Content Planning Part 2: The How
Growth., Inbound., Design. - 32 minute read
Growth., Inbound., Design. - 32 minute read
What is Brand Awareness?
It's a consumer’s ability to recognize your brand and clearly associate it to precise products, services, values and stories. Though it’s linked, it’s not to be confused with brand equity, which is the brand value or equity derived from how people feel about your company.
Brand awareness is the difference between Kleenex and Scotties.
Band-aid and Flex-band.
Viagra and Spedra.
You get the picture.
As a startup, getting people to know you can seem like a frustrating chicken-or-egg conundrum. And we won’t lie, it's not a simple path – there’s a lot of testing, experimenting and adjusting to be done. But while much of that journey may not feel linear, there are a few key steps and best practices you need to keep in mind to guide you through the process. That’s where we come in.
To make things simpler, think of brand awareness as your teenage self finding your place in a brand new school. Perhaps you’ve arrived halfway through the year and the roles of gloomy stoner and resident unicyclist have already been taken.
You need to find your people and get on their radar.
Hopefully, at some point, you’ll spot a cool-looking kid at the back of your class. You’ll recognize the band on their t-shirt, or they’ll have a nose piercing you think is badass… have you finally found your tribe?
Next: you need to get a better sense of what they’re all about and help them notice you’re alive and cool. That way, you’ll be top of mind when they next start a K-pop band, our a YouTube channel, or whatever it is the cool kids are doing these days.
So without further ado, here’s how to find your tribe and make friends.
AKA: how to build brand awareness as a startup.
Figure out what makes them tick, what gets them riled up and where they hang out.
But NOT in a sneaky or creepy way.
Ok, so you know they like the same bands as you do – that’s a great start, but trust us; it isn’t enough. In order to decide if you want to spend the next 180 lunch periods kicking the can with these cool cats, we need to know more about them.
This is when data comes in. It’s where your ability to connect the dots and see narratives in your data turn into a superpower – a way to synch up with your audiences and keep a finger on the pulse.
Here are a few simple sources of data you should be monitoring and leveraging every day.
From post-purchase surveys to gated content surveys, there are countless ways you can reach out to your audiences directly and ask for their input. Before sending it out, make sure your team has a clear sense of the information you’re looking to gather, and the metrics you’ll be using to evaluate success. That way, you can avoid tiring audiences with aimless questions or adding white noise to your data.
A few helpful tips to building smarter surveys?
There’s no talking about brand awareness without talking about Google Analytics, so voilà, we’ve arrived. While those who love it can get lost in GA for hours on end, many of us – present company included – still find the whole thing a bit intimidating. So to kick things off, here are the most important metrics for startups to track, and where you’ll find them.
Website traffic sources will tell you where people are coming from and which sources they trust.
Head to View Report > Dashboard > Traffic sources to see a breakdown of your 4 main source types.
Search volume data will tell you what people are searching for online.
Head to Google Adwords’ Keyword Planner and Google Trends to see the volume of searches for your brand name, products and services. Make sure you track over time as you test, to see if you’re increasing reach through the smarter use of keywords and content.
Social media engagement like mentions, reach and interactions will tell you what kind of messaging and medium your audience responds to most.
Create a series of Google Sheets or better yet – use a social tool like Hubspot or Hootsuite to closely track every piece of content and measure differences in activity. Start by looking at your most popular content to find common threads, then do the same with the lowest performing pieces to see if your theory holds the road.
Did you know that Google offers a comprehensive Google Analytics certification for completely free? Through a series of lectures, exercises and tests, you’ll learn the ins-and-outs of Google’s complex data landscape and unlock its potential for continuous improvement and growth
As you weave a more intricate understanding of the way your audiences consume information and search for your services, you’ll find a certain archetype and persona will begin to form. The last step to fleshing it out and giving it life? Demographic metrics that will allow you to draw a fuller, more tangible portrait of the people you’re hoping to connect with.
Head to Analytics > Admin > Property Settings >Advertising Features > Enable > Save to access a slew of valuable metrics about your readers.
Here are just a few you can explore and play around with as you drill into smaller segments.
With a first round of qualitative and quantitative data under your belt, you’re just about ready to start creating a first draft of your audience personas: fictional characters that are meant to represent and personify different segments within your audiences. That way, as you craft your first welcome email, you can keep a clear picture and focus on Nina, 33, who works 2 jobs and consumes nearly all of her content on public transit, as she browses on her phone. Or imagine yourself sitting across from Tyrell, a suburban father of 3 who’s surprisingly attached to his minivan and looks forward to his solitary fishing trips twice a year.
It’s been shown that using buyer personas in your email marketing efforts can more than double your open rate and increase your click-through rate by 5x. Hubspot has also found that using marketing personas makes websites 2-5x more effective and easier to use for your targeted user.
