UK: Branding

Last Updated: 3 December 2012

What is a brand? Is it defined by your company logo? Your product packaging? Your advertising and PR campaigns? These are all elements of branding, but are by no means the whole story. In fact, the notion of branding is misunderstood by even the most marketing-savvy organisations.

Branding is a value proposition

Branding represents the intangible part of your business. Products are tangible. They're made in factories and stored in warehouses; they're things you can hold in your hand. A brand, by contrast, is a collection of intangibles – ideas, feelings and word associations. These intangibles reside in your mind.

A brand must stand for something larger than just a product benefit. It represents a value proposition. Consumers choose one particular brand over another because of this intrinsic value.

Because it incorporates the customer's viewpoint, a "brand promise" differs from a mission or vision statement. It must focus on answering three questions:

  1. What business is our brand in?
  2. What differentiates our products and services from those of our competitors?
  3. What is superior about the value we offer our customers?

Branding serves as the link between your product's promise and the consumer's desire. The goal is to express a set of basic principles that can be understood by everyone who comes into contact with your business – customers, shareholders, employees, etc. The brand is your reason for being.

A "brand blueprint" consists of five basic components:

  • Brand name: A name that is unique, memorable, distinctive.
  • Graphic representation: An icon, symbol or image that vividly expresses your brand's identity.
  • Byline: A descriptive word or phrase that tells consumers where to place your brand in their mind's eye, and that always appears with the brand.
  • Tagline: The message that expresses your product's functional and emotional benefits to consumers.
  • Brand story: When you identify your brand, be sure to communicate and preserve its heritage.

Four pillars of branding

The four pillars of branding are: differentiation, relevance, esteem and understanding.

  • Differentiation. To create a brand, you have to set yourself apart from everyone else in the market. You can't build a brand by being the same.
  • Relevance. Relevance has to do with appropriateness, meaningfulness and, ultimately, the value of your point of difference. If your product or service isn't relevant, your point of difference won't attract customers or keep them.
  • Esteem. When you succeed at building relevant differentiation, customers respond with high esteem for your product or service. Brand esteem can maintain high levels even after a brand has lost its point of difference, as with luxury and prestige brands, for example.
  • Understanding. This refers to how well customers understand and believe in your point of differentiation. Understanding also represents an important diagnostic indicator of brand health. For example, when customer esteem for a brand falls below understanding, it means that people know you but they don't like you. If they don't like you, they won't buy your product.

Brand strategy

Although strategies differ in tactics from industry to industry, a brand usually develops along these lines:

  1. Identify the message. A company defines a core message by identifying the distinctive value of its products and services – why its customers care about what it has to offer and what makes it different from its competitors.
  2. Build the message. When the distinctive value is identified, it must be framed in a succinct message people can understand and relate to. This will reinforce the core value of the products and services.
  3. Promote the message. What good is a message if no one hears it? The company must make a strong pledge to aggressively market its product and, over time, to solidify its image (and its associations of quality) in the minds of consumers.
    Determine what you do that your competitors don't and hit that theme hard – again and again. Find the line, the phrase, the image that defines your company, and use it.
  4. "Be" the message. The message is chosen, marketing and advertising campaigns are busy promoting it – but how well is the entire organisation living it? Is there a direct connection between the brand message and the customer's experience when he or she walks in the door and purchases your product?

The brand has to support the message. If you say you'll do something and the customer's experience contradicts this, it's the brand that loses.

What is your brand worth?

Brand equity is the totality of the consumer's perceptions. This includes the quality of products and services, the company's financial performance, customer loyalty and satisfaction. It's all about how consumers, employees and other stakeholders feel about a brand.

A brand equals trust. To build trust, you need a perception of value and a promise of quality. First you create value, and then you deliver on it.

The brand serves as a valuable tool for consumers forced to choose among the bewildering array of products and services in the marketplace. Consumers depend on "signals" that a brand sends out – those intangible associations with quality that it represents. Therefore, it's up to the company to carefully influence and manage those signals at all times, in all encounters with their target markets.

Customers develop their perception of value through a subjective process based strictly on their own needs, preferences, buying behaviours and habits. A company's brand promises to meet those needs and deliver each and every time. Growth comes from serving customers better – not bigger – and concentrating on the brand's unique area of competence.

