We know, we know. You’ve heard the term so much these days, it likely goes in one ear and shoots out the other. But brand awareness is not some overhyped phrase touted from an advertising firm’s rooftops. And it’s certainly not a bunch of untested or underdeveloped marketing strategies distracting you from other “real” business goals.
Because let’s face it: If people don’t know about you, it’s going to be pretty hard for them to buy from you — which means you’re going to have a tough time staying in business.
Knowing how to create brand recognition and ways to increase brand awareness is the antidote. In a market where it seems logos, slogans, symbols and advertisements are everywhere, how can you improve your brand awareness to rise above the noise? We’ve got a few strategies.
1. Cultivate a Referral Program
Referral programs are systems that incentivize current customers or clients to talk about their experiences with your business. A cousin to traditional word-of-mouth advertising, referral programs today focus on highlighting web and mobile testimonials alongside promoting lead generation.
A good referral program not only encourages and amplifies a positive consumer experience. It entices that consumer to go one step further and recommend a friend or family directly to your brand. When done consistently, it’s a model that boosts your brand awareness in one of the most natural and coveted manners possible.
Referral programs are marketing magic because they accomplish a few key things.
- Brand familiarity: Consumers are far more apt to like a new product or service when they learn about it from a trusted source. Referral programs directly tap into this phenomenon, establishing awareness and an emotional connection without high acquisition costs on your end.
- Brand amplification: Glowing reviews of your brand can turn into testimonials on your website. You can also share testimonials on social media. Promote interactions with social media posts through lead targeting and incentivizing shares and further comments. Wash, rinse, repeat, then watch your brand grow.
- Brand loyalty: Referred customers are 18 percent more loyal to a company, compared to a customer captured through other forms of advertising. That loyalty directly generates tomorrow’s profits.
- Customer reciprocity: Referral programs also promote a two-way, interactive relationship between you and your customer base, and rewards them for that interaction, which further encourages a faithful following.
If that wasn’t enough, referral programs have been shown to create customers with the highest net customer lifetime value — meaning the money your business makes from them substantially outweighs the amount you had to invest to nurture that relationship. In other words, referral programs pay for themselves — and then some.
2. Develop a Strong Web Presence
Your web presence means the total reach, power, visibility and conversion impact your brand holds across the Internet. For businesses, it goes well beyond your domain and website traffic, encapsulating where your brand or branding-related content shows up online, how often, who searched for it, under what queries and more. Web presence also means branding-related efforts between you and your employees across any personal channels, in addition to the professional ones you manage.
There are so many ways to build a stronger, more dynamic and industry-authoritative web presence — many of which simultaneously help you in further defining and building brand awareness.
- Guest posts or guest content: Guest posting on other industry websites is a leading way to solidify your place as a thought leader. Pitch articles on blogs or platforms your target audience visits, then sweeten the deal with complimentary advertising or free products for the platform. A word of caution here, though: Only do so if you have professional and articulate information to share. You do more harm than good for your brand if you publish sloppy, ill-informed or surface-level content.
- Watermarked digital content: Many free websites exist where you can search stock photos, build infographics or even design a blog or website. Their catch? They tend to watermark their templates, meaning after you’ve designed the finished product, their logo or name still appears — usually at the bottom or corner of a page. It’s a smart digital signature — and one you can employ yourself. Consider creating templates or hosting applications where your brand’s logo or symbols come as a watermarked default. When others use your templates or images, they inadvertently share your brand.
- Pay-per-click advertising: You’ve likely heard the term pay-per-click (PPC) advertising before — especially for younger brands or businesses looking to boost their digital footprint. With PPC campaigns, you pay a search engine to place your content at or near the top of the results, given a particular set of queried keywords. It’s a highly targeted and effective method to boost website traffic and presence, just as long as you do your keyword research.
- Entrepreneur and influencer marketing: Influencer marketing is a growing movement where brands partner with popular authorities to showcase or discuss their products and services. The influencer highlights the brand on their social media pages — usually Facebook and Instagram — amplifying your brand recognition to a potentially huge new audience pool. Consider linking with local entrepreneurs or industry insiders with a following compatible to your brand’s goals.
- Comment on LinkedIn: Use LinkedIn, alongside other professional and industry forums, to make a name for yourself and your associated brand. Comment on thought-provoking pieces, follow industry leaders, share engaging articles and network with others in your area to raise brand awareness.
- E-newsletters: Create an opt-in or e-newsletter subscription message to appear when users land on your website. Perhaps you entice them with a giveaway — a discount coupon, industry whitepaper or even a branded freebie item in return for their email address. Then, send weekly, biweekly or monthly newsletters straight to their inbox, a best practice to keep your brand top of mind.
