How to Build Trust in Your Brand

brand trust

If I had to rank Brand Managers’ responsibilities by importance, building brand trust would be at the top.

Brand trust is slow to build and easy to lose. The best Brand Managers can hope for is to position the brand in the most favourable light by consistently delivering on its promise at every interaction with the consumer.

The Journey of Discovering a New Brand

Let’s think of our approach as consumers to a new brand.

We first discover it though an ad, a promo flyer, or notice it on the store shelves among a myriad of other brands you’re already familiar with. Our first instinct is to probably ignore it, unless there is something special about it that raises our interest, a hook. Otherwise we don’t usually bother to investigate further, since there are so many alternatives you’re already comfortable with.

Generally speaking we are hesitant to try something new, especially when the existing solution works just fine, and there is no perceived new need that needs to be satisfied.

We may also come across a new brand via a recommendation from a person you trust, be it a friend, co-worker or relative. Suddenly, the trust level in the new brand increases exponentially, as the recommendation comes from a trusted source.

At this point we decide to look into the brand more closely. We visit its website to learn more about the products, availability, warranty, returns, customer service, etc. If the information inspires confidence, we then expand our by “Googling” the brand and its products, read customer reviews, consumer opinions, and direct comparisons to brands you already know.

Finally, if the research raises no red flags, we are willing to give the new brand a try and look for an incentive to do so. Ideally the incentive will make our purchase risk-free.

Our hands-on experience with the brand goes along way to influencing our future attitudes and perceptions towards it: dislike, indifference, happiness or loyalty.

Building Brand Trust-the Brand Owner Perceptive

Now that we’ve mapped the customer journey to discovering a new brand, it’s time to list the elements brand owners have to put in place to turn as many customers into brand ambassadors. Remember, trust is making people believe the brand is reliable, and will deliver on its promise.

New brands often try to impress customers with grandiose statements, mostly centred around their vision, mission and values. While I strongly believe in their importance, in the initial phase of brand discovery these elements should be used as internal guidelines, rather than key brand differentiators.

While visions such as making the world a better place, eradicating world’s poverty, saving the environment, empowering and inspiring people are very motivating, brand building process starts differently.

5 Steps to Building Brand Trust

Brand trust is built by making small promises that benefit customers directly and are fulfilled rigorously. Below are some practical steps to building trust in your brand:

Get your house in order-think of the many times you rushed to clean the house before the guests arrive, to make a good first impression. Just like your house, you have to make sure your brand is ready for prime time, with a reliable product that does what it’s supposed to do, enough stock to satisfy the demand, timely delivery and strong customer support.

Customer support is of paramount importance for a new, unknown brand, as customers will probably have a lot of questions before and after purchase. Your brand’s functional and operational performance affects the customers directly, and sets the path for success or failure.

Educate your market about your product-a step often overlooked by brand owners, who are deeply involved in product design and manufacturing, that they often “forget” to capture and present this valuable information to the consumers.

Depending on the product, market education includes everything from practical information such as product functionality, warranty, pricing, and availability to branded content (establishing brand credentials, what makes the brand different and better than current alternatives).

I met many manufacturers who believe people should just buy their product because it’s available. In fact, brand preference goes beyond price and availability. Making as much information as possible available to consumers proves you are a serious player and positions your brand as a viable alternative.

Seek reputable distribution-your brand’s distribution channel plays an important role in establishing its reputation. What brand would you trust more: one sold through the back of a truck, or one sold by an established retailer?

Securing a distribution agreements with an established retailers goes a long way to penetrating a new market for two reasons.

First, the retailer lends its credibility to the new brand, thus offsetting the fear of the unknown.

Second, the new brand can instantly tap into the retailer’s established customer base, gaining exposure and trial.

For these reasons, linking the brand with an established retailer is worth every concession you can make, and should be treated as one of the most important marketing investments.

Encourage trial-there is no better method to validate your assumptions than to facilitate the direct consumer interaction with your brand. The second most important marketing investment you should make is giving consumers easy access to your brand.

Remember, consumers are reluctant to try something new, especially if they are happy with the current incumbents. In order to encourage trial, your strategy should be identify the perceived risk factors associated with trying your brand, and overcome these factors one by one, thus guaranteeing a risk-free purchase. Some factors are simple and inexpensive to overcome, others not so much.

Start small, learn and adapt– a good strategy to launch a brand is to target a narrow segment of the market, before executing a full-blown implementation.

This strategy allows brand owners to collect feedback, learn and adapt-another advantage of a small-scale approach is the opportunity to gain insight into how consumers interact with your brand, and turn their positive feedback into social proofs that will further validate your brand.

Most importantly, this is a chance to use the negative feedback to make product improvements, clarify your marketing message, and fine-tune your offering, before reaching the critical mass.

You will undoubtedly have unhappy customers for reasons you can justify or not. Regardless, use these interactions to raise your game, be transparent and provide a solution your customer is happy with.

Tackle all misconceptions early and you will and turn these customers into brand ambassadors.

Remember, brand trust is achieved in baby steps.

Photo credit: jbosari on Flickr

How To Build and Protect Brand Equity

brand equity

Building brand equity should be the number one priority of any business, big or small. Positive brand equity takes a lot of time and resources to achieve, hence the need to start from day one.

Overwhelmed by daily tasks, brand owners can easily lose sight of this strategic business objective. Moreover, brand equity can be an abstract concept that is difficult to understand and quantify.

This article aims to demystify the concept of brand equity and convince brand owners of its importance.

What is Brand Equity?

When first launched, a brand is just a name tied to a product or service. Slowly (or more rapidly depending on the budget), through voluntary and involuntary actions, reactions, and behaviours, that name surrounds itself with reputation (positive or negative), and a new brand is born.

Brand equity is a fancy name for how strong a brand is, and how much it’s actually worth to the business. Brands that are highly regarded by customers enjoy positive brand equity; those that disappoint to the point of people avoiding them altogeher, have negative brand equity.

