Gini Dietrich

The Branding Marathon: How to Use the Web to Grow Your Business

By: Gini Dietrich | September 9, 2013 | 

The Branding Marathon: How to Use the Web to Grow Your Business

By Gini Dietrich

When I began my speaking career nearly five years ago, the thing I heard over and over again was, “This whole doing business on the Internet thing is a fad.”

I even once had someone pull me aside after a three hour workshop and tell me he was rooting for me as I traveled down a dark path not everyone wanted to follow.

But here we are. Five years later. This Internet thing isn’t a fad, nor is social media. In fact, social is becoming more about how you share information, how customers engage with you, and how prospects find you.

That said, many organizations aren’t yet taking advantage of what the web has to offer them for business growth and, at this point, it seems very overwhelming to many.

So how do you build your brand when you’re first starting out and it seems like you’ll never get the business where it needs to be online?

Baby steps.

It’s Not a Sprint

A few weeks ago, I did an interview with ClippPR. During the interview, the founder – Thomas Knoll – asked me this very question. I asked him if he’s ever run a marathon and he laughed out loud at me.

So I explained how, when you run a marathon, you don’t go out and buy new shoes, shorts, and a wicking shirt and then run 26.2 miles. You buy new shoes and you begin to train. You break in your shoes. You start off by running (or sometimes walk/running like I did) three miles. Then you add another mile or two every weekend until you’ve worked yourself up to 22 miles (which is the most you run before you do the race).

To go from couch to marathon easily takes three or four months. It’s impossible to run a marathon without that kind of training.

The same goes for building your organization’s brand online. While there are some quick things you can do to see an immediate effect, they don’t last long and should never be part of your larger strategy.

The Branding Marathon

Here are six things you can do to start slowly, begin to train, and win the branding marathon. Some of this may be basic for some you, but we’ve discovered internally that we all need a reminder on how to get back to basics when we’re in the middle of a big campaign.

  1. Comment on articles and blogs. Many of us don’t have the time or inclination to create our own content. By commenting on articles and blogs in your industry, you begin to build a relationship with the people who can help you tell your story. It’s a heck of a lot easier to leave an intelligent comment (even if you disagree) on something someone else has written than to create the content yourself.
  2. Figure out where your customers and prospects participate online. One of the very best ways to find out where your audiences participate online is to ask them. But there are tools to help, as well. You can use Fliptop, Xobni, or Rapportive to help you make educated decisions on where you should spend your time.
  3. Engage in conversation on one social network. After you do the second tip, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where you should spend your time. Rather than take a stab in the dark and assume you should be on Facebook or Twitter, let your research about your own audience help you decide. And start with only one network. You can add a second later.
  4. Follow, like, or circle similar accounts. This is something many of us do in the beginning and, as our networks begin to grow, we stop doing it. In the beginning, you want to go into the social network you’re using at least daily and find people to follow, like, or circle. On Twitter, for instance, you can search profile descriptions to find people in your industry or people who have a need for your product or service. Follow those people and find a way to begin a conversation.
  5. Share content that supports your thinking. When I first began using social media, my strategy was to share 80 percent content that supports the way we think and 20 percent of our content. Six years later, I still practice that philosophy. The 80 percent comes from places such as SmartBrief, my Feedly feeds, and articles and blog posts where we are quoted or featured.
  6. Look for opportunities to bring people back to something you own. As you begin to grow your online presence, you want to bring people back to something that you own – your website or blog, for instance, to have the benefit of driving traffic to your own sites. If you do the first tip here, for instance, you can post a synopsis of the article or blog post and your comment on your own site and then link to the original article. When you share that content, you do so to the page on your site and the author of the original piece gets the benefit of both increased traffic and a backlink. Both of you win.

You can do all six of these, only one of them, or a combination of them. Whatever you decide to do, and no matter where you are in the process (just beginning, need to go back to basics, or scaling), any one of these will help you compete in the branding marathon.

A modified version of this first appeared in my weekly AllBusiness column.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Awesome tips… aka “The Long Tail of Branding on the Web”

    • John Fitzgerald Why thank you, sir! And…I like this avatar. Very nice.

      • ginidietrich John Fitzgerald Thanks. It was time for a change.

  • You had me laugh at number 4. I never worked hard to grow my Twitter network. I look back and wonder if having about 2K Follow/Follow Back hurts my image vs 20k. I always said quality over quantity but how would a client gauge the quality? By anyhoot I stopped searching for who to engage with. But I google for twitter accounts all the time still (works better than on Twitter).
    And I have always done the 80-20 for clients. But I stopped for myself. I mostly talk to people. And that I try to keep more about marketing/advertising than say Sports or Music. I think for me who I connect with and what we talk about is more important that what I share or even what I discover now days.
    This is a great start up post especially for small businesses. You earn 1 Gold Star.

