What Copywriters Need to Know about Branding
Just a few decades ago, branding was purely a creative advertising technique. Unless you were in the industry, you might have thought of branding as something that makes cows yelp.
These days, however, a brand is a serious corporate asset. You may make the best cereal in the world, but if it doesn't have Kellogg's printed on the box, you're at a serious disadvantage. After all, that's the brand that persuaded people to eat corn flakes!
Companies like Virgin use their well-known brands to sell everything from music to cell phones to airline tickets. People trust that brand so much that they're willing to purchase just about any product or service associated with it.
One of the oldest brands in the world is Chiquita. The company, in its earliest incarnation, began exporting bananas into North America in the 1870s. Today, it's one of the most recognizable brands in the food industry.
In the case of Virgin, MGM, Apple, and many others, the brand name has taken on a life of its own. A popular brand can be as valuable to a company as its physical assets, such as office buildings, manufacturing plants, and transportation networks. Companies are even bought and sold on the strength of their brands.
What Is a Brand?
A brand is a combination of all the good things you associate with a company or product name — images, feelings, opinions, ideas, and attitudes. When you hear the word Sunkist you probably think of fresh, great-tasting oranges or juices. When you drive by the Lincoln dealership, the first image that comes to your mind might be that of a wealthy businessman.
In order for a brand to become valuable to a company, it has to get the RAP, which stands for:
Recognize — the company or product name is instantly recognizable, even when all you see is the logo or tagline.
Associate — the company or product name elicits predictable thoughts and feelings. For example, you probably associate the Mr. Clean brand of household detergents with a clean and bright kitchen or bathroom.
Prefer — the company or product is not only recognized by its target audience, who associate it with good things, but is also preferred by those people. They will tend to select the brand over its competitors, even when the competing brand has more desirable features.
There is a fourth stage in brand development, although marketers don't focus on achieving it. This is when a brand becomes part of the popular culture or everyday vernacular. For example, if you have a stuffy nose, do you ask for a tissue or a Kleenex?
The Selling Power of a Brand
Why do companies and their ad agencies spend so much time and money building a brand? A recognized and preferred brand helps sell the product. It makes all the marketing pieces that are developed — advertising, direct mail, e-mails, Web pages, and other promotions — work even better.
Think about it. If you received two flyers in the mail, one from Dell and the other from an unfamiliar brand, which one would you order a new $2,500 laptop computer from? Chances are Dell would get the sale.
And branding isn't just for big companies. Some businesses and even independent professionals can — and should — build their own brands. Even a deck contractor in your neighborhood could be so well-known for his workmanship and honest pricing that he becomes a powerful local brand. The neighbors know his name (recognize), feel good about the work he does and what he charges (associate), and select his deck building services over all others (prefer).
Where the Copywriter Comes in
It's true that branding is primarily the domain of marketing strategists. However you, as the writer, can play a significant role whether it's for your own business or your client's.
Copywriters often participate in brand building activities, such as developing positioning statements and brainstorming taglines. (A tagline can, in fact, make or break a brand.) And there are many writing projects that are specific to branding. In addition, you need to understand the personality of the brand as you write other projects promoting the product or service. You need to know when to weave key brand messages into your copy and when to leave them out.