Ask a business owner the biggest factors in determining a business's success, and he or she will likely tell you the following: happy employees, healthy company culture, great product, good marketing. No wrong answers there—each is an essential component of a healthy business. But there's the problem: Every business—the successful ones, anyway—have these things in place. That doesn't make them any less important, but it does make it necessary to have an X factor, a way to stand out.
That X factor? Brand awareness.
How do you build it? Print+Promo asked a pair of experts—Janice Dru, board president for technology solutions provider Inkwhy Inc., Ewing, N.J. and marketing director for a college in New York City; and Ed Roach, branding consultant and owner of The Branding Experts, Leamington, Ontario, Canada—for advice. Read on for their answers.
Print+Promo (P+P): Say I'm part of a business or organization looking to build brand awareness. Where should I start?
Janice Dru (JD): As a business or organization looking to build brand awareness, the first place you should start is with your customers and your employees. Your clients and staff will be your greatest advocates, and have the most awareness and intimate understanding of your brand. Also, if you haven't done brand research, it will help you to understand how people perceive your brand, what is being said about it, and where it's being mentioned.
At a high level, the channels where companies and institutions may generate more brand awareness include digital (website, mobile, social media), broadcast (television and radio), print (newspaper, magazines, other publications), referral (word-of-mouth, grassroots efforts, influencers), events and collateral (brochures, promotional items, trade shows, sponsorships), public relations (earned media, relationship building), and outdoor (billboards, store signs, transit posters, installations). In terms of determining strategies and identifying the most effective channels, go back to your customers to learn how they first heard of your brand and which touch points resonated with them. Conduct different tests to see what campaigns bring on new customers, and carefully measure the return on your marketing spend from different sources so that you can increase your budget based on which efforts are the most profitable or raise the most funds for your organization.
Ed Roach (ER): It is important to have an understanding of what a brand is—and then understand what your brand is. First off, a brand is not your logo. Your logo is only the face of your overall corporate brand. Your actual brand is your reputation in the marketplace. It is affected by all of your stakeholders (customers, employees and suppliers). If you were to stop someone on the street and ask them to tell you what their understanding of your company is, then their response would be their perception of your brand. That perception or reputation would be your brand—good or bad.
Having discovered what your brand might be, it is important that you define your own brand. This simply means that everything you do affects your brand—your marketing, sales, organization and community, among other things. To ignore your brand allows your competition to define your brand for you. Whatever the case, your brand grows and shrinks with your efforts or lack thereof.
P+P: Should small businesses or organizations approach building brand awareness differently than medium or larger ones? Should startups or newer companies approach it differently than established companies that just want to give their brand awareness
JD: Absolutely—the size of an organization matters. Small, medium and large companies and nonprofits will approach building brand awareness differently. A startup or organization at its inception may start with lower-cost strategies that are more highly targeted to their customers or donors. Social media is a great way to start, such as using Facebook to create a page and group in your location or that caters to your demographic. LinkedIn is also a great resource to identify people who may be interested in your type of business or organization, using groups and advanced searches.
Medium-sized companies are generally also highly budget conscious, but have more opportunities to test new advertising campaigns and different channels to see what works best. A large organization may have the resources to run a campaign with a much broader reach, such as a Super Bowl commercial, although choosing where to spend is still important in maximizing ROI. Regardless of size, all companies or organizations need to understand how their customers and prospects are spending their time, since it never makes sense to run brand awareness campaigns that do not reach your target audience and yield no results.
ER: Brand awareness is key no matter the size of company you are. It's like the old adage—it's not who you know, it's who knows you. Building your brand today helps your brand compete equally or better than the larger companies. I think small businesses are better suited to compete because of their size. They are more flat and, as such, turn on a dime and embrace strategies large companies don't have the guts to do. [...] You only have to be bold enough to recognize opportunities and embrace them.
The biggest boost in branding is developing a positioning strategy that absolutely resonates with customers making your brand the first choice—even if the price is higher. Some may scoff at this, but companies like Apple, Starbucks and luxury brands regularly sell higher priced commodities, even though there are cheaper choices.
P+P: What are some mistakes companies make when trying to increase brand awareness?
JD: One mistake [...] is creating a single, short-lived campaign. Often, effectiveness happens over time, and it's important to dedicate resources to allow enough time for the brand to be recognized through multiple experiences. On the flip side, a company or organization can also spend too much time and budget on a campaign that does not work. The best way to avoid both of these traps is to put in place a robust data analytics plan and define key performance indicators so that you can lay out how much time you think it will take to achieve your goals and know when it's time to shift gears.
Another costly mistake companies can make would be to run a brand awareness campaign before doing research on the brand and messaging. This can result in running a campaign that does not resonate with your audience or, even worse, launching a campaign that infringes on another brand's trademark or copyright protection.
ER: If you want customers to pay attention to you, give them something to care about. What's in it for them? One question on validating research I conduct is, "If so-and-so company disappeared tonight, would you miss it?" How would your customers answer that question?