Grow your brand without advertising

Insights from Atlassian, ClickUp and Zapier

Grow your brand without advertising

SEO, content, and other non-paid channels can impact brand growth more than you think.

❓It matters because:

  • Brand is a huge driver in SEO, CRO, email marketing, content,… almost everything marketers do
  • SGE, Google’s new AI Search experience, is likely to heavily favor popular brands (authority), so investing in brand might be a good idea
  • Brand can be a safety net for a company when channels cave
  • Companies are cutting paid budgets and see lower brand traffic as a result, some of which can be caught by non-paid brand activities
  • Standing out is critical with over 11,000 martech solutions and almost 2M Shopify merchants on the market (source)

Everyone wants more brand. We think advertising and a great product are the only ways.

💡The idea: There is performance and brand advertising - why not also performance and brand SEO or content?

I spoke with 3 experts who are building unicorn brands to get to the ground of it:

#1 Embody Style and Messaging in your content

Consistency in Style and Messaging is a critical pillar of brand growth. Yes, it sounds boring. But, marketers can apply it to content and campaigns.

📖 Context: Consistency creates familiarity, which - paired with a good experience - leads to trust. If that trust isn’t violated or diminished, it leads to brand loyalty - the holy grail of brand growth! See Google or Apple, for example. Even when technically better alternatives exist, customers choose the solution they’re familiar with because it’s reliable.

Andy McCotter-Bicknell:

For example, with ClickUp, the brand looks playful and positive through bright, modern colors like purple, pink, light blue, and yellow. That look is consistent throughout our platform and assets.

Style is the look, feel and tone of your brand. Brand style lives in any design component, from logo, web aesthetics, and product experience to marketing collateral. Atlassian, for example, is a SaaS brand that faced heavy critique of the looks of Jira and now is a best-in-class example of strong design that seamlessly stretches from website to product.

The look and feel should be defined by your (brand) design teams. It comes down to four parts (see The forgotten but impactful art of web aesthetics):

  1. Colors & Whitespace
  2. Originality
  3. Layout (arrangement of components)
  4. Composition (how separate parts come together into a "whole")

Tone is the way brands talk to customers.

👉Example 1: Clickup, for example, uses emojis in content to foster an approachable and casual tone.

ClickUp uses subtle emojis to make their blog content more casual

👉Example 2: A brand like Confluent has a much more instructive, direct style, which fits its developer audience.

Confluent uses a very to-the-point style

4 things you can do:

  • Build content, landing pages, microsites and conversion experiments according to your brand guidelines (and push your design team to deliver them)
  • Create custom header graphics in a consistent style for your blog articles
  • Ask your design team to build a set of reusable graphics for blog articles, whitepapers and slide decks
  • Avoid stock photos and out-of-the-box graphics
Atlassian uses custom and consistent images to uplevel their blog

Style is only as impactful as the message it carries. Messaging is how you talk about your product in relationship to your market (audience + competitors). It’s the outcome of positioning, which lives at the intersection of your expertise, the pain points you solve and what your customers care about.

👉Example 1: Zapier is all about easy product integrations and how the sum is greater than its parts because of it.

Zapier's positioning = connect software

👉Example 2: Atlassian’s messaging is all about teams and collaboration.

Atlassian = THE tool for team collaboration

👉Example 3: G2’s messaging is about being THE place for software.

G2 = THE place you go for software

The key with messaging is to reflect it in your content, ad and landing page copy. How many content briefs do you see that embody the core messaging pillars of a brand? Few!

1 thing you can do:

  • Prescribe Messaging and Style in your content briefs. It’s a lens through which to create content. It changes the writing style by making it memorable.

📏 How to measure consistency:

  1. Audit your design material (ideally in your design library) and where it’s used across marketing channels
  2. Run post-purchase surveys with Hotjar, Fairing (e-commerce), Qualtrics, or TripleWhale
  3. A/B test messaging in landing page copy with Wynter

#2 Compete where you have to, win where you can

The best style and message don’t help when it doesn’t reach the right people. Picking the right channels is critical because following the same cookie-cutter strategy as everyone else means tackling incumbents head-on - an uphill battle.

Brands live in many places:

  • Company website
  • Social platforms
  • Video platforms
  • SEO
  • Influencers
  • Partnerships
  • Email
  • Affiliates
  • Publishers
  • Advertising
  • Events
  • PR
  • Direct mail
  • Podcasts
  • Word of Mouth
  • Retail stores

With the exception of retail and partnerships, all of these channels are typically governed by marketers.

There are optional and mandatory channels. Savvy marketers go after channels where they have a competitive advantage. If, for example, none of your competitors do direct mail campaigns, but your audience is receptive to it, go hard.

Eric Serdar, Snr. Product Marketing Manager at Zapier describes the place your audience is as the waterhole:

This is where your audience is and where you need to build a brand. Some brands are great online but struggle in brick-and-mortar. Others are great on cable news programs, while they might struggle in the social media world.

📖 Context: There isn’t just one place for your audience. People use many platforms at the same time: Google, Twitter, Threads, Email, etc. Take it a step deeper and consider what publications your target audience reads, which accounts they follow, and which groups they’re part of - those are the channels.

Ask yourself: where is your audience, and where is your competition? How strong is your presence in these channels?

