brand strategy

Eight rules for building brand awareness

One of the most difficult things for any new enterprise or existing organisation with a low profile is the battle for awareness.Marketers sometimes refer to this as a lack of brand presence.  For people in this situation it is often expressed more dourly along the lines of: Why are we ignored?

The answer is not always that easy – especially if you are starting out, money for advertising is limited or non-existent and you are struggling for time.  The most obvious answer for companies with money is to spend some of it and simply buy awareness via advertising.  But even then, you need to be careful you are not simply starting a conversation in a very crowded and noisy room where your message just gets drowned out by all the others trying to get noticed.  So here are some tips for getting noticed:

1. Be very clear on the kinds of people with whom you need to build awareness.  This means avoiding the common mistake of trying to be all things to all people.  It could be that your business or organisation really only needs to create a connection with a very small group of people.  There are plenty of very successful businesses out there – especially in the business-to-business category that are only known by a very small group of people.  Example: Company X sells online purchasing software.  That immediately rules out all the companies that only trade from a physical location and have no online selling capacity – or interest.

2. Be absolutely clear on how you can best express the value your company or organisation presents to the segment of people with whom you want to build awareness.  This may sound stupid but often a business is ignored simply because prospective customers haven't worked out that what you offer is of value to them.  Example: Company X needs to be able to explain that its online purchasing software is unique in the market place and has specific attributes that provides advantages to users over other systems. 

3. Be ruthless in understanding the decision makers among the segment you are targeting.  For example, a business-to-business company may succeed in building awareness among relatively junior employees of a prospective client, while the senior manager who will make the ultimate decision over what is purchased is completely ignorant of you and the value you offer.  Example: Company X builds awareness among the lower echelons of its target client.  That's great, but really building awareness with Joe, the purchasing services manager probably matters a lot more.

4. Think about the mindset of the people with whom you want to start a conversation.  What problems are they most worried about? What is dominating their agenda right now?  The most useful interactions for them are going to be relevant interactions.  If you are in the right place, at the right time with a solution to the problem they are confronting right now, your chances of successful engagement are going to increase ten fold.  Example: Company X realises that right now purchasing managers are paranoid about the security of software system.  It just so happens your software system is ranked number one by independent analysis for security.  Guess what you should be talking about when you make an approach!

5. Think about where you are most likely to be seen by your target audience.  Again, this doesn't have to be hanging out on the street corner – unless that is the street corner where your target audience walks past to work every day or stops at to get their morning coffee.  Example: Company X might be better off just buying a small advertisement on the website of the professional organisation that Jo, the purchasing services manager belongs to – – rather than taking out an ad in the local paper. 

6. Think about what happens once your target audience becomes aware of your existence and wants to engage.  Make sure your website has a "contact us" section – and make sure any inquiries receive a quick response.  Make sure any information about your company is up to date – especially when it comes to contact details.

7. Don't forget the basics – first impressions DO matter.  Read Malcolm Gladwell's blink if you are uncertain what I mean.  The truth is that most people form an impression very quickly and if your website looks unprofessional – or your branding material looks amateurish, you might blow your chance of engagement in the first 10 seconds.

8. Consult a professional communications advisor because there are plenty of options.  It is strange to me how people will prioritise paying money to an accountant for financial advice or to a lawyer for legal advice, but then regard communication as something they can manage themselves. Depending on your background, you might well be able to manage.  But communications is a specialist field and spending a few dollars getting professional advice could be a very valuable investment.

Finally, don't give up.  You have to be persistent.  Sometimes you can do everything right and still not get the outcome you are seeking. But remember that building brand presence takes time and you will get value, even if it takes longer than you wished for – providing you remain consistent and follow my eight rules.

Strategic planning stripped bare

Before your company or organisation heads into its next round of strategic planning, can I suggest you take a look at one of the best business books I’ve ever read?  It was written by Hans Christian Andersen nearly 200 years ago and tells the story of the emperor who hires two swindlers to make him a new suit of clothes.

It all ends in tears because it turns out the con-men have convinced the Emperor he looks stunning when in fact he is stark naked.  Of course, none of his ministers have the courage to let the King know the truth…until some kid in the crowd yells the obvious: The emperor is wearing no clothes!

For me this story is a perfect parable of what I see occurring in so many companies and organisations when it comes to so-called strategic planning.