    • Howie Goldfarb Only one?! COME ON! I used a photo of a medal I got for running a marathon. That deserves at least two stars.

      • ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb The running bling is awesome!

  • OH I wanted to add. Forget Sheryl Sandberg……Go Diana Nyad! Woman Powa!

  • patrickreyes

    Great tips Gini! All great reminders of how to build yourself or your brand. As I’ve done this for some of the brand social accounts I manage, it truly is about finding where your customers are and building the audience on that social tool.
    Thanks as always! This is a great one to share!

    • patrickreyes Are you buttering me up in advance of a certain football game? I cannot believe they Lions won yesterday AND Stafford had such a good game.

      • patrickreyes

        ginidietrich NO! I really do like your tips! But since you mentioned it, if my comments help with that too, why not??? 😉
        Miss ya!

        • patrickreyes LOL!! Miss you too! I hope you’re still planning to come for the game.

        • patrickreyes

          ginidietrich  DEFINITELY!

    • patrickreyes “it truly is about finding where your customers are” <3 Amazing how many do not realize this.

  • timbo1973 This example is exactly why I always say there is no right or wrong way of doing things. Do what works for you!

  • GERT- I wanna see your feedly feeds!

    • faybiz I wonder if there is a way to share it? I’ll investigate…unless you know?

  • First… business on the Internet isn’t a fad? Whoo-hoo! I’ve got like 7 phone calls to make. Second, I’ve really taken to heart sharing content from folks who have similar thinking. When I don’t have the time to get pen to paper (or fingers to keys), I feel like sharing, especially when someone else says it better, it a great way of running the branding marathon. Great post as usual ginidietrich.

  • Gini, so much of this comes back to a topic you and I frequently discuss – intel. Know who your customers are and where they are. Research opportunities. Following similar accounts, etc.
    This is all data and is worth its weight in gold.

    • ClayMorgan Love this! What are your favorite intel tools/hacks?

    • ClayMorgan Do I know you?

      • ginidietrich No. Why are you responding to me?

  • 1. You make me want to start running. But, I think I’ll start with couch to 5k, instead of training for a marathon.
      2. I love pretty much *everything* you suggest. 
    I realize it can be difficult to take those first steps in committing to actually engaging with people (rather than simply pumping out content all day long) But, you really do get a second wind fast. Most people start out with engagement to “get the numbers up” and focus on grinding it out. But, then they discover how much joy there is in connecting with people, and realize that their whole business can improve from the quality feedback they get through these personal conversations.
    Because of all that, I have to say #2 is my favorite. Most agencies/consultants advise businesses to start engaging “wherever is easiest for you”. But, reality is, they need to start wherever their [potential] customers are. Let’s meet them on their turf.

    • thomasknoll I’m going to keep teasing you until you do the couch to 5K!

  • susancellura

    “Figure out where your customers and prospects participate online.” Here’s where it can get frustrating: Why is it so hard for businesses to engage online when they do it so well in person? It amazes me that so many still do not understand the importance of being a part of the conversation. 
    I shall print these tips out and post them on coworkers doors.  🙂

    • susancellura It’s hard, because it’s hard. Unfortunately, most of the processes take a lot of time manage manually (so many fractured conversations taking place in any number of corners of the internet). And, most of the tools who try to automate any of this… ugh, automate… take the human element out of it. They think you’d rather look at a chart of impressions, than actually *make* an impression.

    • susancellura And I would add the businesses that are great in person, once they add a great social media presence, need to INTEGRATE the two. When I was visiting NYC once, I walked into a business that has a healthy and humorous and engaging Twitter feed, and said excitedly to the server on duty (it was an ice cream shop),  “I’m one of your Twitter friends!! Here from Florida!! I felt REALLY a part of their business after so much tweeting. He was nice and gracious but I could tell by the look in his eye that this wasn’t something he got much of or was prepared for.” I still enjoyed the visit to the business, it is just one of several interactions like that that lead me to want to create a “when your Twitter friends cross your brick and mortar threshold, here’s how to acknowledge the connection they feel to you 101 kind of thing.” To try to match that to the running analogy …… it’s like training for the race and then while everyone else is getting awesome bling-y medals, you get handed a bottle of water and a verbal “nice having you.”

      • susancellura

        biggreenpen I love that story about the ice cream shop. I completely understand as I have done something similar. There is no true brand connection between online and real life sometimes. I get it!

