Businesses are often reluctant to spend resources on things that don’t provide definite, measurable returns. Unfortunately, branding is one of those things — which has left many a brand bereft of a coherent identity that would benefit them with consumers. Branding is the underpinning of everything a brand does or produces, from the language used in its product descriptions to its packaging to the ads you see on the street. As a result, companies shouldn’t be viewing branding spend in a vacuum; instead, they should see it as an investment vital to making a brand successful.
Subway ads are a perfect example of the indirect value that branding can have. While it’s impossible to measure the direct impact that subway ads have on sales, they do help put brands into people’s minds. Brands like Casper, Seamless, Lyft, StreetEasy and Glossier have successfully used ads on subways to grab consumer attention, to the point where Seamless started selling posters of its ads online — which are now sold out. While in Seamless’s case there is a direct correlation between people seeing its ads in a subway car and people buying its posters online, the same is true for all other brands that advertise, even if the line can’t be drawn as neatly.
You can’t view branding spend in a vacuum; it’s meant to multiply and expand existing customer acquisition strategies and marketing campaigns. In other words, branding acts as the assist: It may not be the big splashy ad that gets people in the door, but it’s the essence that makes a brand recognizable.
It’s all well and good to say that branding and brand awareness are valuable, but how valuable are they really? What’s the ROI of brand awareness? No doubt many a brand has asked this question, and many of them have come up empty. It’s hard to calculate the ROI of brand awareness, but for valuable companies such as Google, Apple, Tesla and relative newcomer Slack, branding has come to play an important role in how these companies are valued.
Take Slack, for example, the workplace messaging tool currently valued at $5 billion. While it undoubtedly has some cool features, such as the ability to integrate with Giphy, Dropbox, Google Drive and others, there are other companies out there that offer a similar tool for enterprises (Microsoft, Facebook and Google, to name a few). What sets Slack apart from the rest is the perception of it as a tool for hot young startups, being a relatively hot young startup itself. In this case, it’s the branding that has done the most to facilitate this perception, through the use of hashtags to denote separate channels to its weekly podcast on the nature and meaning of work.
Slack understands that branding isn’t purely a physical exercise. Slapping a logo on a basketball jersey might be branding in its most basic form, but it doesn’t really add any long-term value to the brand itself. On the other end of the spectrum, Slack’s branding as a company associated with startups, coolness and innovation has had a direct effect on its valuation by investors. More importantly, it has helped it maintain its growth and attract new users. Too many businesses view branding only as an opportunity to see their logo on as many things as possible, without thinking of the implications that might have on the general perception of their company.