You know the gig: The senior management team head off site for a day or two with the butcher’s paper and sticky notes to set out the company's plan for the next 12 to 48 months.  The one element that seems to almost always be missing is the view of the outside world, or to be more precise: the customer.

I’ve come to the conclusion that all strategic planning sessions should begin with an externally focused brand planning session.  Provided it is robust, brand planning forces companies to ask the most critical question of all: What value does my company bring to the world? And the people most able to answer that question are consumers.  Understanding their perspective of your company and the value it brings to their lives is utterly critical in ensuring that your strategy doesn’t end up looking rather…well, naked.

Without that perspective, there is a significant risk that the CEO will end up a bit like the Emperor - Parading a new strategy on the catwalk which is completely bereft of the real fabric that every business needs to succeed: brand meaning.

I suppose the other alternative is to invite a few kids to review your strategy.  Sometimes the simplest minds have the sharpest insights.

Grandmothers wearing mini-skirts

There are things in this world that just aren’t right.  Who told politicians it was a good idea to go around kissing babies?  Why do some companies insist on calling me at home in the middle of dinner and then expect me to buy something off them?

Then there is the phenomenon in advertising and marketing that is akin to a grandmother wearing a mini skirt.  I’m talking about those companies who, in an effort to reach out to the younger demographics, decide its time to get down and get trendy.

There are some brands that are just naturally young.  Coca Cola, Virgin and Rip Curl are just a few that come to mind.  But if your company decides you desperately need to connect with Gen Y’s or whoever, avoid at all costs the temptation to go “mini skirt hunting”. 

There are some companies that my kids just want to stay middle aged or even a bit older.  They like it that way. 

A few years ago I was trying to help a respected older company lift its sales to younger people.  We naturally assumed that being part of the “Internet generation” we had to focus our attention online and perhaps show a bit of leg. True, online was a good channel for starting the conversation but a surprisingly large number of the younger folk we surveyed actually wanted to have a face-to-face conversation with someone like…their mum.  If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. We are talking here about insurance designed to cover you for things you haven’t experienced yet…like perhaps having kids of your own one day.  You’d actually feel much better talking to someone who looks like they might know a bit about it.

If you’re selling surf products, I’m happy to accept the 18 year old in board shorts with tatts.  But many products and services need to remember that credibility doesn’t come from how hip you are but- far more importantly regardless of the generation- how trustworthy you are.  

the scourge of style over substance

If marketing communications is like playing the dating game, a communications program without a clearly understood objective is a bit like getting dressed up but having nowhere to go.

One of the reasons communications functions often lack credibility in companies is the lack of a discernible link between the outputs produced and the organisation’s desired outcomes.

Unfortunately I see so many PR and marketing people running around getting publicity almost for the sake of it.  Sure, you got noticed…but to what end?

Every company needs to be famous for something – that’s a critical element of brand strategy, where the goal is to be seen as unique, distinctive and valued. But just being famous for fame’s sake?  That’s what I see in a lot of PR and marketing activity that isn’t linked to the company or organisational strategy.

To extend my dating game analogy, it’s a bit like the good-looking guy or girl who wears nice clothes, and preens him or herself before heading to the nightclub or dance. After a while, just having a good time isn’t enough – they want to find that someone special and settle down – but it never seems to happen.  Perhaps that’s because there is no substance behind their styling and the world can see that: Sure, he/she is a looker…but I wouldn’t want to marry them!

Great communication is not an end in itself.  It is an output that should produce an outcome that assists a company, government department or organisation to achieve its corporate purpose.

That’s what communications strategy is all about: Are you planning to make a difference? get what you pay for

The truth of advertising – please forgive my phrasing – is that you get what you pay for. Ad agencies hate the likes of Gerry Harvey and his self-made cronies who like to produce their own TV and radio commercials in house. Putting aside the ad industry’s self interest in loss of potential revenue, they do have a point. Making great advertising that genuinely delivers a message is a lot more difficult than most people think. More to the point, it isn’t just about striding into the main street with a loud hailer and shouting at people. There is just too much going on and these days consumers don’t have to watch, read or listen to your ad – they have a choice. I have to confess I watch most of my TV these days through Foxtel IQ –meaning I fast forward through the ad breaks.