Unique yet similar: how to earn brand equity
“Getting your employees to consistently exceed expectations is the best way to grow your brand equity over time.”
Ever been to an industry tradeshow? No? Imagine it anyway. Picture a large windowless hangar buzzing with thousands of me-too products, doing similar things, to solve similar problems.
Believe it or not, most of these products—although competitors—are built in the exact same factories.
Now as you stroll through the tradeshow floor, you’ll notice that some brands can afford booths that look like Hollywood film sets, while other companies have people sitting in prison-like cells playing Parcheesi.
Why does this happen?
Short answer: they built more dominant brand equity. In other words, customers are willing to line up for their products despite the premium price.
How did they do it? Why do brands pop into people’s heads whenever a need goes unfulfilled? Who becomes so famous that they become a verb?
“Let’s Google that.”
“Can you Xerox this?”
“Hey, my kneecaps need a good scrape, let’s go Rollerblading this weekend.”
First of all, top-of-mind brands with strong brand equity don’t have an identity crisis. Customers know what experience to expect from their products, and they get why the company is “different” from others—or remember the reasons why the company says they are.
Here’s how you start earning brand equity.
Research and get to know your people
You have no idea who someone is, or what they think, until you actually talk to them. So find out who your customers are.
How do you do that?
Create and send a survey to gain insights into customer behavior. What are they after? Where do they live? How old are they?
Then adjust who you are to accommodate their preferences.
“Build connections with your customers. Send personal notes. Send chocolates. Little things still matter.”
Here’s Debbie Chew, head of operations and marketing at Codementor, with more first steps for assessing brand awareness:
- Monitor communications channels: what questions are people asking and how well do they understand your company?
- Send out an NPS survey: what feedback are you getting from your users and do they have any misconceptions of your product or values?
- Round up articles in your industry: how often are you mentioned compared to your competitors?
Chameleons made of plasticine. Plasticine chameleons with sponge-like absorption powers. Kind of like Madonna.
They can be shaped to fit any customer or market need you like.
Define a mission and rally around a calling
Your mission statement doesn’t need to be engraved onto a bronze plaque in the cafeteria. It just needs to be relatable, authentic, and pervade from the inside out—which is pretty much the basis of charisma.
Here’s how to make sure your mission has maximal impact:
- Create it with your stakeholders so that everyone buys in.
- Keep it simple, your mission will be more memorable.
- Do it early so that everyone grows in the same direction.
- Make it relatable to staff and customers to energize your fanbase.
Need inspiration? Here’s a few mission statements we like:
TED: Spreading ideas
Toms: Using business to improve lives
Casper: We are how we sleep
Once you’ve got your mission, you can move on to setting your strategy, creating a framework for your messaging, and honing the voice for your content.
Which brings us to our next step.
Create a visual identity, then spread it like glitter
Brands that build consistent visual identities save money down the road. Why? Because:
So choose your visual identity wisely and your brand’s lifetime will be fruitful. The three main things you need to think about are: logo, colors, and typeface.
Need a few ideas to get started? Use Findguidelin.es to check out the brand guidelines behind big names like Spotify, Facebook, and Uber.
How to track your
When things moved online they got a tad more intricate.
Social media metrics. Search traffic. Content creation.
Where do you start?
Keep your eyes on social media
“Social media is layered over the internet. It doesn’t cost you money. It costs talent and time, but not money.”
According to a report by WeberShandwick, 65% of a brand’s reputation comes from its online sociability. Eek, heavy number. So let’s get straight to the point.
What are we after in social media? Brand mentions.
Basically, any time someone names your brand in an online conversation, chalk up a point for your brand awareness. This includes @ mentions on social channels, links to your content, or references to your product or company. Those are the golden eggs you should be sharing with your followers.
Sharing. Easier said than done. Here are some social media communication tips on what to say and when to say it from Olga Adrienko, head of social media at Semrush.
Respond as quickly as you can
Don’t have an immediate answer? No problem. Use phrases like “Thanks for reaching out,” or “We’ll look into that and get back to you ASAP.”
