Allocating budget and effort to brand awareness has always been a struggle for me. During my time at Timewith, I have witnessed firsthand the importance of a solid brand. It’s therapy, one of the human services where trust is the industry currency. But despite being so obvious, I was never able to articulate the exact function of brand to the marketing mix.
It does not take an MBA to understand that a strong brand is important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that sometimes a strong brand is everything. For FMCG this is true. Just a look at cleaning products should satisfy even the most deep-rooted doubts. Tesco’s antiseptic surface cleaner: £1/500ml. Dettol antibacterial cleaner: £1.75/500ml. We are talking about 75% difference for a product category that is arguably commoditized. That is crazy and what’s more, more people buy Dettol. The same trend exists across categories. Detergents, dishwasher tablets, food, candy. A strong brand brings about this elusive halo effect that can elevate a product or service to what was previously unimaginable.
But it’s not measurable
But here is an issue. How do you build and then how do you measure the importance of a brand? How does that correlate with your budget allocation?
See, for someone coming from an engineering and business background where “data is king” seeing ads on the tube, buses made me squirm for a while. “What a waste of money” I’d think.
At Timewith we recently expanded our product line with Assistant, a better way to manage one’s practice. While, I dislike the phrase and the positioning, Assistant could be classified as a practice management tool. Practice management is very different from therapy services because without search ads, it’s difficult to target clients at the right context i.e. identify purchase intent. And because practice management is a loyalty product, implying a high CLV and thus CPC and Google Ads are prohibitive.
So, we invested a lot on content marketing, community building and social media. I started seeing my LinkedIn following grow but I was still not clear on how this will convert, nor how to attribute value.
Understanding the value of a brand
But last week, I received a LinkedIn message that genuinely changed my world view. A therapist reached out to me directly to ask me some advice about her practice. We set up a call without really knowing how I could be of help and right off the bat she said:” I don’t know if you guys offer this, but I am interested in getting a better way to book my clients. I didn’t know who does that and immediately thought Timewith might have a solution for my practice! Do you guys offer anything like that?”
“Yes, we do”.
I felt the dots connecting for the first time. It was illuminating.
Brand awareness sole purpose is psychological priming. Priming occurs when a first thought or stimulus is tightly linked to a second thought. When we think “blue” , we might think “sea”. when we think “soft drink” we think Coca Cola. When we think “Michael Jordan”, we think Nike.
Two things are important here.
- For my client “practice management” and Timewith were linked because of us posting on Social media insights, statistics and strategies for private practices.
- Equally importantly, when it was time to look for a solution, instead of “thinking” from scratch or searching on Google she relied on her existing knowledge, and tried to think who’s “top of mind” and thought of Timewith. Why? It’s easier, and faster.
So if we combine and generalize the above two, we can come up with some conclusions.
- What is the purpose of Brand awareness? To attach a strong link between a customer and an entity, function, product category.
- What is the tangible result? Direct conversions. The customer will come and attempt to shop from the recognized brand before searching elsewhere.
- What is the unique function of a brand in the marketing funnel? That it’s top of mind and trusted. Hence the user “does not need to think” and incur a cognitive load. In other words, the brand will not be compared.
Using Google Search to uncover brand priming
Yep, Nike is the only brand that comes as a recommended result when I type “basketball shoes”. Is it such a surprise? Isn’t Nike obviously a shoe company?
But it’s so much more than that. It’s about performance, sportsmanship, nice jerseys.
Tuns out there is a way to look at what are the most common associations of a brand. Simply type the name of the brand on the Google search bar and look at the recommended results. These are the things that people have linked strongly with the brand.
Again, no surprises here. Nike is undeniably linked with: Trainers, Basketball, Jordan and the Swoosh Logo.
Let’s go a level deeper. Let’s examine second level associations where the strategy takes off. What do I get if I type “Swoosh Logo”, the Nike Logo?
Suddenly the connections expand. It’s not about trainers anymore, which was the only product that Nike sells that came up in the first search. Suddenly the Nike brand is linked to trousers, hoodies, joggers, pants too.
In other words, priming can be passed on downstream. This explains why Nike wants to support top athletes. Because by supporting Michael Jordan it becomes the de facto brand in basketball, by supporting Tiger Woods, it is the brand for Golf and so on.
So a general framework emerges.
A brand makes sure to create a priming effect with concepts that are important to it e.g. celebrities and then let’s the value be created downstream from the associations that emerge.
And just like that, brand awareness becomes a tangible, budget worthy pursuit even for startups.