You know the two major types of marketing: direct and brand. In direct, you try to move people along the sales process. Brand marketing is typically more subtle and far harder.
What makes it so tough? The BS is too easy to sling. "Oh, it's a brand campaign" is a popular excuse for ads and collateral that say nothing and become immediate fodder for circular files, whether physical or virtual.
Ultimately an effective brand campaign can't be theoretical. You still have to tie it to something real and practical for customers and prospects, even if it doesn't push closing a sale or a product information request. As a current project for a large corporate client reminds me, success in brand marketing starts with thorough planning.
Understand your customers and their needs.
The biggest mistake you can make is to think that your brand is about you. It's not. Brand is about how others perceive you. That perception includes quality of products, degree of customer service, reputation, value, and relation to the greater community.
The perception, in turn, rests on the relationship your company has with others based on what they look for and what you offer. Without customer need and expectations, there can be no brand because all that's left is a vacuum.
Before considering your brand, ask what your potential customers are trying to achieve. Where do they have difficulties? Is there something they want that they're not even conscious of yet?
It's about the emotion.
Needs aren't just physical. They're emotional. In fact, much of what people want is emotional. In the crudest sense, companies will try to capitalize on fears, insecurities, or desires and try to convey that they can fill the hole someone feels. Such an approach is morally reprehensible. You're trying to use people. It might work for a while, or maybe at a scale so large that you can keep people from having enough other choices, but all you'll be is the street corner candy man. You'll never be loved.
Instead, look at what people emotionally want in a bigger sense. They want to be understood. They want to deal with people who "get" them. So get them. Danny Brown offers the example of Duracell Canada, which taps the emotions of people needing to connect during a particularly bitter winter.
Always offer something real.
Platitudes are fine, but any ad is a potential pact. Make sure that there's something real and that the offer connects with what the audience is really looking for. Using Duracell Canada as the example again, there's an implicit promise that the company believes in the idea that people need each other and should pull together. Or the promise might be something as straightforward as the company understands what you, the customer, is going through and can actually help.
Of course, this puts you squarely in the hot seat. If your company and brand can't answer the needs of your customers, either find a way or go out of business. Seriously, life is too short to waste your time in what can turn into a con game. And if there's something off about your brand, there's no amount of advertising that will rescue your company.