Branding is more than just a business buzzword. It has become the crux of selling in the new economy. If the old marketing mantra was,” Nothing happens until somebody sells something,” the new philosophy could be” Nothing happens until somebody brands something.”
In its simplest form, a brand is a noun. It is the name attached to a product or service. However, upon close inspection, a brand represents many more intangible aspects of a product or service: a collection of feelings and perceptions about quality, image, lifestyle and status. It creates in the mind of customers and prospects the perception that there is no product or service on the market that is quite like yours. In short, a brand offers the customer a guarantee and then delivers on it.
You might infer, then, that if you build a powerful brand, you will in turn be able to create a powerful marketing program. However, if you can’t convince customers that your product is worthy of purchasing, no amount of advertising dollars, fancy packaging or public relations will help you achieve your sales goals. Therefore, successful branding programs begin with superior products and services, backed by excellent customer service that permeates an entire organization.
What factors are important in building brand value?
Quality is a vital ingredient of a good brand. Remember the “core benefits” – the things consumers expect. These must be delivered well, consistently. The branded washing machine that leaks, or the training shoe that often falls apart when wet will never develop brand equity.
Research confirms that, statistically, higher quality brands achieve a higher market share and higher profitability that their inferior competitors.
Positioning is about the position a brand occupies in a market in the minds of consumers. Strong brands have a clear, often unique position in the target market.
Positioning can be achieved through several means, including brand name, image, service standards, product guarantees, packaging and the way in which it is delivered. In fact, successful positioning usually requires a combination of these things.
Repositioning occurs when a brand tries to change its market position to reflect a change in consumer’s tastes. This is often required when a brand has become tired, perhaps because its original market has matured or has gone into decline.
The repositioning of the Lucozade brand from a sweet drink for children to a leading sports drink is one example. Another would be the changing styles of entertainers with above-average longevity such as Kylie Minogue and Cliff Richard.
Communications also play a key role in building a successful brand. We suggested that brand positioning is essentially about customer perceptions – with the objective to build a clearly defined position in the minds of the target audience.
All elements of the promotional mix need to be used to develop and sustain customer perceptions. Initially, the challenge is to build awareness, then to develop the brand personality and reinforce the perception.
Business strategists often talk about first-mover advantage. In terms of brand development, by “first-mover” they mean that it is possible for the first successful brand in a market to create a clear positioning in the minds of target customers before the competition enters the market. There is plenty of evidence to support this.
Think of some leading consumer product brands like Gillette, Coca Cola and Sellotape that, in many ways, defined the markets they operate in and continue to lead. However, being first into a market does not necessarily guarantee long-term success. Competitors – drawn to the high growth and profit potential demonstrated by the “market-mover” – will enter the market and copy the best elements of the leader’s brand (a good example is the way that Body Shop developed the “ethical” personal care market but were soon facing stiff competition from the major high street cosmetics retailers.
This leads onto another important factor in brand-building: the need to invest in the brand over the long-term. Building customer awareness, communicating the brand’s message and creating customer loyalty takes time. This means that management must “invest” in a brand, perhaps at the expense of short-term profitability.
Finally, management should ensure that the brand is marketed “internally” as well as externally. By this we mean that the whole business should understand the brand values and positioning. This is particularly important in service businesses where a critical part of the brand value is the type and quality of service that a customer receives.
Think of the brands that you value in the restaurant, hotel and retail sectors. It is likely that your favourite brands invest heavily in staff training so that the face-to-face contact that you have with the brand helps secure your loyalty.
Focus on relevant reality-based customer benefits. After completing the necessary research and reviewing the relevant examples of positioning, your marketing team should be able to describe a precise customer benefit that can be addressed in some way by the brand. The team members must be clear on what customer benefits are being offered and how they are based on real life needs and desires. To accomplish this, have them answer the following questions:
Who are your competitors and how are they positioning their brands?
What can you offer that is different?
Who would buy our product or service?
What markets should we target with our brand?
