Here is a stone cold truth:
Branding impacts every part of the marketing funnel and the places where most people are trying to do marketing and sales are actually places where branding is most effective.
This is because there are really only two broad channels for a business to spread their gospel. The first is an Awareness Channel and the second is an Intent Channel.
Awareness Channels vs. Intent Channels
Awareness channels are where people become aware of your brand and learn more about it. Intent channels are where people who are in need of the problem you solve go to get serviced.
Awareness channels include:
- Social Media
- Display Ads
- Direct Mail
- Traditional Media
Intent channels include:
- Sales funnels
- Review sites
What people are able to do and what people want to do in each of these channels will determine to a large extent how you use them. The major land-grab for intent channels is over and the competition in those spaces is getting really expensive. Not that that means don’t show up in those channels. It just means that in order to pull ahead, you’re going to have to pair this with an awareness strategy. But what a lot of people are doing is they are taking their intent channel techniques and applying them to the awareness channel.
Let’s take the eBook for example. If you follow the Hubspot model, you are going to put up an eBook on your website and if people aren’t ready to convert you try to get them to download an eBook by putting in their email and then you email them until kingdom come. Well, when you take that idea and you start putting it in social media ads, you will get downloads and “leads” but they won’t have any intent to buy your product. Their only intent is to read the ebook. That doesn’t make them a prospect. Prospects have intent. Meaning, they are aware of the problem they have. They are actively in pursuit of solving that problem. And they have allocated money to pay someone to solve that problem. No money. No search. No intent.
It’s not that an eBook is a bad thing or that it doesn’t work. It just means that if you are going to put an eBook on social media, you have to think of that as part of your brand awareness strategy rather than your conversion strategy. You have to be ready to understand that an eBook may not create any more affinity to your brand as would any other type of written content. That’s because eBooks don’t create engaged fans and they don’t build a community. Most people know that eBooks are vailed attempts at a pitch and that sometimes, they have a couple more insights than a blog might. But realistically, they usually don’t.
A Better Way To Think About Awareness Channels
An awareness channel is really just a location (digital or real life) where people spend time. If they spend time there, that means their attention is there, and if their attention is there that means you have an opportunity to connect and communicate a message to them.
Let’s use a real life example. When you drive down the street you will see billboards. When most marketers think of billboards, they think that they don’t work or that they are hard to track or that no one is paying attention. Well, not quite. Billboards work. They get a lot of eyeballs and they create legitimacy. It’s just that they are really expensive and the cost per impression is really high. But that doesn’t mean they don’t work. It is true that they are hard to track but I would argue that most of the trackable attribution channels like paid search are getting the credit for conversion when the truth is that awareness content is what was doing the heavy lifting.
Traditional media like billboards, radio, and direct mail rely on building awareness across a location and spraying everybody where they live with a short simple idea that takes all of 3 seconds to consume unless you’re talking about radio and then you’re looking at 30 seconds. I want you to think of a radio commercial or a billboard in your town. The first one that pops into your head. Got it? That’s brand awareness. Now, you may be thinking of that commercial because you hate it or because the jingle gets stuck in your head. But that company is the first company that you will think of when you have that problem, if you don’t already have a provider.
I know this sounds like basic information but we live in a society that moves so quickly to the next shiny new thing that we forget the basics and we are worse off for it.
Now, let’s bring this example to social media like LinkedIn. Nobody goes to LinkedIn to buy things. Everyone goes to LinkedIn to sell something or find a job. Every ad that they see on LinkedIn is no different than driving in your car and seeing a billboard. The difference is that the impression is cheaper and the opportunity for capturing attention is greater.
So what should you do to capture attention and how close or how far should you stay from your pitch? I use a simple rule of thumb. In my intent channels, I talk about solutions and results. In my awareness channels I talk about underlying problems.
Awareness Content That Matters
When you solve a problem that real people have, you have to trust that people are going to think of you when they have that problem. In my career, I’ve shifted from a local small business owner to the head of sales and marketing of a global startup. My world, all of a sudden, got really, really big. And at first it was too big. But what is interesting, is that the two businesses aren’t all that different. In fact, the principles from the local business really transfer over in a lot of ways.
