When multiple people develop and share the same viewpoint on your brand, this becomes the foundational value of your brand. This means that if people have an overall positive viewpoint or knowledge of your brand, the value of your brand will increase. (The opposite is also true.) This is called your brand equity.
- Equity: how your audience views your brand. It’s the value of a product or company in the mind of the target consumer.
Relying only on how other people see your business is a bit risky, so to guide and shape people’s perception, you create branding.
- Branding: shaping the target consumer’s perception of the product or company in a specific, intentional, and compelling way through equity research, visual identity, and verbal identity
Once you research how your customers view your brand (equity), then you can decide how to intentionally shape the perception of your brand through your verbal and visual identity (branding). Here are six ways you can use branding, messaging, and research to increase the value of your brand in your intended audience.
1. Make your audience the hero with clear brand messaging
Every brand, product, and service exist for the same purpose: to solve a problem. So, it’s time for a mindset change. Your brand doesn’t exist to sell to your audience—it exists to help your audience solve a problem. Show your audience that you can help solve their problem better than your competition can, and you can drive better engagement with your audience. To do this, you’ll want to be super clear about four things:
This problem is both internal and external for your audience. For example, if your business builds new websites, your audience faces the external problem (an old, clunky website that no longer fits their business and brand) and an internal problem (the frustration and embarrassment that comes with an outdated site). People often are more motivated by internal problems (such as embarrassment) than external problems (such as poor SEO).
Once you’ve told people you understand their external and internal problems, tell them the plan to fix it. Keep this as simple as possible, within three to five steps. Most importantly, don’t talk about all the cool things you can do. Talk about all the cool things your audience can do (with your help). Make your audience the hero of this plan.
You want your brand to create change for your audience in a way that fixes both their internal and external problems. So once they’ve recognized the problem and understood the plan, unveil what success looks like. Get them fired up to make change that matters.
The call to action
Don’t stop at the picture of success. You’ve shown your audience how you can fix their problem, and you’ve lined up a plan and painted a gorgeous picture of future triumph. Call them to take action and tell them exactly how to take that first step on the plan.
How it works
Making your audience the hero is easy to talk about, but not quite as easy to visualize. As an example, let’s take a look at two headlines:
- We build learning that improves business performance
This gives all the power to the brand. The brand is the hero here, sweeping in to take control and save the day. Everyone wants improved business performance, right? But what internal problem is this talking about? At best, this sounds like the brand is a know-it-all. At worst, the brand sounds arrogant and self-obsessed. While the brand tries to paint a picture of success (improved business performance), it’s vague and colorless.
- Give your people the confidence to do great work
This hands all the power over to the audience. The brand is no longer the hero. It’s just here to help the audience fix both their external problem (work quality and productivity) and their internal, relatable problem (anxiety, stress, or a lack of confidence in themselves and their work). The brand also paints a clear picture of success that people can relate to (confidently doing great work), and the imperative structure of the sentence functions as a mild call to action (CTA).
2. Keep up to date with your target audience
Your target audience isn’t static. They’re people, so they’re always changing—sometimes the fastest way to lose an audience is by using outdated terminology or visuals. Staying updated shows that you care about your own brand and your audience, building the first steps of trust. (Retro may be coming back, but if you retro wrong, people notice.)
If your brand is well established, you’ll see your audience shift completely over time, and you’ll have to carefully (and slowly) adjust your visuals and your messaging. Think about the contrast between Baby Boomers and Millennials. These are two completely separate audiences with different opinions on, well, just about everything. To make sure you’re saying the right words and designing the right visuals for your audience, check in with them often.
Here are a few ways to make it happen:
- Send out surveys and questionnaires to your audience
- Submit designs and copy to focus groups created from your audience
- Personally interview members of your audience
- Take a close-up look at your website analytics, frequently
- Check out which social platforms your audience uses and see how they communicate
- Use A/B testing to measure audience response to messaging and adjust as necessary
3. Stay true to your audience and to you
When keeping up with your audience, you may find the need to rebrand. Rebranding doesn’t happen often (no more than once in a 5 to 10 year span), and it can mean anything from completely overhauling the entire look and feel of the brand to a simple logo update that softens a few lines and changes a few colors. But be careful not to redo any brand elements just for the sake of something new. Research how your brand and audience has grown and changed, then find ways to pull that history and emotion into your new brand writing and designs.