Do we need to register trademarks for our products or services?
Are there extension opportunities for these branded products or services? If so, what are they?
How much advertising support are we going to need for the brand and how much will it cost? Does our budget allow for those costs?
How descriptive is the brand? Are there ways that it can be improved?
Can the brand name be pronounced easily? Does it translate well into other languages?
Are there regulatory issues? If so, how will we overcome them?
The following chart details some other popular examples of brand identity contacts:
|Brand||Example Brand Identity Contract||Contribution to Brand Identity|
|Pep Boys||Follow-up phone call after servicing the car.||Reminder that the auto maintenance shop cares about customer service; method to check up on efficiency/courtesy of service department; opportunity to remind customer of upcoming sales.|
|McDonald’s||Ronald McDonald Houses for the families of seriously ill children.||In addition to its humanitarian value, RM houses remind parents of McDonalds’ commitment to the American family.|
|MCI||Electronic billboard tabulating how much MCI customers have saved by using its services.||Brand-name registration in compelling way; reminder of savings positioned; revisable numbers send signal that MCI is on top of what’s happening in prices.|
|Nike||Advertisements with athletes of Olympic or star stature. Close-up of Nike logo on shoes of player in NBA championship or on Tiger Woods in PGA Gold Tours.||Brand associated with the best athletes in their sport; reinforcement of superior quality or product and prestige of being worn by winners.|
Here are five easy steps to building a strong brand and an optimized customer experience:
1. Identify your reasons-to-believe.
Your brand promise is irrelevant if your customers do not believe it. Therefore, your promise must be supported by reasons-to-believe. This will automatically add substance to the promise and define specific expectations for the customer.
For example, an automobile manufacturer promises potential customers that Car XYZ is an “intelligent choice for serious drivers.” What makes it an intelligent choice? Why should the customer believe this promise?
To address this question effectively, the manufacturer could frame its promise with two reasons-to-believe… sporty performance and safety. These two reasons in essence define “intelligent choice” and clearly set customer expectations. They also give the company specific direction for designing the customer experience through tangible customer touch points like vehicle design features, advertising campaigns, dealer sales approaches, and customer service activities.
2. Identify customer touchpoints.
Each individual step in your business process contains a number of touchpoints when the customer comes in contact with your brand. Your ultimate goal is to have each touchpoint reinforce and fulfill your marketplace promise.
Walk through your commercial processes. How do you generate customer demand? How are products sold? How do your customers use your products? How do you provide after-sales support?
This comprehensive trace of your marketing, selling, and servicing processes allows you to create a simple touchpoint map that defines your customers’ experiences with your brand.
3. Determine the most influential touchpoints.
All touchpoints are not created equal. Some will naturally play a larger role in determining your company’s overall customer experience. For example, if your product is ice cream, taste is typically more important than package design. Both are touchpoints, but each has a different effect on our customers’ experiences as a whole.
To determine the touchpoints driving your customers’ overall experience, your organization can use a wide array of techniques ranging from quantitative research to institutional knowledge. The methods you use will depend on the complexity of your products, commercial processes, and your existing knowledge base.
4. Design the optimal experience.
Once you have completed the above three steps to building a brand, you should be able to design your optimal customer experience.
Determine how to express each reason-to-believe at each key touchpoint. For example, how can you reinforce sporty performance (a reason-to-believe) in product design, at the dealership, and in marketing campaigns (the influential touchpoints)?
5. Align the organization to consistently deliver the optimal experience.
A holistic approach to aligning your organization to consistently deliver the optimal experience is essential. Identify the people, processes, and tools that drive each key touchpoint.
Look beyond employees that have direct contact with your customers. The impacts of behind-the-scenes employees are less obvious but no less important. Similarly, the impact of workflow processes and tools (i.e. technology systems) on the customer experience may be less intuitive but crucial to consistent delivery.
Identify which activities don’t align with your envisioned customer experience. Determine how to address them so that these components can be brought into alignment.