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Catchin's a buzz.

Buzzzzzzz. You know when you see or hear it. It's when your brand is hot, white hot. Sizzlin'. The subject of countless media stories. The word-of-mouth that moves swiftly throughout a trade show floor, or within the Internet's chat rooms. It's that "we're drivin' our competitors crazy" feeling. And even ordinary folks, like Marge, the checkout lady at the nearby Wal-Mart, are gabbin' about it. Either your brand has it or it doesn't.

It's called buzz. And it's an important aspect of brand building because it can accelerate not only the brand building process. but also sales. Buzz inspires people to call for the brochure and try your product. Ideally, at least in the short term, it places your brand in the consideration set. Ultimately, buzz can build momentum for your brand, which is critical to long-term growth, and it's just as applicable whether you're managing the business-to-business IBM "blue" brand or the Coca-Cola soda "red" brand. No one or perfect way exists to get your brand in the buzz jet stream. Sometimes it just happens. For example, who can explain the appeal of Tony Bennett among the same generation of music lovers that embraced Nirvana and Pearl Jam? But more often than not, brand buzz can be deliberately generated. Whether you're about to launch a new brand or trying to resurrect a brand on the slippery slope to Forgottenville, here are some ideas to get people talking about your brand:

Do a Brand Reality Check.

If you haven't done so in a while, conduct an "annual check-up" on your brand. Today. Pull together the research, call in the account planners, check the web, visit with customers, send the surveys, and go to the store shelves to see how your brand slacks up to the competition. Ask yourself some tough questions: Is your brand still as relevant today as it was the day it was introduced? Does it still reflect the people who purchase and use it? Are people talking about your brand? Is your brand among the top three considerations for purchase?

Who's Keeping the Flame?

As part of the your brand check-up, also take a close look at who is keeping the brand fire alive and burning. Is there at least one person who lives, sleeps, eats and showers your brand? And do the people who work with that person have the same desire to keep the brand white hot? If not, don't hesitate today to go out and find that person and give him or her the tools and resources to build the fire.

Reconnect with Your Most Loyal Enthusiasts.

Who are the most overlooked stakeholders in building brand buzz? More than likely, it's the people who spend more than one-third of their daily lives developing, manufacturing, maintaining and selling your brand. Next time you go to a party, listen carefully to what people say about their company. When employees, vendors, the sales force, analysts and shareholders are excited about your brand, the end-user will be too.

Feed the Influentials.

Influential people can have enormous power to ignite brand buzz. In many cases, their very mention of your brand can be interpreted as gospel. So it's imperative that you identify those people and get your brand in front of them. Short of kidnapping an influential, communicate regularly with these people and get them excited about your brand.

Invite Customer Feedback.

Brand building is a relationship founded on good communication. Companies that want to drive brand buzz know the importance of inviting customers into the process of creating a brand. Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks have done so for years, regularly seeking driver input through their exclusive 2,500-person driver boards. This invaluable input helped both companies position their brands and develop new products and services in a highly competitive market.

Create Catalytic Moments.

When you watch a big football game, have you ever noticed how the tide of a game will turn in favor of one team or the other? It starts with a huge play, and in many cases, it's followed by more critical plays. Volvo Trucks sparked its own catalytic moment recently. It shocked the trucking industry by advertising during last year's U.S. Super Bowl game. That catalytic moment spurred major brand buzz for a business-to-business manufacturer and supported the dramatic rise in the company's sales. Eight months later, Volvo Trucks moved from sixth place, out of eight major truck manufacturers, to fourth.

Break Away from the Pack.

Today, when one brand blends into another, you can't afford to keep following the pack. Do your own thing. Sometimes that means doing something completely obvious that only your brand can do, such as messing with tradition and adding a new color, as M&Ms candy did. And sometimes it requires something out of the ordinary, like placing "Got Milk?" stickers on bananas.

Report Compelling News.

Leverage the power of the media to get your brand sizzling. The campaign of Jesse Ventura (known for his wrestling expertise) for governor of Minnesota is a perfect example. Significantly outspent by two major party competitors, Ventura gained valuable exposure by persuading the media to report on his creative use of advertising and a G.I. Joe-like action figure. Today, he's Minnesota's governor. For your brand, seek compelling stories that will create buzz within the news media, such as new and innovative technology, product or application; surpassing a major milestone; distancing competitive products; or receiving the attention of an influential.

Establish Brand Icons.

What the beck is that dancing baby on the Internet all about? Ask Kinetix. And what about that cute railroad engineer doll that's all over the place? Ask Lee Jeans. A bulldog with sunglasses? Ask Mack Trucks. In a visual society, icons communicate in a way that ads and words can't.

Ultimately, what we're driving toward is the brand experience. Look at all the brands that surround you from the computer you use and the soda you drink to the distinctive dial tone you hear when you pick up the phone. Some marketing geniuses estimate that the average person has 2,500 brand experiences a day. Nowadays, not only is it imperative to create brand awareness, but also to actually enhance the quality of every brand experience every time we come into contact with a particular brand. This includes not only the advertising, PR and direct marketing, but every aspect of the brand, from the messages the receptionist communicates to a prospective employee to the design on your product or service's label.

Barely do brands die instant deaths. Rather, they suffer long, slow, agonizing deaths as a result of indifference, and that begins when the keepers of your brand take their eyes off the flame and stop feeding it. Most often, this happens when the keepers of the flame fall into a maintaining-the-brand mode, rather than constantly feeding it with catalytic moments. Don't become too comfortable. Feed the fire and fan the flames.

Stephen Dupont is director of media relations for Carmichael Lynch Spong Public Relations, Minneapolis, Minn.
COPYRIGHT 1999 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:brand building
Author:Dupont, Stephen
Publication:Communication World
Date:Mar 1, 1999
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