Brands can be evaluated as company assets from many angles:

Brand as a financial asset: if people shopped solely on price, there would be no need for branding; the product with the lowest price would always win.

In reality, all of us are often paying a premium for a particular brand, because of the tangible and intangible benefits we associate with that particular brand. The price premium a brand commands translates into incremental revenue for the business; brand equity is directly proportional with the revenue it generates.

A brand’s assessed value could greatly exceed the physical assets (buildings, inventory, infrastructure, logistics) of a business.  Let’s look at top five most valuable brands in 2018, published by Forbes:

  1. Apple ($170 B)
  2. Google ($102 B)
  3. Microsoft ($87 B)
  4. Facebook ($73.5 B)
  5. Coca-Cola ($56.4 B)

Looking at the list above it’s hard to believe how much equity these brands have managed to accumulate, given that two of them are less than 20 years old.

Brand as a conditional asset: it has been said that behind every successful man is a great woman. Similarly, behind every successful brand is a great product (or service). Branding is not possible without the support of a product or service.

Unfortunately, many great products never become brands.

Investing in product development, but failing to build a brand around it leads to two alternatives: others will build their brand around your product (you essentially being a product supplier), or your product will be eventually copied and launched at a lower price.

A good product is the foundation of positive brand equity; never forget to turn your product into a brand.

Brand as an influencer: we like to believe that our purchases are based on rational decisions; however, neuroscience, psychology and consumer behaviour research has shown that humans are not as rational as we think.

Our behaviours are strongly influenced by brand messages, the tone of those messages, and the interactions of those around us with the same brands. Brands have the power to influence us.

Let’s look again at the number one brand in the list above, Apple. Although the company’s products are sold at a price premium, Apple enjoys one of the most loyal consumer base. The brand has managed to influence its audience through product design, advertising, PR, and other intangibles people associate with it.

Building Brand Equity: The Journey

About 10 years ago, I was involved in launching a new brand, in a mature, highly competitive category. I still remember the presentation made to the management team, specifically their lack of reaction as I was going through the brand name suggestions.

Envisioning a brand behind a new name isn’t easy. My colleagues didn’t know how to react; the name was new, pretty generic, and unlike anything they were familiar with within the category. My strategy involved putting the name in the context, and illustrating how this new brand will be part of people’s life.

A brand’s power of influence is directly related to its assets. These assets include:

Brand awareness-the level of familiarity consumers have with your brand goes a long way to building brand equity. Brand awareness can be of two types: unaided and aided. Unaided brand awareness, that occurs when a consumer names your brand in a specific category without being offered any clues, is more valuable in building brand equity than aided brand awareness. A high level of unaided brand awareness means the brand is top-of-mind in its category.

Brand values and personality-our relationships with brands mirror the ones we have with people. We have brands we love, brands we hate, and brands that don’t mean anything to us. We have brands that express who we are, brands we avoid at all costs, and brands we deal with because we have to.

Brand personality and values are tricky to communicate and consistently deliver on. Building positive brand equity requires constant brand evaluation and reinvention; many established brands go through identity crises and have a hard time keeping their values relevant to the constantly changing audience.

Brand preference-the ultimate sign of brand strength. Brands that are preferred by consumers even if they have to pay a price premium or go through great lengths to acquire it enjoy positive brand equity.

Brand preference translates into customer loyalty, a sign the brand has moved from being known and considered to actually influencing consumer behaviour. Let’s think for a moment of some brands that enjoy strong consumer preference: Apple, Nike, Harley-Davidson, Ferrari. These brands transcend their respective product categories and have become status symbols, and a reflection of our aspirations and how we want to be perceived by our peers.

Measuring Brand Equity

Brand equity can be measured from at least two angles, namely the consumer and brand owner perspective.

The indicators that determine brand strength from the consumer perspective include the levels of brand awareness and preference, customer satisfaction, loyalty rate, brand associations, and emotional connections consumers have with the brand.

From a brand owner perspective, the most accurate assessment of brand strength is reflected in the price a potential buyer is willing to pay to acquire it. Other analytical indicators that are a reflection of brand strength include brand’s ability to generate profits, the price premium the brand is able to command versus the closest competitors, its market share, growth rate and growth potential.

Protecting Brand Equity

Building positive brand equity is only half the battle; protecting it is proving very challenging, even for established brands. The Volkswagen diesel scandal, United Airlines incident, and various harassment accusations that lead to the creation of the #MeToo movement are concrete proofs that the line that separates positive from negative brand equity is very volatile.

On the product front, competitive advantages are short lived. Successful products have to fight less expensive alternatives in a matter of months; sustained the product advantage requires constant innovation, which is time consuming and expensive. To tackle this challenge, brands have to move quickly from functional differentiation to owning space in consumer’s heart.

Which leads to the second challenge, protecting the brand message.

We live in a highly transparent society, where every move, action and behaviour by both people and brands is quickly scrutinised and labelled. Brand messaging is mostly controlled by its community, with the brand manager acting mostly as a moderator, and initiator of new conversations.

Companies must do a great job at controlling the things they can: offering a great product, providing excellent support, building an inspiring brand story and be honest and transparent with their customers, and most importantly adapting to change. The rest should follow into place.

Photo credit: Kim Unertl on Flickr

Premium Branding: 3 Tips to Market Your Business to High-End Consumers

Millennials have been the marketing industry’s latest target as they constitute a huge consumer group with high purchasing power. In fact, according to a report by Pew Research Centre, ‘Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation.’

About 75.4 million millennials (those between ages 18 and 34 years) and 74.9 million baby boomers (aged 51 to 69 years) exist in the United States.

Moreover, according to the 2017 Affluent Perspective Global Study by YouGov, ‘Affluent U.S. households will spend 1 percent more this year (in 2017) than last, for a total of $335 billion.’

Marketers, therefore, have all the reasons to focus on understanding and securing the millennial market.

The question, therefore, is: How! How marketers and brands can win over this affluent group of people?