    • susancellura I won’t say it’s all Baby Boomers, but many who are in their late 50s and early 60s don’t understand why anyone would want to build a relationship with human beings without talking to them in person…or at least on the phone. It’s a hard shift to make.

      • susancellura

        ginidietrich True, true. I should have clarified that I had a 30-something in mind when I wrote that. 🙂

  • Lara Wellman

    Love these tips!  I’m always shocked when it seems surprising to people that they don’t need to create all the content they share.  I need to start commenting on more blogs than just this one.  But this is the one that’s the best to comment on 😉

  • Hi Gini, great post! Because we life in a fast-forward world, we want everything yesterday. I suppose the same happens with businesses and businessmen/women in online. They want all to happen right now and do not have the patience to grow. I think they forgot how they started in offline, how they closed the first deal, which is slowly. So, back to basics is a great message!

    • @corinamanea Part of the issue, too, is many pundits and experts say it will happen more quickly. So they expect it. And then are sorely disappointed when it doesn’t happen.

  • Marathon is right. I have never understood why people think you can grow something valuable and substantive over night.

    • Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes I think it’s because we look at people who have had success and it looks like it happened overnight. What’s the saying? It takes 10 years to have overnight success.

  • I completely agree with this, “That said, many organizations aren’t yet taking advantage of what the web has to offer them for business growth…”
    Many farmers don’t take full advantage of the web. They could help educate so many people.
    They could increase their business as well. 
    However, many don’t take full advantage of the potential, which constantly surprises me. 
    Great post

    • IpjRobson It always makes me shake my head when people immediately shut down to the possibilities the web offers them. I guess if you don’t want to compete in the information age, keep doing what you’re doing.

      • ginidietrich IpjRobson Unfortunately, that seems to be the mentality. I can’t say that I agree with it, but it is rather difficult to change someone’s mind when they are set in their ways.
        There’s always hope though.

        • IpjRobson ginidietrich Probably they will have to adapt or “die” slowly. It´s just a matter of time.

        • @corinamanea IpjRobson ginidietrich 
          While farming will never die because that would just be bad for everyone, it may not progress like other industries in the same way.

        • IpjRobson I ment “die” as a business :). Farming will not disapear (unless bombing or something), but farmers can loose their businesses if don´t embrace progress. It happened in industrialization period, it can happen in our days.

      • IpjRobson The same happens in Spain in logistics. They simply don´t take advantage of the web and social media. 
         ginidietrich I wonder up to what point they can do what they were doing? At some point, “revolution” will come and many of these companies will disapear. The thing is if you don´t listen to your customer needs and adapt, you will loose.

        • @corinamanea IpjRobson ginidietrich 
          In agriculture it starting to happen with the younger generations taking over farms and what not.
          It’s a slow process.

    • IpjRobsonHi, here is an example of other farmers educating farmers, just like yourself:

      • @corinamanea IpjRobson

        Thanks for pointing that one out to me. 
        Jay Baer actually talked at a farming confenrence not too long ago. If memory serves me right

  • MichaelBowers

    You are right on relating to marathon training although I once ran a marathon as a training run for a marathon but that is another story.
    Patience is tough for a lot of small businesses because they want results right away. Until they expand their time horizon they will not be able to create the momentum to carry their message.

  • scottbrowning

    As somebody who is blog writing for a very small business, I am in the
    beginning stages you are speaking of. Pretty cool to get back the
    increasing analytics at the very beginning of the marketing/blogging/seo

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  • Thank you Gini. Was feeling like I was in a bit of a rut and this gives me some new energy.
    –Tony Gnau

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  • Solid branding marathon strategy – I’ll never put on the running shoes to run an actual marathon, but I’m definitely making a valiant attempt at the branding steps.
    FYI, I just had a conversation with one of our internal skeptics. She just doesn’t get why I want the social strategy. Her only exposure to social media is through her teenager, and she had the same cliche questions/comments:
    1. What is the ROI
    2. I don’t care what you had for lunch
    Then I explained how I do not make a major purchase, as a consumer, without posing questions to my own social network as well as hitting the review sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon, Best Buy, CNet, etc. The rebuttal: we are a B2B.
    I could have spouted stats about the increasing use of social channels by B2B, but I was able to do one better: we recently had a situation where someone asked about a particular “patch level” for software we support. One of my partners was trying to help out, so he did what we all do – he Googled it. A blog post popped up by someone – employed by a COMPETITOR (luckily on the opposite coast). Needless to say, I pointed at that blog post as proof why I pushed so hard to redesign our own website with a blog.
    WE need to be the thought leaders found on social channels and by Google…NEVER our competitors!

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