Let customers know that you read their comment. It makes them feel heard and buys you extra time.
Keep things professional
Feel a certain way about an edgy comment? Ignore your personal feelings. Remember, the customer has their reasons and those reasons are always right.
Don’t make mistakes
Everything you publish from your official account has to be 100% grammatically correct.
Never delete a comment from a client
One exception: vulgarity. And even then, best practice is to send the user a private message that you’ll be reposting the message minus the offensive language.
Always acknowledge your brand’s mistakes. No one is right all the time, and accepting errors shows the human side of your brand, which helps you win people’s loyalty.
You’ll see lots of repeated questions—which indicates areas of improvement for your brand. To accelerate replies, prepare an answer doc to frequently asked questions that your social media team can use.
Look for positive mentions
We’re so focused on tackling negativity that we often neglect positive feedback. Today, the biggest sign of gratitude from a happy customer is a “like.”
Comment, re-share, post a GIF with a smiley face—make your clients smile over and over.
Mentions aren’t always directly connected to your brand, so stay on the lookout. Are you mentioned in a post? Track the article and ask for feedback via social media. But don’t be salesy. Be genuine, show interest in others’ thoughts.
“Mentions are the easy part. Companies need to be responsive on social media. And that’s where everybody fails.”
Treat your followers like family
Followers. Also known as the most important people in your network.
How regularly are your followers sharing your content? Who are these generous people? And what makes them want to share?
Here’s a huge tip from Serial Entrepreneur Adam Howell on engaging with your followers:
The first place to start?
Look at this way: The internet is like an endless galaxy of information without any surefire map. The only way for information-seekers to find what they’re looking for is by asking for directions.
Yes, of course there’s uncle Google. But even online, a personal touch goes a very long way.
Whenever users share your content, they’re acting like credible virtual guides. Guides that are shepherding their contacts to “information-destinations” and spreading the good word about your brand.
And when that happens, we know that 71% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase.
Plus, the closer the contact, the higher the rate of confidence. That’s right, 92% of people trust the recommendations of family and friends over ads.
So make sure you have quality guides—or relationships—scattered across different verticals. They are the mercenaries of your brand awareness efforts.
Three quick tips to get you started:
Get to know your followers, just as you would your customers.
Communicate with them regularly and select content based on their interests.
Remember that in social media, you’re trying to engage your online community in genuine conversations, not force-feed them accolades.
Author and blogger Seth Godin puts followers into perspective:
“Turn strangers into friends. Turn friends into donors. And then do the most important job: turn your donors into fundraisers.”
The bigger challenge for your brand will be remaining vigilant, consistent, and treating your brand’s online reputation as a critical business process.
So try to see social media as an exercise in relationship-building rather than a series of one-off events.
Sure, that sounds nice, but how do you put it into practice? Two things you can do right away:
Integrate the curation and monitoring of social media directly into your workflow.
Engage with your followers on a daily basis.
And remember that it’s not the size of your network that counts, it’s the quality of your relationships. Five hundred quality contacts in your field will perform much better than thousands of fluffy followers.
And one last thing before we move on. Use tech to track your conversations. Missing one slippery tweet can quickly become a big blazing fireball of fear.
Tools we like:
Buffer: scheduled content distribution made super easy
Hootsuite: social media’s mega dashboard mama
Feedly: quickly find and tweet relevant content
Got it? Good.
Now let’s look at the next cornerstone of building your brand awareness empire: traffic.
Traffic. All the other ways people are reaching you and your content.
No pigeons flying out of a hat. No horse feathers. No fluff.
Just practical tips to get your brand chuffing along with stellar content.
How to kick-start
your brand awareness
Create killer, branded content
“Content is where the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”
When Billy G. wrote his fabled “Content is King” article, much of the media was still being consumed through a static broadcast model.
You wanted to watch something? You bought a paper-based guide, popped the lid off your highlighter, and planned your TV programming for the week—praying that your roommate wouldn’t be dozing on the couch when your show came on.
But what if you wanted to watch something spontaneously? Well, you spun that great, random wheel of TV destiny and maybe, just maybe, you landed on something you liked.