3. Employ Content Writing and Blogging
Another tested way to increase brand awareness is through strategic content marketing — more specifically, through creating and maintaining a company or professional industry blog.
If you think blogs are only for trendy recipes or as a stay-at-home parent’s side hobby, think again. Blogging is a key asset in one of today’s strongest marketing strategies, since it allows a brand to produce regular content that’s interesting and compelling to their target audience. Most blogs do this by publishing written content or copy, such as through a company blog, where they highlight topics related to their industry or of broader relevance to their viewers.
The aim of content writing is not to hard sell — your blog isn’t a commercial script. Instead, successful content writing taps into many of the psychological factors proven to establish brand awareness and trust within consumers. That’s because you’re showing your brand’s versatility outside of selling a product, instilling a deeper connection to a person’s life and relating to them on an informational and emotional level.
Think of it this way: Instead of inundating the marketplace with product descriptions — and therefore only cultivating a one-note brand — you become the informative friend, the engaging teacher and the helpful confidante. It’s a surefire way to establish brand loyalty and trust, all without selling a thing.
The best-branded blogs set themselves apart through the following ways.
- They know their audience. If you can write with a specific group of people in mind, you will create content primed for likes and shares. Mirroring most advice on marketing a business, having a particular audience makes content hyper-impactful.
- They know the audience’s likes and interests. Say you’re an outdoor apparel company. Yes, your blog could discuss trends in hiking shoes or the latest campfire safety gadget. However, the people who buy from you have so much more to them than a commercial desire for “outdoorsy” things. Deeper reasons attracted them to your company — a love of nature, a sense of adventure, a respite from busy, urban life or a way to spend memorable time with family and friends. Your blog should highlight these topics, establishing a complete sense of lifestyle awareness.
- They are informational and actionable. The best blogs relay pertinent information at the same time they use strategic calls to action and advice the reader can act upon.
- They keep you in the consumer’s mind. Subtly, too, without being pushy or sales-y.
4. Publish Actively on Social Media
A brand with social-media savvy goes beyond consistent posting. These days, to build a strong digital presence through social media, you have to be able to convey who you are and what you’re about — aka, your brand — in those posts, strategically yet creatively.
Social media publishing is a mission-critical way to increase brand awareness today. People pay big bucks for it, too. In fact, social media is primed to be the leading form of advertised spending by 2020, surpassing even that of television. Paid or boosted ads on Facebook alone will account for nearly $2.7 billion of the $3.4 billion social-media ad industry budget, with subsequent years poised to see those numbers grow even more.
Luckily, you don’t have to empty your wallet to wield the branding potential of social media. You do, however, have to learn to tailor content relevant to your target audience using smart and savvy brand storytelling.
Make the medium match the message. Consider what makes something “Instagrammable” or “Pin-worthy” on Pinterest. On these platforms, it’s not enough to post photos of your products or services in action, even if you do use a fancy filter. Rather, social media posts are much more likely to gain traction and build brand awareness if they do the following.
- Show personality: Use humor, pose questions, crowdsource content and use a consistent, brand-relevant tone to convey what you’re about. Just remember, don’t craft every post as a sales piece.
- Tell your brand’s story: Users engage with brand narratives because they put a human spin on a traditionally transactional interaction. You can capture this spirit by finding unique, creative and emotionally impactful ways to put a face on your brand and what you do, from spotlighting employees or customers to even revealing past business mistakes or failures.
- Use multimedia: Videos, GIFs, photos, polls, quotes, infographics, website links, industry articles — diversify your posts to keep your brand fresh and viewers engaged while still maintaining a cohesive identity.
- Keep it interactive: Social media has revolutionized the way consumers and companies interact. Rather than be resigned to phone calls with customer service lines or general representatives, your followers can shoot you a message, comment on your content or even post on your pages. You receive real-time notices and can respond accordingly.
5. Create Custom Hashtags
While we’re on the topic of social media, let’s reveal another brand-hacking strategy: creating and sharing custom hashtags.
Hashtags are not only trendy, but innately versatile, useful both online and in person. They generate public social media conversation around your company, your events and your brand updates, which means more eyes — and more potential leads — coming your way.
You can easily post your hashtag alongside brand-relevant social media content, though hashtags are most appropriate on Twitter and Instagram. The best-branded hashtags tend to follow these rules.
- They’re short and sweet, capturing the spirit or personality of your business.