Here is what I learned about awareness content at the local level. I think of people who get into MLM schemes and they are encouraged to start selling to all of their friends and family to get started. The friends and family entertain the first party and they buy some stuff but then they notice that all their friend wants to do is talk about their MLM and get them to sell it with them. Sadly, they start losing friends. This was similar in my local business. I couldn’t ask everyone to buy from me all the time and that couldn’t be the introduction I made if I wanted to make friends.
I had to lead with being genuine. I had to lead with common interests and service, and humor. I had to be accepted into their community first. I had to become an insider. Then over time, they learned about what I did. They shared my name. Sometimes they used my services. But it was all community building. It was all sharing what I was doing, and less about compelling people to buy from me. Staying in front of them and showing them the things we did that I thought they would like made me a contributing member of the community.
That made them want to help me when they could. That made them look for opportunities to share my name with their friends and it made them vouch for me.
Building awareness globally isn’t different. It’s still about community. The community you want doesn’t have to be massive. It just needs to be minimally large enough to be viable for you to make money at the velocity you need to.
Connecting with a community comes down to one very simple thing. It’s all about traits. People build community around their own identity traits. They look for people they can identify with and build friendship with. The traits that you already have will send signals to other people who have traits like yours. Further more, the traits that others can’t identify with, will make you invisible to them.
The trick with brand is bringing the traits of the people you want to help into the soul of your brand. You do that through representation.
Representation is bringing people into your company and turning them public to send signals to others that your company shares traits with them. These traits aren’t always the traits that the individual possesses, however. Traits that people look for in a brand fall into three categories — traits that they possess, traits that the people closest to them possess, and traits of the people they aspire to become. This is why brands like McDonalds use regular healthy people in their commercials. They use representation such as a cool group of young people, or a healthy looking family, and recently, they are using celebrities to promote their go-to McDonalds meal. You don’t have to be in the market for McDonalds but people like you, closest to you, or who you aspire to become are going to McDonalds and the next time you’re driving around lunch time and you see those golden arches, you are going to have to resist the urge to drive through.
Awareness Content Produces Demand
Generating intent to purchase is usually very difficult especially if your product is a “nice-to-have.” A nice-to-have product is something that could make your life better but it isn’t going to kill you if you don’t get it. Think of it like vitamins compared to pain killers. A vitamin is a nice thing for your body. But you don’t really feel any immediate pain when you don’t have it and ultimately you’ll survive. A pain killer on the other hand has to be purchased. There is no other way.
People buy vitamins, sure. But the demand for vitamins isn’t the same as the demand for pain killers. In order for people to care at all about vitamins, the vitamin industry had to build awareness around the problem. They had to figure out how to paint a clear picture of long term health consequences and benefits in order to get people to buy into vitamins. They had to educate and influence authoritative figures like health care professionals to get them to start recommendations.
It’s a lot of work, but when you build problem awareness effectively you stir the pot in a way that get’s people to start thinking. Not thinking about you. Thinking about themselves. Awareness, in my opinion, isn’t as much about making people aware of you as much as it is about helping them to become self-aware that they have a need.
When you talk problems, or you talk about things that are out of reach for them, that’s when they start to perk up. They build affinity for you and what you talk about. That’s when they start thinking in terms of problem solving for themselves.
At first, they will undoubtedly try to solve the problem on their own. Most people are pretty DIY about stuff. They look for the cheapest viable option even if they have to do some work and even if it’s hodgepodge. You have to put yourself in their shoes. The more money a business spends, the less profit it earns. So they don’t have much incentive to buy anything unless, it saves them more money or it makes them more money. You have to convince them that their problem is losing them money or it is preventing them from earning more money.
If your product is good it will both save them money and earn them money. If your product is great, the pain of trying to solve this problem on their own is so painful that they would not think about doing it on their own or through hodgepodge systems. They would start looking for a full solution.
This is why focusing on brand awareness is so important. When you become the consistent voice surrounding this problem and you propose solutions and ways they can solve that problem through process, when they decide their problem is painful enough, they will go direct to your intent channel to book the sales call and they may not even look at competitors. Wouldn’t that be nice?
