Friday, July 23, 2010

Defining Brand

“We want to do a ‘branding’ campaign!” The statement that starts a chain of events that never seems to end: brainstorming sessions, focus groups, strategic meetings, progress reports, surveys, analyses, event planning committees, consultants, more meetings, etc. It’s exhausting and can take a huge toll on businesses, not to mention budgets. Maybe we should be asking ourselves the following first: What exactly is “brand” or what do we mean by “branding?”

Of course, a single blog can’t answer these questions. Just search for branding books and you’ll find more than 20,000 available. Clearly branding is important, it just seems extremely ambiguous, which may explain the spiral of events that typically follow branding campaigns.

Discussing brand with advertisers or within your own company is inevitable. We just need more clarity, direction and an idea of expectations before we start those discussions. If you’re in the same industry I’m in, you’ve been hammered over the head for years on how you can’t brand using a newspaper. I guess this depends on one’s interpretation of brand. Hallmark television ads or Red Bull tactics are examples of branding, but there’s more to it than getting people to cry or convincing others to ride planes off the end of a pier. After reading dozens of marketing, media and advertising books, I’ve tried to devise a model that may help get everyone seated around the same table and demystify this concept of brand. I’ve borrowed from a number of must reads on the subject. I’ve found that the best books about branding were not specifically written about branding. Some include: Kellogg on Advertising & Media, Positioning; What Customers Want; The Ultimate Question; The Fred Factor; Differentiate or Die; and a long list of others. If you want a humorous, yet accurate, take on advertising and branding, there’s a great short book written by Bob Hoffman called The Ad Contrarian. I recommend visiting his blog site,, to find an e-copy.

First, we need to understand the stakeholders in brand development.

• The business: its products, services and employees.
• Information distributors: media, advertising vehicles, the business (PR and websites), and the general population.
• Consumers: past, current and potential.

Second, how do we, the stakeholders, develop a brand? I’ve outlined five key elements of brand and their impact on business results.

1. Brand Awareness
2. Brand Position
3. Brand Knowledge
4. Brand Experience
5. Brand Loyalty

Creating and growing “brand loyalty” seems to be the ultimate goal. Brand loyalty typically translates into consistent and repeat business. How does one succeed or fail at getting there? By understanding and utilizing the brand elements listed in Exhibit 1.

1. Brand Awareness: Maximizing name exposure and recognition. This can be done by reaching as many potential consumers as desired (Remember, there are two sides to every coin. There’s good and bad awareness.). You’ll want to plant a seed in potential consumers’ minds. Consumers’ ability to recognize your name can go a long way in having a chance at acquiring their business. The list of vehicles for achieving maximum awareness seems endless and continues to grow (billboards, signs, traditional advertising, non-traditional advertising, events, public relations, social media, etc.). Super Bowl ads are a classic example of generating brand awareness, but so is an accelerator that sticks.

2. Brand Position: Next, you need to build your brand’s position. When consumers start considering options for potential purchase, where is your business’s name on their short list? Example: If you were to ask someone to list different sodas, it might look something like this---Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, etc. Where one falls on that list in the consumers’ mind can make all the difference in a sale. A basic means of achieving the highest position is a combination or reach and frequency. The best brand positions, overly used in text book examples are Xerox, Kleenex, Rollerblade, FedEx and iPod nowadays. Not only are they tops in their respective positions, they’ve practically renamed their categories. Jack Trout and Al Ries’ famed book Positioning does a great job of outlining the importance of this stage and parts of the next, Brand Knowledge.

3. Brand Knowledge: This can be considered a second form of positioning. Where your business falls in respect to the competition in areas of quality, price, service, style, etc. (or what’s your reputation when compared to the competition’s). Great, I know your name and it’s at the top of my list, but do I know enough about you to feel confident in buying from you. Having a strong “Unique Selling Proposition,” or USP, is the difference maker at this stage of the game. How can I benefit more from your product versus your competitors’? Most people think it all ends here, but these first three stages only represents the communications portion in branding. Media and advertising play vital roles in these stages, and the businesses ability to craft this message and get it in front of prospects is equally vital.

Example of first three stages of Brand:Am I aware of Ferrari? Yes. Will I buy? Highly unlikely. Who we kidding, it doesn’t even make it to my short list of options. But I am also aware of Toyota, Ford, Nissan and Honda. For me, this is a much more realistic short list. Who I ultimately choose is based on who I believe can offer me the best value for my needs/wants and that happens through brand knowledge. Brand knowledge helps me decide which manufacturer and vehicle I ultimately choose. Sorry Ferrari. Toyota knows what it’s like to be at the top of the list in awareness and position only to have negative knowledge impact consumers’ decisions.

4. Brand Experience: Alright, you offered me something I considered to be more beneficial and now I’m going to complete the transaction. My level of brand knowledge was strong enough for me to choose you over another. Your ability to deliver on your word or message is important here (I’m calling this your Brand Promise). There’s a thin line between a great advertising campaign and a terrible one and that usually lies in the hands of the advertiser. Over promising is not an option here. Be prepared to deliver. Studies have shown that it can take between three to ten positive comments to offset just one negative comment. Understanding your USP and unique experiences are vital in helping to craft your messaging or your overall brand promise. This is where you set expectations. If your store experience is junky, your ads shouldn’t reflect a Nordstrom like experience. This won’t help consumers or your business. Your ability to understand and deliver strong customer experiences determines your success or failure in brand loyalty. Brand promises are built as early as awareness, through knowledge, and your ability to deliver it will determine your business’s level of success. The experience is everything and this includes all communications, employees, products, advertising, PR, signage, store designs, locations, etc. Collectively, these experiences build an overall perception in the mind of consumers; one they use to help make their first choice and sub sequential choices.

5. Brand Loyalty: Strong loyalty is your desired outcome and long-term goal. The outcome of the brand experience plays a large role in determining loyalty and repeat business. Your ability to maintain communications with your most loyal customers is vital in this stage as well. If things are good or bad, follow-up to develop a better understanding. This will help you uncover the core of the experience, areas for potential improvement and areas to focus on when crafting your messaging. In the end, loyalty reverberates into positive word of mouth. Don’t forget about the impact from negative word of mouth. Higher loyalty presents the opportunity for additional business, insight, and stronger customer relationships. This is a win for all stakeholders.

While I’ve outlined this concept along a continuum (or a funnel in this case), the order isn’t necessarily carved in stone. Everyone that knows about you isn’t necessarily going to buy, but clearly increasing awareness has its value. The heart of branding is the consumer and their experiences. They ultimately define your brand. Understanding this will help you craft better messaging and generate greater success. You can tell customers you have the greatest products, but all is for not if customers see it differently.

How can you use this concept? Use this as a spring board for outlining branding strategies and to setting up expectations for businesses. If your ads aren’t working, it may be the message, your USP, or worse, bad customer experiences. Media, agencies and businesses all share a stake in maximizing results, but that comes through a better understanding of consumers. They are the ones we’re trying to build awareness with, improve our position with, convince to buy, conduct business with, and hopefully develop loyalty from.

Branding isn’t just a Hallmark television ad, it’s several factors that combine to help or hinder business results. With the right products, services, messaging, and delivery, a strong and long lasting brand can be built. A worthy investment when presented in this manner. Just don’t forget, businesses don’t define brands, consumers do and when done right, branding should have a direct impact on success and results.