate), keeping the discussion on track and/or summarising it at the end.

There was clear agreement about what people don’t like – much of which can be categorised as spam:

While spam means different things to different people it generally includes

  • self-promotion,
  • off topic discussions and comments,
  • posting the same discussion into several groups (that are related in terms of interest – e.g. posting into several legal marketing groups),
  • posting a link without an introduction, and
  • responding to requests as a sales person (‘hire me and we’ll do it for you’ type responses).

If you run or moderate a LinkedIn group or Google+ community it’s important  that you set clear group rules and ensure the integrity of the group. You will need to either moderate discussions before they’re posted or to quickly remove those that won’t add value to your group members.

You’ll also need to drive the group, particularly in the early days, by regularly asking questions and sharing content and insights that the members will value and that will spark discussion.

You’ll need to invest time and energy if you want to build a thriving group. But it’s well worth it – both for you and your group members.

What else do you think makes a LinkedIn group or Google+ community valuable?

What behaviour/things annoy you in LinkedIn groups?

What other tips or advice would you share with group owners/managers or those looking to set up groups?

Thinking of setting up a LinkedIn group and want help? Please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. 


Ratings of social media in professional services firms – are they really a good measure?

by Kirsten Hodgson

Living Ratings recently published its League Tables about accountancy and law firms’ use of social media. While this includes a good overview of Deloitte and Evershed’s activity (as the top scoring accounting and law firm respectively) do these league tables really mean anything?

I have to admit, I’m sceptical.

The introduction does say the tables are looking at the maturity of social media output but that doesn’t appear to be the only thing being measured according to the measurement categories. Sure, you can look at the types of content firms are sharing but that’s not the sole purpose of social media.

I also wouldn’t be so quick to jump to the conclusion that your own ‘branded content’ is better than curating third party content. In reality, both have a role to play. Both (provided the content is good, timely and relevant) help to position you as someone/a firm who’s up with the issues and an added advantage of sharing others’ content is the ability to build relationships with those people.

You can’t measure what you don’t know

It’s really hard to measure how well any firm is doing without understanding their objectives (likely to be multiple) and the extent to which their activity has helped them achieve these. Measures should be tied to objectives and will be different for different firms (and parts of a firm).

Looking at it from a BD perspective, my questions would be:

  • how many and what quality leads has each firm generated through its social media activity?
  • what’s each firm’s ratio of leads to conversions (compared to what it was previously) 
  • how much revenue can each firm directly or indirectly attribute to its social media activity? 
If you want to know what you should/could measure, I recommend you read Olivier Blanchard’s book: Social Media ROI. For my take on what you should measure (largely influenced by Olivier) read Measuring Social Media ROI in Professional Services Firms

While there are certainly things that firms can (and should) do at a firm level, such as graduate recruitment, the vast majority of things from a BD and marketing perspective should be tailored to each audience. 

That means more will be done at a practice group, key client and industry sector level.

And at an individual level.

Where the rankings fall down in my view

While the rankings do (sort of) take into account activity at a practice group and industry sector level they pay no attention to what individuals within firms are doing.

I say ‘sort of’ because the ratings do look at such things as how many Twitter accounts a firm has but they then rely on the firm’s Kred score to evaluate performance.

Unfortunately, a firm’s outreach score increases if they RT other firm accounts within their main one (which some of the firms do and it’s good that they’re coordinating things but it’s hardly a measure of how effectively they’re engaging with others).

The league tables also look at the number of social media channels a firm is using in order to assess brand presence. I’d hope that, unless there was a clear rationale for using all 10 platforms mentioned, firms would use fewer platforms well, rather than trying to do everything…

and that they’d focus on being present in the same places as their target audience(s). I do accept that different parts of the firm will be looking to do different things but that’s another reason why I don’t think you can bundle activity together in one league table – surely there should be one for graduate recruitment, one for BD etc if you want to go down that route.

Why activity at an individual level is so important

Measuring activity at an individual level is hard given the thousands of employees in large firms. However, it’s in this last area that I believe firms need to focus their efforts if they are to find, connect with, and help prospects and ultimately generate leads and new business meetings. 

Social media is about networking. It’s about building relationships one by one and that can only really be done at an individual level. It’s your people who need to be active and who need to be acting as a firm’s ‘social sellers.’

That’s how you can focus on helping others.

That’s how you’ll uncover opportunities.

That’s how you’ll generate leads.

And, that’s how you’ll set up new business meetings.

So, while league tables are nice to see (and it’s good to see the examples of what firms are doing) do they really show how well a firm’s social media efforts are working?

I don’t believe so.

How about you?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at