Industry West caught up with Naqsh (Nick) Kochar, from Refresh, a multi-disciplinary strategy firm headquartered in Saskatoon, to talk about brand awareness. We sat him down to talk about brand awareness, what it is, and why you need it.
Here’s the Scoop
Q1: “So, what is brand awareness?”
A: “Simply put, this is about how top of mind are you when someone is looking for a product or service that you could deliver on. Think about your ideal client or customer. When they need the latest in fashion, are they coming to you first? If your client has a plumbing issue, is your business one of the first places they contact? For people looking to enjoy a night out on the town, does that night include your restaurant? Launching a new mobile app? Why should yours be the first one a user should download? There’s almost no business that is impervious to this challenge. Brand awareness seeks to get your products or services into the short list of options, if not the top choice.”
Q2. “Why is it important?”
A: “Brand awareness is about differentiation, which is an important piece of your profit or growth toolbox. Your organization should strive to be known for something in particular—and that thing needs to resonate in the hearts and minds of your ideal client. For example, are you better, faster or cheaper than anyone else in your category of business? If you don’t pay attention to brand, you’re saying, “We’re pretty much the same as everyone else so we’re not sure why you would choose us either.” I can’t recall any organization that has a tagline such as ‘average and proud.’ You might as well change the slogan to ‘We’re shocked we’re still here too.’ I want to be clear about one misconception. I am NOT saying to simply be louder. That’s marketing, where the focus is on the amplification of a message. Brand awareness is telling your story about why you do something better than anyone else. Don’t mistake brand and marketing as the same thing. They are very different.”
Q3. “What does the process look like?”
A: “I’m going to share the secret sauce to how I have developed the brand awareness to hundreds of organizations. Starting with the end in mind, the question you want to be clear on is why you matter to your ideal client. At first glance, that question seems innocent enough—maybe easy. However, the challenge comes from the objectiveness, depth of perspective and alignment of the answer amongst the leadership team. Sales and marketing anchor on the quality of the branding and it (branding) is neither formulaic nor an exact science. There is an art to branding and that’s what makes it difficult. The process is iterative and may take multiple attempts to get your business growth to take full advantage of your brand. Once in place, however, it can lead your growth strategy for a long time. I take clients through a journey that we have developed and refined over many years. I also try to bring richness of thought and a genuine interest in your success. It’s how I built our brand around the business of building brands. We are all good at different things and I like to think building brands is my superpower.”
Q4. “How do you make it part of your competitive advantage?”
A: “There’s nothing better than having a client or customer come straight to you because you are known for what you do—even if you haven’t done a single social media post in months. In absence of brand awareness, your marketing dollars will increase in order to compensate for missing brand clarity and I think it will still come up short. I come from a doctrine where competitive strategy is interdisciplinary. There are just over 20 profit models that are widely known and leveraged in today’s business world. Each one of those models can benefit from turning brand awareness into an asset.”
Q5. “Is this expensive? Do I need an agency to it?”
A: “Expensive is relative to your situation and there is a decision between three options of investment in time vs. money. Let me explain with a personal story about me building a deck and the lesson I learned. Option one is to do it yourself. In my case, deck building resulted in spending a lot of time trying to learn, buying a bunch of tools that I didn’t know how to use and ultimately the finished product was not the same as if it was done by someone who builds decks all the time. I’ll ask you—is that time and effort not even more expensive? Option two is have someone do it for you. That’s what I should have done with my deck in the first place. Similarly, working with a brand professional means you’ll get the work done arguably better, faster and most cost effectively in the long term. Also, using a professional is a more strategic use of resources because it’s specialized knowledge that you don’t need at the day-to-day operational level. The third option is to simply don’t do it yet. In other words, you know your brand is important, but the time is not right. I would strongly recommend that you tackle your brand awareness strategy sooner than later because it’s growth that you are not taking advantage of. Last time I checked, profitability is a key growth measure and you’ll never get the time back from wasted marketing efforts. I submit to you—that is expensive.
Hiring out the brand awareness strategy for your organization makes a lot of sense, but with the condition to find someone or team that can deliver. Am I allowed to share industry horror stories here? You don’t want to be wooed into hiring with an agency who says they have done branding for 10 years and then have your brand strategy worked on by the new summer intern. Don’t get me wrong—it isn’t about the intern. Respectfully, this work requires experience and cannot be easily delegated so it needs to be tackled responsibly. Have you ever heard the saying that expertise is not scalable? Inexperience or lack of brand considerations are directly related to lackluster marketing results. I’m sympathetic to the marketers, internal and outsourced, who are trying to use their marketing skills to grow an employer’s share of the pie without investment in brand strategy. Similarly, graphic design is not brand building. This misunderstanding comes up a lot. Design is where you go to create a visual identity or other marketing materials after the brand is established. If it sounds complicated, you are welcome to reach out. I will do my best to point you in the right direction.”
If you haven’t met Naqsh yet, you should. Leading Refresh (refresh.ca) in Saskatoon, he’s got more than two decades of high-level branding & marketing, innovation and business strategy experience. He’s also an advisor to several business support organizations, including Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (WESK).