In this post, we discuss three tips that will help you market your business to high-end customers, these affluent millennials.

Tips to Market Your Brand to Affluent Customers

As an increasing number of mainstream brands make their way into the premium category, it has become even more challenging for premium brands to distinguish themselves and retain their cachet and mystique.

The following tips can help premium brands reach customers and keep up with their business goals:

1. Embrace Uniqueness

What sets premium items apart from other mainstream items? It is their uniqueness and one-of-a-kind nature. Premium items were once made to the customer’s specification to ensure complete satisfaction and make sure the owner could take pride in owning the unique item – thus the high price!

Modern premium brands can also cash in on this trend and appeal to their specific client base. Take for example the case of Surmesur, the Canadian online retailer that offers precisely tailored clothing to their customers. The brand has gone a step ahead to attract the digital generation.

Surmesur uses proprietary software to create customised shirts and then allows customers to view the style on a mobile device (with the garment shown in 3D representing a customer). Customers are allowed to choose from a range of 8,000 fabrics and create a style that is unique to them.

2. Create Appealing Mobile Apps

A January 2017 survey by Ipsos (involving 850 US adult internet users with household incomes of $100,000 or higher) found that the percentage of people who have a mobile wallet app installed on their mobile devices has increased since 2013.

Of course, not everyone who has a mobile wallet installed uses it. But 86 percent of the respondents accepted using their mobile wallets. PayPal and Apple Pay are among the most popular wallets being used by consumers.

It is wise to target the audience through devices that they use the most.

The above statistics indicate that mobile commerce has become more popular among the affluent class.

By building a high-quality mobile app that showcases your products and allows customers to purchase products directly, you can offer a great user experience to your target audience.

Custom mobile apps make customers feel more connected to a brand. However, there is an abundance of mobile apps, so you need to do something different to make your brand stand out.

For example, the L’Oreal mobile app allows its customers to shop by scanning products directly from the magazine ads. Other premium brands such as Net-a-Porter and Victoria’s Secret have also leveraged the scan-to-shop technology.

Premium brand Michael Kors has also found a way to entice their elite clientele through their mobile app.

To help customers buy easily from Instagram, the brand encourages them to double-click on the images tagged with ‘#InstaKors.’ An email with a direct link to the product featured in the ads or posts is then sent to the customer’s inbox.

3. Don’t Make Products Too Accessible

Products that are easily available to the masses lose their charm rather quickly, while those in limited supply are perceived as highly appealing.

This is because the fear of missing out on having a specific product leads to impulsive buying. According to a survey conducted by WhichTestWon, the sale of products with a countdown timer placed on their pages is nine percent higher compared to those without a countdown timer.

This is especially true for customers in the premium market. For instance, Prodiguer, a premium vodka brand often launches its products in limited editions. The company launched its Juliet Immaculate Vodka with the Sue Tsai edition bottles.

Such initiatives help the brand to maintain the exclusivity of its products and keep the urge for obtaining their products high among the target audience.

Similarly, Hermès, French high-fashion premium goods manufacturer created hype for the Hermès Birkin bag and the result was a customer waiting list of six years.

Brands that are looking to improve their brand awareness and sales can leverage this technique.


The best thing about premium brands is that they are already recognised by most people, but attracting new customers and persuading them to invest in their expensive products can be a difficult endeavour.

The above tips can help you attract the attention of the affluent millennials and persuade them to become loyal customers.

Author Bio

Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder of E2M, a full service digital marketing agency and PRmention, a digital PR agency.

He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, Growth Hacking, Entrepreneurship and Digital PR. Pratik has spoken at NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, and other major events across Asia.

As a passionate marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge on publications like Search Engine Land, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web and the Huffington Post to name a few. He has been named one of the top content marketing influencers by Onalytica three years in a row.

How to Build a Premium Brand

premium brand

Not all consumers are price sensitive.

As disposable income increases, people are willing to pay more for a quality product that will save them money in the long run. Increasingly people value quality over quantity, free time, craftsmanship, social responsibility, and local sustainability.

Premium brands are highly valuable assets for a few reasons.

The premium price usually translates into higher profit margins, as additional costs for product enhancements are more than covered by the price premium.

Premium brands are also often viewed as status symbols. Consumers take pride in owning premium brands and showing them to their friends, which in turn increases brand exposure and sales.

Finally, many premium brands appeal to people at an emotional level, offering consumers a sense of belonging to a certain social group, thus leading to increased brand loyalty.

Premium Versus Luxury: An Important Distinction

The process of building a premium brand starts with an important distinction between premium and luxury branding. Consumers use these attributes interchangeable when labelling a brand, depending on their social status and geographical boundaries.

Is BMW a premium or a luxury brand? What about Coach? The answer depends on who you ask.

However, understanding the difference between a premium and a luxury brand is important for the brand owner.

A premium brand demands a premium price because of superior attributes (design, functionality, service) that one can justify rationally. Premium brands reach the status symbol level after years of delivering on its premium promise.

In order to be profitable, premium brands, just like ordinary brands, are built on the principles of mass production, broad distribution, and immediate delivery.

A luxury brand’s high price cannot be justified rationally. While the foundation of a luxury brand is a quality product, the price tag greatly exceeds its functional value.

Luxury shoppers seek a sense of belonging to a certain social class, or very selective group of individuals.

Luxury brands are built on principles that are diametrically opposed to premium branding: limited production, selective availability, and  non-urgent delivery.

How to Build a Premium Brand

Although price is usually the first indicator of a superior product, charging a higher price than competitors does not automatically make a brand premium.

We’ve seen that investing in a premium brands is (in most cases) a rational decision. The purchase is based on a lot of research and competitive comparisons that bring justification to the price premium.

The starting point in building a premium brand is a realistic segmentation of the category you wish to compete in. The goal is uncover potential benefits consumers are willing to pay a premium for.

