A brand is a space created in the consumer’s psyche – a thought; a feeling; a memory; of a product, service or business. It is the perceived image manifested from the experiences of the consumer. The aim of branding is to convey a specific brand image and develop expectations behind the brand experience, setting it apart as special and unique. The ideal result leads the consumer to see the brand as the only solution to their needs. As such, branding is a key element to successful marketing.
Great branding should speak to the target market and convey all of the brand’s key qualities. It should also see the brand engaging with the consumer at multiple touchpoints. When relevance, frequency and creativity are all on the mark, branding leads to brand awareness – the ability for consumers to recognise or recall a brand.
The ultimate achievement for a brand is to attain brand recognition – the ability for consumers to recognise their logo without the presence of the brand name. Think McDonalds, Apple, BMW. As soon as consumers see these logos they recall the brand names and identities. All of these brands took the same first steps to greatness. They started with basic brand engagement. In order for consumers to form both an emotional and rational attachment to a brand, there are 10 basic principles to follow:
To effectively engage your target market you must first understand who they are. The more intimately you get to know your target market, the easier it will be to develop a brand identity that will resonate with them. Consider both demographics and psychographics to create a consumer profile of your target market. This profile should be referred to every time branding or other marketing material is created to ensure it is on target. When creating a consumer profile, basic questions to ask yourself include:
- Is the consumer male or female?
- What age is the consumer?
- Where does the consumer live?
- What does the consumer do for work?
- What does the consumer do to socialise?
- What is the consumer’s income?
- What is the consumer’s disposable income?
- Does the consumer have a family/children?
- What are the consumer’s ambitions?
- What are the consumer’s dreams?
- What are the consumer’s core values?
- What competitor products/services is the consumer currently using and why?
- What would convince the consumer to alter their habits and change products/services?
More tailored questions should be added that are specific to your brand offering and its relationship to the consumer. It is not uncommon for companies to give their consumer profile a person’s name to humanise it for use as a strategy and planning tool. Once you understand your target market you are ready to engage them.
It is important to define your brand, giving it a strong brand identity that your target market can relate to and come to rely on. A brand identity is a set of characteristics or traits that describes the brand and are communicated through the brand’s touchpoints with the consumer. Another part of defining your brand is to create a brand positioning statement that denotes where the brand fits into the marketplace and its promise to the consumer. When creating your brand identity and positioning statement, it is important to keep it simple. In order to engage your target market, present them with a strong, clear message of what your brand is about and what it has to offer. If you try and communicate too many characteristics or too many offerings the consumer may become confused by diluted or conflicting information. Once you have created your brand identity and positioning statement they should be considered when planning any brand collateral or other marketing to ensure that both the channel and message are constant and relevant.
In today’s cluttered marketplace it is important to stand out from the pack. Your brand must have a point of difference from its competitors – something that makes it unique and desirable. Do some research to find out who your competitors are and what they have to offer. Ideally you will find that you are able to offer something slightly different in terms of product, price, service or image (perceived emotional value). If no real point of difference is instantly prevalent, it may be necessary to create one by slightly altering your offering. Once you have identified your point of difference, highlight it. As part of your branding, it is essential that you communicate your unique offering, portraying your brand as the only or premier destination to receive it.
The brand experience is the sum of every interaction the consumer has with the brand. This includes every touchpoint, not just traditional marketing. Great care must be taken to project a strong and consistent brand image through every facet of the brand from the design of the logo and letterhead, to the way a customer service phone call is answered, to a huge billboard or a TV ad. Clear, consistent branding through multiple channels leads to brand awareness and loyalty. In order to ensure consistency in communication, brand guidelines should be put in place. These denote how the brand name, logo and other design elements should be used in various instances. Brand language can also be developed. This vocabulary is designed to set the brand apart from competitors, convey a specific tone and over time, familiarise the consumer. Successful top to toe branding is achieved when the consumer experiences the brand identity at every interaction.
Once you have defined your target market, it is time to locate them and decipher the best way to reach them. At the most basic level, find the consumer geographically. Then consider factors that will make them most receptive to receiving your brand message:
- Where: at home, at work, in the car, socialising?
- When: weekdays, weekends, morning, noon, night?
- How: what touchpoints is your target market most likely to interact with?
When planning how you are going to reach your target market, get creative. In a world with a tangled mediascape full of brands and messages it’s important to connect with savvy minds in interesting ways. More and more people are tuning out media because it is either too mainstream or simply too boring. They have blinkers on and will only tune in if something strikes them as relevant or reaches them via a clever and fresh approach. As part of your overall strategy, consider including something unexpected such as ambient, experiential and of course, social media. Find your target market in an environment where they will be open to experiencing the brand.