Today, content consumption is a lot easier, but also a lot noisier. People quickly thumb through different media, on different channels, on a ton of different devices.
Finding something you like is easy. But making people like and share what you send them is difficult. There’s simply too much going on.
That’s because every time you come out with a new piece of content, you’re basically throwing your hat into an attention-economy cage match.
You’re up against millions of different data interactions, every single minute. Online content is now a huge, loud, cacophonous mess.
So how do you make sure your brand isn’t silenced? Where’s the first place to start?
Create content that sticks
With scheduled content, things like season premieres or special events got big boosts before falling into programming abyss. Digital content isn’t like that.
People are now the masters of their own reading/viewing/listening destinies so they can access content whenever they want to.
Sure, if promoted properly, you might get a big boost from your content launch. But nothing ever fades away anymore, just ask Peter Guske.
Your content may be around forever. Make sure you treat it that way.
Forever-like material is called “evergreen content.” Like tall and proud coniferous pines, your material should stand the test of time and keep climbing the ranks on search engines.
Paired with SEO, evergreen content is the workhorse that raises awareness for your brand—drawing steady streams of people into the vortex of your marketing funnel. Think lots of organic traffic over an extended period of time.
Here are some tips on creating “brand-aid” content.
1. Put on your kimono
The Japanese basically copied American culture and made it better. Keep that in mind when creating your content, because there are lots of great ideas that have been turned into crappy content. Go out there and make things better.
How do you pinpoint popular ideas to write about?
- Use Buzzsumo to gauge high-performing content.
- Check Nuzzel to see what’s popular within your network.
- Peek at the magic suggestion box at the bottom of your Google search page.
- And your finishing move to popular content? The mighty Google Trends.
Remember that in the past, TV execs were only able to find out—post facto— what people were watching. Using Google Trends, now you can see what people are searching.
So what? Now you can see what people are actually thinking. Call it pre-emptive content creation.
Ahem. Let me repeat that just in case: You can now see what people are thinking.
Match that with your content and crown yourself a content tsar.
2. Think like a fisherman
You’re sitting in a boat. A beautiful pike is swimming right beneath you. What’s the first thing the fish is going to see?
Your rod? Your net? No. It sees the lure at the end of your hook. That’s the bait, that’s what’s going to make it bite.
Same with content. The single most important thing you’re going to write is your headline. That’s what’s going to hook your viewers, make them read your stuff, and share it with their network.
Plus, our own blog’s data shows that “scanners who share” don’t usually go down past the first third of an article. So consider those big bold words very carefully.
Want to write a good headline? Three really simple tips to get you started:
- Use action words: they have more impact.
- Switch to the “you voice”: the reader will feel more engaged.
- Add quantifiable results: numbers sound more impressive.
Want to know whether your headline is any good? Use a headline analyzer. The one at CoSchedule is fast and easy and lets you see real-time results whenever you tweak your wording.
One last thing: don’t treat your content like static material.
What does that mean?
It means that whenever you see your legacy content performing poorly, go back and fiddle with the headline. It’s all binary now, anything can be changed at any time. Experiment, see what brings people in.
3. Shamelessly promote your stuff
“You might have a big set up planned for a right hook, but be flexible. Always. Things change fast.”
No analogies here, just brute force. Set up a broadcast schedule on social media to promote your content. Post images, quotes, reactions, and links to your material. Choose fitting hashtags to track your posts’ progress. Be flexible, be nimble. Post often.
Remember, the average lifespan of a tweet is only 24 minutes.
How do you capitalize on such a short runtime? Six quick tips:
- Schedule your content in advance.
- Send out a continuous stream of tweets.
- Keep things varied and interesting to offset follower fatigue.
- Ping influencers within your verticals for feedback.
- Put some small change into social ads.
- Set up and broadcast your backlinks on your channels.
And one more thing:
Are other departments in your outfit producing content? Yes? Then start co-creating. This will help you cover different promotion angles and release more interesting material.
4. Pretend your reader has a full bladder
When creating your content, you should always remember that your reader will have several things on the go. Or, maybe they just “need to go.”
