Building a brand is a daunting task. Ask any entrepreneur and the answer will be almost similar – it was a challenging thing to do, especially for startups, as they are usually subjected to well-entrenched competition from larger organizations. As a result many startup founders think that they need to invest a massive amount of money along with long hours and some great deal of creativity to steal a significant market share and grow successfully.
While creativity and long hours are achievable, not all startups have a massive marketing budget. Resources are scarce for new companies, making it even more challenging for them to build their brands effectively. That being said, it is not an impossible thing to achieve. In fact, there are numerous brands that are thriving without spending a fortune on advertising or traditional brand building strategies.
“Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century” – Marchall Mcluhan
According to eMarketer, businesses will spend nearly $662.73 billion by 2018, which is almost $100 billion more than what was estimated in 2014, i.e. $545.40.
However, there are many businesses that have gained significant market share without investing in the traditional branding game. Please note that we are not talking about local food joints and mom-and-pop shops here that hardly need traditional advertising or branding to bring in customers. We are talking about some major brands that have built loyal followings by means of relationship-focused marketing tactics.
Here are 3 companies that have successfully built their brand by investing in their consumers’ experiences with their products, instead of spending a fortune on advertising and traditional marketing. They have actually worked to establish their products and their places in people’s hearts.
Kiehl’s, a renowned American cosmetics brand, hardly spends money on advertising or packaging since it was founded in 1851 as a small shop in New York City. The cult favorite of many fashion aficionados, which is now a part of multinational L’Oreal, still sticks to its philosophy. The salespeople at Kiehl’s give out generous samples of their skin and hair care products to customers before they make a purchase.
The company refrains from hyperbole and there are no false claims associated. Instead, the Kiehl’s approach is to uphold the standards of honesty and integrity, which reflects in their core values i.e. providing free consultations to customers along with a 100 percent money-back guarantee. The brand has actually established its empire by simply establishing great rapport with customers, turning them into evangelists.
The results are noteworthy: Kiehl’s revenue in 2000 was $30 million and in 2014, it reached the $810 million mark, all without any marketing gimmicks.
Costco, at present, is the second largest retailer in the U.S. People have become budget-conscious shoppers following the recession in 2008; bargain warehouse retailers, as a result, have had significant growth over the last few years “at a rate of four to five percent per quarter,” a Forbes report indicates.
Today, Costco brings in more than $100 billion in revenue annually without running any TV commercials. In fact, to compete with retail giants like Wal-Mart, this bargain warehouse retailer uses no advertising at all and turns it into a competitive business advantage. It helps Costco to save two percent of their annual budget and reinvest the same in discount coupons.
In addition, it has a strong mailing list through which it offers top quality and high-end products to its customers. To ensure that its customers become repeat shoppers, Costco uses an annual subscription model.
Manufacturer of high-definition personal cameras, GoPro, is popular among adrenaline junkies. Although this brand does engage in a bit of traditional advertising, it has built more than 3 million YouTube subscribers using some unique and cost-effective methods.
The company’s YouTube channel features videos of its customers’ base jumping, skydiving and deep sea diving. The secret of its brand building strategy lies in these user-generated, vertigo-inducing videos. Almost every week you will find some of its videos going viral on Facebook or Reddit.
You cannot deny the effectiveness of this social media strategy that not only helped GoPro gain over 3 million subscribers (and still counting) on one of the most popular online video channels, but also sell 3.8 million cameras in 2013 alone (according to CNN Money).
All these companies know the market they cater, to and based on this knowledge they foster a strategy of providing the best possible experience to their customers. The message for all these brands is subtle: You are not buying a product, but an experience. And that’s the right way to build your brand, with or without a budget.
The toughest challenge of brand building, especially for small businesses and startups, is not cost. Even though that may sound surprising to you, it’s a fact. Businesses usually fail to find the right strategy to get their message heard by the target audience(s), irrespective of all the noise prevailing in the online world.
The following are a few things you need to do to build your brand with no or limited budget.
Often businesses invest a lot of time, effort and money on creating a powerful marketing message. While it may help you to get people’s attention for a while, you cannot hold it for eternity without an equally powerful product that lives up to expectations. For a steady organic growth you need a strong product/service, of which people must speak positively.
