Warning: Are You Accidentally Shattering Your Brand Continuity?

thinkstockphotos-527901068-convertedAt its core, brand continuity is the idea that all communication channels between your brand and your customers (live chat, email, phone calls, etc.) should all look and feel like they’re coming from the same place. It’s the idea that you should strive to give your customers an experience that is as consistent as possible, regardless of how they choose to make contact with you. Successful brand continuity requires you to strike a delicate balance, and if you’re not careful, there are a few ways that you can accidentally shatter all that you’ve worked so hard to build even before you realize you have a problem.

It’s All in the Visuals

One of the more subtle ways to build and maintain brand continuity is also one of the most important, mainly because it can be the easiest to get wrong. You have to make sure that all of your branding from the version of your company logo to things as seemingly insignificant as the font you use are as consistent as possible, regardless of which element of your online and offline presence you’re using. If a version of your company logo is present on your website’s “Help Desk” page, it should be the same version of the logo sent out in your latest email or print marketing materials. Don’t use professional-looking fonts on your website if you’re going to be using Comic Sans MS on your print materials.

You may initially think that this is incredibly easy to miss and in many respects, you’re right. Customers aren’t necessarily paying attention to every last visual element on a page versus a flyer versus a billboard. But, think about it this way: the ones that do notice may be put-off or at least find it odd, which is a feeling you do not want to invoke. Those that don’t notice will still benefit from your strict brand continuity, even if subconsciously.

Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Another way that you can accidentally shatter brand continuity has to do with getting everyone on the same page regarding how your business works. If your website is very clear about one particular policy but your customer service team isn’t, you’re immediately confusing customers every time they pick up the phone. This confusion is especially evident regarding promotions. If an email goes out offering a new sale, you’d better make sure that anyone who answers the phones for your business knows about it and knows what it entails. Otherwise, your customers may get a disappointing experience when it feels like the left hand is unaware of what the right hand is doing, so to speak. It gives the impression that the different parts of your business are operating independently of one another, which is something you don’t want to communicate to prospective buyers.

These are just a couple of ways that you can accidentally harm your brand continuity. Remember, you can never be 100% sure how someone is going to make contact with your business, especially for the first time. So, make sure however they encounter you, it’s equally easy, enjoyable, and helpful.

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When it Comes to Your Marketing Goals, Don’t Forget About Consumer Education

thinkstockphotos-484055754Whenever you begin to execute a marketing campaign, you’re usually trying to service a few key goals at the same time. One of your top priorities is most likely brand awareness – you don’t just want to get the word out about a product or service, but you’re also trying to position your company as an authority on a particular topic. You may also want to help inform your target audience about the product in question. One of the most important marketing goals that far too many people overlook until it’s too late, however, is consumer education. When it comes to your objectives, consumer education must ALWAYS be a top priority for a number of key reasons.

The Benefits of the Consumer Education Push

For marketers themselves, an increased emphasis on consumer education brings with it a host of different benefits that can’t be ignored. For starters, it allows you to take a deeper level of control over the narrative that you’re trying to tell than ever before. You’re essentially reframing the information that consumers are actively looking for in a much more positive way. Instead of making a declarative statement with your campaign like, “Here are all of the amazing and incredible features that my product or service has,” you get to instead take a decidedly less sales-oriented approach and offer advice like, “Here are the problems you have, here is why you have them, and here is how my product or service is the answer you’ve been looking for.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit of all to taking a consumer education approach to marketing, however, is that you’re no longer trying to convince your customers that your product or service is necessary. Instead, you get to essentially PROVE that it’s necessary and let your customer base come to the same conclusion on their own. This helps to deepen the sense of confidence that consumers get from your company, which almost always leads to loyalty sooner rather than later.

Transforming the Landscape

Another key thing to keep in mind about making consumer education one of your core marketing objectives has to do with the subtle ways in which you change the relationship between company and customer. With consumer education, marketing is no longer a passive approach. Instead, it’s decidedly active – consumers are no longer HEARING about your product or READING about it, they’re LEARNING about it. They’re engaged with your materials in a whole new way. It officially transforms the marketing experience into a two-way street by way of empowerment. Consumers will WANT to keep learning about what you have to say and what you have to offer, helping to increase penetration rates at the same time. The more satisfied with the marketing experience a consumer is, the more confident they ultimately are with the ways in which they spend your money. If you can turn the tide of the conversation in your direction through consumer education, you’re looking at a powerful opportunity that you can no longer afford to ignore.

These are just a few of the reasons why consumer education needs to be one of your marketing goals at all times. Not only does it bring with it the added benefit of affecting consumer behavior in a positive way, but it also helps establish you and your organization as the authority on a particular topic that people are actively looking for.