- They take on your brand’s tone, rather than clash or distract from it. If most of your digital presence veers authoritative or professional, so should your hashtags. If you tend to post frequent funny or lighthearted content, make your hashtags equally entertaining.
- They’re topical to your industry, helping viewers find you through their social media searches.
- They’re catchy, using humor, wordplay, cadence or other mnemonic tactics to imprint brand recognition.
- They’re focused, with different hashtags for different marketing initiatives. For example, say you want to crowdsource pictures of clients using their favorite product of yours. The hashtag you’d pick for this campaign would be different than, say, one devised to generate hype for the opening of a second location.
What’s more, hashtags are easy to take off the screen and use in real life. Print hashtags on your brand’s promotional materials, from swag bags to tumblers to mobile power banks to fidget spinners. In doing so, you further boost brand awareness and harmonize your company’s on- and offline appearance.
6. Foster Community Involvement
How likely is it that if you rummage through your T-shirt drawer right now, you could pull out more than a few free items with company logos — maybe from a run or walk-a-thon, a sporting event, an art show, theater performance or even a concert on the green?
All these events take place in your community — and they’re prime opportunities for building brand awareness.
You can set up a booth at a festival, sponsor a local sports team, set up shop at a neighborhood farmers’ market or look to put together a community day of your own. Any opportunity to get involved with your community is a keen strategy to get your brand out in front of real people, as well as curate a sense of belonging and connection.
Some of the sharpest brand awareness strategies use community functions to complement their promotional product distribution. In fact, nearly 85 percent of people who receive a free promotional product at an event will look upon that brand favorably. Promotional products are also one of the least expensive cost-per-impression forms of advertising available today, with direct ties to greater brand awareness and recall.
7. Participate in Local Networking Opportunities
Professional events and industry networking kill two birds with one stone. First, you expand your personal visibility and range of professional connections, which is canon for today’s entrepreneur. Second — and more pertinently — you raise brand awareness in a relevant and suitable environment.
Networking can mean different things to different people. Some use every public-facing opportunity they have to hand out custom business cards and promotional products — even a trip to the dentist. Others participate in networking events where meeting and greeting other brands and brand representatives is the focal point. Still others take their networking online, using LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms to establish their professional presence and increase brand visibility in the ways mentioned above.
Keep an eye out for local networking events in particular. Participation in these offers the most direct foothold into your industry and its web of professional connections, which in turn can give you entry points into other people, places and markets. The power of networking isn’t disappearing anytime soon — and you never know what doors it’ll open down the road.
Here are a few tried-and-true networking opportunities to increase brand visibility.
- Tradeshows or conventions: Industry tradeshows abound. Nabbing a booth at one and stocking it full of eye-catching signs, information, promotional materials, products and freebies — plus curating a fully branded convention experience — is a premier way to validate your brand and get it in front of eyes that matter.
- Conferences: Similar to tradeshows, industry conferences educate as much as they offer a chance to raise your brand’s awareness in front of a target audience pool.
- Local entrepreneur cocktail hours: Many cities and professional organizations host local entrepreneur nights, happy hours or casual events with the bonus twist of prime interpersonal networking. Research those in your area — or start your own.
8. Sponsor a Local Charity
Charity partnerships offer no shortage of ways to further create brand recognition — but in a fundamentally refreshing way, without any traditional marketing spins or slants.
While sponsoring a local charity can certainly help get your name out into the community, it also achieves deeper strategic business goals. Like content marketing, this form of brand awareness helps establish a trust factor within the eyes of the consumer, something that’s subjectively intangible and emotion-based. It’s notoriously hard for brands to curate this on their own. Some of today’s most successful brand identities have grown to be so because of their social stewardship.
What’s more, your brand hardly has to be a corporate giant to participate in corporate-like social responsibility. Whether you donate money to local charities, partner with one to put on a specific event or fundraiser, do pro bono work or participate in regular community outreach, all these charitable activities imbue your brand with equally charitable status. You can highlight this work across several of your platforms, from pictures on social media to posts on your blog to socially responsible mission statements to event awareness merchandise you exclusively produce.
There’s no shortage of potential in this, as numerous studies have found more than half of consumers will pay more for a product if its brand has a positive social impact. Furthermore, across generations and age groups, sponsoring and partnering with local charities carries weight. Nearly 86 percent of millennials believe brands have a greater responsibility to the public and should work beyond merely earning profits, while 88 percent expect such behaviors from their employer.
Note, however, branded charity sponsorships only work if they’re authentic. Pick causes you fundamentally believe in. Then find ways to work with a suitable charity that fits your comfort level, professionalism and the tone and direction of your brand. Anything else will come off as being disingenuous.
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