By Amy Stokes, Ph.D.
In my last article, I talked about the three levels of brand awareness. In this article I will discuss leveraging, a useful and cost-effective way to increase the awareness of your brand. Leveraging is when a brand uses already established people, places and things (events, other brands, causes, ingredients) and the familiarity consumers have with them to make an association with their own brand. While leveraging is enticing because it can significantly reduce the costs needed to move a brand from unawareness to a recognizable name, it is not without risks. As with all branding decisions, the choice to leverage existing entities requires strategic planning and alignment in target audience, positioning and goals. Without the proper leveraging strategy, your brand will likely be forgotten or overshadowed by the more dominant and familiar brand. Without proper alignment, even if you successfully create awareness it may be to the wrong target audience or may communicate the wrong message. This can ultimately dilute your brand value and long-term profitability by causing confusion in consumers’ minds regarding what your brand symbolizes, what problem it solves or need it fills, and for whom it is intended. A little forethought will go a long way toward maximizing the benefits of leveraging while minimizing its risks. Next, I’ll explain the most common leveraging categories and provide useful tips for each.
People: This can include the owner or family name, employees, paid spokespersons or characters and third-party endorsements. Leveraging people works really well when consumers are both familiar with the person and, through that familiarity, have come to trust them: A perfect example of this is local newscasters or radio personalities. Even though we do not know them personally, years of watching/listening to them day after day breeds trust. The pitfall here is that the familiarity with their employing agency may overshadow your brand. If not done properly, you might remember Lisa Rose from KY3, but not remember the product she was talking about. In order to reduce the likelihood of this happening, when using spokespersons, take them out of the environment in which consumers are used to seeing them and place them in an environment that matches the consumption scenario of your brand.
Places: Some places have become known for either competencies or climates that produce the best of the best in certain product categories. For example, we want our cheese from Wisconsin, watches from Switzerland and leather from Italy. As such, if you import goods or have received training in an area known for being the market leader, leverage that. Furthermore, there has been a cultural trend for locally sourced and produced goods, as consumers desire to support their local economy and reduce their impact on the environment. Use this consumer preference to your advantage in your communications. This information should not be buried in the “About Us” section of your website, but should instead be in your Facebook profile picture and cover photo, in your logo or tagline, and on the front page of your website.
Things: This is a broad category that covers everything from events, to charitable or social causes, to other brands or ingredients. PFI Western Wear is one local company that does a good job leveraging events and other brands. Their partnership with Professional Bull Riders allows them to host larger events than they could afford with their operating budget alone. The PBR/PFI Party in the Parking Lot is a marketing success as it not only puts the PFI name in front of consumers in their target audience, but it literally brings customers to their store for both ticket sales and the concert itself. Getting consumers used to visiting the store and its website for entertainment purposes creates not only familiarity, but also a positive association where the brand invokes memories of fun and excitement. While this event is a for-profit business venture, local businesses are often asked to sponsor charitable events in exchange for some sort of brand placement either on advertisements or during the event. While this can be very effective at driving brand awareness, it can also just be a nice business tax write-off. In order to get both benefits, sponsor at a high enough level that you are a presenting sponsor and your brand is either included in the event name or is associated with it in all communications. Secondly, make sure the charitable organization and the hosted event is one that your target audience cares about and would likely attend whether or not your brand was associated with it. Lastly, plan on it being a long-term relationship rather than a one-night event. In order for your association with a charitable or social cause to be memorable, consumers need to be exposed to it more than once. Rather than choose a new organization/event to sponsor each year, decide on one that meets both your philanthropic and strategic business needs and then consider it an investment rather than a deduction. Also, when leveraging charitable or social causes, it is important that your association be perceived by consumers as more than just a marketing ploy. Consumers respond best to this type of leveraging when they feel the social cause or charity is being furthered by the partnership as much as or more than your brand is. It falls flat to see brands turning everything pink during the month of October in order to garner goodwill and possibly increased sales, without ever actually providing financial or other types of support to breast cancer research, victims or survivors.
Feel free to combine across categories. For example, if you are a local milk producer like Memory Lane Dairy, you could use both place and people to leverage attention for your brand. The fact that they partner with farmers in a 50-mile radius of Fordland would give them automatic name recognition in several communities where those farming families live and work and often have good reputations as longtime community members. If you are a local java joint that sources your beans from Costa Rica but only from fair-trade farms, you could leverage both the reputation of the place from which your product originates and the social consciousness with which it is sourced.
This article appeared in the May 23, 2015 issue of the Springfield News-Leader. It is available online here.
Amy Stokes, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of marketing at Missouri State University and has experience as a media coordinator in private industry. Stokes has a specialty in advertising and media issues and writes about those areas as well as general consumer behavior. Email: amystokes @missouristate.edu.