Brand Awareness: Becoming Another Kleenex

thinkstockphotos-497344154In today’s world of marketing, if you are not marketing online, you are missing a very big boat. Marketing is now a science with logistics and parameters that were largely unheard of just a few years ago. However, that is not the case with the notion of brand awareness. The auto industry was probably the biggest contributor to the idea that brand loyalty could be utilized to sell more products. That industry is over 120 years old, and brand awareness became a fashionable tool in marketing automobiles by the early 1900s.

Brand awareness, of course, is the extent to which a name, label, logo, catch phrase, jingle, or another identifier that is associated with a brand, a specific product, or a company is easily recognized by customers. Brand awareness may be old news, but the Internet has taken the concept to new heights, becoming far more measurable and quantifiable as part of an overall marketing strategy.

There are many examples of successful brand awareness implementation. It has always been primarily produced by effective advertising. The most dramatically successful advertising campaign is the one where your product becomes synonymous with the product category. For many years now, a facial tissue has been called a Kleenex regardless of what actual brand was used. This is the same result we see when some people refer to any sport-utility vehicle as a Jeep and any cola drink as a Coke.

The objective in advertising or any brand awareness marketing endeavor is not simply to get your product name or image in front of the consumer. It is to get the image into the mind of that consumer, so when the buying customer wants a product, he or she wants your product before that of any competitors. Repetitious advertising creates a memory trace that remains and is reinforced with every additional occurrence. Think of mayonnaise, hot dogs, ketchup, beer, and coffee. The odds are pretty good that in each case you thought of a specific brand. It is no coincidence that the biggest selling brands are also among those most heavily advertised in various media.

While a successful advertising campaign can create solid brand awareness, a limiting or cessation of advertising can erase the gains in a remarkably short time. Forty years ago, a steel wool soap pad was known as a Brillo Pad. Today, SOS brand is the big seller. Brillo sometimes doesn’t even get any shelf space, and we must ask when was the last time you saw an ad for Brillo scouring pads? The manufacturer failed to maintain the brand awareness level they had established. A massive advertising campaign by the manufacturers of SOS soap pads was the driving force that changed the landscape.

Advertising remains key to this process, and today the most critical medium for reaching the customer is the Internet. No other medium offers such widespread advantages in both reach and monitoring capacity. With the Internet, you can track how many times your ad has been viewed and how many times it has been clicked on.

Furthermore, social media and blogging have opened up new avenues for tracking your brand’s impact. Programs exist that can tell you how many times your brand has been searched for by a search engine. Others can reveal how many times it has been mentioned in a blog anywhere on the World Wide Web. These “mentions” can be even more critical to brand awareness than page views or clicks because each one may represent an impartial testimony to your product. Even negative discussion tends to reinforce brand awareness. The old saying applies: There is no such thing as bad publicity.

Establish it, reinforce it, and nurture it. Brand awareness can make the difference for you in becoming another brand like Kleenex.

Building Brand Awareness Requires a Consistent Brand Experience

Building brand awareness is one of the cornerstones of successful marketing. People need to see you as the trusted leader you know you are. Every message you put out into the world — from flyers to advertisements to the content on your website — must reinforce that core ideal. The goal is to create a consistent brand experience across every marketing channel.

To illustrate just how important a consistent brand experience is, take a look at a company that has mastered it: Apple. Apple is notorious for the strength of its brand. Say what you will about its products and services, but you can’t argue with the fact that when that shiny white “Apple” logo appears on a computer, portable music player, or advertisement on television, a very clear image of what that logo represents pops into your mind almost immediately.

The major theme of Apple’s company over the years has been simplicity. The lengths to which the company has gone in its effort to reinforce that concept are actually quite astounding. Apple has long been lauded for its television commercials. Instead of relying on flashy graphics, loud music, and other tropes typical of traditional television advertising, Apple displays key products on stark white backgrounds with a basic music track not unlike what you would hear in an elevator. In a word, the ads are incredibly simple, just like the products themselves.

If you take a look at Apple’s website, it’s almost like one of the company’s television commercials brought to life. The website features a stark white background and large, simplistic lettering. The products themselves are clearly the emphasis. Simplicity rears its head yet again.

This extends even to the print marketing materials that come packaged in the box along with Apple’s products. Instead of the extensive user manual that accompanies most products, you get a short and painfully straightforward pamphlet with basic tips on how to get started using the device you just bought. The only other item in the box (accessories notwithstanding) is a sticker with the Apple logo. Simple, simple, simple.

Apple succeeds because every last bit of marketing it puts out into the world harkens back to that core message of simplicity. The avenues it uses to communicate that message may change, but the look, feel, and emotion behind the message remains the same.

This isn’t a phenomenon unique to Apple. If you think of the biggest companies in the world (or even the most successful businesses in your area), the one thing they all have in common regardless of industry is the consistent brand experience they deliver. By focusing on your own marketing message and clearly communicating it in a straightforward and consistent manner across all marketing avenues, you, too, can build awareness and create the same type of consistent brand experience for your company.