In order to reach your target market, it is likely that you will need to do some form of marketing. The old saying ‘You have to spend money to make money,’ rings true. You can have the best product or service in the world, but if no one knows about it, no one can experience it. The scope of the activity will depend on the marketing intention and the size of your budget. Generally, a multi-channel marketing plan is the most effective way of achieving brand awareness as it exposes the consumer to the brand in numerous ways during a short space of time. Marketing plans can range from comprehensive integrated campaigns with mass coverage to tailored grass roots strategies designed to drive sales among a niche target market and stay within a limited budget. Regardless of the size of the business or budget, it is crucial to build brand awareness with some sort of activity. Brand awareness is the first step to driving sales and ultimately revenue.
A fundamental part of building a brand’s reputation is via word of mouth or PR. This can’t be paid for and is therefore highly regarded. When launching a brand, product or service, it is pertinent to send out a media release to relevant media contacts. This can also be done when something of note or newsworthy occurs. Media releases should be well constructed, catchy, have an interesting title and images to stimulate the journalist or editor. They should be 1-2 A4 pages and include a media enquiries contact that the recipient can call on for further information. Be sure to make your key point in the first paragraph to pique the reader’s interest. A great media release can be the key to media coverage that is unparalleled by any marketing campaign.
Another invaluable form of word of mouth is social networking. This has become especially effective in recent years with the rise of sites like Facebook and Twitter. These colossal online communities are a fantastic tool for building brand awareness in a viral manner. Both sites have channels designed specifically for business that allow members to ‘become a fan’ or ‘follow’ registered businesses. Businesses can communicate anything from general news to special offers and competitions as well as link back to their own websites. When used correctly these social networking sites can be a key part of not only generating brand awareness, but supporting larger marketing campaigns. With more than 500 million people on Facebook and 175 million people on Twitter, businesses are now running promotions specifically to direct people to connect with their brand on these sites. Benefits are that in this forum, branding and communication are free, the target market is receptive, referrals are high and momentum is continuously growing.
It is important to measure the response to your branding and ensure that it is being received well by your target market. To measure the emotional response to your brand, market research is a wonderful tool, however it can be costly. If this is not an option for your business, smaller scale activities such as consumer surveys and even shout-out requests on social networking sites can give you an indication of how your brand is being received emotionally. In terms of the physical response, you can monitor the ebb and flow of key indicators like sales, enquiries, website hits, Facebook fans etc. When a marketing activity is planned, it is prudent to include a call to action not only to drive customers to interact with the brand, but also to allow you to measure the success of the campaign. Numbers can be measured during the life of the campaign and compared against the period preceding the campaign. Track the results of each activity to see which type of media and offers work best for your brand and target market. You can then tailor future activity depending on the results.
Brand awareness takes time. Most people don’t see something once and remember it. Successful branding requires repetition, frequency and patience. Your target audience needs exposure to your brand over an extended period of time in order to remember it, get used to it, like it and opt into it. Keep your brand visible in as many touchpoints as possible and communicate with your target market as often as possible. In terms of marketing, this can be expensive. To combat this, a common technique used is flighting. This is when a piece of marketing material is put in and out of the marketplace in a repetitive fashion –one month on, one month off, one month on, one month off. Whatever your overall strategy, consistency and patience are key to ensuring that your brand starts to resonate in the minds of your target market.
While your brand identity should remain consistent, it is important to remember that the world, people and the mediascape evolve over time. So too, should the way you communicate with your target market. Keep track of your target market’s habits as well as the latest media and social trends. Evaluate any changes that may affect the way that your target market is responding to your brand and the way that you are communicating with them. You may find that in order to keep them interested you need to reach them via different channels or even adjust your message. This change should not compromise the integrity of your brand identity. It should simply alter its trajectory, realigning it with your target market and perhaps even opening the doors to an entirely new market. Consistency is imperative for establishing a brand and building brand loyalty. However, to achieve longevity, a brand must be open to evolution.
Your brand is the interface of your business with the consumer. It is the perception they conjure, resulting from their experiences on every level. The key to successful branding is to engage your target market. Careful strategy and planning is required to ensure that your brand is relevant, different, accessible and current. With time and consistency, engagement leads to awareness and brand recognition.
Natalia Padgen is the Managing Director of Across The Verge, a marketing company, specialising in marketing solutions for small to medium businesses. With a background in marketing, advertising and sales, Natalia started her own business in 2008 to focus on the creative and strategic side of marketing. Natalia’s goal is to share her passion and expertise with other businesses and assist them with their marketing goals to result in growth.