We usually view branding as creating a recognizable look and sound for your business. It makes sense that you’d be the one to make all the decisions about how you want your brand to look, sound, and feel, right? After all, green is your color and ultra-modern the look you like.
But before you start sketching out the logos, it’s critical to ask yourself, “Who is my audience, and why would they pick my brand?” To answer these questions, we need to dig into a little (well, big) topic called brand equity.
- Equity: how your audience views your business. It’s the value of a product or company in the mind of the target consumer.
We can’t always perfectly control what people think about ourselves or our brand. But we can work to guide that perception in a positive way. This is what we call branding.
- Branding: shaping the target consumer’s perception of the product or company in a specific, intentional, and compelling way.
Through the brand equity work, we study the perceptions of the target consumers and develop branding that shapes those perceptions into something positive—both for our brand and our customers.
To build strong brand equity, focus on your target audience
During your brand equity work, keep your target audience as your main focus. Before you start messaging your brand, you need to understand your target audience’s mindset and how your brand uniquely meets their needs. Without this understanding, you’ll end up on a busy street corner, shouting your message to anyone who will listen. And then, as the saying goes, “If you market to everyone, you market to no one.”
On the flip side, when you know how your target audience views your brand, you can begin figuring out how to best shape that perception for positive growth. Let’s take a deeper look at why this matters.
Knowing your equity helps you create consistent messaging
When you know your target audience, you can brand yourself in their language. When you speak their language consistently, they feel understood and appreciated. This increases your brand value (equity).
For example, when you’re spending time with people, you feel the most at ease when they’re talking about subjects you know and appreciate. (It also helps when they use the same vocabulary and understand all your pop culture references.)
Let’s take a look at Apple’s 2018 holiday short, titled “Share Your Gifts.” It’s a colorful animated short about a young creative who faces and overcomes her fear of sharing her gifts with the world. At first glance, it seems different than Apple’s usual communication. But if you take a deeper look, you see that everything about the short speaks the same language as Apple’s primary audience of young professionals and creatives. The Pixar-esque ad targets this young adult audience while spilling over into the secondary audience (such as younger teens) as well.
On-brand messaging resonates with your audience
When your target audience feels understood, those feelings differentiate your brand from competitors and create a sense of connection.
When you’re looking for someone to spend time with, you’ll naturally choose to spend time with a good friend who “gets you” rather than a total stranger. People respond to brands in a similar manner.
To take a second look at “Share Your Gifts,” Apple talks about something that almost everyone in their primary audience can relate to—fear of other people’s opinions. They empathize with their audience by having the main character live out their audience’s feelings—creating a powerful connection.
Great branding builds positive associations and affinities
Once you’ve established a sense of connection with your target audience, your audience associates the brand with certain emotions or situations.
“Share Your Gifts” associates Apple with making brave creative decisions. On a more general note, Nike does a great job at associating themselves with overcoming challenges and pushing the limits. Jeep connects with their audience through a call to go anywhere and do anything.
When this emotional connection is strong enough, the brand becomes inexorably associated with a certain feeling. In some cases, this can turn the audience into brand ambassadors, who share the feeling they’ve received from the brand with others.
Understanding equity helps guide your brand
Great branding is powerful, especially when it connects emotionally and forms associations. But this power has the ability to be positive or negative. That’s why it’s critical to know your audience before you start the branding process, so you can guide these associations in a positive direction with your brand communications. In turn, this increases your brand equity—the perceived value of your brand.
Once you get to know your target market, equity is a gift that keeps on giving. It informs your brand’s visual identity, shapes voice and tone, and becomes the concrete foundation for all your messaging strategies.
3 pieces that make up intentional brand equity
Now that we’ve established the importance of knowing your audience’s perspective, let’s break the idea of brand equity into three actionable parts.
- Target audience
- Core benefit
- Reasons to believe
Your target audience is always the foundational launch point of your brand. Your brand’s core benefit and the reasons to believe all tie back to identifying exactly who your audience is. This means it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start asking a lot of questions.
