“Your brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off strategy . . . it is defined by your best and worst product or service”
By: Justine Castellon
You and your business are brands. There are no such things as commodity markets – the customer buys the brand and the things associated with it – not just the product and its application.
BRAND – a term people frequently misuse by interchanging it with product, advertising, marketing, naming or design. Let’s begin with defining and understanding of the word “brand.” The Oxford American Dictionary (1980) defines brand (noun): a trade mark, goods of a particular make: a mark of identification made with a hot iron, the iron used for this: a piece of burning or charred wood, (verb): to mark with a hot iron, or to label with a trade mark. In over 50 years, the primary use of the word “brand” now has a commercial application: to distinguish one particular object (product) based on how it was made for a particular audience. Without being in any way influenced by marketing jargon of how the word is used today, it has always meant, the object by which an impression is formed.
DEFINING BRAND IN RETAIL PERSPECTIVE
Revlon founder, Charles Revson said, “in the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope. Factories make products, which in the stores are sold as hope. “
What is your equivalent of selling hope? That’s the definition of your brand! Think of a patient listening to hospital administrators how they are intent on finding a cure, saying they are in the business of selling hope. That feeling of expectation and desire for a certain impossible thing to happen. Revson capitalized on that “feeling of expectation” in the way he founded the position of Revlon and what gives it the point of view and the stature it has today.
So when you sell your own version of “hope”, you and your business must be clear, distinct and desirable. Remember, a brand is a promise to the consumer to deliver a particular desired experience and expectations.
- Your proposition must be clearly stated to the consumer: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.”
- Your intention must be distinct. It must be capable of expressing clear benefit that competitors do not, will not, or cannot offer.
- And, you must be strong and desirable enough to pull new customers to your product.
Branding builds relationship between you (your business) and customer. And the relationship needs nurturing – like being reminded how good you are and how perfectly you fit with your customer. As the relationship gets stronger, you will develop brand loyalty – owning the relationship to the exclusion of competitors.
A BRAND ONLY RESIDES IN THE CUSTOMER’S MIND
In developing brand to “sell hope”, first, you must view your brand as a tool that allows your message to cut through the noise of an overcrowded marketplace. You must put across the brand’s position through carefully crafted “brand signals” that communicate meanings and point of differentiation These signals underscore the position that your brand has taken, persuading consumers to consider, prefer, and ultimately buy your offering. These indicators eventually reside in the customers’ minds. Creating brand signals is one of the most powerful tools in the marketing arsenal. So brandishing this tool comes with a responsibility to use it ethically.
Keep in mind: your brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the off strategy. You cannot entirely control a brand – at best you can only guide and influence it. It is defined by your best and worst product or service such as:
- Award-winning and poor ads.
- Your great customer service desk personnel and your worst hire.
- The wonderful scent and the terrible music you hear as you shop the store.
- Your graphical website which is not customer friendly.
- A finely worded CEO pronouncement and every ridiculous remark from the sales men.
Those brand signals spark the relationship which is located at the intersection of promise and expectation. That promise lives in consumers’ hearts and minds as an expectation. When brand promise and consumers’ expectations reflect one another, the brand holds tremendous value for both parties. It is through this co-creation (consumer and brand) that true brand value is created.
THE BRAND AS A RELATIONSHIP
Take into account always that consumers offer their trust and loyalty with the understanding that the brand will behave in certain ways and will provide those benefits through consistent product performance, and through appropriate pricing, promotion, and distribution programs and actions. There are several ways to communicate your brand in traditional and non traditional approaches:
- Branding is story telling: The Body Shop sells stories how their raw materials helped thousands of women across the globe
- Become a club people want to belong to: Greenpeace expanded its volunteerism program because people find association with the brand’s “cool factor”
- Think of your brand as a country with its own culture, language, and rituals: “If you can’t find it, Google it”. Google revolutionized the way we work personally and corporately.
- Think of your brand as a “happy place” for people looking for comfort: Starbucks isn’t exactly in the business of selling coffee. It sells experience and builds culture among its customers.
There are many ways to build relationship. Keep in mind that branding is an intimate dance with consumers. And customers are paying for the experience. So you have to find what unique experience you can provide to your targeted audience. The challenge for all brands is not just having a clear, distinct, and desirable image that matters to the customers, rather, providing experience and delivering the promise in truthful and ethical way.
BUILDING THE BRAND CULTURE
In addition, one important driver of your brand strategy is to deliver superior brand value versus your primary competitors. Competitive dominance in brand value requires benchmarking against competitors’ brands. Map competitors’ brand values as you do your own: the basic SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). Given the strengths of the brand, identify opportunities to improve your brand values versus those of your key competitors, and identify opportunities to shore up any erosion that could allow competitors to make inroads.
Create your own brand culture. How? Think of the brand as the culture of the product – over a period of time, it acquires meanings and associations as they circulate in society. Eventually, these meanings become conventional, widely accepted as “truths” about the product. And that is the time the product has acquired a culture. Take Nike on how it created a perception toward servicing for training athletes. It was never an over-night marketing activity.
Now, when you introduce your new product with all aspects that we think as “brand” – name and a trademarked logo, and other unique design features —while it has the material markers of the brand, the markers are empty. The product does not yet have a history and is devoid of meaning. In contrast to Nike with the “swoosh” logo and other unique design features, its markers have been filled with customer experiences. The brand was seen in several advertisements and sporting events, mentioned several times in print and online articles that evaluate the brand and being endorsed by friends and colleagues. Take note of Nike’s flagship stores : its retail design, store merchandising, and salesperson interactions can all have a significant impact on the brand culture.
BRAND RECOGNITION WITHOUT THE BRAND NAME?
Impossible. Brands are the single most important asset any manufacturer has in today’s selling environment. Consumers factor brands into just about every purchase they make. They use brands as a compass for navigating their way through the marketplace. Each brand differentiates itself, allowing consumers to make out their preferences in choosing products and services. When brand meaning and relevance are clear, the brand will hold a stronger position in consumer’s minds and the more likely they are to choose it. Consumers use brand as an identification tool.
Imagine a world without brands: You’ve run out of coffee? Run to the nearest supermarket where you are met by shelves of boxes with simply the word “coffee”. Without brands there would be no signals to illustrate the differences between the vast array of choices other than size and price. No name, no unique package, nothing! So how will you choose from those selections? In today’s crowded marketplace, it is increasingly clear that manufacturers that invest in their brands and cultivate their equity will be here in the future. Those manufacturers that do not, will not.