5 Lessons You Can Learn from Brand Marketing Stars

If I asked for your picks for the best brand marketers, who would you say? You might think of the beloved Flo from Progressive or the Chick-fil-A cows begging you to “eat mor chikin.” Maybe the classic “Got Milk?” campaign would cross your mind, or the controversial “IHOP” to “IHOB” fiasco. But there are other brands you may not think of right away that can teach us valuable brand marketing lessons. Find out what we’ve learned from five incredible brand marketers, and see how you can apply them to your own organization’s growth goals. 

1. The NBA: Don’t just build a following—draft a community of fans who are eager to talk about you  

The NBA is a brilliant brand marketer. Its season only lasts about half the year, but it manages to stay relevant year-round. How? Content. It’s not just the amount of content they pump out, however—the NBA teaches us how to create content that engages with the audience.  

Recent studies have found that consumers are more attracted to brands involved in culture. NBA fans don’t just want to be bystanders—they want to be part of the game. The NBA is keyed into fans’ desires for immersive content and has created a strategy that transcends the exciting plays, games, and trades. It brilliantly taps into the culture that surrounds the sport, too. Let’s look at their NBA Kicks Twitter and Instagram accounts, for example.  

The culture built around basketball shoes is nearly as popular as the sport itself. Very few basketball fans are able to play professionally, but they can still wear cool shoes. By creating social media accounts that highlight players’ shoes, they keep fans engaging with and talking about the brand even during the off-season. By tapping into the culture surrounding its product, the NBA has created more loyal fans eager to keep the brand buzzing.  

2. Wendy’s: Engagement is a two-way street—don’t just talk, converse 

We don’t all have the NBA’s immense opportunities for content creation. If your team is low on time and staff, you can still make a name for your brand by ensuring the content you do create is memorable. How? Ask Wendy’s! The Wendy’s Twitter account is infamous for the savage roasting of its competitors. This unique and hilarious tone has generated fiercely loyal followers who regularly converse with them on social media. We can’t all be as ruthless as Wendy’s, but we can still adopt some of its memorable branding techniques.  

Common advice tells you to just “be yourself!” But the lesson here isn’t to necessarily be yourself—just be SOMEONE. Think about it. It’s easier to connect with a brand that has an easily identifiable and relatable personality. You’d rather give your business to someone you like, right? Wendy’s tweets feel like there’s a real person—with a real personality—creating the content.   

Once you’ve crafted a brand personality, you need to interact with your following. Make them feel heard, spoken to, and a part of the conversation. This approach is also a surefire way to create loyal superfans who do more than hit the like button—they’re willing to initiate conversations with and about you. 

3. IKEA: Keep up with the trends, but adapt them to make sense for your brand 

Everyone is always looking for the next big trend to piggyback onto in the hopes of going viral. However, just because something’s hot doesn’t mean it makes sense for your brand. If you own a dog grooming business, for instance, it doesn’t make sense to release an augmented reality (AR) app letting owners preview different cuts on their pets. The return on investment would likely be dismal. 

IKEA has mastered the art of jumping on the right bandwagons to promote their home décor products. Take IKEA Place, for example. The app allows users to see exactly what over 2,000 pieces of IKEA furniture would look like in their homes using AR, a popular tech field people are excited to engage with right now. With this app, they were able to answer a common customer question—“how will I know if this couch will fit and look good in my living room?”—and get involved with on-trend technology at the same time.  

They’ve also jumped in on the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) trend with a video of a woman decorating her dorm room with IKEA products (which has over 2.6 million views) and ran with the story that Game of Thrones characters’ costumes were made using one of their rugs by releasing a how-to guide for fans at home. Their marketing team clearly stays abreast of what’s hot in tech and marketing but remains selective about what they adopt themselves, which is a smart use of resources and a crucial tactic for staying on-brand. 

4. JetBlue: Talk about more than just yourself 

Word of mouth is king when it comes to brand awareness. New customers are far more likely to listen to their friend’s recommendation than trust what you say about yourself. To cash in on word-of-mouth marketing, you need to turn customers into superfans. How do you accomplish this? By going above and beyond their expectations. Whether it’s by publishing helpful blog content or striving for stellar customer service, you’ll need to do more than just talk about how great you are. 

JetBlue has elevated this lesson to an art form with their Twitter account, earning trust in an industry with an abyssal reputation among skeptical customers. While their blog and social media accounts do still promote the brand in the traditional sense, JetBlue often uses Twitter to reply to customers’ questions and provide customer service in real-time, without the hold music.  

5. Dollar Shave Club: Don’t be afraid to shake things up 

It can be difficult for new brands to enter into well-established industries with strong customer loyalty, like the shaving industry. To step out from the shadow of razor giants like Gillette and Schick, you’d need to veer from the typical marketing aesthetic of swooping razors, masculine shirtless men, and the attractive women kissing them. The Dollar Shave Club exploded onto the shaving scene with their viral video and has been disrupting the market ever since. 

Dollar Shave Club’s iconic ad was no accident, however. It was born out of an intimate understanding of their target audience and a studied knowledge of their competitors’ weaknesses. Shaving isn’t exciting and buying razors can be a pain, so by making their marketing exciting they attract audiences’ attention. The casual and funny campaigns also target younger audiences—a demographic less likely to be married to a shaving brand out of decades of habit. Dollar Shave Club’s example shows that taking calculated, informed risks to stand out from the crowd can have big pay-offs. Don’t be afraid, take the leap and stake out your territory! 

As you can see, these lessons stretch far beyond just brand marketing to touch on topics of business strategy and consumer engagement. What have you learned from the marketing giants out there? Do you know of any small brands that pack a big punch? Tell us about them on Twitter. We’d love to hear your takeaways.  

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