Build a brand that gets into people’s heads

Build a brand that gets into people’s heads

The marketing discipline has, of late, been obsessed with short-term performance marketing. It seems that many of us have forgotten the true value of being a brand that people really love. Hanne Hollstedt, Head of Marketing in Schibsted Ventures Norway, is seeing signs of change.

Today, many companies are almost blinded by the urge to gather enough data. It’s all about hitting that exact moment when your customers make a purchase decision – all to reach a certain sales target. Yes, of course tracking, gathering and analysis of data is important. But what happened to building a brand that customers want to buy in the first place?

Build a brand that gets into people’s heads

A common definition of a brand is “a name with the power to influence”, according to reputed brand expert Jean-Noël Kapferer. But creating a brand that evokes love and trust, as well as the power to influence, is rarely at the centre of strategic discussions.

A gut feeling

All too often, brand strategy is left to the marketing team, and the marketing team is measured on short-term conversions. The strategic discussion centres around product, people, technology and KPIs related to revenue growth and costs. It’s tangible and easy to measure.

Honestly, if you ask yourself whether a financially strong competitor would be able to copy your product, technology, people or customer journey, the answer will in most cases be “yes”. But if you ask the same question about your company’s name or brand, and you can answer “no”, then you know you’ve got a winner.

One of a company’s most important assets is the space they occupy in people’s minds; the gut feeling and willingness to pay that they immediately stimulate –and the possibilities their name gives for future growth and opportunities. The sum of all choices that tip things in your favour – now that’s your brand making a difference. is by far the most popular marketplace in Norway, behind which is a large pool of talented developers, sales personnel and product owners. Finn has developed a strong company culture and substantial financial resources. However, all these assets could be copied, in one way or another.

Essentially, there is not a single unique element that you can’t copy or recreate.

However, try to occupy the same space in the heads of the Norwegians that the Finn brand does. That’s hard …really hard. That’s what’s called the performance of the brand.

The short-termism is to blame

So why isn’t the brand a central part of the strategy in all companies?

I think today’s short-termism is partly to blame, but also that the idea of brand is so complicated. To quote Jeremy Bullmore: “Brands are fiendishly complicated, elusive, slippery, half-real, half-virtual things. When CEOs try to think about brands, their brains hurt.”

From an investor perspective, the value of a company is not just the tech stack, production sites or current customer base.It’s whether they have a name with the power to influence future growth. This value lies in the brand. A well-used example, but nevertheless one of the world’s best, is “The Company that shall not be mentioned” who sells 15 percent of all devices in the smartphone category but keeps 66 percent of the global profit pool. No competitor has yet been able to take more than a tiny bite of that apple.

As for marketing, if you need to be right in front of people’s faces to be remembered and chosen, that represents a consistent and high cost. It’s like being trapped in a hamster wheel. Building a brand, on the other hand, is a sustainable, long-term investment.

Recent research shows a not surprising correlation between share of brand searches in a category and the brand’s market share (Les Binet 2020). This means that you also must focus on what triggers customers to search for your specific brand in the first place, rather than put all your focus on the generic searches in your category.

The future winners will be the ones who are able to create a name that increases the chances of customers choosing you over the competition, attracting more customers, at a lower cost, who are happy to pay a little extra for you. They will deliver more revenue, profit, and growth, more efficiently, and ultimately, generate more shareholder value.

The value proposition is crucial

The start-ups that we in Schibsted Ventures meet obviously don’t represent strong brands…yet. They are simply too immature. However, it is possible to identify companies that might have the potential to become powerful brands.

I would argue that start-ups that have a clear value proposition and are able to articulate that through both internal actions and external communication have a head start on their journey to becoming a strong brand. If you know why the users and customers should choose, trust and maybe even love you, you have come a very long way.

This might seem simple and intuitive, but it’s not. Very often a company starts out with some kind of solution that they more or less accidentally developed, without a clear vision of the actual value proposition. That might turn out well, but it also might result in blinding frustration no matter how advanced or clever your performance marketing strategies.

If you take a step back and try to figure out the essence of the market that your start-up is targeting, and what the actual drivers and barriers are, then you have taken the first step to creating a brand that makes a difference – a brand that is your performance.

Hanne Hollstedt

Hanne Hollstedt
Head of Marketing, Schibsted Ventures Norway
Years in Schibsted: 2.5