1. Who are your primary and secondary target audiences?
First, define your target audiences into two parts, your primary and secondary audience. Then, look at both audiences, not as a collection of people who share an interest in your brand, but rather as two individuals. You’ll use this perspective to build primary and secondary audience profiles and personas. These two personas are your brand VIPs. They guide all (yes, all) of your marketing and branding, so your goal is to make them as accurate and tangible as possible.
Start by going out and doing customer research. Find real people (preferably in face-to-face meetings) who express an interest in your brand. Look at who they are and what they do, and listen to how they talk and express themselves. You can begin with sociographic and demographic research, such as:
- Age, marital status, kids
- Industry, career, income
- Hobbies and topics they love
- Things they hate or avoid
- Where they live and work
With this information, you can begin sketching out basic audience profiles that will help you build your brand personas. But you don’t want to stop here. You can write out audience profiles all day, but if you don’t connect your audience’s needs to your product or service, then the point’s been missed completely. Take a deep look at your audience’s pain points. What tensions follow them through day-to-day life? What keeps them awake at night? What’s their motivation for getting up every morning?
Once you know the tensions and motivations of your audience, you can step directly into their story and guide them to a solution.
Extra tip: empathy is the key to connecting with your audience
As Apple shows with “Share Your Gifts,” the key to making your brand work relies on establishing empathy for your audience. You’re not just selling them something—you’re helping them take action to make a real difference in their own lives. You have to approach your audience with a genuine desire to help them make their lives better.
To establish genuine empathy, all you need to do is simply get to know your audience. When you take the time to look closely at who your audience is, you’ll begin developing empathy naturally.
It can also help to take a different perspective. Instead of asking, “How can we get our customers to buy more of our product?” ask, “How can our products or services help make our audience’s lives better?” When people see that you’re honestly looking to help them out, they’ll be more likely to build that emotional connection and invest long-term in your products or services.
2. What is your brand’s core benefit?
Your brand’s core benefit should answer the question, “How does our product or service benefit our audience?” In other words, if your audience looks at your brand and asks, “So what? Why should we care?” you answer with your core benefit. This benefit should always be a single sentence or phrase, and it should explain what makes your brand different and what emotional impact your brand makes on the target audience.
That’s a lot of ground for a simple sentence to cover. So, exercise every ounce of concision, pack the core benefit with only the good stuff, and keep it short and sweet. Double check that every word has a purpose and make sure everything relates directly to what you learned from the customer research.
Most importantly, this core benefit should focus on that emotional connection between you and your audience. “Save time and reduce stress” won’t connect with your audience as well as “face each day prepared and confident.”
Extra tip: your core benefit is not a mission statement
The mission statement is generally internal-focused (what we do and why we do it), while your core benefit is audience-focused (what the audience gets from your brand). When writing your core benefit, keep your focus on your audience, not yourself.
3. What are the main reasons to believe?
Even though your core benefit should be strong enough to stand on its own, it helps to give it some extra support. The reasons to believe (RTBs) are the supporting statements for your core benefits. The strongest RTBs work as tangible and functional support for the more emotionally-driven core benefit.
Reasons to believe are single words, such as easy, time-saving, or approachability. Each RTB is backed up by a short description that explains how this word helps ease audience tensions and increase audience motivations. Most brands use around three RTBs to support the core benefit, but the amount of RTBs can flex according to the complexity of the brand.
Putting the pieces together
At first glance, building brand equity with these elements can seem like a lot of work. And to be honest, there’s no miraculous snap of the fingers that gets you instant results. Developing your brand equity takes time, research, and patience, and it pays off with an engaged audience, a strong brand, and consistent messaging.
When you know who you are, you can speak from a place of knowledge and confidence. And when you know who your audience is, you can tailor your voice to match their needs, appease their worries, and build a stronger connection. Your audience can sense when you’re being genuine, and they appreciate that. And they especially appreciate the personalization that your equity work creates.
Knowing your audience builds you a foundation. And on this foundation, you can build a solid brand with a powerful connection to your audience that will stay relevant for years to come. Excited yet? We are.
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