Talk about bittersweet feelings. As a veteran Brooklynite, I was saddened to hear that Sweet ‘N Low, the famous sugar substitute brand, has officially shuttered the doors of its legendary Fort Greene factory and relocated to greener-hued, mid-western, low-calorie pastures.
Funny thing is, I’ve never even tasted Sweet ‘N Low. However, despite my self-imposed abstinence, I have a warm affinity for the synthetic sweetener that’s been gracing coffee tables since 1957.
I grew up with those tiny pink packets. Weddings, graduations, the occasional funeral — it wasn’t a formal event without the Sweet ‘N Low. The mandatory bowl of saccharin-saturated, papery pouches of ersatz sugary bliss would sit there peacefully, surrounded by elderly diabetics, hyperglycemiacs and little rascals like me who found it amusing to sprinkle those white granules all over the carpeting in haphazard Picasso-inspired patterns.
Although I’ve never been a card carrying consumer of Sweet ‘N Low, I still feel a sense of loss — a pang of regret, a gaping void. So what else should I say upon hearing that a sixty-year-old, family-owned company with strong Brooklyn roots is leaving for good?
“Oh, how bittersweet it is!”
Strange indeed, how a brand like Sweet ‘N Low can fuse itself so closely to one’s emotions, despite the fact that the individual never purchased or tasted a solitary packet. The marketing geek inside me finds this phenomenon rather peculiar.
What exactly is branding? Is it simply about trying to sell stuff to consumers? Does branding have a higher purpose than just generating stacks of Benjamin Franklins? Can a brand truly be an integral part of people’s lives — even if they will never buy the product?
Possibly, yes — but with a critical caveat. In the marketplace of today, brands are all about storytelling. And that’s where the problem begins.
You see, we’re being fed stories.
Big ones, little ones, tasty ones, repugnant ones. There are stories about friend and foe, strength and weakness, opportunity and obstacle. These stories dance around us enthusiastically, replete with an assorted cast of fascinating storybook characters, tugging at our collective heartstrings and wallets.
But maybe, just maybe, Madison Avenue got it all wrong. What if the brand inherently makes ordinary people like you and me, who are not necessarily part of the defined target market, a fundamental part of the story?
You are the protagonist even though you’ve never bought the product. You are closely intertwined with the brand despite not having an allegiance or loyalty. You know the company well and have formed a warm relationship over the years, financial interests aside.
As my Sweet ‘N Low saga so clearly illustrates, building a genuine brand that resonates and connects with people is not necessarily accomplished by clever Tweets or Facebook posts. It’s about more than just telling a story in return for everlasting consumer fidelity.
The lifestyle component, the humanization, the subliminal incorporation into the everyday lives of everyday folks — these are just as important.
Yes, I know you may not be living in Hipsterville, Brooklyn. Yes, I know you may not be selling synthetic sugar packets for a living. Yes, I know you don’t have a bottomless marketing budget like Sweet ‘N Low. But I also know that you can walk away from this article with a few tangible, tactical, thoughtful tips on how to better establish a brand that connects with folks on a personal level.
1. Forget Pushing, Start Pulling
Branding is not about pushing, it’s about pulling. The brand must precede and trigger every marketing endeavor. For example, if I stumble upon a coupon for Sweet ‘N Low and I also stumble upon the news that creaky, cranky, crotchety Aunt Bertha will be visiting my home next week, it’s obvious which brand of artificial sweeter I’ll be buying to perk up her morning brew. But it’s not because the coupon intrigued me; it’s because I’m intrigued by the brand.
The takeaway: What are you doing to make your product or service an everyday, essential, memorable part of people lives? The key is to draw people toward you smoothly — not to chase after them noisily.
2. Proselytize to the Masses
Effective branding creates loyal fans, customers, advocates and passionate evangelists. Exhibit A: I’ve just penned a lengthy article in support of a product I’ve never even tasted. If that doesn’t reek of pure evangelism, what in heaven’s name does?
The takeaway: How do you plan on getting people excited about what you’re offering? Give people a reason to talk about you. Give them something memorable to rave or gush or chat about. Give them what to tell their friends, family, fellow blog readers. As the old saying goes — word of mouth is the best form of advertising.
3. Make It Stick in a Big Way
A brand must stay firmly entrenched in a consumer’s mind and be clearly associated with a specific product or service. People must know what you stand for and what you’re offering. And while you cannot appeal to everyone, everyone can still know what your appeal is about.
The takeaway: Do you have a way to differentiate your brand and stand out in a big way? If I walk away after meeting you, will I remember anything about your product or service the following week? If yes, great — you’ve created the “stickiness” factor. If not, you should focus more on how you can imbue your brand with character, purpose and “stickiness.”
Do it right, and even those who aren’t (at this particular moment) card-carrying consumers of your brand will create a lifelong connection that may very well pay off someday in the future.
Perhaps I’m simply exhibiting hallucinatory symptoms brought on, no doubt, by my plummeting insulin levels, but I do believe that every brand should make an effort to reach out, connect with and intrigue folks who aren’t necessarily deemed as prime targets.
At best, these people will eventually end up becoming loyal consumers. At worst, they’ll simply write long articles about you. Sweet, right?