Measure channels your audience uses against where competitors are present

3 things you can do:

  1. Gain competitive intel with Qualtrics Brand Tracker, Appinio, or Crayon.
  2. Audit your competitive landscape for gaps that you can fill.
  3. Identify people, brands and publications your audience follows with Sparktoro

📏How to measure channel strength:

  • # leads / sales growth in comparison to other channels
  • Mentions in sales calls / surveys of where customers have seen your brand (with Gong or Chorus)

#3 Identify customer touch points, then elevate the experience

Based on the channels you pick, your target audience has many touch points with your brand. Your goal as a marketer should be to think about how people feel at every touch point with your brand and how you could elevate their experience. Good experiences like how easy it is to read your blog articles or clarity on your landing pages leave a good impression on your audience’s minds.

👂Inside scoop: Many years ago, we ran a lengthy deep dive into the user journey at Atlassian and noticed that most sign-ups had a touch point with our documentation before signing up. After more inquiry, we learned that we didn’t show the product on the landing for our flagship product, and users went to the documentation to see what the product looked like! After adding visuals to the landing page, we saw a significant improvement in conversion rates.

3 things you can do:

  1. Analyze your conversion funnel for the website and each channel and look for sharp drop-offs or optimization potential (where can you make the experience a bit more exquisite?)
  2. Use heatmapping and session recording tools like Microsoft Clarity to find out where users struggle on your site
  3. Use onsite survey tools like Refiner or Qualaroo to ask users what’s missing in their current experience

Andy McCotter-Bicknell:

You wouldn't believe the number of people that reach out saying, "I saw your YouTube ad making fun of Jira and almost died laughing. I'd never heard of you before but had to learn more."

📏How to measure touch point experience:

  • Brand recognition / post purchase surveys
  • Conversion rate (hard and soft conversions)

Eric Serdar, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Zapier:

For me, when I’ve worked at past organizations, we would measure our brand awareness. Essentially, we (or a third party) would interview members of our target market about different tools they were familiar with in our industry. We’d measure the aided and unaided awareness of our audience and see if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of us. If your target audience has a high level of unaided awareness and a favorable opinion of you, then you know you’re doing some things right.

#4 Invest in post-purchase content

We’re so focussed on getting new customers. Sometimes, we forget there is lots of upside in the post-purchase world, where a good experience can turn into a great or terrible one.

Imagine you buy a product. You’re excited to use it, but then you encounter a problem. The faster you find a solution, the better your experience.

Contrast two experiences:

  1. You buy a new iPhone and need to transfer all your data from your old phone. The iPhone solves this problem seamlessly for you.
  2. You buy a water filter and need to install it under the sink. You get the product and realize your water attachment is different from the one in the installation video. Now, you need to pay $200 for a plumber to install it for you.

The first experience yields brand loyalty, the second one a search for alternatives.

3 things you can do:

  1. Create content around product how-to’s & tutorials and FAQs
  2. Groom and expand your product documentation and customer support section
  3. Optimize for brand queries and target questions customers have about your product / company

📏How to measure post-purchase content:

  • Bounce rate / time on site in documentation
  • Direct feedback on documentation pages
  • Engagement of traffic coming through brand queries

#5 Create non search-focused content

Your brand comes to life in spicy takes and positions. Even though you want to optimize for a high degree of content quality on your site, not all of it needs to rank in organic search as long as you have other ways to prove its value.

4 things you can create:

  • Thought leadership from key people in the company
  • Data stories
  • Customer / expert interviews
  • Press releases

The critical point most marketers miss about press releases and thought leadership is “so what?” We don’t think enough about why people should care and why it matters. Invest more time into audience pain point research and tailor non search-focused content to it.

Lattice demonstrates expertise with in-depth interviews of people managers

📏How to measure non search-focused content:

  • Brand keyword impressions in Search Console and Google Ads
  • Brand keyword traffic in Search Console and Google Ads
  • Direct traffic

#6 Generate external credibility

Credibility nurtures brands. If we think about trust as a precursor to brand loyalty, credibility is a precursor to trust. Someone we trust vouching for a brand is the highest form of endorsement. You can significantly uplevel your users’ perception through influencers, trust badges and testimonials.

6 things you can do to drive credibility:

  1. Collaborate with influencers
  2. Ask for product reviews
  3. Add G2, trust pilot and other badges to your site
  4. Manage and drive reviews on review platforms
  5. Run co-marketing campaigns or partnerships with established brands
  6. Collaborate with affiliates on marketing campaigns
Monday shows trust badges on their homepage

📏How to measure external credibility:

  • Referral traffic
  • Influencer campaign traffic
  • Heatmaps showing dwell time or cursor hovers on badges
  • A/b test testimonials
  • Sentiment on review platforms

Taking it a step further

Non-paid marketing has more impact on brand growth than most think.

⚠️The problem: Getting buy-in for brand activities is difficult. In good economic times, leaders are willing to spend more on brand. But when the belt gets tighter, budgets shift to performance marketing to save the bottom line.

Here is how to convince leaders to at least try non-paid brand activities:

  1. Clearly articulate the problem you’re trying to solve
  2. Define how you measure success
  3. Launch a series of experiments as proof of concept

Dive deeper: How to pitch executives