These benefits include:

  • lower cost of ownership
  • the easy of use
  • superior materials and ingredients
  • unique, distinctive, attractive, functional design
  • better performance
  • time savings
  • more “must-have” features
  • sustainable, ethically sourced products
  • local businesses and locally sourced products

We tend to think that premium brands exists only in “glamorous” categories such as fashion and apparel, automotive, and travel. While these categories get a lot of exposure and coverage, premium brands can be introduced in almost any category that presents such an opportunity.

AquaVial is a premium product in the rapid water testing category.

Many products in the category deliver on the basic consumer need to identify potential issues with their water supply before they become a serious risk: an easy-to-understand testing procedure, the ability to deliver results in 48 hours (versus up to 2 weeks in the case of laboratory testing), and a low cost per test.

AquaVial is based on an innovative technology that delivers at least two superior benefits: results are delivered is as little as 15 minutes (versus 2 days), and the ability to detect a wider range of harmful bacteria.

These are important benefits consumers value and are willing to pay a premium for.

Is Premium Branding Possible In Case of Commodities?

The short answer is yes; even tap water can become a status symbol.

Products that are very difficult to differentiate functionally can be bundled into a superior “overall package” and positioned as a premium offering.

The components of an overall package can vary from quantifiable benefits such as company responsiveness, better product delivery, superior warranty, and post sales service, to intangibles such as company’s “social” reputation.

All these benefits and the premium associated with each, are only relevant within the context of each category, by reference to the lower-cost brands.

The superior overall brand experience has become an even more achievable strategy in the age of product reviews, instant communication and feedback, and social media.

Price elasticity is very important when it comes to premium branding. Since premium brands are mass produced, the brand appeal has to be broad.

The premium price has to be within the reach of most people in your target audience, even if it requires small sacrifices.

If the additional features demand a price tag that is simply unaffordable, the product will not be able to be profitably mass produced and commercialised. Remember, you are building a premium, not a luxury brand.

Premium Branding: Communication Strategy

The goal of the communications strategy is to highlight the differences that justify the price premium. Some differences (such as superior design) are obvious and require little explanation. Others, especially the intangibles, require more work.

Higher price tags come with higher consumer expectations. Adequate training of staff that deals directly with consumers is a must.

The training should go beyond highlighting the superior technical features of the product, and include a “social” component. Employees’ social skills and knowledge can make the difference between a sale and a lost client.

Endorsements tend to work well for premium brands, especially for reaching the status symbol level. Influencers are typically attracted by the opportunity to associate with a premium brand, which in turn will elevate their image in the eyes of their audience.

(Premium) Branding is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Premium brands have to be built on a sustainable competitive advantage.

An innovative new product that deliver superior benefits versus the existing alternatives should definitely be marketed at a premium price.

However, the market and consumer expectations eventually catch up. What has been perceived as innovative becomes expected.

In order to maintain the premium status a brands has to continually innovate or lower the price and join the pack of “me too” brands.

3 Branding Strategies That Will Add Value to Your Business

Branding Strategies

What do you understand by a ‘brand’? People often use it interchangeably with the company name. A ‘brand’ in real sense is a lot more than that.

A brand reflects what a company is all about and the kind of experience or products the consumer is going to buy.

For instance, Coca Cola uses the phrase ‘Have a Coke and a smile’, so whenever you think of the soft drink brand you think about happiness.

Similarly, when you think about Nike, you think about power and heroism. Again when you think about iPhone, you think about an amazing digital experience.

Therefore you need to have a strong brand strategy that will help you create a strong brand identity.

Brand identity is the way a company represents itself to the customers; whereas brand strategy is the continuous effort for development of a successful brand that will help the company achieve specific goals.

Why Having a Strong Brand Identity is Important?

Strong brands are not built in one day. A lot of hard work and thoughtfulness is required to build a brand that customers would be willing to engage with. Creating a strong brand identity benefits your company in many ways:

  • It increases the brand’s perceived equity. For example Coca Cola being a well-known brand, the company can sell its products at a higher price compared to other lesser-known soft drink brands. A strong brand translates to high-quality, so customers are willing to pay more.
  • The greatest brands connect with their customers emotionally, therefore the customers are more likely to stay loyal. Nike, for example, uses emotional branding to build customer loyalty.
  • Strong brands motivate employees. Loyal and productive employees are great assets for a company and they become enthusiastic brand advocates to spread the message around.

3 Branding Strategies to Add Value to Your Business

The brand strategy reinforces company’s position in the market. When executed successfully, it will help you create a successful brand that will help you achieve your business goals. Here are 3 branding strategies that will add value to your business:

  1. Define a Brand Promise

Brand promise is a message that speaks to your targeted audience about what to expect by using your products/services.

However, according to Allen Adamson, the chairman of the North American region of brand consulting and design firm Landor Associates, defining a brand promise is not sufficient; defining the purpose is important as well. Defining the purpose differentiates you from your competition.

For instance, IKEA promises to offer its customers with best quality furniture at affordable prices. But what differentiates IKEA from other online furniture sellers is their purpose of helping their customers ‘create a better life everyday’.

Ikea Brand Promise


  1. Brand Consistency

Creating a strong brand identity that keeps you at the forefront of your targeted audience is important but maintaining it is even more important. This means you must never engage in activities that might confuse your customers.

You need to make sure all your messages – whether it is an update on your Facebook Business Page, a photo posted to your Instagram account or a video on YouTube, are consistent with your brand identity.

Target, one of the largest retail stores has been a winner when it comes to brand consistency. It has had the same logo for over 50 years.

The brand consistency stretches across all the marketing platforms that focus on the Target shopping experience – “Expect more. Pay less.” the tagline that they currently use. A consistent color scheme and their continuous effort to promote the store as high-end discount store with better quality products and exceptional customer service have paid off.



Another company that nailed the brand consistency notion is Coca Cola. Every element of the brand’s marketing work harmoniously together and this has helped them become one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

Whether it is about promoting the company on social media or through traditional advertising, the brand has maintained its consistency seamlessly.

