Brand Recognition: What you can learn from the radio

The selection of radio stations in San Francisco is pretty terrible compared to other cities where I’ve lived. As a consequence, when I’m in my car I find myself jumping around stations with great frequency, and I almost always end up stopping on a station that is playing a song I know. I’m not alone.

Familiarity provides comfort and security. And familiar songs, even crappy ones, get more listeners than new ones. It’s the same reason big consumer brands and politicians spend so much of their ad budgets just trying to achieve brand recall or name recognition.

For mass-brand recognition, this is easily (if expensively) achieved by the expediency of a “carpet bombing” advertising strategy. But if you’re a startup or a B2B brand entering a new market, you’ll need to achieve brand recognition in a more targeted and cost-effective fashion. And sometimes you don’t have 6-12 months to build customer trust.

Achieving brand recognition in a new market

So, how do you do it? You make frequent low-ask touches to prospects in a short period of time. Low-ask touches mean not asking for much (if anything) from the prospect.

Of course, the whole point of marketing is to provide the trust needed to make the ultimate ask: the prospect’s business. Don’t worry, you’ll work your way up to the big ask. Familiarity breeds trust.

We do this for our clients; here’s a simple strategy you can try to build rapid recognition for a B2B brand entering a new niche.

Example: Fill a Dinner Session with VP and Decision Makers

The sales team planned a big dinner at a fancy restaurant to introduce a new product within an all-new market segment. Their brand recognition with the new target market was ZERO. Sales wanted Marketing to pack the room with VPs and above — in twelve weeks.

It’s only 50 seats and we’re providing high-end drinks and dinner. How hard can it be? — Sales

Just three hours of prime time from high-level executives who have never heard of our company? How are we going to make this work? — Marketing

So how do you get high-level executives to commit to a dinner when they’ve never heard of your company? It’s a trick question, of course. Short of deploying hallucinogenic drugs, you’d never manage to fill the seats.

The solution lies in making sure they HAVE heard of your company, or at least think that they have.  Here’s how:

Weeks 1-3: Preparation.

Start with messaging; plotting out your entire campaign well before first contact. Consistent branding throughout your campaign will be crucial to your success. Visuals, voice, and message have to be 100% consistent throughout every contact, from direct mail through landing pages. Any deviation from this, and your message is likely to bounce off your recipient’s radar. So, get your entire strategy set before you mail that first postcard.

During this time, you’ll also want to compile your guest list. (“How-to” coming in a future post). Keep it small. For a 50-person dinner, keep it to 500 decision makers.

Weeks 4-8: Stalk their social media accounts.

Befriend your prospects on social networks, as appropriate. Follow them on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, with an appropriately branded human representative account (a product manager or higher operations; not a salesperson); as well as your brand’s main account.

Retweet, react, review their products, and/or otherwise try to genuinely engage with them. This will probably go mostly ignored. That’s OK.

Setup a retargeting campaign so that if the prospects DO hit your website, your brand will be staring at them from every web they visit.

Weeks 6-7: Lay the groundwork, “old school” style.

Send each of your select decision makers something so they know that your brand exists — like a postcard. Yes, old school, oversized postcards. Contrary to what some people think, direct mail isn’t dead, and it still can be effective at reaching executives.

Postcards are a great option, because even as you throw them away, the intended message (my brand exists!) still gets absorbed. Send the prospects three themed postcards in a two-week period. Make sure they are similar enough that the branding gets absorbed, but different enough that they’re not subliminally dismissed as repeats.

Avoid industry clichés in your messaging — you’ll need some originality, color, and personality to get noticed.

And don’t talk about the dinner event — just focus on communicating your brand. Make your call to action a medium ask, like a visit to your website, or a phone call in exchange for information.

These will get thrown away with very little interaction — that’s OK. Again, your goal in this early stage is to casually introduce your brand into their minds.

Week 7: Email them directly with an invite to the event. Maybe.

This is the least important step and the only one that’s optional. But if you’ve done the first three steps correctly, you’ll be shocked at the response rate.

Only email them IF you have succeeded in getting permission or connected through LinkedIn or other networking venues. Don’t buy their names and spam — it might make your brand more familiar to your prospect, but not in a good way. The email should come from your human representative, versus simply your brand.

Week 8: Go “old school.” Again.

Now, it’s time to send them a proper hand-addressed, engraved invitation to your dinner event. Be sure it’s self-addressed by your human representative, with your company brand on back. Include a pre-stamped, pre-filled-out RSVP card.

This correspondence will get opened, because it looks like a communication from a genuine human (which it is); and because they now think they are “familiar” with your brand (which they are).

Week 9: Email if you can. Again.

Open rates will be higher this time, because they “know” you. A good call to action will seal the deal. You’ll get a stunning number of replies. Really.

Week 10: Follow up with a phone call.

Don’t worry if you don’t get ahold of them. Just leave a message about the event and how to RSVP.

Week 11: Send a final email.

Send the non-respondents a final email. This will fill your tables.

Week 12: Follow up with a phone call to confirm.

You’ll still have 30% no-show rate. But this minimizes it.

Boom! You have a room full of prospects where you can build the foundation of trust needed for your salespeople to work toward the ultimate ask: their business.

Of course, this is a lot of effort and a big outbound campaign. You’d probably get more cost-effective results with a long lead-time inbound campaign. But we don’t always have the luxury of time… or a carpet-bombing-sized budget.

Like a familiar song, an intense branding bombardment will make your prospects pause as they flip through their email, phone calls, and social media. If your messaging and prospecting list is on-target you can do great things with that momentary, oh-so-valuable attention.

Rich Quarles

Rich Quarles

Rich is a marketing strategist focused primarily on startups, technology, and financial services. He has advised startups that have collectively returned almost $2 billion to founders and investors. Rich founded glassCanopy in 2001.
Rich Quarles

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