Big brands dominate. They have established market share and typically huge marketing and advertising budgets to defend it. They also have experience, talent and profound reach. It is enough of a competitive barrier to entry to scare away any ambitious startup.
But there is a way to compete -- and even outmaneuver and beat -- big competition at the branding game, it just requires a little out-of-the-box thinking.
It requires you to think young.
Consider two things. Nobody is born with brand loyalty or an affinity for Nike, Coke or Ford. Arguably, family and friends have a significant impact at a young age of influencing one's exposure to brands, but not necessarily loyalty. When children reach young adult age, they are trying to establish their own identity, which includes branding themselves.
Brand loyalty starts to set in at this young adult stage.
Second, for my generation (Gen X) and generations prior, our brand loyalty was often influenced by reaching us on one of three television channels or being everywhere we were (school, the mall arcade and food court, MTV, etc.).
Today, however, young adults are mobile, with smart devices in hand. They are influencing the decisions of large swaths of friends with a simple "share" button or witty review. Getting in front of them at this stage is a challenge, but it is much more effective than trying to compete with big brands on the bigger stages.
To get ahead in the branding game, here are tips for helping you focus your business's efforts on these young and impressionable adults who are still willing to take accept you as one of their brands.
1. Get on their level.
In my young adult years, I had long hair, wore too much flannel, and my discourse revolved around and was greatly influenced by subjects such as Pearl Jam, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club and Beavis and Butthead. To reach and impress me as a brand, you had to be at that level.
The same is true today. To relate with your younger audience, your brand voice needs to understand and empathize with what they are thinking, stressing and talking about. Until you do, your company is nothing but an overbearing Mr. Hand.
2. Be where they are at.
Younger generations are mobile and social. If you want to reach them, your company needs to be as well. Television, while still a powerful and widely accepted advertising portal, is being phased out in favor of streaming and on-demand services.
Social-media sites are popping up every year, and young adults trying to establish their independence and identity move often, trying to be peer leaders (which is why Facebook has become the "old person" network). Your business has to be flexible, savvy and willing to put the effort into staying ahead of the trends.
3. Do not assume.
Without a doubt, young adults are more informed today than generations past. They are fed and consume content and information from any number of different sources every day. Do not assume you know what they want or can influence what they think. Engage them constantly to understand their changing needs and desires, and then tailor and refine your strategy as often.
4. Make really good stuff.
Regardless of how well you capture the attention and loyalty of today's younger generation, you still need to produce amazing products and deliver exceptional experiences. Once you start to flounder in this regard, your audience will leave.
Apple, for example, has established one of the most valuable brands because they relate with young generations who are buying their first phone or computer, but more so because they produce outstanding products.
5. Do unto others.
If you are unsure how to reach or relate with the young adults of today, then simply take some time to look back at your most impressionable days. What did you look for in a brand? What made you buy and promote certain brands over others?
Whatever those reasons, I guarantee that this generation of impressionable young adults are thinking, expecting and hoping for the same experience. Treat them as you would have wanted to be treated.
To compete with big brands, remember that you do not have to nor should you try to compete on the same playing field. Big brands often get stuck in routines, habits and ideas. They are slow to react to market swings and trends, so be willing to step in when they lose touch with their base and you will win the hearts -- today and tomorrow -- of a huge market of young adults who will appreciate you.
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