By Karen Radkowsky and Allen Adamson
Ask a minyan what a brand is and you’ll likely get ten different answers. In short, brands are the mental associations that get stirred up when you think or hear about a particular car or clothing line, beverage or bank, appliance or digital app – even a country or organization. When a brand name comes up, you react – positively or negatively – depending on how those mental associations make you feel: The Red Cross, Planned Parenthood, UNICEF.
The task of building and managing brands – known as branding – is very challenging, and getting more so every day. That’s because it’s harder and harder to stand out in today’s noisy, crowded and hyper-competitive marketplace.
With that in mind, here are some of the core branding and communications principles we’ve learned and applied over and again working with some of the world’s most successful brands.
1. Start thinking – and acting – like a brand.
While this may sound obvious, branding means recognizing that everything you do needs to be consistent with your brand – not just your communications, but your actions, behaviors, and initiatives.
FedEx is a great example. All their employees are united behind the Purple Promise: to make every FedEx experience outstanding. No matter who you interact with at FedEx – be it the customer service rep or the delivery person – every employee knows what they need to do to deliver the right brand experience across all customer touch points.
In a nonprofit, the responsibility for communicating what your brand stands for belongs to everyone within the organization. Your employees, as well as your volunteers and board members, are all brand ambassadors. Everyone associated with your brand has the potential to strengthen its image – or to weaken it.
2. If you target everyone, you will matter to no one.
Since unflavored vodka is colorless, odorless and flavorless, all brands are essentially the same. Yet over the past decade, Tito’s Handmade Vodka achieved an average annual compound rate of 38.3% by focusing on a niche Millennial target with an affinity for authentic, homegrown products and a love of pups. The brand sponsors indie music festivals and bills itself as ‘Vodka for Dog People.’
No brand (or cause) ever achieves 100% market share, because people choose brands that they identify with. Hence the joke about the Jew, stranded on a desert island, who has two synagogues: the one he goes to and the one he doesn’t.
To be successful, a brand needs to home in on a specific market segment whose values and beliefs mirror its own. That said, it’s important not to focus too narrowly. Otherwise, it may be impossible to reach your target via advertising or even social media.
3. Five seconds – that’s all you’ve got.
Amazon.com currently lists 108 books offering advice on crafting the perfect ‘elevator pitch.’ The premise behind this popular technique for plugging your product (or project) is that you only have someone’s undivided attention for 20 seconds – equivalent to length of a brief elevator ride.
In truth, you probably have much less than 20 seconds to grab someone’s attention. According to a 2015 Microsoft study, the average human attention span had already declined to twelve seconds by 2000 and had dropped to eight by 2013. That’s less than the average attention span of a goldfish, which is nine seconds.
Today, leading brands advertising on YouTube have only five seconds to pique interest before you can choose to hit the ‘skip’ button. This suggests that you may want to boil your pitch down to 10 or 12 memorable words, rather than an elevator ride. It means distilling the essence of your brand message down to one sentence and being able to recite it on one foot, as Hillel did with the Torah.
4. Don’t ask your target what they want, ask them to complain.
Legend has it that when Procter & Gamble asked consumers what they were looking for in a dandruff shampoo, the vast majority said they wanted a strong and effective product. Yet when asked about their biggest problems with dandruff, consumers most often said they worried about making a poor impression if others noticed dandruff flakes on their clothing and hair. This insight led P&G to successfully position Head & Shoulders with the tagline, “You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression.”
The fact is that most consumers are not very creative when it comes to brands. Ask then to tell you what they want in a new product or service, and they merely parrot the claims made by existing brands. But ask them to tell you what’s wrong with those products, and they can go on endlessly. Jews are especially good at this. They even have a word for it: kvetching. It is by understanding what people are kvetching about that we can best develop products and services to address their unmet needs.
5. Be brilliant: Only extraordinary experiences get shared.
It used to be that we generated buzz by word-of-mouth – over the backyard fence, at Hadassah meetings, or waiting for our kids in the parking lot after Hebrew school. Today, buzz is generated online. Hundreds if not thousands of people share the useful, enlightening, or simply entertaining things they ‘like’ – or don’t like.
The smartest brands know that social media is a critical component when it comes to winning friends and influencing potential customers (or donors). They also know that only extraordinary experiences get shared (extraordinarily good, one would hope). Whatever you may think of the ALS ‘Ice Bucket Challenge,’ it generated over $115 million in donations and helped scientists discover a new gene tied to ALS.
Thinking like a successful brand doesn’t mean your organization should focus on coming up with the next ‘Ice Bucket Challenge.’ It means that you should always be striving to create extraordinary experiences, that are consistent with your brand.
Finally, remember that managing a brand is an ongoing process. But if you keep the above principles in mind every time you’re thinking about your branding and communications, you’ll have a better chance of getting noticed – and staying noticed.
Karen Radkowsky is the founder and president of Impact:NPO, which helps nonprofits optimize their branding, communications and programing using data and insights. She previously held senior management positions at several prestigious global marketing communications agencies, including Ogilvy and BBDO, and spearheaded the boards of DOROT and Limmud NY.
Allen Adamson is the founder of Brand Simple Consulting and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at NYU Stern School of Business. A noted industry expert and the author of three books about branding and marketing, Allen is also a contributor to Forbes.com and The Huffington Post. He previously served as Chairman, North America, of Landor Associates, a global brand consulting and design firm.