Coca Cola


Branding’ adds a personality and attitude to the product/services and this is what people relate to. Make one mistake and all your efforts go down the drains. Hence make sure you maintain the tone of your voice, the color scheme, the logo and everything else that helps people identify your brand.

  1. Emotional Attachment

Have you ever wondered why some ads sell more than the others? It is simply because they tap into the customer’s emotions. According to Unruly, the most-shared ads of 2015 relied heavily on emotional content.

Android’s ‘Friends Furever’ was the most-shared ad of 2015. The ad contains clips of cute animals that are sure to make people emotional. In fact the top three most shared ads all feature dogs as the central characters.

But you must be very careful when using animals to tap into people’s emotions since a small mistake can disrupt feelings severely.

In another instance, MetLife Hong Kong created an ad featuring a father-daughter relationship. The cute little girl describes the things she loves about her dad and how he makes her happy. The twist comes in when she also describes the way he lies to her, just to make her happy.

Emotional Attachment


Brands have tapped into a number of emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, anger and others to build a brand identity. When done correctly you can benefit immensely by tapping into the audience’s emotions, but remember it is a tricky terrain. So you must be very careful.


Building a brand strategy isn’t easy, but if you can do it properly you will never have to look back. Sure there are others who may sell products or offer services similar to yours, but you can make yourself stand out by creating a strong brand.

What is your company doing to build a brand? Share with us.

Author Bio

Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of The 20 Media, a content marketing agency specializing in content & data-driven SEO and PRmention, a digital PR agency. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Digital PR. Pratik has spoken at 80th Annual Conference of Florida Public Relations Association, Accounting & Finance Show, Singapore, NextBigWhat’s UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, SMX Israel, SEMrush Meetup, MICA, IIT-Roorkee and other major events. As a passionate SEO & content marketer, he shares his thoughts and knowledge in publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, The Next Web, YourStory and Inc42 to name a few. 

The Single Word That Should Define Your Branding Strategy

Simple Brands-Netflix

There is plenty of advice on how build a brand. And yet, brand building is more complicated than ever, in part due to the competitive environment, but also the strategic decisions brand owners make.

A look back at some of the most successful brands shows a commonality that can be summarized in a single word: simplicity. Successful brands are simple brands.

Simple brands have most chances of being noticed, remembered and preferred.

Netflix allows you to access thousands of titles with a click of the mouse. Google uncluttered the screen of all the unnecessary information and presented us with a single obvious option: to search for the information we need.

Keeping it simple works.

Simple Brands Demystified

It’s not uncommon for Brand Managers to demand simplicity when developing a brand’s identity: clean and simple logo, modern and uncluttered website. Many brands stand out through visual simplicity.

Unfortunately, that’s as far as most companies are willing to go in building a simple brand. And it’s not enough.

A simple brand makes it easy for its customers to understand its purpose and interact with it.

A simple brand minimizes the decision making process.

A simple brand offers a great customer service experience.

A simple brand is honest.

How to Build a Simple Brand

Building a simple brand requires vision and strategic trade-offs. It requires saying “no” when saying “yes” means better short term sales and profits.

Here is what simple brands do:

  • simple brands communicate clearly in a language that its customers understand. Often times we refer to an offer as being “too good to be true”. Upon reading the fine print, we discover that indeed it is. That complicate our relationship with the brand, and we rank it low on our simplicity scale.
  • simple brands present information that is complete and easy to find. In case of eCommerce, the buying process has to be fast, simple and without unexpected surprises. Amazon built is otherwise complex business on a simple idea: allowing users to shop online fast, with a few clicks of the mouse (one-click ordering).
  • simple brands offer a product assortment that minimizes consumer choices, and makes products that are easy to use. Apple excels at both. Their huge success in the phone market was achieved with a single product: the iPhone. Steve Jobs was also keen on designing an interface that is so intuitive that even small kids can use.
  • simple brands welcome and makes communication with its customers easy. We all hate calling big telecom companies because we know how bad the experience is: waiting on hold, than being transferred from agent to agent until you find the right person who is competent enough to assist you.
  • simple brands offer a great experience. I used to think great customer service has become a point of parity, and not a differentiation strategy. However my real-life experiences tell me that in most categories there is still room to differentiate on making it easy for customers to deal with your brand.

All these elements on which a simple brand is built are interconnected. A narrow product line allows staff to be more knowledgeable, and answer questions quickly. A seamless online shopping experience generates more orders and less cart abandonment.

Staying Simple is Complicated

Unfortunately most brands start simple, but in time tend to complicate things. Growth and complexity seem to go hand in hand.

Brand and line extensions are the two most commonly used strategies to grow sales. Any new addition to the existing assortment is a step away from simplicity.

Even Apple, a brand that was revived by a return to simplicity, fell into the line extension trap after Steve Job’s disappearance.

A smaller and a bigger iPad, a bigger and a cheaper iPhone, an Apple TV that can be used to play games-all options that complicate the Apple brand, and don’t necessarily make it more successful (for the first time in a decade Apple predicted a decline in sales in the second quarter of 2016).

Stealing competitors’ positioning is another strategy that leads to confusion.

The Volvo brand has always been associated with safety. That’s the reason my wife and I decided to buy a Volvo-so our kids will be safe.

However, in recent years, Volvo’s communication strategy has shifted to promoting engine performance, including direct comparisons against BMW and Audi. At the same time, the German brands are highlighting the safety features of their vehicles. Confusing, isn’t it?

Simplicity Gets Noticed

The biggest advantage of a simple brand is its ability to compete against category giants.

Dollar Shave Club has managed to build a successful business competing against category giants such as Gillette by delivering simple (and funny) brand experience. The brand has been named the biggest disruptor in the US market by Siegel+Gale’s 2015 Global Brand Simplicity Index.

We all love simple brands that make our lives less complicated. Therefore, no matter what strategy you go for, your goal as a brand owner should always be to build a simple brand.

Cheers to simplicity!

