Do you want big swells in response rates and engagement? Add brand awareness to your marketing arsenal. And be yourself while you’re at it. Don’t badvertise.
Branding isn’t necessarily brainwashing
You probably already know this: The goal of branding is to create lasting impressions in the hearts and minds of your audience. And you know that big brands and small companies approach branding from different perspectives.
We all take distinct routes to the same destination: being memorable and top-of-mind. But branding isn’t just a long-term process of coercion (college word!). It’s also powerful for short-term gains.
How to pretend you’re NOT a monolithic empire
The big brand method is anchored in personification. Large companies use branding tricks to humanize their businesses. The top two gimmicks are emotional associations and personality-like traits.
Corporations attempt to embody feelings, personality archetypes, attitudes, words, songs, and catchphrases. Then they use repetition and familiarity to drive their message home over countless impressions. It’s basically hypnosis and psychological manipulation.
Subaru isn’t love. Coke doesn’t equal happiness. Harley Davidson does not equate to freedom (or rebellion). It’s their brand messaging telling you otherwise.
3 ways small businesses are less deceptive
Small businesses are naturally personified by their staff. So personification isn’t the right emphasis. Effective small business branding revolves around authenticity. The branding tactics most useful for small businesses are positioning, alignment, and clarification.
- Positioning emphasizes the differences between your business and the competition. Some might argue the correct term to be differentiation. Agree to disagree, branding nerds.
- Alignment ensures that your communications resonate with audience needs, desires, and concerns. The idea is to transparently connect your core business to audience expectations and motivations.
- Clarification states and repeats the obvious. Most small businesses assume too much. Often, it isn’t clear what makes your business special. Many successful small businesses occupy a niche in a distinct market segment. The tighter the niche, the less likely that people understand what you do.
“The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability.” — Simon Mainwaring
Why are all the cool kids saying “brand-centric?”
First off, brand-centric does not mean self-centered. Brand-centric is a strategic approach to marketing communication. Brand-centric advertising intentionally conveys brand attributes.Brand-centric does not mean self-centered. It means you're being #intentional. Click To Tweet
But that doesn’t mean a brand-centric ad isn’t promotional or informative. It’s simply focused around your brand epicenter and connected to your audience.
5 ways to screw your brand with badvertising
Small businesses make similar advertising and marketing mistakes. The biggest offender is information overload. Left to their own devices, small businesses tend to create busy, complex advertisements. Here’s how they do it:
- Advertising everything to everyone at the same time (mixed messaging)
- Lack of segmentation and targeting
- Over-valuing graphic design, aesthetics, and visual interest
- Too many pictures, features, specifications, and details
- Assuming their audience understands their core business
How do I know this? Because I’ve written and designed thousands of advertisements for small businesses over the past 15 years. The biggest challenge I face is shoveling 10 pounds of advertisement into a 5-pound layout.
How do you fix these problems? The simplest solution is a brand-centric approach.
Messaging is the antidote to overkill
Brand-centric ads emphasize messaging. Messaging condenses detailed content into conceptual frameworks that are easier to digest. It only requires a little introspection. The key to small business messaging is skipping the gimmicks and staying authentic.
Messaging is a distillation process which produces potency. Potency is the power to affect the heart and mind. And it’s incredibly persuasive.
Besides being potent, brand-centric ads are clearer. They connect and resonate with your audience. They typically get higher response rates and better engagement.
Branding, advertising, marketing, and baking
Branding and advertising are subsets of marketing. A lot of people overlook branding and confuse advertising with marketing. But the distinction is simple. All advertisements are marketing. Not all marketing is advertising. Branding affects both advertising and marketing.
Marketing is the whole pie. Advertising is a single slice of the pie. Branding is more like an ingredient.
If your marketing were an apple pie, then branding would be the apples. Branding doesn’t get its own slice. It can’t be separated from advertising or marketing. It’s always embedded but not always well-represented.
5 popular elements of branding
- Your logo: To be clear, your logo is not your brand. Brands are experiential and intangible. Logos are visual devices that create consistency and familiarity.
- Slogans and taglines: Slogans are used for memorability while taglines add clarity. Just Do It is Nike’s slogan. The Ultimate Driving Machine is BMW’s tagline. The difference is that taglines are more specific than slogans. But the terms are often used interchangeably.
- Brand identity design: Identity design is often confused with a business suite (business card, letterhead, and stationery design). Any visual device relating to your business is an example of brand identity. Your website? Yes. The carpet and paint colors in your lobby? Yes, that’s brand identity also.
