How to Build a Better Brand

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You know it when you see it; a good brand message is hard to forget. From Apple's understated logo to Subway sandwich shops' "Eat Fresh" slogan, companies that strike marketing gold have something in common: brand messages that are clear, memorable, and, perhaps most important, simple. Too often, companies get caught making the same mistakes and falling into the same branding traps, forgetting to follow one of the most basic principles of advertising—keep it simple.

"One of the biggest problems that brands have to deal with is fluff. Consumers are constantly seeing and hearing ads and, eventually, everyone reaches a point when they become numb to it," says Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and marketing officer at Corporate Visions. "Brands have got to keep things simple, and they've got to keep things clear."

It is in the spirit of simplicity and clarity that we offer the following nine brand messaging tips:

Avoid buzzwords. A major mistake, for example, is relying too heavily on buzzwords that are not only overused but also vague. "Everyone wants to be part of a major trend, whether it's being a 'big data' company, a 'slow food' restaurant, or a 'mompreneur.' The problem with relying on these buzzwords to define you is that the more popular they become, the less impact they have.... This doesn't mean you can't use popular category phrases at all. Just use them sparingly, and pair them with words that differentiate you and pack a unique punch," Leyl Master Black, senior marketing director at public relations agency Sparkpr, wrote in a Mashable post.

Posing as simple words that everyone knows, buzzwords are actually very complex and vague in meaning. They're so widely used that they tend to take on additional meanings and, moreover, start to mean different things to different people, Riesterer suggests.

Say no to lingo. Using too much lingo can produce a similar effect, according to Roger Hicks, director of client services at Current 360, an interactive branding, marketing, and advertising agency. "There are clients so entrenched within a particular industry that they assume that everyone speaks at least a bit of their jargon. Wrong! SEO, APY, RDC, API, and TVL are not benefits, they're acronyms. Your brand message should be written for your consumers and not for your colleagues," he says.

Focus on the customer. A fatal flaw common to failed brand messages is that they don't have enough of a focus on the customer. "Some clients have a very rich history of success. That's great. However, content should not be about you, your business, or your industry. It should be about your consumers, their lifestyle, and their aspirations—how you make their life better, play a vital role in their lifestyle, and help them reach their goals," Hicks says.

Target. While marketers often craft messaging around what they believe to be the most important features of their product or service, it's necessary to shift the focus to looking into what's actually important to target customers.

"Blast marketing can tend to feel like spam, especially when brands build their marketing campaigns by thinking about a demographic without an accurate representation of how that demographic actually behaves," Craig Davis, CEO of marketing firm Relevvant, says.

"Marketers have this idea about what certain people like, but too often, they're wrong. Brands need to spend time thoroughly researching and understanding their target audience before developing their marketing campaign. Only then can they have a targeted enough approach to be relevant to customers," Davis says.

Simplify. Targeted doesn't have to mean complicated, Davis affirms. "We've noticed that email marketing campaigns that have three to four words in the subject line perform significantly better than campaigns with longer messages," he says. "Something can be targeted without being wordy."

Prevent "whiteboarditis." In addition to deciding what their customers want to see in a brand message, companies need to determine what they want to say. "When you fill a conference room with senior managers for a messaging session," Black says, "it's not unusual for everyone to have a different opinion about what the company does, accompanied by a strong need to be heard.

"The problem with this approach," she adds, "is that it often results in statements such as this one: 'Our mission is to help innovative leaders in the CPG industry increase the velocity of their business and drive engagement with their social communities to inspire meaningful change.' This mission statement is likely suffering from 'whiteboarditis'—the inflammation that occurs when someone crams everything from the whiteboard into one sentence."

Energize. The mission statement and brand messaging go hand in hand, Riesterer agrees, and both should be clear, focused, and brief. Both should also be full of energy. "Messages should be short, strong, and verb-heavy," he says. "You want to pack a lot of punch into a very short bit. This is where catchiness comes from—this is what excites an audience and makes a message memorable."

Don't overdo it. While it's important for messages to have energy, there is such a thing as too much excitement. Current 360, for example, cautions its clients against becoming what Hicks calls Passion Bruts, and conveying product information in a way that sounds too gimmicky and disingenuous. "The Passion Brut is so convinced that his product is so spectacular, he assumes that everyone else shares his passion and yearns to know more. And why wouldn't they? It's a robe and a blanket!" he jokes. "Seriously, while we dream of one day landing the Snuggie or Slanket accounts, we always recommend that creating interest precede conveying information."

Make it portable. Lastly, because brand message simplicity plays such a crucial role in not only drawing customers in, but also turning them into brand advocates, brands that don't devote enough attention to message portability suffer.

Many companies generate business through word of mouth, Black suggests, so messaging needs to be portable enough for their customers to spread the message and "brag" about the brand to friends.

"One way to check [for portability] is to try boiling your messaging down to just one or two sentences, creating the same type of 'logline' Hollywood uses to sum up a movie or TV plot, such as 'A young man and woman from different social classes fall in love aboard an ill-fated voyage at sea,'" Black adds. "Your logline should give people an idea of what you offer and provide some sort of hook to stimulate interest. Once you've got your logline, go back through your marketing copy and make sure these simple messages come through loud and clear. You can also use the logline itself in your marketing materials, on your Web site and social media properties, and in conversations with customers and prospects."

The key, Black reiterates, is keeping it simple: "If you can't tell your story in fifty words or less, chances are your customers won't be able to either."

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