Creating a great brand from scratch is the dream of every startup entrepreneur. But can we build a brand without advertising? Around a decade back, it was possible to build a brand with just advertising. But in today’s digital era, a great brand cannot be built using advertising alone. In this blog post, let’s have a look how to build a brand without advertising. We will also have a look at how a lot of billion-dollar brands have been built from scratch with no money spent on ads!

Valuable digital brands like Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Uber etc. have always focused on user engagement and creating a good brand experience. Google did not become the world’s No.1 Search Engine via TV, Newspaper and Radio ads. The secret to building a big online brand, especially in the age of internet is to have a very low barrier of entry to a product experience.

With free products and services online, a brand can attract potential customers at zero cost. This create brand engagement and not just brand impressions. Brand engagement is 10x more valuable than brand impressions.

Only a few entrepreneurs understand branding and the rest end up wasting money in ‘branding activities’. Some marketers think that they can create a great brand by out-spending the competition on advertising. So they end up investing money in driving brand impressions. They roll out fancy TV ads, get millions of banner ad impressions online and cover the first page of our daily newspaper. These ads compete for the consumer’s attention… And we (consumers) try our best not to pay attention to these interruptive ads!

The ability to attract attention is the most important asset for any business. If you have their attention, you can convert that attention into revenue. But instead of interrupting consumers with ads to get their attention, entrepreneurs should focus on creating something amazing with a low barrier of entry and naturally attracting consumers to engage with their brand.

The Problem with Brand Impressions

Before we get into the art of attracting consumer’s attention, let’s understand why brand impressions miserably fail to convert prospects into paying customers.

Consider this scenario: If you have been a happy customer of Brand A for the past 10 years you are unlikely to change to Brand B. Even if you have some minor issues with the service, you will try to rectify it and remain and customer of this brand. That’s because you have formed a habit around this brand’s products and changing to a new brand is uncomfortable.

You know that the other alternative is Brand B because they have been creating millions of ‘brand impressions’ around you. TV ads, billboards, Newspaper ads and so on.

But we (consumers) are savvy and experienced enough to know that just because a brand releases ads that are all over the place, it doesn’t guarantee that they have the best products and services.

Unless Brand A pisses you off with terrible customer support or a fraudulent billing activity, you will not try Brand B. That’s because “Known devils are better than unknown angels.”

“You can add all the bells and whistles in your ads, but they’ll never truly create the kind of emotional experience that gets consumers excited about your brand.” – Eric Savitz (Source)

You cannot make someone comfortable enough to buy from you just by driving brand impressions. User engagement is what makes a brand a ‘known devil’ to the customer. A good user experience will imprint your brand in the consumer’s mind.

Ads can help you make your brand well known, but trust and comfort cannot be built with brand impressions. Think about politicians. Politicians have hoardings and put their faces everywhere, but that doesn’t make them trust worthy. Sometimes, driving up too many brand impressions can actually have the opposite effect. Consumers might get irritated. Have you even heard the same ad twice on the radio? Hasn’t it made you angry?

What is Brand Engagement?

When you use a product or service of the brand, they become known devils to you. If your experience was good, you are much more likely to remember the brand, use them again and recommend it to your peers.

Instead of learning about the brand from ads, you are experiencing the products of the brand. This is brand engagement.  The more you engage with the brand, deeper the connection between you and the brand. This connection can never be created using ads. And this connection is necessary for a brand to become truly successful.

“Brand engagement is the process of forming an emotional or rational attachment between a person and a brand.” – Wikipedia

Right now you are reading this article and a brand engagement is happening right here. Publishing an article like this and attracting readers to my blog is much more effective for expanding my personal brand – than running display ads on other websites which scream “Deepak – The Digital Marketing & Branding Expert from Bangalore” 🙂

You have to get people to experience your brand before expecting them to trust you with your money. The best way is to have a low barrier of entry to experiencing your brand. And that means giving away something of value, for free. Right now, this article is of value to you and you are reading it for free. Hasn’t it helped you form a deeper relationship with my brand? 🙂

Driving Brand Engagement with Free Products

In today’s digital era, creating a free product or service and distributing it costs almost nothing. This has given birth to a large number of businesses which attract potential customers by giving free access to their amazing products. Once someone uses a brand’s free products and have a good experience, they trust the brand. This attention and trust can be leveraged to sell premium products. Today, thousands of internet based businesses across the globe run on the freemium model.

Google gets the attention of consumers by delivering awesome search results and free email accounts. We pay our attention and engage with the brand. We form a habit of using their products. Google leverages this trust and attention to sell premium products to us and PPC ads to advertisers who need our attention..

Tons of iOS and Android apps are given away for free. They attract attention without spending a penny on ads. Their premium apps are sold to the people who already had a good experience in using their free products. In-app purchases are the one of the best app business models in the app economy.

Dropbox gives you free storage and gets you to pay attention to them. They make you form a habit around using their cloud backup and storage solution. After years of using Dropbox, if you need more storage, you will not hesitate paying them even if another cheaper solution exists in the market. It is difficult to form new habits and go through a learning curve of using a product or service. It is easier to pay a bit more money to a product that you are already comfortable using.

Bloggers create a good brand experience by publishing quality content and answering their reader’s questions. They use that attention to sell training and information products. Other bloggers sell this attention to their advertisers instead of selling their own products. A good brand engagement creates trust and makes it easy to convert prospects into customers. Brand impressions create just the awareness.

Drive Awareness Using Brand Impressions

In markets where customers are not proactively searching for a solution you are offering, interrupting them with ads is one of the ways to drive brand awareness. But instead of showcasing the products to them, pull them in with free offerings and drive brand engagement first before you try to make them buy.

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Practo.com has a free appointment booking app and they drive awareness for that app through mass media advertising. Right now Practo.com has lakhs of users paying attention to them and regularly using their apps. They sell that attention to doctors through ads. If Practo launches a premium product for consumers, many people would convert into paying customers.

Brand impressions are optional in today’s digital world. Uber doesn’t try creating brand impressions at all. Instead of making media channels rich, they used the marketing budget entirely in giving away free rides to passengers.

Since they are giving away free rides – there is no hesitation for first timers to use their service. Once they use it, they are pleasantly surprised with the experience. Brand engagement done! This brand engagement is worth more than 100x brand impressions.

In some business models, giving away things for free is not possible. In such cases, heavy discounts and low ticket products drive the brand engagement during the initial phase. Flipkart and Amazon are good examples.

Flipkart would never have become a billion dollar company by selling books. However my first order on Flipkart was a book for Rs.200 at a good discount and free shipping. I was pleasantly surprised by the speed of delivery and perfect packaging. Brand engagement done! Since then I have spent more than a lakh rupees on Flipkart!

I hope this article gave you clear insights on how to build a great brand using brand engagement than just brand impressions.

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