Never underestimate the importance of keeping your brand message clear, according to Marco Geninazza

The first thing that any new entrepreneur needs to ask themselves is this: what is the reason for your product or service? That's not surprising, but there's another question you should be asking as well: is this reason obvious to people?

It is an area often overlooked with start-ups. You’ve got a great idea for a business, you've identified a clear demand for your product or service and you’re ready and set to make the big bucks. Surely all you need is a good product, and perhaps a spot of marketing, and the customers will come flocking to you before you can say ‘new villa in the south of France’.

Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Never underestimate the difficulties that will arise if you make the mistake of giving out the wrong message about your brand. We all make mistakes. At my first job as a marketing executive, for a large and well respected chain of restaurants in London, I worked on a direct marketing campaign set up by the bigwigs, who were convinced that they had a good understanding of their regular customers.

They had a database of customers who had been to their restaurants over the years and who, they believed, absolutely loved their brand. They would once a year send out vouchers by post (back in the days when email was a scary and unreliable myth) to this database. These vouchers would entitle the holder to a 2-for-1 meal across the chain’s 15 mid-market restaurants. Usually this trick worked a treat and all the restaurants would be buzzing for around two months every spring, in a period when the restaurants are otherwise quiet.

Subsequently, they opened three very high-end restaurants in fashionable parts of the capital, all with huge, celebrity-embraced PR launches. The restaurants started off well but weren’t ever as full as the guys at the top wanted. So they demanded, against our advice, that we use a similar but ‘classier’ direct marketing campaign, again with their beloved vouchers. These vouchers were sent out to the existing database of bargain hunters, with the bosses naively convinced that a stampede would ensue.

In fact, very few people arrived with voucher in hand. Those that did were shocked to find that even after their discount, the meal came to more than they had paid for their three-piece sofa.

That campaign succeeded only in giving the impression of early desperation. Instead of concentrating on the brilliance of the cuisine, which began to deteriorate due to lack of focus, they began to offer promotion after promotion and it soon became clear that they didn’t quite understand which market they were going after or what message they were trying to convey. These shenanigans also managed to leave a bad taste, at least financially, with the existing mid-market customers. Needless to say, seven years on, there is only one of these high-end restaurants left in London and it’s hardly ever full.

The lesson here is simple: make sure that you have a clear, constant brand image running throughout your marketing and PR material, and ensure it’s evident in your advertising push.

A lot of multinational brands are moving away from traditional marketing methods and stepping into the murky waters of viral marketing. They see it as an easy, quick, cost-effective way of reaching a lot of people, not realising how hard it can be to put together a clever video and get a target market in the to pass it on.

While it can work to great effect in some cases, such as the Mastercard 'Priceless' campaign, it’s still unclear whether Mastercard released all the adverts themselves in a marketing masterstroke or whether their tagline was simply adopted just to get some laughs. Either way, by giving the impression that they weren’t involved in all of the adverts, they are free from any negative connotations associated with some of the dodgier releases. They come off looking cool and funny, and manage to hammer home their company and tagline to a vast and impressionable, young, professional market.

This type of marketing however is a very tricky business when it comes to brand image as messages can often be lost or damaged when trying to achieve the viral qualities (often humour) of the advert.

Your brand is your lifeline. What people automatically think of when they think of your brand is vital. The messages you convey when putting together your marketing materials all affect the overall opinion of your product or service. This can directly affect your sales.

Marco Geninazza is marketing and PR director at Find Invest Grow UK