Picture the opening rounds of Australian Idol; thousands of wannabe singers from around the country get 30 seconds to convince three judges that they have the right stuff to continue on in the competition. It is high stakes and enormous pressure. Those 30 seconds might seem like a lifetime when you are standing in front of a television camera, palms sweating, hoping your song impresses the cynical industry professionals. But 30 seconds goes by in a heartbeat when you consider for many, those precious few ticks of the clock determine whether their dreams come true or if they are at the end of the road.
Now picture it is you and your competitors standing before a group of cynical industry professionals and wary consumers. You have 30 seconds to convince them your brand is the one they want to spend their hard earned money on. Is your brand sufficiently streamlined that you can convey your image in such a short amount of time? Can you stand out from the competition and ensure the ‘judges’ pick your company? Will 30 seconds catapult your business into Idol status or plunge you into ‘has-been’ territory with all the other wannabes?
A great brand not only passes the first round of auditions, it continues to impressively reinforce the thing that sets you apart, and enables you to stand out at every point in the customer journey.
Narrow your focus
GPS technology is a wonderful thing that has completely revolutionised our lives. I am typing this article 2000 kilometres from home. My GPS faithfully navigated me here without a hitch but first, the satellites had to know where I was starting from to get me to where I wanted to go.
Like GPS technology, successful branding initiatives must start with a focus on who you are (and just as importantly, who you are not), where you come from, where you want to go, who else needs to know and why they should care.
When a company approaches me for brand-related work (whether that be creating a new identity, a rebrand, building websites or creating a new advertising campaign), it is essential that I first understand what sets them apart from their competitors; the who, what, where, when, how of the business. If you engage any creative talent to design any communication for you, be sure they are asking smart questions. Designers who do not are trying design by guesswork, by what looks pretty; but, like the GPS, guesswork may not get to where you want to go. Some design may get you past the first audition, and the truth is that this is what most agencies are concerned about. But good design is enduring, it is accountable and ultimately will deliver return on investment.
Get out there
You can offer the best product with the best service at the best overall value, but if no one is aware of your company, you will go out of business. Getting your brand across needn’t mean spending a fortune on blanket style advertising. It’s about knowing how to reach your target audience, in a smart and efficient way.
Who is the primary decision maker? What motivates them? Where do they get their product information? What message are they most likely to respond to? Once you know the answers to these questions, you will be efficiently equipped to promote your brand through the appropriate channels that your target audience relies on.
There are many ways of communicating your brand’s story. There are the mandatory assets required to establish credibility such as a distinctive brand mark, business card and an online presence. There are certainly more exhaustive ways to tell your story such as multimedia, video, search engine optimisation (SEO), advertising, print material, packaging, Point of Sale, events and direct marketing campaigns. I will however highlight one of the most underutilised methods here.
Public relations (PR) is often a more efficient and effective method of building brand awareness than any form of advertising. It is a powerful brand building technique that very few businesses fully leverage. The reason is that a recommendation or comment from an independent party is far more powerful than your own recommendation of yourself. I have successfully run my brand communications company for over 20 years without any advertising at all.
Consider great success stories such as the Google, The Body Shop, Compaq, Harley-Davidson, Hotmail, Starbucks and Trivial Pursuit. They are all examples of well known and respected brands that built their businesses with little or no advertising. While their competitors poured endless money into advertising, they harnessed PR—the most powerful marketing tool for smaller and newer businesses.
You can build your brand through public relations in a variety of ways. Press releases can lead to news coverage, articles, interviews and reviews. Your potential customers are far more likely to read an insightful article about your brand and it’s value than spend time perusing an expensive magazine advert. The brain receives a staggering 30,000 messages every day. Brands compete for your attention in a noisy and cluttered world. If you are sure that advertising is the most effective and efficient way to get your story out there then be sure to find ways to measure your return on heavy investment.
Another method of leveraging PR is to establish authority in your category. Write an article or contribute to a regular industry column, particularly if you know that potential target customers are reading the material. It’s amazing how much credibility you establish when you shares insights and valuable tips in written form. Your brand can certainly grow in value off the back of your presence in the media.
Free online newsletters also help keep your brand fresh in your current (and potential) customers’ minds. It will aid in establishing your brand’s expertise and credibility, reinforce your brand’s identity and help to build emotional connection and loyalty. Newsletters are inexpensive to create and cost virtually nothing to publish. But be sure to provide fresh, useful content in each issue and use it to lead people to your Web site or any offers you have going.
Branded merchandise (clothing, stationery, gifts) and vehicles become mobile billboards for your company, often reaching a much larger audience than a similar amount spent on traditional advertising. Create publicity for your brand through corporate and charity sponsorship, customer referral programs, product sampling, network marketing and networking within professional associations related to your product or industry. Accept any offers to be a guest on industry panels or boards, to talk on radio shows, to speak at conferences, write a book about your specialty, or even attend careers day at your children’s school.
Through all of this, consistently display your brand’s logo, tag line and web address at all brand-related customer touch points. This is a critical point and one that most businesses don’t place enough value on. A hallmark of any successful brand is consistency.
Ensure that your brand’s personality is communicated clearly and consistently from the way the receptionist answers the phone to the way the logo, fonts and images are displayed on the website to the product packaging. It doesn’t matter if you are in Sydney, Auckland, New York or remote Africa, those big golden arches of McDonalds promise the same experience every time. By distilling some key information first then applying a little rigor, creativity and smarts, you can make every 30-second opportunity count towards your branding success.
–Ray Bull is managing director of Bullart Media Group