With all of this information, your personas are starting to shape up, but you’ve still got some recon work to do. Now, you need to figure out what they actually care about.
We know you’re a proverbial angsty teen in a new school, but do try to carve the time to be a little introspective and self-aware.
Trust us – you’ll be glad you did.
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
The origin story has taken on a rather mystical role in today’s entrepreneurial community – especially in the startup world, where ramen noodles and bootstrapping garage stories seem to be at the cornerstone of our collective mythology. But in reality, stories come in all shapes and sizes, and they play an absolutely essential role in boosting brand awareness, because as it turns out: people remember stories.
Recent studies have shown that messages and ideas delivered in the form of stories can be up to 22% more memorable. Fundamentally, stories are about connection, and science has now shown that brain activity actually syncs up between storytellers and their audiences when a story is shared. According to recent Princeton research, our brains even mirror each-other as an emotional narrative is built and exchanged.
So what’s your story? And perhaps more importantly, do you feel like your team, investors and target audiences all know and understand it?
A well-communicated origin story can be one of the most powerful tools in your brand equity arsenal – allowing potential customers to relate and connect emotionally with what your brand represents and depicts, and extend those hopefully positive feelings to your products and services. There are a few surprise perks to brand equity as well, here’s a list of 6 of them.
Let’s put it this way, you’re much likelier to recall the name of that rock-climbing Norwegian metalhead exchange student that was in your class for 3 months than you are to remember that non-assuming, slightly vague dude called Steve/Mike/Jon that sat behind you in French class.
Here are a few questions that will help you craft and define your story.
I don’t know about you, but if I could tell my teenage self one thing, it would be that you don’t need to be everyone’s cup of tea.
Trying to be everything to everyone will almost surely leave you depleted, fumbling and starved for authentic connection. And of course, the same can be said about brand awareness: not everyone needs to be or even should be your audience. In fact, if your audience is that broad and vague, you need to go back to the drawing board and narrow it down.
As with any new relationship-building, truly knowing your audience is key. Too little knowledge and context, and you may be trying to introduce Justin Bieber’s latest track to the goth kids – effectively pushing them away with messaging and content they don’t care about or worse: despise.
Remember Pepsi’s attempt to piggy-back on what they believed was their audience’s trendy interest in protest and airbrushed revolution? The Black Lives Matter-inspired ad featuring Kendall Jenner couldn’t have been more off-target, and it took the global giant Pepsi over 9-months to recover.
With all of the data and information collected in your first exploratory phase, you should be well equipped to start honing in and defining your people.
Your first priority: finding out what your audiences truly care about.
Here are a few questions to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
Looking for more? Put on a new pot of coffee, gather your team and brainstorm your way through this list of
Once you get a better sense of how their values and priorities align with your company’s identity, it becomes your job to make sure those values are communicated consistently across every channel and touchpoint, and that your entire team appreciates where your company’s identity stands. After all, you’ll have trouble hammering home the bad-boy-underdog narrative if your Prada-clad mom drops you off at school in a flashy Porsche every morning.
Your mom needs to get with the program or you need to find another way to get to school. Hence the importance of clear brand positioning and style guides.
As a teen, I was a rather geeky looking (and acting) kid. My schoolmates would all probably teasingly mention my button-down shirt covered in images of dismembered doll heads, or my infamous clown pants. I had bad glasses, far too many little butterfly clips in my hair, and a full Coleman cooler as a lunchbox – but it was mostly ok, it was the oddness that had come to be expected of me.
Then one day, I came to school in trendy skate shoes.
The school population was not convinced.
What – I thought I could be a skater kid now? Just like that?
Nope. Not happening.
As a company, your brand can feel just as delicate and fickle; that’s why consistency is key. As you grow, more and more people will become ambassadors and representatives of your brand voice. While it’s crucial to foster ownership, creativity and diversity as you multiply those content voices, it’s also important for them to have a clear framework and guiding vision that keeps every bit of content fresh, meaningful and effective. Here are a few of the internal and external style guides you should have in place before you bolster your brand awareness efforts.
Want to make sure you’re dotting all of your i’s and crossing at your t’s when it comes to defining your tone of voice?
Click here to download a list of 15 questions that’ll help guide your process.
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People need to see you at the skatepark with a strange haircut if you’re going for the emo-punk skater-girl role.
Now that you’ve done all of that brand soul-searching and created a baseline for your entire team to communicate for and about your company, it’s time to start crafting and sharing your messages and stories. Often, buzzed off the momentum of having finally arrived at a solid brand identity and eager to start sharing it with the world, we fall into a frenzy of content creation and ambitious brand awareness campaigns, and risk saturating our audiences or tiring them with white noise. As a content strategist, I tend to fall into the quality-over-quantity school, finding that fewer well-crafted, strategic messages to the right people are much more likely to make the right impression than a barrage of seemingly dissociated stories.
