The value of brands
When I’m rushing through the supermarket, doing my grocer shopping, I grab the brands I know and trust. These brands help me save time. Other brands help me, too, by giving me peace of mind when I make more expensive purchases. I know that the brand owners will deliver their promises, or put things right if they don’t.
Brands act as a “short-hand” in the marketplace, saving us the time and trouble of doing a detailed comparison every time we make a purchase. Brands also help us express ourselves: our attitudes, values and our place in society.
Our relationship with brands
Our purchases make subtle statements about who we are as consumers and how we belong. Do we choose a Mercedes or a BMW? Do we choose Levis or Diesel? Do we choose Heineken or Budweiser? Certainly, there is some degree of the “functional and rational” in these decisions. But there is also a large dose of emotion. We choose brands that best fit our view of ourselves, and how we want to be seen.
As a business manager, you must define the relationship you want your customers to have with your brand. It is not enough to define this purely in terms of “functional and rational.” You need to get to grips with the emotional dimension of the relationship, too; this is where you’ll find the power to persuade.
How to build a strong brand
First, recognize that your brand exists in the mind. Your brand is “a collection of perceptions in the mind of your consumers and other stakeholders.”
It is these perceptions that are the source of brand value; they can change consumer behavior in your favor, if you can build a strong brand.
For your brand to create value, you should work toward a place in the consumer’s mind that is:
- Distinctive (from the competition)
- Motivating (to customers and other stakeholders)
- Credible (rooted in the truth)
- Enduring (with a good “fit” to market trends)
- Strategic (in line with your business objectives)
Think of strong brands such as Harley-Davidson, Apple, American Express, Coca-Cola (to name just a few), and your own favorite brands. All strong brands meet these essential criteria.
To achieve this for your brand, you need to consider every aspect of the relationship that you want to build with your customers. This includes the character of service you provide (not just quality of service). It also includes the heritage, values and beliefs of your brand and how these appeal to customers. By defining the customer relationship in this way, and by working toward a stronger brand, you will be creating additional value for your customers—and for yourself.
The process of effective brand management
Successful companies use their brand to guide their marketing decisions:
“Ultimately, strong branding is about using a brand as a beacon, as a compass, for determining the right actions, for staying the course, for evolving a culture, for inspiring a company to reach its full potential.”
—Carly Fiorina, former CEO, Hewlett-Packard
To achieve this, work through the brand management process:
Discover your current brand
Don’t just think of customers. There can be many groups involved in your brand. Your list of stakeholders may include: employees, business partners, distributors, investors—even yourself—as well as customers. The aim here is to get a true picture of the brand as it is now, “warts and all.”
Gathering this type of information, presenting and discussing it at a senior management level, can be a powerful catalyst within the company.
Define your desired brand
How many of your managers can clearly define the brand (and the nature of the customer relationship) that you are trying to build? And if they can’t define the brand, how can they make judgments about what action will most effectively build the brand? It is essential to define your desired brand, the one you are trying to build in the mind of your stakeholders.
Defining your desired brand is a process of research, investigation, distillation and inspiration. You need to get to the point where you can define how you are distinctive from your competitors and motivating to your stakeholders, in a way that will endure and meet your business objectives.
Delivering the branded experience
Successful branding is not just about advertising and communications. It is about harnessing every aspect of the experience to create brand value. This includes the product experience, communications and contacts between employees and customers.
Get this right, and everything you say and do will be building your desired brand, strengthening your customer relationships, securing revenue and increasing the value of your business.