Sell the sizzle, not the steak. In advertising parlance, the idea behind a product is called the sizzle. The product itself is the steak. In some cases, the product idea is better than the actual product itself. Think of the vitamin industry. We down millions of vitamin pills each year that nutritionists say are useless because brand-building experts have convinced us otherwise.
Allow the product to sell itself. Often the steak is so good it doesn’t need a lot of sizzle. Go to a Costco store and look at the number of vendors offering free food samples. You can literally eat a 10-course meal in the Costco aisles. Sampling is a great way to get customers to try products without having to commit to a purchase. Here the Rule of Reciprocity kicks in: when you give something, expect something even more in return. At Costco, the free sample often leads to a purchase of the food sampled even it only comes in a gargantuan, feed-the-family-for-6-months size container.
Make your brand the expert in your industry. In brand building, perception can become reality if presented correctly. In most cases, the more visible a brand, the more credible it becomes. Spreading a brand name through social media websites and other online venues can elevate your brand name to the expert level regardless if it’s warranted or not. Does the name Herbalife ring a bell?
Make your message consistent. Successful brand marketing campaigns should be consistent and focused in order to get the message through to the targeted customer. GEICO Insurance is known for its many humorous TV commercials, but the end message is always focused on the same phrase: “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.”
Packaging. Be it a product or a candidate running for political office, packaging is important. Paul Newman’s soups may not taste better than lesser brands, but his familiar face on the package sure sells his soup. Whoever packaged Barrack Obama’s image did a heck of a job elevating a junior senator to a two-term U.S. President.
Engage in the community. One excellent branding technique is to actively instill a brand image into the public’s conscience by sponsoring charity events, donating products and profits to non-profit groups, or adopting a social cause. Gatorade supplied its sports drink to teams for free when they first started out. When dumping an orange-colored tub of cold Gatorade over the winning coach’s head became a fad, that charity paid off.
Develop trust and confidence. Consumers gravitate to products, ideas, or people they trust. Excellent brand-building techniques go a long way in building that public trust. The product or person has to live up to that trust, of course. The best brand name in the world can be lost in a flash if that trust is lost. Think Volkswagen. The largest auto maker in the world is in danger of going bankrupt because the company lost the public trust through its own malpractice. Think “Tricky-Dick” Nixon having to resign his Presidency. Once trust is lost, it’s terribly difficult and expensive to try and regain it back.
Product Consistency. When consumers settle for a thin beef paddy, a pickle slice, and a dab of secret sauce sandwiched between two bun halves and call it a hamburger, they’re saying one thing: they like and want consistency. They know that no matter which of the 15,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States they eat at, the food will always be and taste the same. A good brand strives to make consistency a product platform.
Research your competition. In many ways, brand-building is like a sporting event. To excel in promoting your brand, you need to know your competition. How are you different from them? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Once you’ve figured that out, then you can plan an effective campaign.
What’s in a sound? The way a brand name sounds as it rolls off the tongue is important. If a name sounds harsh or is hard to pronounce, chances are it won’t catch on with the public ear. Even certain letters can make a difference. Researchers have proven the letters x, y and j add a certain tone to words that make them memorable. Humble Oil spent a small fortune selecting a new name before they finally settled on Exxon. But a name can also backfire. Before the word Exxon won out, Enco was the new name of choice. That was before someone discovered ‘Enco’ had a similar pronunciation to a Japanese phrase meaning “stalled car.”
In summary, brand-building strives to create names, symbols or designs that identifies and differentiates it from everyone else. It’s no accident that the Nike ‘swoosh’ can be seen on ball caps and t-shirts in every country in the world. But it’s not because their clothing items are any better than the competition. It’s because Nike understands the value of brand equity (brand loyalty, awareness, brand associations and perceived quality), and that’s why they spend hundreds of millions of advertising dollars each year promoting the Nike swoosh in order to maintain that brand equity.