To make sure everything you share with audiences is consistent with the mission you’ve given yourself, I often recommend companies formulate a litmus test of sorts: a simple question that allows your team to determine how well your post, video or FAQ page aligns with your values and mission. Here are a few examples of what that sentence might look like for different brands.
No matter how well you’ve researched your target audience or positioned your brand, no one will want to talk to you in the school cafeteria if you’re rude, overbearing, patronizing, or simply boring. Worse yet, you could be the person who seems unable to talk about anything but themselves; twisting every sentence into an opportunity to bring up their favourite subject – yours truly – and formulating their next interjection before your full sentence is even out.
Someone that talks at people, not to them.
As with any relationship, a big part of your job is to listen attentively and proactively deliver content and information people actually want. A good rule of thumb? Your goal should always be to add value to the conversation, which will then organically generate valuable brand awareness and equity.
A first step to contributing to the conversation is figuring out where it’s already happening. When it comes down to it, it’s simply easier to crowd surf and join an existing moshpit than it is to try flailing around alone on the dancefloor until others choose to join. Plus, meeting people where they already stand tells them you’re adaptable and tuned in to their needs and preferences.
Here are just a few of the platforms worth exploring in order to evaluate the scope and size of the existing communities and conversations you could tap into:
Once you’ve identified the low-hanging-fruit platforms with the highest existing traffic and direct engagement, spot its strengths and weaknesses, its most popular medium and the kinds of posts already garnering impressive attention and activity. Working backwards from there, you’ll be able to cater the content and format of your messaging to play to the platform’s strengths.
Are people responding most to video content in emails? After all, it’s been shown that using the word “video” in an email title will boost open rates by 19% and clickthrough rates by 64%.
Are audiences engaging with long, story-driven written content on Medium? After all, the most successful Medium posts average at an 8-minute read, or approx. 1 800 words.
Perhaps your potential customers are turning to Quora for detailed, peer-reviewed answers to specific questions? After all, 300 million people turn to the platform every month to talk about 400k topics and seek out helpful, collaborative expertise and knowledge.
And of course, just as every cafeteria clique has its own rituals, shorthand vocabulary and inherent (often times undecipherable) rules to be followed, every platform has its own local etiquette that needs to be explored and understood before getting up on your soapbox or plopping your food tray down in the middle of a packed, huddled table. LinkedIn, for example, fosters different ways of interacting, engaging and communicating than Twitter by highlighting formal, academic content in contrast to the short, punchy, hashtag-heavy content most often bolstered on Twitter.
Let me put it this way: if those kids you’re trying to befriend are hanging out in a teacher’s office after debate club, you’ll probably want to plan your approach a bit differently than with a pick-up game of basketball after school.
As a startup, chances are you have a limited budget to allocate to your brand awareness efforts, so it’s key to maximize that budget by being strategic and effective. Just as you don’t need to be everyone’s cup of tea, you also don’t need to be deploying your campaigns across every platform since MySpace; better to regularly post consistently high-quality, well-catered content to only one or two platforms, than to sporadically shoot things out across multiple stages.
Hence the importance of a well defined, well-structured content strategy.
When you’re looking to build awareness around your brand, it helps to think of your content as a constant bread crumb path of friendly hints and reminders all leading back to what your brand stands for, what it has to offer and how its perceived. As Dawn Papandrea from NewsCred Insights points out, content is the way you demonstrate and validate your vision.
“Content determines how people feel about your brand. Content strength accounts for 71 percent of how a brand performs on “improving personal well-being,” which determines how “meaningful” people feel it is. Meaningful brands outperformed other companies by 206 percent in the stock market between 2006 and 2016. And customers are willing to pay more for meaningful brands; according to Havas Group, “meaningfulness” in brand marketing can increase wallet share up to nine times.”
It’s been shown that 60% of businesses with a content strategy are more likely to be successful than everyone else. Plus, content marketing generates over three times more leads than outbound marketing and costs 62% less.
Content, in essence, is where your brand come out to play – it’s the water-cooler chit-chat, the basketball court banter and the stairway gossip; the very lifeline of your daily interactions with customers and communities.
As such, it’s important to put some thought and planning into how often you’ll be joining the conversation, and what added value you’ll be bringing to the table.
Here are some of the elements to be included in your company’s content strategy.
#InsiderTip: Quality over Quantity
A solid content strategy is built upon a steady, predictable and consistent schedule of thoughtful content, so make sure you’re setting up realistic publication expectations your team can actually sustain week after week. The brand awareness and equity built by keeping a regular, tempered content schedule far outweigh that of highly active but sporadic schedules.
In fact, it’s been shown that less than 1 Facebook post a week has very little impact but that more than 1 post a day is perceived as overly aggressive and pushy – resulting in 57% less likes and 22% less comments per post.