What content works best in social media?
Most people think of content as just blogs, videos, and square pictures with quotes. And they’re right. It is a lot of writing, posting videos, and making pictures. People can only get a message so many ways. They can read, they can see, and they can hear. But the creativity and the voice that you bring to the table is what makes your brand stand out.
The Written Word
Writing is powerful and people who read, love to read. Some people learn best through reading and if you’re a writer, then the written word is a powerful tool for you. People who think writing blog articles doesn’t work are usually just bad writers. And that’s ok! Maybe it isn’t their thing. A famous American writer once said, “If your book isn’t keeping you up all night writing, no one is going to stay up all night reading it.” So only choose writing if you enjoy it.
There are many creative ways to produce written content. Here are a few ideas:
- A company or personal blog about topics related to your core business
- Stories about the projects you’ve completed
- Self-published books (Amazon only requires 24 pages to publish physical copies)
- Press releases about recent accomplishments or things you’ve done
- Essays about the books you’re reading
- Short posts direct to social media channels
- Little one-liners displayed on a graphic card
- Old school letters
- Magazine articles and guest posts
- Commenting on other people’s posts (yes, that counts as content)
Video is powerful because it carries a 1–2 punch. People who are visual or auditory learners like video. It’s eye catching and easily digestible content; and when the content is good enough, people don’t feel as guilty about watching it as they would TV because it makes them feel like they are improving themselves. Which they are. Video doesn’t have to be a production either. It can be live and spontaneous.
Here are some video ideas:
- Zoom Networking Calls
- Video Interviews/Podcasts (both your own and guest spots)
- Short form tips or solocasts
- For real commercials
- Personalized video messages
- Recorded slide shows
- Recorded onstage keynotes
- Small group presentations
- Virtual Workshops
- Recorded Bookclubs
- Video reviews of well known publications
- Inspirational montages
- Under 60 second stories (think TikTok)
- Workplace Tours
- Life Hacks BABY!!!
- Product Reviews
Images are really great for the visual learners out there. Some people just can’t help slowing their scroll for a good image. Images can be entertaining, they can be inspirational, they can be educational, or even shocking. The thing to think about most with images is that they are the pinnacle of an invitation to your culture. The way you visually represent your brand is a direct signal to the people who will be drawn to you and in an equally powerful way they can be a deterrent. Whether you are intentional about the look or unintentional you are saying something about your brand and it’s either helping or hurting.
Here are a few ways to do images in a way that helps:
- Image quotes
- Selfies (Yeah, really. They slow the scroll)
- Carousel images
- Visual PDFs
- Candid pictures
- Shots where you’re on stage
- Team shots in action
- Pictures of your work
- Comic strips
Getting Awareness Channel Content To Turn Into A Booking
Here’s where your patience game needs to be strong because you aren’t always going to be able to track bookings from brand awareness content directly. But just remember that brand influences all stages of the buyer journey from never having seen you before to middle funnel, bottom funnel, sales funnel, and even retention and reactivation. You just can’t go wrong with focusing on brand.
Brand builds affinity, it gets attention, it encourages engagement because it is not threatening and it sparks curiosity.
You want people to think to themselves, “You know, I do have that problem. I wonder how they go about it.” The more you show up, the more they listen, and the more they want to do what you are doing.
This is what gives you permission to engage and offer help. If you are posting and they are asking questions, then they have an admitted need and are likely to explore what you do. An invitation to a 1–1 intro or a lunch is a great way to deepen the connection and to discover whether there is a need or not.
The magic happens when this starts happening in mass. When you’re able to build a community group of close individuals that build each other up and help each other out. That’s when the group becomes unified in buying into your offer. They willingly take on your brand and call themselves by it. And you’ll see people who have effectively done this. They call their people Fighters, Rebels, Guides.
Here’s the deal. When you build this amount of street cred, people will literally come to you asking what they can do to make it worth it to you to have ten minutes of your time. They will feel it’s an honor and it will be because of all the good juju you put out into the world. And you will feel honored and humbled by a community of people who look to you for leadership.