A Guide to Understanding Your Brand’s Target Audiences

Brand's Target AudiencesImage credit: Joe the Goat Farmer on Flickr

Most Brand Managers understand the importance of having an accurate image of the brand’s target audiences. What’s often missed is how our marketing actions impact the quality of that audience.

We often judge the strength of a brand by the number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers and email subscribers. What we don’t know is if these fans are actually buying its products, and referring it to their friends, or are there to for freebees or discount coupons.

There are various ways to define audiences. One way is to segment potential customers based on hard data such as demographics, media usage, and purchase frequency. This is important, but we need to take the audience segmentation one step further.

Strategically, brand managers have to think of how consumers relate to brands and the categories they belong to. We all have brands we love, brands we hate, and brands that leave us indifferent.

We use our relationship with brands as a selection tool that help us decide among the multitude of competitive offerings.

Category First, Brand Second

Whenever a new brand enters our radar, we automatically link it to a category. That’s how we structure things in our minds, and cope with the multitude of choices available. For the Brand Manager, this is important for two reasons.

First, linking a brand to a less-crowded category (if the option exists) when establishing its  frame of reference gives the brand a chance to stand out.

Second, in the case of a new brand, it is important to create the category-brand link as early and clearly as possible to eliminate confusion and avoid building the wrong brand perceptions.

Once the category-brand relationship has been established, a brand’s audience consists of these four types of consumers:

Category Connoisseurs

These are people passionate about the category in general, with no loyalty to a particular brand. They enjoy trying, comparing and talking about products and are familiar with the vast majority of brands in the category.

Take wine connoisseurs for example: they are able to list distinct differences between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and lecture you for hours on why a bottle of wine is worth $1000, while another only $10.

These consumers are a great go-to resource for any brand in the category. A discussion with category connoisseurs will allow you to understand the category in much greater detail than any focus group will.

Your goal is to make this group aware of your brand, but not through advertising. No amount of advertising will convince these people your brand is worth considering.

The discovery has to happen as a result of their own research. All you can do is be ready to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself. Category connoisseurs are the greatest endorsement your brand can hope for.


If your marketing strategy focuses on offering freebees and steep price discounts your brand audience is probably dominated by opportunists.  Also known as “bargain hunters” and “professional contest enterers”, these consumers’ only reason for buying is a “good deal”, regardless of the brand.

These people a very price sensitive, and respond well to comparative pricing strategies that show how much they will save. They collect coupons and points, buy off promo flyers and use apps that show the lowest price for a particular product.

Advertising works well when targeting these consumers, but only when a “deal” is being offered. The long term effect of servicing the opportunists is shrinking margins and no brand loyalty.


This is the third category that is not brand loyal, and only interact with the category when it’s absolutely necessary.

They are also not as price sensitive as the opportunists. Pragmatics make their buying decisions based on a combination of price, product characteristics, brand image, and convenience that is very difficult to per-determine.

The foundation of their buying decision is the need, not the deal. They are not early adapters and rarely choose brands based on the image they reflect.

Car buyers who are looking for a vehicle that will take them from point A to B fall into the pragmatics category. Those buyers don’t care that much about a brand that reflects their personality and status-what they value is the car’s reliability, gas mileage and warranty.

Another category that attracts a large number of pragmatics is air travel. We often choose our tickets based on a combination of objective factors such as price, flight time, number of stops and airline reviews.

Brand Loyalists

Brand loyalists are the most sought-after audience.

What brand doesn’t want to have customers who will not switch brands regardless of constant temptations from its competitors, and refer the brand to friends and family?

Study after study show that brand loyalty is on the decline, which is understandable. The main reason is increased competition, which makes differences between products indistinguishable.

Secondly, the brands themselves are responsible for the decrease in consumer loyalty, by not living up to their original promise.

Blackberry promised to be an innovator in mobile communication. The brand had developed a passionate and loyal following their keyboard phones, until competitors offered superior alternatives Blackberry was not able to match.

Every brand’s target audience consists of a mix of all four categories.

In an ideal world, the percentage of brand loyalists and category connoisseurs will greatly exceed the number of pragmatics, and opportunists. This is something we can control through our marketing strategy and actions:

  • If you are constantly communicating “limited time deals” and “price discounts” you will invariably attract a large number of opportunists.
  • If your strategy focuses on providing quality, informative, factually comparative information you will get on the radar of category connoisseurs and pragmatics.
  • An aspirational brand that has move beyond product features and benefits, and constantly deliver on its promise, has the best changes of building a loyal following.

Each of us belong to all four segments depending on how we relate to each category. I am a connoisseur when it comes to cars, pragmatic when it comes to cell phone plans, opportunist when it comes to cable TV, and brand loyalist when it comes to bikes.

So next time you review your marketing plan, ask yourself: what type of audience is a particular initiative most likely to attract: connoisseurs, opportunists, pragmatics or brand loyalists?

Brand Positioning Basics: Establishing The Competitive Frame of Reference

Brand's Frame of Reference

When we come across a new brand, we try to make sense of it by using reference points to file it into our mental library.

We think of the category it fits in, competitive brands we already know in that category, the product/service being offered, and its price point.

This is how a brand’s frame of reference is created. Frames of reference help us deal with the overwhelming number of choices we have to make every day.

The frame of reference is a complex and multi-dimensional concept: it can be broad or narrow, shallow or deep. Choosing the right frame of reference for your brand has a direct impact on its positioning.

Competitive Frame of Reference: A Definition

A brand’s frame of reference is the context in which consumers view it. The first thing consumers will try to figure out is the category the brand belongs to.

In many instances, brand-category associations are straightforward:

Pepsi belongs to the carbonated soft drink category.

Lululemon is a brand of yoga wear.

Changing the frame of reference for these established brands leads to brand stretching, which rarely produces the desired outcomes. However, that doesn’t stop Management from trying:

Pepsi recently announced Pepsi 1, the company’s first Android-based smart phone that will retail in China for approximately $205.


Lululemon also signaled its intention to move into the liquor business “one day (and can) at a time” with Curiosity Lager.

curiosity-lagerImage source

You don’t have to be a marketing genius to realize these endeavors that stretch the brand to its limits have very little chances of making a meaningful impact against established category players.

