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  • Writer's pictureCascade Communications

What is a "Brand" and Why You Aren't One....Yet.

Branding is defined as: creating an automatic recognition and emotional feeling towards a product, company or event by using consistent messaging through several marketing elements.

Many startups and small business use the word "brand" very loosely, but you're technically not one until you have mass awareness.

Now, take a minute and think back to your childhood and the products that stick out most in your mind; the things that were always around the house; the things your parents bought. They are forever in the back of our mind, and probably the products you still, in some cases, buy today.

In the early days of radio, a handful of companies came forward to sponsor radio programs. Then it was TV and the same companies, who grew due to their advertising on radio, stepped forward to lead the way in this new medium. Believe it or not, there was a time when the entire family sat around the radio to listen to programs, much like we gear up to watch our favorite TV programs today.

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So, what is a brand?

Companies like Proctor & Gamble and Sears Roebuck were pioneers in advertising (then considered program sponsorship) and their brand, or lasting impression, still exists for many of us generations later. These companies took a risk on new technologies and won. Today, they continue to lead the way in marketing with creative ad campaigns, direct mail and more.

The easiest way to think about branding, or building a brand, is repetition. We all know that the more times we see another person, the more likely we are to remember their name. While that might seem a bit obscure in reference to branding, in some ways it’s exactly the same concept.

Today’s top brands Apple, Microsoft, Target, Kraft, SC Johnson and even Playstation, not to mention countless others, have all built a name for themselves; a lasting impression (a brand), through repetitious marketing. This means repeatedly putting a company’s messages in front of potential consumers through a highly targeted and ongoing advertising campaign, using sales promotions and other incentives to get customers in the door, public relations to build credibility through third-party endorsements, a website and e-commerce to make the company or product even more accessible to consumers, direct mail pieces with sales promotions and corporate sponsorship.

The point is that no matter where you turn, you see the company or product’s messages and over time that forms an automatic impression in your mind; it becomes branded, or marked, in our minds as something we’re familiar with and trust. Eventually, you will end up trying the product, and if you have a positive experience, then you may just stick to it.

To achieve a high level of brand awareness it’s important to understand what is called The Hierachy of Effects, or the sequence of stages a buyer goes through, which is applicable for any size business, new or mature products, events and organization. They are the steps in which a potential new purchaser becomes familiar with you, the company, the product, etc.

Communication: How a company communicates and engages with audience can present opportunities to generate awareness.

Awareness: the consumer’s ability to recognize and remember the company, product or event. Interest is an increase in the consumer’s desire to learn more through your website.

Evaluation: when a consumer begins to make an actual appraisal of the product, company, service, or event based purely on key attributes presented to them

Trial: the consumer’s first purchase and use of the product, company, service or event

Adoption: when the consumer begins to purchase the product repeatedly due to a very positive first time use

Loyalty: When customers become loyal to your product or service they become ambassadors who influence family, friends and their networks.

Some companies and organizations purchase advertising once in one medium or conduct one direct mailing, hoping that it will drive a bunch of traffic the minute people see it. I call this the “Blinded Effect”. There are times when we become so excited about our new product or company that we are blinded on how to effectively communicate and excite others about it, simply being arrogant enough to believe that the second everyone sees our ad once that they will be beating down our doors and the sales will roll in.

Based on the Hierarchy of Effects and looking at a consumer’s buying patterns, we know this isn’t true. Reaching the point of "awareness" can take several weeks or even months of marketing.

  • Advertising - requires consistent ongoing "touches" - seeing or hearing

  • PR - builds credibility but requires a long term, thought out strategy

  • Content - allows a company to present themselves as experts while increasing search visibility

  • Search - requires ongoing meaningful content that is searchable and discoverable and can take time to catch hold

  • Ongoing search and discovery - social media, video platforms and graphics

Achieving successful branding is a long term project in and of itself, requiring patience and a well planned, generous marketing budget. Even a small business can budget appropriately enough to save, on an ongoing basis, money to be used for future marketing.

Sure you might place one ad with a great offer of 40% off the entire store, and you will see an increase in sales. But you have to stick with your marketing program even when you run general informational ads with no offers and don’t see any sales increase. The more times someone sees your message, the more they remember it, and the next time they are in need of what you’re selling, they’ll be at your store or office door.

When you think of branding, think of branded cattle. Over time, a companies message becomes seared in their consciousness. That's when you know you have a real brand.

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