Walk up to someone on the street and ask them what branding is and they’ll probably have something to say. (I mean, in the Before Time, when street conversations actually happened.)
I’m not saying they’d nail it on the head—branding isn’t as easy to define as it looks—but they’d at least throw out some ideas: logo, slogan, colors, typeface, style.
Shift that conversation to brand communication and you’d probably draw blank stares.
There’s a pretty good reason for that. A lot of branding is concrete. In fact, branding used to be excruciatingly concrete. You know that scene in practically every Western you’ve ever seen where the cattleman sears his name into his cows or horses as proof of ownership? That’s literally where branding comes from. Ouch!
Don’t worry. We’ve discovered much better ways to leave our mark since Tombstone, Arizona. These days we stamp our identities onto our marketing content not to prove we own it, but to control how people see and interact with our brands. Messaging and visual identity are both key here.
Brand communication, on the other hand, is how we deliver and reinforce our messages and identity (along with our values and offerings) across the channels best suited to reaching our stakeholders.
Branding and brand communication aren’t like the chicken and the egg. Branding always comes first. Makes sense, right? You need a visual identity and a message before you can communicate it.
But you can’t stop there. Having solid branding—a gorgeous logo, stand-out web design or a slick Facebook banner—isn’t enough to get your message heard.
In the real world, i.e. anywhere but Field of Dreams, if you build it, it doesn’t mean they will come (sorry, Kevin Coster, this overused catchphrase will only ever be used in the negative). On the contrary, if you abandon your brand communication to the winds of Google, it could be catastrophic for your business. Here’s why.
Without a brand communication strategy, brands are lifeless. Literally, they have no direction to grow in. Plus, no matter how cute, disruptive, marvelous or badass your brand is, if it doesn’t reach the right people at the right time, it’s like the proverbial tree falling in the woods.
Simply put, without a communication strategy, your brand won’t ever find the audience it deserves.
So, you’ve come around to the importance of brand communication. Now what? Great question. We’ve got some pointers for designing an effective brand communication strategy coming right up. But first, two common mistakes you’ll definitely want to avoid when planning yours.
Screen time around the world has been shooting up for years. In the wake of COVID-19, internet traffic has really surged. This is a boon for marketers, no doubt. More people are online for more hours than ever before.
Just don’t be lulled into thinking that sheer numbers means better exposure for your brand. I mean, imagine trying to get noticed at a music concert. Unless you’re on stage, you disappear in the crowd.
And, don’t forget, unlike a music concert where everyone has paid to enjoy the content, on an average day browsing, your next customers are fending off a biblical plague of content they never asked to see and probably don’t want to see.
Bottom line? Finding the right message to show your audiences at the right time can become a guessing game with a fiendishly low rate of return if you’re not very careful.
They arrive in our news feeds and inboxes in early January like Oscars shortlists. Marketing trends to look out for in the new year!
If you’re a marketer or CMO, this is when your stomach drops. Because it’s the moment you see just how many awesome ideas your competitors have come up with to drive more engagement—ideas you didn’t come up with, or didn’t have the budget, in-house expertise or time to make happen. That’s no way to start the new year, is it? But it’s not the end of the world either.
Yes, it’s no fun to see cool new tricks you wish you’d done first, but keeping up with marketing trends doesn’t actually drive more business. Creating a stellar brand experience with effective brand communication pillars does.
This is how we do it at Base Element.
Every platform you use to deliver your brand message is unique. Each has its own limitations, style and applications. So, if you’ve been designing one-size-fits-all marketing content, it’s time to rethink that.
For example, you may be trying to raise awareness for a new service. You’ve produced two new pieces of content: a funny teaser video with a rabbit in a pink ribbon (it’s Easter) and an informative article demonstrating your professional expertise. If I asked you which goes where, Facebook or LinkedIn, you probably wouldn’t wait a beat. The short funny rabbit video goes on FB, the professional article goes on LinkedIn.
It might seem like common sense (when you read it like this), but delivering great content on the wrong channels is as bad as showcasing bad content on the right channels. Get your brand communication strategy straight first and you’ll never fall into this trap.
You may not want to hear this, and probably didn’t expect to hear it, but not all of your customers want brand relationships. Seriously? Yes. 77% of your customers just want great deals.
But nearly half of your customers do take brand promises seriously. Customers that don’t trust you won’t listen to you. This isn’t marketing jargon. In 2014, Big Food lost almost 5% of its market share in the U.S. when customers lost faith in the food supply chain. In other words, they lost billions of dollars because customers who read “healthy” on the side of a box or can didn’t believe it anymore.
The takeaway? Many of your customers don’t want anything more than a cash register relationship with you, but half of them need to believe in you to keep going back. So, if you haven’t articulated them, figure out your core values and be true to them across your customer touchpoints.
This doesn’t mean you need to stand up for things or identify with issues just for the sake of appearing “woke”. That will probably backfire as badly as women’s “athleisure” company Lululemon’s tragic “resist capitalism” promotion in 2020. The entire world called BS on that in minutes, for good reason. Lululemon was valued at $45 billion at the time.
You can see similar values misfires throughout marketing history, but perhaps none worse than Groupon’s cretinously tone-deaf ad for discount Tibetan food back in 2011.
So, while false woke is definitely bad, unwoke is probably worse. And while it’s generally good to stay true to your core values, if those values are toxic to the public, it’s time to rethink them.
Just like Richard Hendricks, the fictional CEO of Pied Piper in Mike Judge’s awesome sitcom Silicon Valley, in the real world, every great visionary from Ida Lovelace to Elon Musk (cringe!) has succeeded because they never gave up on their ideas.
Starbucks almost folded in 2008, but rose from its own ashes thanks to CEO Howard Schultz. Apple was a ruin when Steve Jobs rehelmed it in 1997. Spanx might never have existed if Sarah Blakely hadn’t stood up against the haters who said pantyhose had to have feet. The rest is history.
Bold visions sometimes stumble and fail, yes. But the successful fall and get up and keep going again. As once-homeless 10-year-old Chess Master Tanitoluwa Adewumi recently said, “When you lose, you have made a mistake, and that can help you learn. I never lose. I learn.”
Finally, this goes without saying, but everything we’ve talked about, from choosing your marketing channels and articulating your core values to knowing how to proceed after a fail, is easier in a listicle than it is in the real world.
Brand communication is tough. Don’t make it tougher than it has to be. If you’ve figured out your branding but are still at sea with your marketing strategy, reaching out to a full-stack digital marketing agency to help you with your brand communication might be the best decision you ever make.