Hence the importance of choosing the most convenient frame of reference for your brand and sticking to it.

Choosing the Ideal Frame of Reference

The ideal time to decide on a brand’s frame of reference is at the time of launch.

The more well-known the brand becomes, the more difficult its context.

Here are some things that should help you make the right decision:

Choose a competitive frame of reference that reduces the number of brands competing for attention. You can achieve this by narrowing your focus so you don’t compete head to head with established players for consumer’s attention.

When I decided to start an online store specialized in original paintings, I noticed that my big competitors were framing their business as an “online art gallery”. “Art” is a very generic word, which was reflected in their broad offering: paintings (originals and prints), photography, sculpture, digital media.

In contrast, I decided to build my brand around a much narrower frame of reference that can be summarized in three words:  “original paintings online“. That is, I want people to associate Brush Treasures with “paintings”, and not the more generic “art”.

Do not choose technology as a frame of reference. Sooner or later technology becomes obsolete. The photography industry is the perfect example.

What do most people associate Kodak with? Film photography. The brand never managed to escape this strong association when it was obvious that digital photography would replace film, although Kodak launched the first digital camera in 1975.

The frame of reference should support your brand positioning. Your brand’s frame of reference is the foundation of its positioning. It will determine the points of parity the brand has to meet in order to be considered a legitimate player, and highlight opportunities to differentiate.

How Sony Used A Smart Frame of Reference To Influence Consumers’ Expectations

Aibo Sony's AIBO. Photo Credit: aptx4869 on Flickr In 1999 Sony launched the world’s first mass-marketed robot: AIBO.

Most people would associate robots with things such as “flawless operation” and “the ability to perform repetitive tasks with the highest degree of accuracy”. In addition, typical robots are not able to replicate human emotions.

Interestingly enough, Sony didn’t frame AIBO as a robot. Instead, AIBO was positioned as an human companion, an entertaining and cute pet (AIBO means companion in Japanese).

Unlike the typical robots, AIBO could express emotions. It was able to wag its tail when patted on the head, and could be trained by the owners to play different sports.

In the early stages, AIBO had many flaws, and could act unexpectedly sometimes, to the amusement of the owners. Instead of complaining about its flaws (as you would expect when dealing with the robot) owners regarded AIBO’s disobedience as part of its pet character.

Sony’s strategy illustrates the power of choosing a convenient frame of reference in shaping consumers’ expectations.

By positioning AIBO as a pet, Sony was able to overcome obvious technological flaws. AIBO “the pet” offered what customers were expecting from a human companion: affection and unpredictable behavior.

The Shortcut To Establishing the Frame of Reference

The brand name is the most direct way to signal the context in which the brand should be judged.

If Apple wanted people to see the Apple Watch as a fitness device they should have named it differently. By naming the product Apple Watch, the frame of reference was already established.

Based solely on its name and the online reviews, I decided the Apple Watch is not for me (although I am very passionate about watches). In my mind the most basic function of a watch is to tell the time in an instant, without going dark when it thinks you are not using it.

Final Thoughts

Competitive frames of reference can be narrow and deep, or shallow and broad. The latter offers brands more short term opportunities, but the former offers more substantial profits and the opportunity to dominate a category.

6 Common Causes of Brand Failures

Image Credit:  Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr

The news earlier in 2015 that Mexx is closing all its Canadian stores came as a huge disappointment for my family.

Disappointment because The Dutch retail chain was our favorite place to shop for clothes: the quality was good, and prices reasonable.

Surprise because Mexx stores were some of the busiest places at the malls around us.

The Mexx brand is just one of the few that are struggling, or have disappeared completely. Sony also announced the closing of all its Canadian stores, while US retail giant Target completely exited the Canadian market, less than 2 years after launch.

It’s hard to believe that brands that once defined a category have now vanished or struggle mightily: Nortel, Blockbuster, Nokia (cellphone business), Blackberry.

It’s like saying that Apple will not be around in the next five years.

The first question we ask ourselves as marketers is: what happened? How can a brand that was once so strong and dominant, become so irrelevant?

A closer look reveals some common causes of brand failures. Here are some of the most “popular”, ranked in the order of “fix-ability”, starting with situations that can be easily corrected, and ending with the ones that are almost impossible to recover from.

Building a Product, Not a Brand

There are many companies that offer an exceptional product but fail to build the brand around it. The Management team that runs these companies invariably believes in the “we offer a great product at the right price” selling strategy.

Reality has proven the best product doesn’t always win.

From a product perspective, Fage qualifies as the authentic Greek yogurt on the US market: the brand is owned by the same company that enjoys the leading market position in Greece. However the undisputed US market leader is Chobani, a brand launched 9 years after the Fage brand.

Lack of Brand Communication

This is another common scenario: the marketing budget for building the brand is not nearly enough to achieve anything meaningful. In reality, management believes, just like in the above scenario, that marketing is purely ego-building and a waste of money, and what really sells is product and price.

Consistent communication of the brand message is key to getting into the minds of consumers. Brands that are not on the radar do not exist. In order to become a player, the brand communication budget has to be on par with the competitive brands you are trying to displace.

Being Stuck in the Middle

A brand is “stuck in the middle” when it holds no defined positioning in the marketplace. These brands usually struggle to remain profitable and eventually die.

Gap was launched in 1969 and quickly became synonym with cool, affordable American-style apparel.

In recent years Gap is struggling to define its identity, both internally (stuck between Old Navy and Banana Republic), and externally, facing competition from more focused brands such as H & M and Zara.

Brand Cannibalization

Changes in the marketplace require bold strategic moves that affect a company’s brand portfolio. Such moves include launching new brands to fight newly emerged competition, or meant to capture a new market segment.

These strategic moves have to be carefully planned in order to avoid cannibalization of the existing brand(s).

