Tips for using distinctive brand assets in digital marketing

- Mechelen

How do you build your brand with digital channels? Any answer to that question will invariably cover what are known as distinctive brand assets (DBAs). What are DBAs, why are they so important, and what should you consider when deploying DBAs for digital advertising?


It’s very simple: brands exist only in the memories of consumers, and marketing professionals have made it their business to reinforce the position of brands in people’s memories. The subject has been extensively studied, not least by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, which under the leadership of Byron Sharp, has released several groundbreaking publications in the past year that have dispensed with many sacred cows.

One of the Institute's better-known publications is Building Distinctive Brand Assets by Jenni Romaniuk, in which she discusses how DBAs help brands to secure a foothold in consumers’ minds. DBAs are pretty straightforward at their core: they are attributes that allow consumers to associate an ad with a brand without consumers seeing your brand name (immediately). In other words, they’re particularly useful if your packaging, website or commercial are intuitively associated with your brand.

Some well-known examples include the Coca-Cola bottle, Apple's apple and the fingers in commercials. Romaniuk also calls DBAs brand proxies, lending flexibility and enabling marketing professionals to tailor their efforts to whatever environment they’re working in.

DBAs strengthen mental and physical availability

Growing brands optimise mental and physical availability. When brands want to increase their mental market share (i.e., to engage in branding), the challenge they face is to grab the consumer's attention and convey the marketing message linked to the brand. Even if the consumer does not pay attention to your brand in the message/ad, DBAs help to connect the message to your brand.

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A jar of DBA peanut butter

Where physical availability is concerned (clear presence in places where consumers buy your category of products, such as a supermarket or Google), your brand should also be easily recognisable. Consumers generally shop at lightning speed and browse myriad brands at an equally rapid pace. Just think for moment – how long do you spend picking out a jar of peanut butter in the supermarket? Probably not that long, which means Calvé only has a matter of seconds to capture your attention. In this case, Calvé uses the shape of the jar, the brown lid and the red logo.

DBAs come in many guises. Fortunately, Romaniuk has created a handy list of common audiovisual DBAs:
Deciding which DBAs to focus on merits a lengthy article in and of itself, but for now let’s focus on three essentials:

  1. Which DBAs do you have, which are potent/promising, and which are not?
  2. Choose! Focusing on too many DBAs at once is the same as not focusing at all. Choose a few promising DBAs.
  3. When deciding on a DBA, take the environment of your ads into account, as well as where your product is sold.

Digital marketing and how to deal with DBAs

Brands with an online-only focus are lucky, because they can focus solely on the DBAs that matter most in online environments. Packaging, for instance, is a lot less important when selling products on online marketplaces, while striking photography is key if you want to stand out on and Amazon.

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Online ad from Coolblue featuring the company's signature colours.

If your brand has both an online and offline presence, multiplatform environments are a simple fact of life. The more diverse your media and distribution channels, the more diverse your DBAs will have to be. A key piece of advice in this is to choose DBAs that are compatible with as many channels as possible.

For example, having a characteristic voice as a DBA may not be useful if you advertise a lot online, a generally silent environment. In online environments, logos, colour and colour combinations and fonts are crucial ways to foster immediate recognition. Coolblue is a great example: the blue/orange colour combination points to only one brand. With the rapid rise of digital audio platforms, it is worth mentioning that audio/music assets are quickly gaining relevance.

Assets such as tag lines and storylines need less focus when we look at how consumers consume digital ads online.
Choices, choices, choices... establishing DBAs takes time and a sizeable chunk of your media budget. If your budget is limited, then limit the number of DBAs accordingly.

Author Youri Harmsen is Managing Director at Springbok. This article previously appeared on Emerce.