But don’t stop there. Take another look at your audience. Is this audience right for you and your brand? Check to make sure you’re not watering down your brand equity to fit the wrong mold. If you’re struggling with engagement, your branding might be fine — you might just be talking to the wrong people.
Once you have a firm grasp on your audience, ask both your established customers and your potential customers about what they like and dislike about your brand. Once you collect feedback and pull everything together, take a moment to sort out legitimate changes from trend chasing. Your audience will often get distracted by this latest look or some cutting edge tech, but often it won’t last. Make sure that you stay true to you. This consistent relevance will have a bigger and longer-lasting impact on your audience than trend chasing.
To help stay consistent, develop a brand guide that outlines what your brand looks like and how your brand talks. This internal-facing document helps all your people stay on the same page with your brand.
4. Increase brand awareness with emotional associations
Creating emotional associations with your brand is powerful, especially when looking to increase awareness or sharing. There are three great ways to do this:
Remember a time when you got so into a movie you completely lost track of time? Has an Animal Planet documentary ever made you cry? This is the power of narrative storytelling. It’s psychologically proven to increase emotional connection with your audience, which is why much of the content that sticks with you uses a narrative style. Narrative builds a connection with the audience and inspires specific emotions that call the audience into action.
You’re surrounded by targeted content all day every day. What do you remember? Other than content that’s just strange, we tend to remember content or brands that inspire certain emotions. For example, you’re much more likely to remember high arousal emotions (joy, amusement, awe, and anger) than low arousal emotions. High arousal emotions inspire you to take certain actions, such as sharing the information. Generally (but not always, like with anger), high arousal emotions are positive.
On the other hand, low arousal emotions (sadness, contentment) are likely to decrease response. They don’t encourage action, and people are less likely to talk about feeling sad or content than they are about being excited, amused, or angered. This makes your messaging incredibly important, even down to what your audience is doing when they encounter your brand.
Triggers involve associating your product or service with something else to increase differentiation or recognition. These triggers can range from simple colors to physical objects or mascots. For example, Progressive uses its brand colors (blue and white), a recurring mascot (Flo), and a high arousal emotion (amusement) to trigger brand recognition and increase sharing.
5. Build trust by producing quality work
This might sound like a given, but sometimes in our fast-paced world, quality gets left behind. We get so caught up in meeting deadlines that when the final work is produced, it looks pretty but sure as heck doesn’t solve the underlying problem. And that’s the whole point of a brand — to help their audience solve their problems.
Meeting deadlines is important. But we can’t lose quality along the way. Producing quality work is one of the most powerful ways you can increase the value of your brand, build loyalty, and increase engagement. When your audience is highly engaged with your brand and happy with the quality of your work, they’ll become your ambassadors and spread the word for you. Trust is a key element here. And that trust is based on how well you solve their problem.
6. Show up constantly for your audience
Your brand’s value is affected by more than just positive or negative brand opinions. If you have a great product or service and little to no reception from customers, your equity might be suffering because of a simple lack of knowledge. People can’t value your brand if they don’t know you exist. And they can’t care about your brand if they’re confused about what you sell or do.
So get out there and get yourself know. Find the social platforms that align with your target audience, and keep showing up in whatever cadence you can sustain. The more they see you showing up and being true to who you are, the more reinforcement they will get of your brand. And if they’re the right audience for you, the more you interact, the more they’ll fall in love with your brand.
This means investing the time into simply being present for your audience. Be willing to chat, to comment, and to interact online. If things go wrong, fix them immediately. When your audience passionately engages, study the data and find out why so you can do it again and again. Never be afraid to try things that are new and different.
Increasing your brand equity is a long-term commitment
Growing the value of your brand doesn’t happen with a snap of your fingers. You have a lot of competition—and this means that no matter how amazing your service or product, it takes a lot of time and hard work to keep your brand relevant to your audience.
But if you focus on helping your audience solve their problems, stay relevant, and stay present, you’ll build a loyal audience and a stronger brand that returns on your investment time and time again.
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