Creating brand distinctiveness—for challengers and even legacy organizations—is more attainable than ever.
Stories can’t stand still. With enough skill, passion and resources, brands can become more salient and grow, or begin to lose their salience, become noise and decline. Salience—the quality by which something comes top of mind at the all-important moment of purchase or decision— is the most important measure of marketing success.
Change of mattress? Think: Casper. Need to paint? Think: Benjamin Moore. New laptop? Think: Apple. Saliency is created by the quality and quantity of memory structures. Translated: You have to communicate something noticeable and sticky. And keep saying it. Long after you, or your organization, want to move on.
As brands navigated the demands of the last 18 months, a significant development transpired: Because of such drastic shifts in consumer behavior, COVID leveled the playing field for brands across a number of categories, such as those in “scale up” mode or not currently the top players in their category. With live events off the table, companies including Ticketmaster, StubHub and SeatGeek were forced to get back to the same drawing board. Consequently, building brand salience for challengers, or even legacy organizations, is more attainable than ever.
Here are the four drivers of salience every brand should invest in to create long-term value:
There’s No Substitution for Distinctiveness—Find a Way to Own It
Distinctiveness is the main attribute of salience. Yet brands are still hell-bent on doing the same thing everyone else is and measuring themself against the competition, instead of creating new avenues for differentiation. How do you expect people to remember your brand if you don’t stand out? Startups are often great examples of owning distinctiveness, as they usually have a passionate founder; a deep understanding of their mission; and an innovative, unique product. It’s what made Tesla, Warby Parker, Airbnb, and Amazon the brands they are today.
Stick With an Idea That Builds Identity Over Time
Most creative communications efforts—the language, the imagery—are clustered around product features and attributes: Buy these clothes, they’re on sale; order this burger, it tastes better than others; get this car, others don’t have these bells and whistles. Rarely do these messages create brand identity in a proactive way or reflect cultural meaning, so brands get stuck in the features arms race. When we think about KFC, we don’t just think about fried chicken; we think about Colonel Sanders—his appearance, tone and manner, his accent—too. The product is amplified by the brand, which is amplified by the spokesperson, a compound creative effect. It shows us that sticking with an idea is very important in brand building.
Talk to Your Customer in the Most Relevant Way Possible
That you need to listen to your customers should go without saying. But knowing who they are and how they behave is also part of that battle, and requires a robust digital infrastructure to process and analyze data, and deliver insights that inform communications—giving brands the confidence to take bigger risks in the process. Knowing that Jane is a vegetarian while John is a meat lover—but also that Jane eats lunch and orders guacamole while John comes for dinner and never has cheese—are nuances to which brands such as Chipotle are attuned. This enables them to be razor-sharp in how they deliver messages, making the consumer feel known and valued.
Tell Emotional Stories to Leave a Lasting Impression
From Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty to Procter & Gamble’s “The Talk” and subsequent “Take on Race” campaigns, salient brands have mastered the art of appealing to emotions to tell memorable stories that communicate moments of change. Most brands that aren’t good at driving long-term brand health prioritize product demos and rational messages instead.
But it’s less risky to get out of your comfort zone and tell an emotional story. In fact, emotionally connected consumers spend up to twice as much with preferred retailers and recommend brands at much higher rates: 30.2% vs. 7.6%, according to Motista. Make it appropriate to the times and tug at the heartstrings—this can mean humor, too. Your brand will grow, and your customers will forge deeper connections to it.
In short: Be different, be relevant, be branded, be authentic—then stick with it. All of this is within the CMO’s purview—even if the product isn’t highly distinctive or you have no control over it— and can be tackled with the goal of creating brand salience through your storytelling. But even if you have all four of these drivers in place, it’s important to be mindful of two other elements that can undermine your success as a brand:
Unempowered Leaders Who Can’t Commit
Leaders can’t be second-guessing their own moves. They must make decisions and stick to them. Taking a strong stance, prioritizing the long term and having conviction in their actions and decisions is key to setting the organization up for success.
Seeking Immediate Gratification Through Short-Term Thinking
Brands have to move beyond immediate tactics, which for most looks like figuring out how to convert on sales. Having long-term thinking is core to a brand strategy. There are reasons why Nike, Adobe, and Ben & Jerry’s have established such brand power: They provide real value and use distinctive, emotional and relevant storytelling as the tool to bring it to life. It’s the formula for leaving lasting impressions.