Promote your brand without advertising

Yes these are challenging times. Whatever the future is going to hold, one thing is really true “The future isn’t what it used to be”. So if you’re a start-up or have a fledgling brand, how do you attract customers without overspending your rapidly shrinking budget?

The key is to try to infiltrate rather than seeking to invade people’s minds. This means going beyond conventional so-called “unconventional” brand communication methods. Online, events, promotions and in-store are all great channels of engagement but are getting overcrowded. The challenge is to reach out to people in highly cost effective ways beyond these channels. However to be cost effective one has to create new ways of engagement which maximise the impact of each channel. There are many sites that show interesting ways to use shopping carry bags. Consider a crowded market where your retail outlet is fighting for mind-space amongst a plethora of competing brands. And other attractions. If your shopping bag stands out, people will be interested in checking you out, generating invaluable footfall.

For a client who wanted to dissuade people from illegally entering their country we created a street play which was performed 120 times. Critical to the success of the play was creating characters that audiences could easily identify with. And hence connect with. Details like the names of the characters, the language and the visual identity for the printed material had to be thought through. Ensuring a balance between the seriousness of the message. And the degree of informality required to ensure that the message was not seen to be authoritarian.

However infiltrating does not mean covering every available space with your brand. It means finding opportunities to reach out to the people you want to address. And at a time when they’ll be receptive. And then to attract them with a message that provokes a response for your brand. Like a disposable nappy brand that sets up pop-up nappy changing cubicles in malls. Where you don’t just change nappies but you can order them for home delivery. With soothing music and calming ambience.

The essence is in engaging in a surprising way that’s relevant to the location and occasion. You might find that by finding a lateral way to do this, you could create a very memorable moment for your customers. This means understanding what people expect to get from the product or service you are providing. And then finding a way to use this to reach out to them. For example a service station wants to steal a march over its competitors. They could offer to regularly have their key clients’ cars cleaned on weekends for free. There are retail brands that offer (through a tie up) free bridal make-up services for clients during the marriage season. And then there is the well known case of a bookstore brand that encourages you to sit awhile, read a book with a steaming cup of coffee, without any pressure to buy.

There’s the case of a car rally sponsored by a leading telecom brand. Millions spent on the sponsorship and advertising it. Compared to a leading tyre brand that provided a puncture repair kit and checked your car’s tyres when you reached the day’s destination. Guess which one earned greater gratitude. Especially when the route passed though areas of no network! Tyre brand 1. Telecom brand — egg on its face.

Having a clearly articulated brand point of view helps. Because, particularly in troubled times, people do seek more reassurance than during buoyant times. One way is by taking up social issues and championing a cause. Brands can play a larger role than a purely commercial one. However the critical thing is not to treat this as purely a marketing strategy. Picking up a major social cause does place a far higher onus on the brand to be authentic about it. If pursued with genuine fervour the brands’ actions alone generate interest. As Anita Roddick did when she created the Body Shop brand. The brand got talked about and thus created a far larger and more differentiated space for itself. Far more than could have been achieved by only conventional advertising or promotions alone.

Unilever did the same when it promoted hand washing — even creating a product for it. “Lifebuoy’s Colour Changing Handwash. We developed this to inspire children to wash their hands and allow parents to see that hands are clean and protected. The changing colour of the foam shows that children have washed their hands for long enough to remove germs. Children are intrigued to see the foam change from white to green and it makes handwashing fun.”

Another way to generate attention for your brand is to create landmarks. In a smaller town, bereft of greenery, owning the best tended green space could be one simple way of ensuring your brand is well known. As well as giving back to the community. Contributing to civic maintenance while creating a landmark would be a simple way to attract eyes to your brand. For example taking up a stretch of road and ensuring that it is always well lit, well surfaced. With help on standby, if needed. It would ensure that the stretch is referred to by the name of your brand. Free repeat publicity. Naturally the services and experience you provide would need to have something to do with your brand’s category. This article is not about “noble cause”, but ways to bring attention to your brand without paying inordinate amounts for it. Thus the need to always have a clear link between the activity and your brand.

Apple by having enthusiasts, rather than just sales assistants to man its stores, leverages the store experience to speak volumes for the brand. The general retail experience (as many of us have experienced firsthand) is less than overwhelming a lot of the time. This is an area where having fewer outlets but manned by enthusiastically savvy staff, could create many positive “moments of truth”. Moments that would translate into invaluable word of mouth. Many brands appreciate the importance of where the actual purchase transaction takes place. But not enough effort is made to actually differentiate the experience. The point of purchase is a very important medium of engagement. It is also a place where investments are already made towards distribution and display. Often the solutions at this point tend to follow category rules resulting in weak differentiation. The key is to cause abruption and thus create interest. For example, placing communication next to complimentary categories suggesting simple combinations for the housewife in a food store. This does not mean getting into cross category tie-ups, but merely placing communication for your brand in categories which are complimentary. Another opportunity is the “temporary” store. Particularly in these times where the downturn is freeing up retail space. Think of it as a mobile exhibition but acting as an actual retail space. This would give your brand presence and open up temporary channels without having to invest in fixed brand spaces. In fact this could be an interesting idea for a new business!

Another way to generate word of mouth and increase the visibility of your brand is providing skill upgradation for using your brand. To help people use your brand in a more effective way. Preferably at the place of purchase. This could be combined with a participant get customer reward program. The object would be to create brand advocates through this process thus actively pushing word of mouth. Beyond this communities could be built and social networks be leveraged.

In sum there are great opportunities to use various means to powerfully promote your brand. Without having to spend large sums of money in one-way mass media advertising. Here are some tips on how to do so:

  1. Track the buying process of your customers and identify opportunities for engagement in relevantly creative ways.
  2. Focus on your point of purchase — what can you do with your product/service that will differentiate you and delight your customer?
  3. When does your customer use your brand? Are there opportunities there?
  4. Are there tie-up opportunities — for example for a home appliances brand with a grocery delivery service?
  5. Are there social initiatives that capture the heart and endear the brand to your customers? Food brands have witnessed upticks for their products when a small percentage of the price of the product went to a noble cause. So instead of standard sales promotions you could have noble cause based initiatives.

The point is to extract moments of meaningful engagement that would enrich your brand’s relationship with people. Without expending large sums of money to do it. The current downturn might actually enable brands to create an upturn in the quality and depth of their relationship with people. And build greater mind-space, that will ensure that tough times build tough brands.