By Bob Lytle, Account Supervisor, Foster Marketing
Many clients come to us for help creating, managing or reinvigorating their brands. Often, our help includes providing a better understanding of exactly what a brand is and why it is an important component in business success.
In this article, we cover a few branding basics including what a brand is; maintaining a strong brand; and why you should care.
Emphasis of Early Branding
Brands and branding have been around since the start of commerce. As is still true today, branding helped identify goods and services from a specific manufacturer – and added value. Positive associations with a maker allowed a manufacturer to charge more for his branded product than competitors or unbranded products.
Today, distinguishing a company or product is infinitely more complex – and more competitive; however, the primary function of a strong brand is largely unchanged. Ultimately, the goals of branding are to establish a powerful, relevant identity in the minds of customers; encourage customers’ initial consideration; ease their purchasing decision; nurture an ongoing relationship between seller and buyer; and build pride among employees.
For years, marketers have been talking about branding in terms of brand essence and brand awareness and focusing on defining the brand, growing the brand and defending the brand. But what is the brand? And, more importantly, what does all this mean for your company?
In addition to price, availability, technology, function and the attributes of a product, buyers take into consideration their perception of a company’s:
- Honesty; and
- Standing in the community.
My Logo is My Brand, Right?
An over-abundance of articles, blogs and books have been written on what a brand is, but a company or product logo is not a brand.
A brand, or more accurately a person’s reaction to a brand, is an emotional feeling created by personal experiences with the brand.
Branding is the collection of actions and approaches taken to establish and maintain a positive understanding of, and relationship between, the brand and its publics.
Over time and with much effort, a logo mark can become the recognized symbol of this relationship and the promise of an expected experience. But, it is an oversimplification and inaccurate to think of a logo as a brand.
Where’s the Brand?
Creating and supporting a strong brand and positive brand experience is what companies and product stakeholders aspire to do. A brand is a reflection of a corporate vision or mission. Since the meaning of and reaction to your brand exist in the mind of the consumer, your brand must speak to those it is intended to serve – the customer.
Your brand and brand promise must speak directly to not only meeting business needs and goals of customers, but to their feelings, desires and aspirations, too.
Why Build a Brand?
“A company’s brand is the primary source of its competitive advantage and a valuable strategic asset.” David A. Aaker, ET Grether Professor of Marketing and Public Policy (Emeritus), University of California, Berkeley
Strong brands claim greater market share and higher price premiums; experience lower customer churn levels; attract and retain quality employees and customers; block out competition; and can co-brand or expand into new business areas more easily. They are less likely to fall victim to commoditization. They lead, innovate and create niches rather than try to compete for what others have already carved out.
The stronger your brand, the more flexibility you have as a company. You also will experience a higher staff morale, which leads to greater productivity. A brand is not a face a company wears; it’s a true reflection of the experience of interacting with that company.
A respected and recognized brand is one of the most valuable assets a company can own in today’s global economy. See what else brand building can do for your company. A strong brand:
- Recognizes that everyone is a customer – prospects, buyers, investors, influencers and employees;
- Encourages emotional connections beyond intellectual property and technological solutions;
- Builds a perception of leadership and differentiation – major competitive advantages;
- Drives first-choice preference and retention;
- Increases the value of relationships beyond price and need;
- Influences consideration and satisfaction among investors;
- Supports the credibility of new products and solutions; and
- Symbolizes the immediate values of the company.
A strong brand also can:
- Decrease price sensitivity;
- Increase customer loyalty;
- Increase bargaining power with retailers;
- Increase flexibility for future growth;
- Increase the ability to hire and retain talented employees;
- Increase the ability to focus the organization’s activities and resources;
- Increase market share;
- Increase stock price; and
- Increase shareholder value.
Branding Supports Selling
Establishing and reinforcing a brand will add perceived value when customers are making partnering or purchasing decisions.
Why? Because customers will buy from; invest in; partner with; trust the offerings from a company more readily if that provider has a strong, recognizable brand.
That is the difference between selling and branding. Selling offers a product, service or solution focusing on price, functions and benefits. A product is faceless and often known only for its features, advantages and benefits. A product can be commoditized and devalued to purely functional attributes. A product, even one that’s based on an advanced technology, is not inherently competitive, especially when up against established processes or providers.
By creating a strong recognizable brand it becomes possible to package solutions, products and technologies with the character of a company – with innovation, creativity, professionalism and honesty – to reinforce the sale.
What Influences Your Brand?
Your brand is much more than just your logo. Your corporate identity – logo, colors, paper stocks and other identifying graphic material – is one component. However, there are many components that influence your brand: your marketing strategy; public perception; employee identification with the brand; and every customer interaction, whether one-on-one or via the web, advertising, public relations or broadcast media. It’s how your staff answers the phone; how easy your website is to navigate; the condition of your facility; how quickly staff respond; the tone of your communications; and even, in the case of a retail environment, how your store smells. It’s the sum total of every experience people have with your company.
Here are 10 key guidelines to keep in mind to build a successful brand from an article by Brad Van Auken, author of Brand Aid.
- Get top management support, it’s crucial;
- Gain profound knowledge of your customer, it’s essential;
- Understand relevant differentiation – not price and not product features but benefits – is the defining aspect of a brand;
- Be sure the corporate culture reinforces the brand positioning;
- Deliver against the communicated brand promise;
- Link brand planning to the business’ strategic planning process;
- Don’t apply branding decisions at the end of the product development process;
- Don’t confuse brand management with product management;
- Don’t try to own cost-of-entry benefits at the expense of owning differentiating benefits; and
- Don’t focus too much on product attributes and not enough on brand benefits in marketing communications.
For this reason, brand creation must first start with a careful quantitative analysis of buyers, users and influencers and a solid understanding of what a well-respected brand encompasses.
Watch for these upcoming Fostering Ideas articles: Breaking Down a Brand and Market Research: Informing Your Brand