Strategic Branding for Immigrant Networks

By Rod Roodenburg
June 19, 2015
Why applying strategic branding and design is important for an innovative and sustainable PIN.

As a brand strategist and designer, it’s my job to bring out innovation and creativity in organizations. Not only does creativity generally make for more compelling and marketable brands, but done properly through an engaged and strategic method, a brand can make Professional Immigrant Networks organizationally stronger, more unified and sustainable. As you read this article, consider that our methods and tactics have broader application to organizations regardless of funding levels.

I will share some of the methods we use at Ion, but my two main talking points will include: discussing the role of cross-channel branding in social media marketing; and reviewing a simple tool to help your organization get on track with its branding, design and communications. Why are these two elements important? Because PINs often lack substantive financial resources and internal expertise, so it’s important to maximize low-cost tools and manage brand assets effectively. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses in both of these areas is an essential starting point, no matter what scale or how sophisticated and well-funded your organization is.

Building Cross-Channel Branding & Social Media Marketing

Let’s look at what cross-channel branding might mean for you. It is the way a brand looks and works across various media formats – from print and radio to TV and online media. Taking a look at work we have done with Immigrant Employment Council of BC (IECBC) and the Northern BC Jobs campaign, one can see the application of multiple “channels”.

Two messages were brought together with a cohesive visual platform using illustrated icons to represent the wide range of skilled workers - placing them like pins on a map. The messages connected employers with potential employees – from both perspectives – though an awareness campaign.

Creating a visual platform different from anything else in the category – in this case in the immigrant employment space – is an important creative driver for building an effective communication strategy. We use “disruptive thinking” in the design and application of a brand. In other words, we spend time learning what everyone else is doing, and we go in another direction.

Understanding your audience is absolutely essential. Going out to your stakeholders and clients is the first step in ensuring you are keeping track of what your brand is all about. Because your brand is what is in the hearts and minds of others, not necessarily what you might think it is.

In the case of IECBC, we created northernbcjobs.com as the main hub of information. Print ads, television ads and targeted digital advertising (through Google, Facebook and LinkedIn) were all produced. The ads were targeted to each audience, driving both groups to the website. In addition to various employment resources, the website features a custom tool, developed by Ion’s team, where users can search a feed of hundreds of jobs in select northern BC cities, pulled directly from popular job search sites. The feed can by searched in map view or in a list view.

Functional features like this are useful, but not in everyone’s budget. Other methods of engaging your audience can be done with simple mailto’s so you can get some direct email connection with your audience, using online tracking tools. Visual Visitor is an inexpensive but solid analytics tool with which you can track individual visitors and follow up with them. You can also use Pardot, Hubspot and other tracking and interactive web technologies to build your online community.

Considering your audience for the Digital Ads you produce is important. Testing various image and text combinations can also be useful. Google Adwords and Facebook campaigns showed the best response for the cheapest cost per click in our campaign for IECBC, offering the best value for money to sustain traffic to the website. It was also effective to for IECBC to provide reciprocal linking, hashtags and digital buttons to the Professional Immigrant Networks and direct to communities to help sustain web traffic. This is something that PINs should actively pursue as well. Find out who all of your potential stakeholders are and approach them to see if this is of interest to them. Supporting each other online is an effective way to show leadership and garner support for your organization and it costs little to do.

As can be seen in the IECBC northern jobs campaign snapshot of Technology Analytics, mobile viewing at 41% follows desktop viewing at 46% very closely. Most people now understand the importance of mobile technology to branding and marketing today, but nothing underscores it more than when you actually track your audience and understand what they look at and how. Do you actively monitor your audience to see how they view your organization and then adapt your technology to suit?

Finally, taking a high level look at various channels, in the sense of how people came to the IECBC northern jobs campaign, you can see the effectiveness of direct marketing, but also the impact that social media and referrals have, which account for 36% of traffic.

Innovation is Iterative

Our method at Ion is iterative, beginning with the Needs Analysis and coming back around to a Critical Review which provides feedback for refinement, leading to innovation and improvements as the process is repeated over time.

While I won’t review each of these steps in detail here, I want to point out that it is important to apply some kind of proven method – or “best practices” – to your brand development, whatever the media format that is to be realized. In Ion’s method, the first tool we use is a questionnaire we have developed to gauge your brand health, which you can easily request. Many organizations, even those who have been in business for many years, find they score poorly on this questionnaire but it’s a great starting point to get you back on track.

The Discovery phase follows the Needs Analysis. As an organization, you are most likely to impact the design brief and end result in a positive way if you apply energy and resources to this phase. Each step in the design method has a number of checkpoints and tasks that are required and these each take time. As in any business process, missing steps will impact the effectiveness and the outcome. You don’t need to be a designer to understand that, just a good design or business manager. Some of our clients have started to apply our design method to the way they manage their organizations with so-called ‘design thinking’.

Knowing your target markets and their demographics is essential. This critical component drives messaging, media streams, visual content and writing styles. Without solid knowledge of your audience you’re lost from the get-go. It is also important to focus on a single group, if possible, for purity of message. Generally there is overlap in many of the targets anyway, so this method will capture those.

We use SWOT analysis to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats facing a company’s brand, to establish clear performance measurements. We use it to leverage the brand and its strengths in the environment by pairing the positive and negative. In our case, the SWOT does not factor operational issues per se, though there are instances in the SWOT findings that may impact operations. Our SWOT focuses its attention solely on the brand’s current and potential impact.

It can be difficult to stay on top of every aspect of brand management, especially when you have few resources. However, the best way forward is to become self-aware so at least you know what you need to work on, and then make a list to prioritize.

In Summary

Utilizing an iterative method is critical to successful branding. Looking at disruptive thinking, applied strategically, enables you to take risks that can pay off. And innovative branding is critical to remaining competitive in today’s global marketplace, in particular when your organization is smaller and needs to gain and maintain recognition.

Social media, your other online brand touch-points, and traditional channels must be consistent and well maintained. But you need to be realistic and manage your resources effectively. If you can’t maintain a blog, for example, don’t start one. If you don’t have regular “real” news to share, don’t bother with eNews. Decide where you can best use your resources and stay with it – and turn to professionals like Ion when you need the guidance to create and maintain your brand strategy.

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