Heck – if you play your cards right – your audiences might actually look forward to your next publication. Now that’s a captive audience that knows what you’re about.
Here are some of the latest numbers tallied and studied by Buffer in regards to publication frequency.
Curious to dive into the data and see what publication days and times garner the most traction across each platform? Check out Hubspot’s Handy Infographic here.
Relationships are meant to grow just as humans do – that mohawk haircut might not have been so essential to your friendships after all. Allow your brand to evolve and experiment alongside your audiences so you’re always delivering genuine value and human contact.
Aha – look at that: it’s working!
Perhaps you’re now getting hundreds of likes a post, and you’re finding ways to get into active conversations with your audiences online.
That’s great news, but your work here isn’t done.
As your brand grows and evolves, your audiences will be continuously feeding you information about the content and services they want, need and are willing to pay for. You need to be listening. In order to broaden the scope of that information and test out new brand messages, it’s also important to commit to constant experimentation and innovation. The good news is, today’s digital space is a powerful playground for constant improvement; allowing us to make small, incremental tweaks in highly controlled environments with incredibly granular data sets.
The world’s best digital brands are already at it. 72% of online retailers test their CTA buttons. QuickSprout even methodically schedules an A/B test every two weeks, finding that 25% of their tests boost their target conversion rate by at least 20%.
Here are just a few of the things you can easily start A/B testing today in order to keep things fresh, interesting and optimized.
Because let’s face it: you and your new crew are bonding over D&D and parkours today, but there’s nothing to be gained from dogmatism when it comes to relationships. Instead, leave room for the possibility that it may be all about Catans and mimosas someday – that by experimenting, you may be opening the door to new points of alignment and new ways to connect.
After all, brand awareness is all about connecting.
Growth spurts are painful and often awkward to witness – there’s just no way to get people to forget that dramatic voice crack in the middle of a high school presentation, or an overzealous first jab at the whole makeup thing. As humans running companies to the best of our skills and abilities, we’re bound to take some wrong turns and fumble, and we’ll often find that loyal audiences are willing to forgive, but they need you to handle mistakes with transparency and efficiency in order to do so.
Surprisingly, a well-managed mistake can actually increase your brand awareness and equity. And while it may be a slight exaggeration to say that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, brands thrust in the spotlight are given a rare opportunity to step up to the plate and translate their corporate values into swift, effective and sincere action plans to remedy the issue.
Those who believe your efforts to be genuine and decide to stick through change with you will double-down on their loyalty.
Take Blue Bell Ice Cream, for example. After being faced with a dramatic recall due to listeria found in some of their products, they took action and ownership head-on – opting for honesty and transparency as they told customers what steps lay ahead. By the following Spring, social media was ablaze with loyal customers excitedly shouting out to Blue Bell as they looked forward to the ice cream season ahead.
Here are a few golden rules to harnessing your brand values when navigating your mistakes and changes of heart.
Ok. Now repeat the whole thing (and never take your audience for granted)
Are there any other loyal congregants of the 90s/00s RnB scene up in here?
Remember that amazing Back At One song by Brian McKnight?
You're like a dream come true.
Just want to be with you.
Girl, it's plain to see.
That you're the only one for me.
Repeat steps one through three.
Make you fall in love with me.
If ever I believe my work is done.
Then I'll start back at one.
Well, that’s basically how you need to keep audiences and consumers invested in your brand; always reiterating and challenging assumptions by staying in tune with your audiences and proactively engaging with them regularly.
In that spirit, we recommend teams revisit many of the cheatsheets and questions in this guide on a regular basis – acknowledging the brand as a breathing, living thing that needs to be purposefully maintained and challenged in order to grow. In each of those shifts lies an opportunity to revamp and retell your story, and you lose out when you fail to recognize or seize it.
When A1 decided to change its name, positioning and packaging, it built a clever and popular campaign around A1 Steak Sauce controversially dropping the “Steak” to explore new meats and dishes – morphing discreetly into A1 Original Sauce.
Well, well, well.
Another congratulations is in order, I believe – you’ve made it to the very end of this rather long-winded journey through brand awareness.
That’s dedication: 5 points for you!
I hope you’re reading these last words feeling energize and empowered; some tangible tools in hand to help you spread the word about what you’re doing, and build organic brand equity along the way. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be continuing our deep dive into brand awareness on our blog and publishing at least 4 more pieces to complement and support this ultimate guide.
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If you’re looking for support in defining, crafting and growing your brand, our door is always wide open. Get in touch to tell us what you’re working on, and which milestones lie ahead – or schedule a chat so we can find out more.
As always, feel free to add questions and comment below. In fact, we’d love to know about your efforts to build brand awareness and community. What worked? What failed? Did you discover any hacks you want to share? What surprised you along the way?
Looking forward to hearing from you.