Lynn Manternach/Tree Full of Owls

Top of mind awareness is powerful. Top of mind companies have a significant market advantage because when customers and potential customers need the solution they provide, their name comes up first. Of course, that doesn’t mean consumers always choose them, but it does mean they’re on the short list for consideration.

The Corridor Business Journal‘s annual “Best of the Corridor” list is a great example of companies with top of mind awareness. If you review the names on this year’s list, you’ll see that a lot of the companies don’t depend on robust local media or marketing campaigns for their high awareness levels. But they do have strong brands. And strong brands have a huge advantage when it comes to generating top of mind awareness.

So what helps companies achieve top of mind awareness?

Differentiation: One of the keys to making your brand top of mind is to make sure it is differentiated. You have to look at competitive differentiation from the perspective of your consumers. While you may think what you offer is clearly superior to what your competitor offers, the only differentiation that matters is the differentiation that is perceived and deemed relevant by consumers.

So who do your current and potential customers see as your competitors? Why? And how do you compare to those competitors in ways that are relevant to your current customers and potential customers? The best way to find out is to ask them.

Once you understand what differentiates your brand, fiercely protect that differentiation, and communicate it at every brand touch point.

Different is good. Your relevant differences, especially when well positioned and articulated, will give consumers a clear reason to position you top of mind in your category.

Consistency: “We thought we’d update the logo to work better in this new ad campaign.” “It’s not a new tagline. It’s a catchy phrase we decided to use instead of the tagline.” “There was no room for the icon, so we left it off.”

Maintaining brand consistency is hard. Marketers are always looking for ways to create something new. But when it comes to brand building, consistency is one of the keys to success.

There are many reasons to strive for consistency, but increasing brand recognition is one of the most important reasons. Maintaining consistency in the right ways means consumers recognize your brand at a glance, which helps with awareness.

The challenge is that brand consistency takes many years to master before it really starts to work for a company. Many leading companies are leading because they have many years of brand consistency behind them. They had a clear vision of where they needed to go, and consistently communicated their brand with visuals and messaging along the way. That doesn’t mean they haven’t adjusted and adapted product strategies and tactics as needed over the years. It means they have communicated the essence of their brand consistently. It’s not easy to have that kind of brand focus in an every-changing consumer marketplace, but the advantages are undeniable.

Word of mouth: Consumers are increasingly finding ways to tune out marketing and advertising. But they’re talking about what they think of brands, products and services with other consumers in a wide range of communication venues.

Consumers have a plethora of places to share their stories of joy or dismay about your brand with the world. Blogs, e-mail, online communities, and review options on web sites can create a firestorm of awareness about your brand – good or bad.

Word of mouth is highly credible. Those recommendations are generally more effective than the marketing and advertising you pay for.

Staying focused on understanding and managing the customer experience is critically important for your brand, and ultimately, for your top of mind awareness. After all, your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what consumers say it is.

Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. (www.mindfirecomm.com) in Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities. Contact her at lmanternach@mindfirecomm.com.