How do you glue someone to your work? By making it irresistible. Don’t give them a fighting chance to flush. Make them forget about their life for a second.
Use this simple formula: make your next line better than your last. And then?
Edit and test for quality
And you edit and test some more. Whether it’s a blog post, a paragraph, a photograph, or a video clip, set your standards Eiffel-Tower high.
Quality needs to be the cornerstone of your creative process. Make sure to get other people to look at your stuff. Critiquing is part of the writing process, not an afterthought or something you do if you have extra time left.
What about testing? Can you test content? Of course you can. Try using CrazyEgg to see how far people are getting in your articles, and whether your writing is provoking the click reflex or not.
Don’t be afraid to go through things again and again until they’re perfect. Remember, there’s loads of junk out there, so people will appreciate something good. And quality adds luster to your brand’s image.
But quality costs time and money. So not everyone will be on board with this philosophy. Here’s a trick to win any argument over quality.
Google is starting to analyze and evaluate the quality, value, and rank-worthiness of content when measuring SEO. That’ll be huge in how things get ranked. Cheap-out on quality, miss the content boat.
Visualize your buyer persona
Who? Your ideal customer. For writers, it’s a fancy term for “reader.” Whether you’re writing, filming, or producing a podcast, operating with your buyer persona in mind will yield a better creative product.
Here’s how you do it:
Make your persona super specific. For instance, if you’re writing for HR, think of the person who recruited you for your job. Or if you’re filming a clip for a finance article, picture the guy who used to help you with your accounting homework at university.
Why? Because that visualization process will create a mental canvas that reveals your persona’s preferences, problems-to-solve, and jobs-to-be-done. And those are the flavors that make your work really come alive.
Here’s what Lauren Moon, content marketing manager at Trello has to say about her process:
Here’s the thing: the only way to guarantee that an audience will absorb your messaging is to tell it as a story. And that means setting a narrative for your company—or as it’s de rigueur to say these days—use storytelling.
What? As in Little Red Riding Hood runs into the Three Little Pigs chasing Humpty Dumpty storytelling?
Kind of. When done properly, this powerful device can put your brand Jack-and-the-Beanstalk above your competition. Here’s how:
Be a person, not a company
We all know there’s no more business-to-business or business-to-consumer communication anymore. It’s all human-to-human now. Well, until the singularity kicks in and it all becomes robot-to-robot.
But for the time being, do your brand a favor: ditch the corporate bullshit.
Nobody wants to “improve their effectiveness” or “feel empowered” anymore. People want experiences, they want to feel things, they want to know how your product will enhance their life—they want a human experience.
To be part of their day-to-day conversations, be transparent, be conversational. Be conscious that in order to really connect, you’ll need to get personal. That’s what engaging storytelling is all about.
Build a narrative
Your customers want to get to know your brand. Because your company is the protagonist of a great success story. You saw something in the market that needed to be changed. It wasn’t easy, there were obstacles. But here you are, you exist.
Tell that narrative. Tell it over and over. Keep adding to it. Keep talking about the barricades, the challenges, the failures. In scriptwriting, these are called “beats.” Points that mark main events in the hero’s journey. Then highlight how your brand rises like a phoenix from the ashes to meet every one of those challenges.
Show how you’ve become the hero of the marketplace. Blogs can be great vehicles for telling your story.
And when you do this, stay true to your brand’s voice. Because Stephen King doesn’t write romantic comedies and John Grisham doesn’t do poetry (thank goodness).
Are you a fresh startup? An established family business? A specialized law firm? Match your tone, language, and content-type to your culture. Because people know a bona fide story when they see one, and can easily sniff out a fraud.
Here’s Amity Kapadia, content marketing director at Ambassador on building your brand through a blog.
Go beyond words
Use a video to introduce a blog post, or change things up by embedding a SlideShare presentation into the middle of a post.
Write for SEO
Write at least 500 words, include external and internal links, and use keywords to go along with each piece. And focus on content length as well as optimizing images, H1 tags, URLs, and permalinks to kick things up a notch.