The CEO as brand champion

Every business needs a brand champion – an individual charged with the authority to ensure that a consistent message crosses interdepartmental lines throughout the organisation.

This person should be responsible for clearing internal communications and/or designing corporate specifications for marketing, sales, administration, personnel and so on. This way, even if all materials aren't being cleared by him or her, guidelines and procedures are in place to ensure that a consistent message is being delivered.

Brand consistency

We urge consistency as the brand champion's foremost priority. Inconsistency generates mistrust. There should never be more than one version of your logo. Your literature should resemble your business card, which should resemble your advertising, which should reflect the people who represent your company.

To the extent that a company's materials lack consistency, the company loses the brand's perception of value and compromises its pledge of quality.

Thinking like a brand

Innovating products and services alone doesn't necessarily achieve any long-term position of privilege with customers. For a brand to be genuine and truly successful, the organisation must think like a brand. Everyone in the organisation must have a personal understanding of what the brand stands for and what their role is in delivering on that brand.

It starts at the top. The CEO must understand that applying a brand strategy requires shared values throughout the organisation. From the production line to the front-line sales staff, every employee is responsible for helping to build brand value. There should be a unified effort to do only those things that improve that value to the customer.

Positioning the brand

Flourishing brands promise specific benefits and deliver on them consistently. Asda promises low prices on quality merchandise. But the brand position is not achieved by a company's marketing staff. The real positioning is done by the customer himself or herself.

Marketing and advertising efforts send out signals a company wants to instil in the consumer's consciousness. But it's the customer who weighs those signals against all the other signals being sent out by competitors.

We offer these suggestions to help position your brand:

  • Develop a list of performance characteristics your customer is looking for in the product category you're selling in. You can develop this by surveying a small group of customers.
  • In a telephone interview, have your customers prioritise the attributes for you and then link them to the brands they feel are most closely connected to specific attributes.
  • Do your customers connect your brand with a certain attribute? Is it an attribute that sets you apart? Is it an attribute you can own and deliver?
  • If so, claim it and connect it with a theme you can make "larger than life". Look for ways to communicate your brand's point of difference and find ways to make your point of difference grow in importance (relevance) to your customers and prospects.

Extending the brand

It's a problem many companies wish they had: you have a strong, functioning brand, so when is the right time, if any, to extend that brand? A whole host of considerations should come into play before you make the decision to leverage brand equity into new areas.

A brand extension works if the new product follows and enhances the promise of the original brand. All too often, however, the necessary "brand discussion" doesn't take place, and the organisation ends up selling something different with a similar name – a product or service no one really wants.

Key questions of brand extension

Before extending the brand, a company should know what it's getting into. Ask these key questions in the early planning stage of a proposed brand extension:

  • What products should we attach the brand to?
  • What products surpass or contradict the brand's implied promise to customers?
  • Will the extension result in an increase or reduction in sales of the core brand?
  • What effect will the extension have on the parent brand's identity?
  • Does the extension make sense to customers?
  • Does it bring new customers into the fold?
  • What happens to the core brand if the extension fails?

Customers are often wary of established brands moving into apparently unrelated product areas. Extending a brand requires immense focus, energy and resources. Companies should first think about exhausting the possibilities of the core brand before moving beyond it.

Online branding

In many ways, online branding closely resembles the branding process in the physical world. The underlying principle remains the same: the brand represents a promise of quality to customers and a commitment to deliver on that promise time and time again.

An e-brand consists of these key elements:

  • Distinctiveness. The website and its brand possess unique characteristics.
  • Perception. It is perceived as a distinctive brand by the target audience.
  • Benefits. Customers derive functional and emotional benefits.

Use the website to provide a clear, accurate representation of your business and then focus like a laser beam on meeting customer needs. Make sure your online brand matters to consumers in some significant way. Otherwise, it's just another distraction in cyberspace.

As in the "real world", e-commerce brand builders must concentrate on their product's personality, presence and performance. Every aspect of the customer's experience must be closely managed – from the first time he or she clicks on the website through to product purchase and delivery. Why is this so important? Because every online experience influences the consumer's perception of the brand.

Just as brand equals trust, so the design and presence of the website should emphasise its value as well. Someone who experiences your brand online wants to know the site will be there next week, when they want to make a new purchase. They want to know you'll have the item you're advertising in stock. They want to know that their transactions with you are secure and protected. All of these commitments come together with your online brand.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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