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The power of long-term brand building

By Ben Whitmore, Lemon Tree Agency Manager

Are you in business for the now or for the future? 

With so many tactical trends focused on generating sales today, brands often neglect to plan for the future – namely an organic future that relies more heavily on affinity and connection than immediate sales and paying to play. 

Google ads, Facebook, Instagram, email marketing, retargeting – they’re all great tools for generating sales and understanding your ROI. But what they’re not so great at doing is building your brand equity for future sales.

Emotional vs functional marketing

Who is your ideal customer and how does your product help them? How does it make them feel? Are your products disposable or long-lasting and sentimental?

Disposable products do well in a see-ad-buy-now landscape because they don’t generally evoke a lot of emotion upon purchase. A well-made jacket or pair of shoes, on the other hand, may instil the sort of sentimentality that keeps consumers coming back to you for decades to come (and bypassing the paid-for ads to do so).

Think about your childhood. Can you still remember the jingles that marked the ads between your favourite TV shows? As a kid, I would religiously watch the Sydney to Hobart yacht race with my family. All those sponsor brands taking pride placement upon the sails of the leading maxis meant nothing to me then. For all I knew, “Ella Bache” or “Tag Heuer” were likely just the names of the boats and held no significance to a 10-year-old. 

Yet 20-something years later, when I see these brands, I’m transported back to those times and naturally feel an affinity toward them. Sure, 20-years may be a long-reaching strategy, but it’s important to think, at least a little, about this when setting your budgets and planning out your marketing activities. After all, it’s so easy to simply put your money into the digital funnel where X money goes in and Y comes out. However, thinking into the future, will this strategy evoke any kind of affinity towards your brand or products? 

As the digital world becomes increasingly dominant, we find that many businesses are making these short-term investments without considering the future or how they’d be able to weather the storm if one of these channels were to fold. You may have other channels to invest in, but at the end of the day, it’s the longer-term investments that will build a timeless and enduring brand and loyal customer base.  

The power of long-term thinking for building brand affinity

As consumers, we all love to signal. Signal our status, signal which tribe we belong to or signal our values, so we seek out and borrow from brands that can help us to do just that. This is another reason long-term brand building is so important. 

When you get to a point where several brands are offering the same potential for signalling, however, it’s only that affinity and brand equity that will set you apart. A childhood memory, a love for a particular sport or celebrity that your brand is associated with. Or perhaps it’s a particular campaign or design that speaks directly to the heart of your customer. One thing we do know is that it’s rarely (if ever) that keyword-optimised ad you ran on Google or the Instagram story you posted months ago that will build a deep loyalty to your brand. 

Don’t get me wrong, those activities are an important tap on the shoulder to remind customers that you’re there. But often it’s not just your products that they want to buy, it’s what they represent and how customers can use them to market themselves to the world in a similar way.

Here’s an example.

There are plenty of coats and at all kinds of price points that will do the job of keeping you warm. But when a customer pulls on a Patagonia jacket, they’re signalling to the world that they live for the outdoors and care about the environment. You could just as easily get yourself to work in a Toyota, but when someone steps into a BMW, they’re signalling success and status. 

Why? Because of good brand building. Over a long period of time, we’ve learnt or we’ve interpreted through their marketing and brand representation, that this is what these companies represent. So when we want to be represented the same way, we know exactly where to go and who to spend our money with to do so. It may be a 20 or 30-year journey to conversion, but this is the pay off for the long term investment that these brands’ make through collaborations, sponsorships, and countless campaigns where they’re not only speaking to today’s customer but also their customers of the future.

So next time you’re planning out your calendar, ask yourself what’s really most important for you, your business and your brand, and have a think about how you can diversify your activities to include both short and long term strategies.