Consider a common scenario: an established premium brand decides to launch a lower cost alternative to capture a new market segment consisting of consumers who currently cannot afford it. Many companies choose the shortest way to market: strip the existing product of some of its premium features, and market it under a very similar brand name, that would create an obvious connection with the premium brand.

Great strategy, at least on paper. In reality, these companies run the risk of alienating their core customers who currently pay a premium for the premium brand.

In order to avoid cannibalization, enough separation has to exist between the two brands in order to keep them both relevant to appealing to different consumer groups.

Not Keeping Up With The Competition

Competitive advantages are very difficult to preserve.

In her excellent book “Different: Escaping the Competitive Heard“, Harvard Business School Professor  Youngme Moon talks about “augmentation-by-addition”: differentiated features are quickly copied by competition and become points of parity, something all consumers expect to get.

Brand survival requires constant innovation.

The first mistake companies such as Blackberry, and Blockbuster made is not acknowledging that the market is changing. Blackberry believed for a long time that the touchscreen phone is just a marketing fad. Management also failed to see the evolution of the smartphone from a communication device to a full entertainment hub.

Not being able to keep up with the competition (even if you invented the category) invariably leads to brand failure, especially in fast chancing categories, where it’s almost impossible to catch up.

Purposely Deceiving Customers

At the time of writing this article (September 2015) the news just broke that Volkswagen has installed software in its cars equipped with TDI engines that activated emission controls only when being tested. Otherwise, the cars were exceeding the pollution levels by as much as 35 times.

Many car brands managed to survive crises caused by manufacturing defects. However, choosing to deceive your customers on purpose in order to gain market share causes irreparable damage.

No amount of money and PR can save a brand that has lost that much of its reputation. I just don’t see how Volkswagen, a brand with a tiny 2% market share in the highly competitive auto market can maintain its North American presence.

There are usually a combination of factors that lead to brand failures. The situations above highlight the challenges and responsibilities brand managers have in making sure that brand survives and stays relevant long-term.

A Simple Guide to Writing an Effective Brand Positioning Statement

When it comes to business strategy, many companies tend to be reactive, rather than proactive. Managers of all sorts are quick to deviate from the strategic plan for short-term gains, rather than staying the course and pursuing initiatives that match the brand’s strategic objectives.

Writing a compelling brand positioning statement is often the solution to the internal strategic struggles every company faces to some extent.

Brand Positioning Versus Brand Positioning Statement

Before we dive deeper into how to write a brand positioning statement it is important to understand the distinction between brand positioning and brand positioning statement.

Brand positioning is the “mental angle” your brand owns in the marketplace. It is what your brand is known for, which might be different from what you wished for.

Brand positioning is greatly influenced by external factors such consumers’ direct interactions, feedback from friends, or the stuff they read on the internet.

A strong brand positioning can be summarized in a few words:


Trivago=hotel search

Southwest Airlines=low-cost air travel

Brand positioning statement serves as an internal guide that illustrates, in a paragraph or two, how your brand wants to be perceived in the marketplace. Its purpose is to summarize what the brand is all about to the company employees and outside partners, and serve as foundation for every marketing decision.

Brand positioning is what you are. The brand positioning statement is want you want to be.

How to Write A Branding Positioning Statement

An effective brand positioning statement (sometimes called “mission statement”) includes your target audience, the brand’s differentiation point(s), frame of reference, and elements that support your differentiation claim. Here is the template suggested by Cornell University:

For [insert Target Market], the [insert Brand] is the [insert Point of Differentiation] among all [insert Frame of Reference] because [insert Reason to Believe].

Let’s explore the four elements in more detail.

The brand’s target audience consists of all market segments that benefit from it. If your brand is sold through intermediaries, such as distributors, dealers, affiliates, then the brand positioning statement has to be relevant to them as well.

Brand differentiation explains how your brand differs from the competition. Some experts recommend making the brand promise part of the BPS. My preference is to explain how the brand is different, rather than listing a promise any other brand can make.

The frame of reference defines the category your brand competes in. This is a very powerful tool as it can help position your brand as a number one brand in a new category, rather than a new entrant into an established one. More on establishing your brand’s frame of reference in another article.

The arguments that support your brand claim are pretty straightforward. Any brand has to provide compelling and credible reasons why its target customers should believe in it.

Can a Brand Have More Than One Brand Positioning Statement?

A brand that targets multiple market segments needs to have a brand positioning statements for each.

Let’s think of the brand positioning statements for a company that markets Eco-friendly household cleaning products through a network of specialized distributors. Here are two possible BPS suggestions for the two segments:

BPS for Distributors:

For our distribution partners, [The brand] is the source of higher profits, by providing the most attractive partner discounts and eye-catching point-of-sale displays that will help move product and increase distributor revenue.

BPS For Consumers

For those who believe in the need to protect our environment, the brand is the number choice for Eco-friendly cleaning products because of its low price and immediate availability.

One brand, two distinctive segments and needs, two positioning statements.

Writing and Effective Positioning Statement: a 4-Point Checklist

It’s about the brand, not the product. Focusing on what makes a product different might be a short-lived statement, as products evolve, change or become obsolete. Additionally, a brand might expand beyond one product category, which will make the current BPS obsolete. A BPS should always allow room for growth.

It’s specific, yet comprehensive. An effective BPS is explicit, thus eliminating confusion. Its purpose is to be relevant to all departments, not only Sales and Marketing. You also want to avoid using clichés such as “we want to be the best at what we do”, or “we offer superior service”.

It’s consumer-focused.  Instead of focusing on what you can do well as a company, focus on the unique benefit your brand provides to consumers.

It provides motivation, focus and direction. This is probably the number one benefit of having a brand positioning statement: allowing the company to focus on what’s important, and discount the rest.

An effective brand positioning statement should bring everybody inside the organization on the same page and pulling in the same direction.

I will leave with two examples from an established brand (IKEA) and a relatively new market entrant (WARBY PARKER) that I hope will inspire you:


At IKEA our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. Our business idea supports this vision by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.


Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.