OPINION: People don’t really care about your brand as much as you do

Wander Bruijel

Wander Bruijel, Senior Partner, Brand Strategy & Provocation at Born Ugly, talks about how crucial it is for brands to stay always on.


Many business leaders make the mistake of mixing up brand and the act of branding. While brand is about creating intangible value, branding is the tangible act of realising that value. By mixing up the two, brand is relegated to a commercial tool that you can either switch on or off. A tactical absolute.

Businesses often also fall into the trap of feeling like they need to make a choice between sales driving and brand building. Increasingly, businesses are placing an inordinate over-emphasis on the scourge of ‘performance marketing’.

This is a fallacy.

Sales and brand building is not a zero-sum game. It has long been proven that short term sales activation reduces effectiveness in the long term. Conversely, activations that focus on building brands don’t just deliver long-term brand effectiveness, but also the short-term sales.

The most powerful force in the universe is indifference. And the ugly truth is that customers don’t really care about you or your brand.

They don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about you as you spend thinking about you.

Especially in times of crisis. They only sort of care when they care – either because something in their environment has meant they need to consider you, or you’ve done something that has made them sit up and take notice.

The point being is that a brand is always on. You can’t just switch it off and expect people to take notice of you. People are busy ignoring you until they don’t or can’t. So when people don’t care about you, it is more important to make them ‘notice’ you so that when the time comes for them to care your brand is the one that is top of mind.


Build that brand

For businesses to grow they need to focus on turning category buyers into brand buyers.

To do that, you need to be present in the memory of light & non-buyers of your brand. This is a principle already well established, but still ignored by many business and marketing leaders who tend, particularly in times of crisis, to focus effort and resource on the ‘low hanging fruit’ of loyal brand buyers. This is a mistake.

You need to build not just physical availability, but also mental availability. That is, you need to not just be easy to find and buy, but you need to be easily thought of when it matters. And building effective mental availability can only be done by making the right brand associations, i.e. connecting emotionally with those that could be interested in your brand. Making people feel something about you because feelings anchor memories.

Part of building those emotional anchors is ensuring that you have a differentiated story, but also the distinctive brand assets to tell that story and imbuing them with the right emotional connotations in the blink of an eye.

Too often, businesses fall into the trap of over-focussing on ‘performance marketing’, which is destroying brands and the art of marketing. There are myriad examples out there of spamming brands chasing us at every touch point.

If brands genuinely placed the customer at their heart, they would steer away from this relentless customer and irrelevant presence, regardless of how attractive it is from a short-term point of view.

That is why brand awareness is a critical indicator of a brand’s health. For people to consider you, they need to be aware of you. And the only real measure of success is whether the right people remember you for the right things at the right time.

So, the question isn’t whether you should invest in building your brand or for how long to be successful. The question is, how should you build your brand for the long term?


Ensure your sales driving and brand building activities work together

The key thing is ensuring that you use your activation and brand building in right way in the right mix, and not to confuse marketing with brand.

The two are not the same.

One is about driving demand, the other about driving connection and relevance. At a minimum, short term activation should not go at the cost of brand building, nor should brand building go unchecked without some tangible results.

The fallacy is that brands are tending towards short termism in the belief that longer-term brand building activities don’t drive short-term sales. This isn’t true.

It’s long been proven that a focus on brand can drive short term commercial results.

Despite this however, the key of achieving results lies in seeing brand not as a commercial tool, but as its essence and core value.

If businesses deploy brand as a commercial tool, it soon gets compromised. We’ve seen that in last year’s Bud Light controversy. Rather than standing by its expressed values as soon as sales were impacted it backtracked and promised to focus future marketing promotions on music and sport.

If Bud Light truly championed the inclusive values it was initially promoting, then it would have stood by Dylan Mulvaney, regardless of the potential detrimental impact to profit, instead of hanging her out to dry.

This is why I often quip that brand doesn’t belong in the marketing department, even if the act of branding does.

By aligning your short-term activation and brand building, brands benefit from a cohesive and resonant message that permeates every customer interaction. This consistency across short term activations and brand-building initiatives enhances a brand’s presence in the minds of the would-be-buyer. This ensures that people who are busy ignoring your brand will notice and remember you when it matters, meaning that when the time is right to care, they care.

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