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Last updated on August 9, 2022

Contributed by Greg Rawson,
Co-founder & Creative Director of Wanderlust

Death by Discounts

When a business turns to marketing to try and solve a declining sales issue, more often than not, it will run a promotion. And generally, it works. For a little while. Or, to be precise, for exactly the duration of the promotion. Then sales drop away again.

The reason for this is that simply running a promotion doesn’t do anything to increase a business’s brand loyalty.

Brand loyalty is where customers come back to a business again and again, not just because its prices are cheap, but because they like the business itself. They either like what it stands for, its cool image, reliable reputation, ethical practice, customer service, or other aspects of the business they deem positive.

The problem with promotions is that they don’t do anything to create or build on those crucial elements that, together, create a strong, likeable brand. And so, as soon as another business comes along with a cheaper price or a more appealing promotion, customers immediately jump ship. There’s no brand loyalty.

Worse still, once a business starts generating sales through price drops and promotions, that’s what customers come to expect. They see the business as a discount brand. When the business returns to trying to sell its products or services at regular prices, consumers will think “I’m not paying that much for a cheap brand like this.” And then the business is in trouble.

The way out? Throw large sums of money into marketing, to try and fix the image of the business, by digging it out of the promote-and-repeat cycle it finds itself stuck in and re-inventing itself.

Building the Right Brand Image is Easier than Trying to Change the Wrong One

A brand isn’t just defined by the business. It’s about how the business is perceived by consumers.

Imagine that McDonald’s came out with a surprisingly good new coffee. Critics raved about it. It was universally acknowledged to be one of the world’s best coffees. It cost $9 a cup. Would people buy it? Well, of course, a small core audience of hardcore coffee connoisseurs would be willing to shell out. But the masses? They’re not going to pay $9 for a coffee from the same place they buy a $3 burger and fries meal.

Even if consumers loved the new coffee, their peers would pile scorn on them for blowing $9 on a coffee from what is seen as the world’s go-to joint for cheap, fast and not-always-healthy food. For a lot of people, that peer pressure in itself would be enough to make them think twice.

It’s easier and more cost-effective to build a brand the right way than to try and re-create it once it has established itself and found its place in the minds of consumers.

Benefits of a Strong Brand

When a customer likes a brand, they form an attachment with it that goes beyond money. They’re willing to spend more, just to have products or services from that business, over similar products and services from another business. This happens even when those products or services are pretty much identical – and in today’s saturated business landscape, there is often very little that differentiates one brand’s products from another. The only difference comes down to the way people feel when they make a purchase from a brand that they prefer. 

Just look at Nike. Their products aren’t of a higher quality than those made by a dozen other brands in their category. And they’re certainly no cheaper. Yet they consistently outperform their competitors in sales. Why? Because they understand the value of a powerful brand. In 2021, Nike spent around 3.1 billion US dollars, just on marketing. And not just any marketing, but sharp, focused, consistent marketing.

Everything Nike says and does is spoken through one clear, strong, brand voice. They work with some of the best advertising and PR experts in the world, to ensure that every message that Nike puts out, is relevant, bold and aligned with their core philosophy, “Just do it.”

Apple is about thinking differently. Coca-Cola sells enjoyment. Ikea hammers home the message of affordable quality. Many of these global giants aren’t successful because their products and services are any better than their competitors. They’re winning because of their brand-building through years of smart, consistent and focused marketing communications. 

Image credits: Nike

Nike didn’t become the world’s biggest fashion brand by accident. Decades of bold, consistent messaging turned the business into a global behemoth.

How Do You Build a Strong, Likeable Brand?

The good news is that you don’t need a marketing budget the size of a small country’s economy, to create a strong brand. But what you do need is a brand-building, marketing agency that understands how to find the Unique Value Proposition of your business – that thing that differentiates your business from all your competitors. 

Then it’s about how they can bring this to life in ways that resonate with, and appeal to, the right audiences. This often starts with establishing a brand DNA – the core values, purpose and objectives. Then comes the communications strategy. This determines what it is the brand should be focusing on, and to whom it should be talking, and through which channels (such as social media marketing, PR and/or email automation, to name just a few).

The next step involves getting creative. It’s one thing to develop a communication strategy and determine the right audience, messaging and channels. But standing out for the right reasons, and getting liked and remembered, is another. 

A standout creative idea is key to making an impact among the increasingly cluttered media environments that people spend time in, particularly, social media. A bold, simple campaign idea, based on the communications strategy, will translate the brand values into a message that audiences will notice and recall when it comes to making a purchase decision.

Image credits: Haig Road Putu Piring

Even a small-scale, promotional social media campaign can help to grow a brand. With the right strategy, an audience insight and a simple, relevant and creative idea at its core, any business can stand out.

Then Why Do So Many Businesses Just Run Promotions?

Quite simply, it’s an easy thing to do. There are no audience insights required, no strategy, and little or no creative thinking needed. It’s the default way to get a quick sales spike, that unfortunately, often comes at the expense of the longer-term image of the business it’s supposed to be helping.

An Integrated Approach is a Brand-Building Approach

Running promotions and price-based communications doesn’t have to come at the long-term expense of a brand. Some global giants, such as Ikea, have even built themselves on creative, tactical advertising campaigns. The key is to think holistically and make sure that every message put out by a business is part of a larger, integrated communications platform. Every consumer touchpoint should reflect and add to a brand’s values.

From social media ads, to influencer marketing, to videos, promotional campaigns, e-commerce, CRM and email automation, an integrated marketing approach ensures that every step of a consumer’s purchase journey will get them one step closer to becoming a loyal customer.

Bigger Is Better. Even If You’re Small.

No matter how big or small the marketing campaign, a holistic, integrated process is the most effective way to build a strong brand. This way, whether you run tactical promotions or a big brand-driven campaign, every touchpoint in which an audience engages with your business, will play a part in helping to get it to a better, stronger place.

Greg has been using strategic creativity to build and strengthen brands, for over 20 years. His experience spans Australia, Singapore, Southeast Asia and Japan, and his clients have included Heineken, Toyota, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Singapore Government, LEGO, Tokyo Government and Forbes. Greg’s work has been recognised with awards at Cannes Lions, D&AD London, One Show New York, AdFest APAC, the Singapore Creative Circle Awards, Spikes Asia and the Effectiveness Awards shows.