There are millions of smaller businesses opening up and that number is only growing. Medium-sized businesses are on the rise as well. This presents a problem of an oversaturation of brands that people are just used to tuning out. Businesses need to reach their audience from within a sea of brands and form a relationship henceforth, but this is difficult when people cannot distinguish brands. When people cannot distinguish brands from each other they cannot form reliable relationships with those brands.
In order for a brand to gain any sort of familiarity, reputation, or relationship with customers, it needs to be able to stand out from other brands. Sure, familiarity with a brand’s products or services can lead to an association, but a good brand will readily conjure up an image of itself in people’s minds when thinking about its products or services. What is it that makes a brand so stark in people’s minds?
In a crowd of competing brands, the one that stands out the most is the one that is the most original, the most different. It is easy to pick out an orange object in a sea of blue, but much harder to find a specific orange leaf in a pile of leaves in the autumn season. This is the same with brands. When brands look the same, it is very easy to blend them together into one pile. The one that stands out is in essence the one that is not like the rest.
Difference for difference sake is not the message here, however. What makes a brand original needs to be something positive. It is the reason people would choose it over other brands. What does it offer that its competitors do not? What does it do differently that its competitors do not? This is the bedrock on which a brand stands.
A brand that does not know who it caters to cannot develop itself congruently. A brand needs to resonate with its audience and it is quite unlikely that everyone will resonate with the same thing the exact same way.
A good brand has a well-outlined target audience. It knows who it caters towards and understands how to do so. Research is important to establish how a brand can fit into its niche. What does its target audience resonate with? How can it reach its target audience?
A brand can even use its target audience as an original characteristic to stand out. Is it offering a service or product exclusively to women in a niche that typically does not take women into account? That is a way that brands can carve out their originality using their target audience.
People cannot resonate with a faceless company. A brand needs to have a personality. Although brands are intangible constructs, people make associations between colours, tone, shape, and values to project onto brands. By all means, the fast-food chain Wendy’s has no personality – it is just a business – but its presence on social media gives off the opposite impression. The way the brand roasts people on social media paired with its logo displaying a personified image of Wendy’s already sets the brand as this witty, fun entity.
It is the tendency of humans to ascribe human characteristics to non-humans, including abstract concepts. “Life has been good to me” and “This application is fighting against me” are both examples of this. A brand just needs to create this narrative and people will fill in the rest. A good brand knows what kind of personality resonates with its target audience. It knows how colour and shapes can give off different impressions. This is the link between brand imagery and personality.
A brand does not even need a fully fleshed out backstory worth five novels to have personality. All it needs is a core value. This one value will influence everything else about a brand. From this core value, smaller traits such as customer interaction, tone, and message can spring forth to produce a brand’s personality. Every brand has “integrity” and “quality” as its values (even if just superficially), so a brand needs to pick something original. A value that makes it stand out from the rest.
Where does a customer fit within a brand? Does a brand incorporate its customers into its brand or are they just a “target audience”, nothing more? Customers want to be treated well and, at the very least, want the illusion that they are not just another customer. Smaller businesses with fewer customers can do this well.
A good brand knows how to centre itself around the customer. It can tell a story that incorporates the customer, putting them at the centre. This can be as simple as brand-centric language versus customer-centric language. This is the difference between “We, Brand X, are the best at Y” and “We, Brand X, understand your Problem Z and are willing to help you by doing Y”.
It is kind of poetic that if a brand does not want to be treated as “just another brand” it should make its customers feel as if they are not “just another customer”.
In order for a brand to stand out, it needs a concrete foundation. The more consistent it is, the more its consistent features are remembered. A consistent brand is one that people can look at and confidently say what it is about. In order for this to happen, consistency is key. Consistent personality, consistent customer relationship, consistent image.
Consistency creates familiarity and predictability which allows customers to better connect with a brand. Consistent associations allow brand imagery to stand out and convey the full brand experience. Think about the McDonald’s logo. When you see that “M” what all comes to mind? All those associations can only exist through consistent pairing.
A brand that stands out is one that can cement itself in people’s minds among the sea of brands. Getting there is an issue that even theoretically good brands may fail at. A memorable brand still needs a way for people to see it once for them to remember it. The easiest way this can be done is through reputation. A well-known brand can easily make others aware of it. However, this is skipping a few steps. How can brands gain this reputation?
One way for brands to gain reputation is by cementing themselves as experts in their particular field. When a brand can illustrate its expertise in a niche field, more and more people will look to them as knowledgeable experts. Even if a brand is relatively unknown, someone may know a customer who knows someone who is in the same sort of field as the brand that can recommend their expertise. Indeed, awareness starts off quite small and increases as time goes on.
A good brand is able to increase the rate at which its target audience becomes aware of it. Engagement on social media clues more and more people in on the brand’s existence. Again, look at Wendy’s. Even locations without access to a Wendy’s chain may know of it if they interact in a similar social media circle. Additionally, brands may write a blog which both serves to generate SEO and explain itself. A good brand knows how to reach its target audience.