As consumers become increasingly savvy, traditional branding efforts that begin with the brand (e.g. Volvo) and create an association (e.g. safety) get more and more unwieldy. Hence the rise of reverse branding, which flips things around by starting with the category (e.g., search engine) and making one brand (e.g., Google) the obvious choice.

With so many brands cluttering the market, Ryan Karpeles, who blogs at Living Light Bulb, says reverse branding is more important than ever. And if you're new to the concept, he recommends these first steps:

Make a personal connection. Says Karpeles: "Kindness, mixed with a little bit of creativity, goes a long way in a world filled with companies who consistently settle for the bare minimum." Create an emotional tie with your customers through handwritten notes, phone calls or gifts.

Give people a reason to talk about you. We pay far more attention to recommendations from friends, family and even strangers than we do to advertisements. Is your company up to the challenge? "Don’t get caught up in controlling the message," says Karpeles. "Instead, do things that are worthy of passing along."

Tell a story with your product or brand. Human history is filled with stories passed from generation to generation. "Customers can latch on to stories," says Karpeles. "They can't latch on to corporate buzzwords and abstract slogans." So tell a story—whether humorous, clever, offbeat or just plain interesting—that your customers can internalize.

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