Diversify your content promotion
Creatively promote your content. Use a GIF in the header of your newsletter, or share a short video testimonial from a happy customer via Facebook to promote a case study.
Create a central hub
Think of your blog as “a central hub” where you share stories. By creatively repurposing content, promoting posts, and diversifying your assets, readers will feel compelled to share your story across their networks.
“Your blog doesn’t have to be just words—and quite frankly—it shouldn’t be.”
The New York Times is embracing digital storytelling for a reason. People want to feel absorbed, immersed, and they want to interact with what they read. Words spark certain parts of the brain, but photos, infographics, and videos bring a whole new dimension to a tale.
Of course, we don’t all have a New York Times budget, but we do have access to tools like photo filters and video enhancement apps to shine up our visuals.
By giving your media a professional look, you’re also giving your brand a boost in terms of look and feel. And SEO appreciates that.
Here’s a few tools we love:
Don’t have the resources to create video in-house? No problem, embed a YouTube clip—there’s a video for everything now. Get shaky when you hold a camera? Use stock-free photos from pro sites like Unsplash, StockSnap, or Pexels.
And as Lauren Moon reminds us:
By increasing your visual content, you’ll connect with your audience on a higher emotional level. And that grows your chances of standing out in follower newsfeeds.
Eyes lead to clicks, clicks lead to shares, and shares lead to brand awareness. And that’s when your story really begins to spread beyond your network.
Apply paid advertising
And now for the dessert: paid advertising.
You finally feel your brand awareness is ready for a rocket boost. Your list of followers is growing, your share ratio is good, you’re placing well in Google searches, and your creative content is getting noticed on different channels.
Time to crack open the piggy bank.
First, a freebie. Make sure the information on your Google knowledge graph card is up to date. This is the small data sheet that appears on the right side of a Google page whenever someone runs a branded search on your company. Now open for users to customize, the feature lets you alter the information that’s available to searchers.
So make sure your messaging is aligned with your content strategy, and that your social media is pointing to all the right places.
Speaking of social media, next year’s social media spending is estimated to reach a colossal $35.98 billion. That’s almost 16% of the global digital ad market. If you don’t want to get buried by your competition, you’re going to need to throw some chips on the table.
Actually, on three tables: Facebook, Twitter, and surprise-surprise…Google.
Here are some tips for each channel.
Advertise on Facebook
If you don’t have a Facebook business page, just fold things up and go home.
Seriously, because you’re practically invisible to over 1 billion users. Facebook offers an enormous audience and a quasi-infinite silo of data for you to tinker with—making sure your ad reaches the exact audience that you’re after.
You can define customers through demographic info and pinpoint precise audiences according to age, hobbies, location, political beliefs, music tastes, and more.
Your main goal? Use the platform’s dart-like user precision to gain awareness by collecting hard-earned “likes” for your brand and clicks to your external website where your funnel can take over.
Advertise on Twitter
Twitter’s answer to Facebook Ads is Twitter for Business. Similar to that little Zuckerberg experiment, Twitter lets you tweak your ads to match your target audience, leverage analytics tools, and measure your campaign’s performance.
But because of its limited character count, Twitter ads are less forgiving for crappy content. By sounding natural and adding an appealing visual, your campaign’s Twitter card can reach a much broader appeal.
The trick is to think of these cards as mini billboards. Like a driver going down a long highway, you only have a few seconds to make an impact before your card goes out of view.
Use Google ads
Considered the big daddy of online advertising, Google ads has a slight advantage over its social media cousins. Because on social media, people are usually browsing their friend’s posts or engaged in some sort of content.
By inserting ads on their social media screen, your brand’s presence could be seen as disruptive to their experience.
But with Google ads, you’re targeting people who have an intent to purchase. Why? Because they’re already searching for you or some variant of the product or service that you offer. Google ads work on an auction model.
The higher you bid, the higher on the search page you’ll appear—meaning more views, more clicks, more sales.
If you’re just starting out, a useful tool is Google Display Network. By creating what was once known as a “banner ad” you can cheaply raise awareness for your brand. How? By posting your Facebook info, Twitter info, phone number, or any other external info directly onto the banner.