Your focus therefore needs to be on developing your product in such a way that it provides real, unique value to your buyers. If necessary, be ruthlessly perfectionist to create something you would be proud of. Do this and people are sure to talk about you and your offerings for years to come. It’s easy to spend money on packaging and marketing, but they will not yield the desired result unless you have put equal effort, if not more, in developing your product.
Keep your strategy simple. Create something that’s easy to use, lasts longer and does not burn a hole in your buyers’ pocket. Analyze the product, ensure its quality and get feedback from real people at the early stage of your product development so that you have enough opportunity to rectify/alter things, if required.
Remember Kiehl’s story; how the brand used simple strategies to win over its customers! You need to create brand evangelists to go to the next level, and it is almost impossible to do so by the means of traditional advertising and marketing. Your brand evangelists are more than your consumers; they are your loyal followers who are willing to push your product/service voluntarily to their respective communities.
This is key to your organic growth. Brand evangelists help you in word of mouth marketing. They spread positive words about your product/service to a wider audience. Their voice is so powerful and credible that it surpasses the voice of the brand itself. Reports from Nielsen indicate that 68 percent of buyers trust ‘consumer opinions online’. In comparison, only 48 percent people trust advertisements on social media sites and search engines.
Consumer behavior is quite simple and predictable, if you observe it properly. They are not just looking to buy an item, they are actually looking for an experience that is enjoyable and at the same time, fun. Many startups and new entrepreneurs think that consumer experience ends when one makes a purchase. This is totally a wrong perception.
In fact, consumer experience begins with them purchasing a product. You are not only addressing a pain point of the consumers with your product/service, you are also there to engage and build relationships with them. A couple of prompt telephonic conversations, email replies, a few tweets back and forth and replying to a comment or two are some of the ways that can be enough to turn your regular customers to brand evangelists.
Make them feel valuable and they will value your effort and show their gratitude by spreading good about your brand. Two-way communication between your customers and your brand plays a pivotal role in turning them into evangelists. This is actually a great way to empower your consumers and allow them to drive the brand’s direction. For example, conduct surveys, polls and competitions and ask your regular customers to participate. And when you reward them with coupons/freebies, they are more than likely to share their experience on their social networks, as a way of saying “thank you.”
“Sharing is caring,” and this is the ultimate truth in the social media era. The number of people sharing your posts and tweets has a direct impact on your marketing efforts. Your goal is therefore to encourage your customers to share your products with their communities. Now, your true evangelists will probably do this voluntarily, but for all other customers you need to remove all friction from the sharing process so that they can easily share your content on their social networks.
Simply install social sharing widgets on your website and pre-populate social media buttons to reduce their work. Include popular social media buttons such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Tumbler, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. In addition, prompt them to share the content on their social networks instead of waiting for them to do it of their own accord.
For instance, when a person makes a purchase from your eCommerce site, prompt him/her to share what they bought with their friends on their Facebook, Twitter or Google+ accounts. You can do the same for your articles and blogs of course.
The ultimate goal of branding is to solidify your brand in your customers’ minds. This primarily requires you to have a solid idea about your product, your company’s core philosophy, the target market and its requirements and pain points. All these factors should reflect in your business and marketing strategy. For that to happen, you need to remember a few things:
• Be yourself and stay true to your core philosophy and business idea throughout the life of your business. Again, consider Kiehl’s example of sticking to its philosophy even after becoming a part of multinational L’Oreal. Never lose yourself trying to be something you’re not.
• Have a consistent image and don’t change it just to appeal to other audiences. You will run the risk of losing your regular customers, or worse, your brand evangelists as they will become confused. Costco gained its prominence in the U.S. market as a bargain warehouse retailer, but today if the brand decides they want to emerge as a luxury brand to appeal to a different sector of buyers, they are more than likely to fail the expectations of their regular buyers.
• Find what makes you different from others; this is your unique selling point (USP), make sure you use it to your advantage.
Building your brand, with or without a budget, always starts with your product. Develop a quality product that solves the pain points of your target market and then simply make the shopping experience easy for your customers. Make sure your users are happy with the whole experience and then encourage them to share their experience on their social network. This is one of the best approaches to organic-growth model.
Also, be persistent in your approach if you want to nail your branding efforts in the long run. Sometimes things won’t go the way you expect; your first attempt may totally flop but don’t get discouraged. Tenacity is a virtue, especially for entrepreneurs. Evaluate every aspect of your branding campaign, and should you fail on your first attempt, fine-tune and try again.
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