- Brand messaging: Messaging is the careful selection of words that create your brand vocabulary. For example, let’s look at “Custom engineering solutions from the industry experts.” There’s only one word that’s specific enough for branding: engineering. All the other words are filler or modifiers. Modifiers are great for copywriting but not appropriate for messaging.
- Storytelling: Brand storytelling helps your audience understand your motivations and remember you. People naturally have a narrative bias. Information that’s presented in story form is easier to retain and understand.
That’s all the branding ammunition you need to start leveraging brand-centric advertising. To all the audio engineers and composers out there, branding includes jingles, sound effects, songs, voiceovers, and audio stingers. But we’re not going there right now. We’re heading towards email marketing.
What goes into a brand-centric email?
To keep things simple, let’s focus on email marketing. For the vast majority of small businesses, email is your best avenue for brand awareness. Here are the fundamentals:
- Graphic design: establishes your ad’s first impression and visual interest. Effective graphic design communicates professionalism, leads the eye, and enhances usability.
- Brand identity: incorporates consistency and reinforces visual brand attributes. Maybe your brand uses specific textures, geometric shapes, or colors? The repeated use of distinct visual devices reinforces brand identity and familiarity. In addition, brand identity design often includes conceptual undertones and symbolic meaning.
- Brand messaging: emphasizes your brand vocabulary and amplifies authenticity, positioning, alignment, and clarity.
- Copywriting: the words that persuade, entice, and motivate your audience to take action.
- Content: specific text and images that provide supporting details. To help you understand the difference between ad copy and content: Copy sells and content tells.
Cutting through the clutter
The most common mistake with HTML email marketing is serving too much content. Content overkill confuses your recipients and leads to visually complex experiences with lots of detail.
If your emails have high open rates and low click rates, you’re probably serving too much content. Product specifications are major offenders. Your emails don’t need them. That’s why you have landing pages and product pages on your website.
Graphic design to the rescue?
Graphic design can only do so much to deal with content overkill and clutter. You can improve usability and readability with design, but it doesn’t eliminate complexity. It can’t completely solve the problem.
And yes, this is coming from a designer with nearly two decades of professional experience. Graphic design doesn’t fix bad strategy.Graphic design doesn't fix bad #strategy. Click To Tweet
Content-heavy emails don’t perform as well as brand-centric alternatives. How do I know? It’s easy to test email effectiveness. You only need to know two metrics: your open and click rates.
From many years of email marketing experience, I’ve seen a clear trend in effectiveness. Less content and the right messaging improves both open rates and click rates.
Your open rate improves a little because messaging makes your ads clearer. The click rate significantly swells because simplicity removes friction and increases engagement.
It’s not uncommon to see 200-300% increases in clicks when rolling out a brand-centric email marketing strategy. Also, I’ve never seen a brand-centric email perform worse than a purely promotional alternative. You stand to lose nothing by adding messaging and reducing content.
Your conversion funnel
We’ve covered the brand-centric concept in depth. But why is it called an awareness campaign? Awareness isn’t just something that happens in your audience’s minds. It’s also the top of your conversion funnel.
The top five steps represent an online conversion funnel. The bottom three steps represent a traditional sales funnel. From my experience, the average small business doesn’t have sophisticated marketing systems. They can’t segment and target two funnels (let alone eight distinct conversion stages).
The beauty of brand messaging is that it works for all steps in the conversion and sales process. The email itself is a primer. It deals directly with awareness, interest, and engagement (hopefully your subscribers already trust you). From there, the goal is to turn the job over to your landing page.
Brand-centric ads have the most impact when email messaging and copywriting align with the content on your landing page. You sell with the email and tell with your website.
Basic psychology: People make emotional decisions. Afterward, they use logic to rationalize and corroborate their feelings. So appeal to their senses first (in the email). Then give them the rationale that supports their decision (on your landing, product, and service pages).
So many sales people and marketers lead with rationale. The argument is always the same, “Our customers are so specialized that they just want the facts.” That’s not always true. Your customers are the same as everybody else. They’re people.
People choose with instinct and support their decisions with logic. Don’t forget that fleshy pump in the middle of your chest. That’s the real target.
OK, how do I make a brand-centric ad?
The easiest way to emphasize your brand is to shift your energies from content and design to copywriting and messaging. Remember, it’s the potency of your words that persuades people to take action. So create a simpler email with fewer, more distinct words.
Can you think of a single brand word for each of the following?
- Your core business
- Your audience objections
- Your unique solution
- Basic human desire
- Your audience expectations
- Your special sauce
- What motivates your audience
If you can isolate seven words, then you’re well on your way to brand messaging and brand-centric marketing.
Want to learn more about email marketing design? Check out 5 Design Tips for Better Looking Emails. You’re going to like the first two tips.