Advice on Building A Brand Online

MARTHA STEWART'S AMERICAN MADEThe Martha Stewart American Made Symposium took place this week in New York. The day was composed of six different panels of experts sharing their experiences with a forum of creative entrepreneurs and small business owners from all over the country, in every field you can imagine. The event was the brainchild of Martha Stewart herself. Martha, ever the teacher, has talked about wanting to be an advocate for entrepreneurs since she first established success as a caterer many, many years ago.  As a former member of her staff, I can honestly say she spoke often about this dream of bringing together nascent entrepreneurs with successful business leaders to give them encouragement but also direct guidance.

I wanted to share with you my take-away from one of the sessions called The Digital Toolbox, moderated by the wonderful Mario Armstrong. His team of experts included: Rachel Haot, Chief Digital Officer for the City of New York, Amanda Hesser, Co-Founder and CEO of Food52, Dr. Craig Nevill-Manning, Engineering Director of Google, Katie Beauchamp, Co-Founder of Birchbox, and Alexis Maybank, Founder and Chief Business Development & Strategy Officer of Gilt Group. The discussion was focused on which essential online tools and resources every entrepreneur should be using to get their business off the ground.

Alexis Maybank, from Gilt, shared some of the early lessons which helped propel Gilt to success, emphasizing the importance of focusing  on micro-topics, then finding like-minded influencers to spread your message. She also spoke about the importance of getting the email addresses of your followers early and consistently. Gilt is heavy on email marketing, getting visitors to provide their email address, then keeping them engaged by blasting out to them about new deals and engaging information several times a day. They send out 1 to 3 outbound messages daily to keep their followers in touch.

Katie Beauchamp, C0-Founder of Birchbox, talked about “getting to know” your customer. Talking on the phone with them to find out what their expectations are and consistently choosing not to disappoint any customer. Be very clear with your customer about what they are getting from your service. If you are selling a product, include a thank you note with the item, letting the customer know you want their business and you want them to come back. Remember, you customers are people, not a matrix.

Amanda Hesser, Co-Founder and CEO of Food52 talked about importance of having exceptional content. If you have great content, people will want to share it their friends, hence driving more followers to your site. She also spoke about how important it is to survey your audience before a launch. Hesser suggested putting up a Splash page, a “static enticement,”  which collects email addresses, and can help build a base of followers to push out to once your product or site is read to launch.

Craig Nevill spoke about making sure your website is mobile app accessible. Make sure your site is fast! Think about how quickly you look for information on your smart phone. Make sure your site is simple to navigate. He talked about how at Google, they actually test out new products by bringing in people from the street and watching them behind mirrored windows to determine what aspects of a particular software are not user-friendly. If it’s too complicated for the average person, then go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make it more user-friendly. No fancy buttons please! Keep it simple.

And speaking of keeping things simple, Craig suggests modeling your homepage on the Google home page. Seriously, your home page should give a simple message of what your business really does and that’s it.  That’s all people have time for. If they’re interested, they will delve deeper, but you only have a couple of seconds to engage them.

Rachel Haot, responsible for the City of New York’s website and all of its social media, cited two most critical things. First: stay in touch with your customer as often as you can. Second: look for creative ways to share information with your customer to keep them engaged. Follow up with them using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also, and not surprising coming from the mayor’s office, Rachel emphasized how critical it is to be responsive to any and all questions and comments coming from your followers–but to be particularly responsive to the negative ones. This is how you build trust.

Whew! How’s that for a synopsis?! We walked away feeling inspired, ready to work harder at achieving our own goals.