The Secret to Branding: Start With Showing Your Brand

Part of my role here at Oxford Road is to help clients navigate the treacherous waters of moving into branding territory. Many clients have significant success using a performance model, and then begin the pursuit of branding.

We start with the data, of course. There is better data about branding, and how to build brands, available in 2019 than ever before. For many years it seemed companies relied on voodoo, luck, intuition, and ‘best-practices’ created over cocktails and passed down through generations of marketers. There was little, if any, data to support the practice of brand building. However, that has now changed.

One thing we know, for example, is that successful brand building is about scale. In media terms, that translates into two critical strategic pillars: segmentation and targeting. With regard to segmentation, the critical piece is to define your target audience as widely as possible. (See here and here for previous articles about the perils of the glorification of targeting.) With regard to targeting, it means applying media vehicles that regularly provide the largest possible reach against your defined audience.

Many clients fall into the trap of thinking ‘branding’ is about putting great content out there. This can help, for sure, but its scale can be very limited. There are many clients and marketers who’ll spend a princely sum producing an event or a piece of video for online distribution, and then put it in social channels and wait for it to spread around audiences. Owned social pages have very limited reach, however, because the content algorithms restrict the vast majority of content from their users—otherwise, it would be overwhelming. So if you have, say, 1M Facebook fans and Instagram followers, typically only about 1% (10k on each site) would see the post. It’s clearly bad business to spend $10k on content if you’re only going to reach 20,000 people (a CPM of $500.) So you need to pay for effective distribution, which is the same model that has always been used. Many brands are not paying enough for distribution. For those that are, the question they should be asking themselves is whether they’re investing in the right channels for branding, how much reach they’re betting against their widely-defined audience, and is that reach and are those impressions cost-effective? In many digital channels, the answer is a simple ‘no.’

Another of the fundamental building blocks of branding is a brand recall. A prestigious client of mine developed a really cute TV spot with a girl and her dad playing at home to showcase their line of home-cleaning products. It had good production values and was nicely executed. However, the branding was woeful and—perhaps most interestingly—this was missed by every single one of the dozens of people involved in the process from conception to execution. How does that happen?! The product shots were brief, the angles and light made the product itself hard to pick out and the branding was illegible and practically invisible. It was no great surprise when the campaign tanked. Who would know what this commercial sold?

It should go without saying that branding has primacy (and kudos to Jenni Romaniuk (link) who has been saying it for years). The average brand recall rate from commercials is somewhere between 30% – 50%. This means up to 70% of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on advertising each year is wasted! Is there any other industry where such incompetence would be tolerated? In architecture, this means buildings falling down! In medicine, dead patients piling up! Yet apparently in our field, it’s perfectly acceptable.

Romaniuk and Co. have identified* 3 key pointers to increase brand recall, which can be used either in branding spots or within our own Audiolytics™ framework to increase recall. When you hear them they seem obvious, and yet they are frequently ignored. They are 1) brand frequency (visual where possible); 2) early brand presence; 3) dual mode branding, i.e. visual and verbal exposure (where applicable).  

I urge all of you on the verge of branding to research those pointers and dig more deeply into her work. There is much more that can be said about the journey to branding, but focusing initially on these basic points about reach and recall will put you ahead of much of the competition. We look forward to partnering with you on this journey here at Oxford Road. Please let us know how we can help.

* [Journal of Advertising Research, Volume 49, No. 2]

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