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.

Can you keep a secret?

Most people can't keep secrets.  It goes against the grain of human nature to keep information to ourselves and yet so often I see senior management naively assume that bad news won't get out or that gossip leading to speculation and insecurity won't proliferate.  In case you are in any doubt about this, let me spell it out for you: PEOPLE LIKE TO TALK.  

There are three primary reasons why people in companies or large organisations spill the beans.

  1. The fear factor - because they are worried and are fulfilling the basic human need for comfort by sharing a worry or a woe.
  2. The simple truth that information is power – and the opportunity to disclose and display knowledge overwhelms  the sense of right and wrong.
  3. Vindictiveness, anger or frustration with a pending decision and the desire to cause damage to the people making those decisions by exposing their pending announcement to drive a negative reaction.

So what should business leaders do when it comes to passing on sensitive information?  My golden rule is quite simple: Be deliberate in how you release information and have a plan.  I've lost count of the number of times leaders blithely assume that information won't get out.  It will and sooner than you think.  Once you've made a decision that is going to eventually need to be shared you need to sit down and think about the nature of that sharing process.  

Clearly there are times when legal impediments loom large – as is the case with stock market rules about disclosure.  But so often, the focus on other operational imperatives means that discussions about when and how disclosure will occur are left to the last minute.  You need time to prepare your messages and make sure you are talking to the right people with the correctly targeted messages.  Most critically, you need to ensure you are anticipating the likely questions and ensuring you have thought through how you will answer critical questions.  What will this mean to our jobs?  How do timing, cost and other consequences need to be considered?  Ultimately here we are talking about issue management planning, which companies like mine can help you with.

The critical thing is to assume that information will get out and it is far better to have a plan for an ordered release than to pretend those around you will keep their mouths shut.  Many years ago I recall a client whose most senior executive was notorious for warning his management team about keeping sensitive information in the board room.  Time and time again, though, the information would find its way outside.  Months later one of the other executives told me precisely the nature of the problem.  While the boss was good at warning others to be discrete, he had an alarming habit of letting the cat out of the bag over a few drinks.  Read a couple of espionage books if you don't believe me – people like to talk – even the guys at top.  So plan to be found out, because it WILL happen.

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.

Is sponsorship worth the money?

Maybe it’s just me ... but has the world gone sponsorship mad?

It seems these days just about everything or anything has a logo on it.

In fact, the placement of logos in the right spot to maximise coverage has become an art form in itself. I take my hat off to the person who thought of having AFL umpires sponsored by an eye-care company.

But does associating your logo with a sports team or individual start really make that much of a difference? Or to go straight to the accountant’s version of that question: Is it really worth the money?