You only pay when people actually click, so this “contact info trick” provides a way to get around that expense while getting people to see you, visit you, and hopefully remember you. You’re welcome. 😉
How to measure
your brand awareness
Brand awareness points to how many people within your target market know you exist, or if you’re even aiming at the right types of customers.
And this matters because—cue thunderous bolt of lightning—awareness drives sales.
But how do you know whether you’re on the right track? How do you measure your progress? Your success? Your world brand domination?
Simple. You create a survey. Then you send it via email and wait for your stakeholders’ replies to come rolling in like a stampede of wild buffaloes.
Actually wait, not so fast. Did you know that the response rate for online surveys can be lower than the good ol’ in-person interview? Why?
Because human interaction—or an experience that mimics the language, cadences, and cues of face-to-face conversations—leads to higher survey completions.
So you’ll need to create an online experience that feels like an actual human connection—to make sure people complete your brand awareness survey. Huh? How do you do that?
Humor kills. If you open your survey with an industry-related joke that gets a few chuckles, certain individuals will immediately be better engaged.
GIFs are a good way to attract attention. Tie them to your survey, and you’ll clear some individuals from thinking of a hard reset on questions.
Being succinct will net you winners. Say and ask quickly, but provide people with the opportunity to read more if they want additional info.
Design to go the distance
Before smartphones became an extension of well, practically everything, we used these bulky black boxes called “cameras.” Remember those? Good.
Now think of what makes a great picture. The right focus? The right ambient conditions? The right subject? The biggest factor?
Probably the camera. (Or the app on a phone, for every biped living in 2016.)
Is the camera/app easy to use? Is the shutter button in an awkward place? Does it capture content inside the frame or shoot off like a wild goat?
You get the point. Make your survey process as intuitive as possible. Because your goal is to create a seamless user experience. Why? It keeps people clicking through questions.
You’re trying to make answering as easy as possible for your respondents. The less clicking and typing that’s needed, the faster and easier people will move forward.
And the better your information will be for measuring your brand’s performance.
Put mobile first
Sure, your brand awareness survey may look good on desktop but here’s a question: how big is your thumb? There’s no way mine could check off tiny boxes on a mobile form.
Make sure your survey looks good on small screens, and can both detect and adapt to the device the respondent is using. Or you can kiss your beautiful results goodbye.
Top two tips for mobile:
Use minimal visuals
Mobile devices have a limited screen size. Your job is to keep the user focused on a single question, so don’t junk up the screen with too much going on.
Don’t make your mobile surveys shorter. That’ll cause data integrity problems. You can cut back on text and make things prettier, but keep fields identical between mobile and desktop to keep data collection consistent.
The key for mobile is a clutter-free combination of text and visuals. Done right, people will even participate when they’re on the go. Take that, Netflix binge.
Make it impossible to make mistakes
So you’ve got a rating question. Like asking users to use that famous formula of “On a scale of 1 to 10 …” Reduce chances of error by letting people click in the general vicinity of texts and images—give them “click access” to large portions of the screen.
And don’t take any chances, make sure people understand what you’re asking. Be brief, pretend you’re talking to your best friend. Because mistakes can make your data irrelevant, which wastes your time, your money, and—if you’re like me—your patience.
Ask clearly, concretely, and ask awesomely
Avoid open interpretations
Apply graphical tools like stars, hearts, or a red to green scale to give the respondent some hints
Here’s what you need to remember.
“Your brand has a unique story, a unique voice, and a unique solution to a problem. Tell that story honestly.”
Use the tools, technology, and contacts at your disposal to spread it. And then track your progress to tweak your strategy.
Because it’s not a race to Nike-like brand awareness. Their first running shoes looked like laced-up rags compared to the Jordans we have today. It’s steady and constant improvement that will make your solution stand out.
Your job is to narrate that journey with the right community of customers, and you’ll automatically create value for your brand.
And ever notice how the good brands are always watching, listening, and learning about their customers? Do that consistently and your brand awareness will begin to spread. When?
When it’s your customers that begin to watch, listen, and learn about you.