Company’s Brand Strategy: Must Embrace Distinctive Identity with Relevant, Enduring, and Credible Promise of Value…

“A great brand raises the bar — it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience, whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you’re drinking really matters.” ~ Howard Schultz

Your company ‘brand’ is the entire experience your customers have with your company. It’s what you stand for, a promise you make, and the personality you convey. And while it includes your logo, color palette and slogan, those are only creative elements that convey your brand. Instead, your brand lives in every day-to-day interaction you have with your market:

  • Images you convey.
  • Messages you deliver on your website, proposals and sales materials.
  • Employee interactions with customers.
  • Customer’s opinion of you versus your competition.

Branding is crucial for products and services sold in huge consumer markets. It’s also important in B2B because it helps you stand out from your competition. It brings your competitive position and value proposition to life; it positions you as a certain “something” in the mind of your customers. Your brand consistently and repeatedly tells your customers why they should buy from you.

“To capture significant market share, start with a strong and unique brand identity, and a strong brand strategy that successful creates “brand equity” – the amount of money that customers are willing to pay just because it’s your brand. In addition to generating revenue, brand equity makes your company itself more valuable over the long term.”

The American Marketing Association defines a ‘brand’ as a ‘name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers’. The legal term for brand is ‘trademark’. A brand may identify one item, a family of items, or all items of that seller. If used for the firm as a whole, the preferred term is ‘trade name’.

The word branding began simply as a way to tell one person’s cattle from another by means of a hot iron stamp. The word ‘brand’ has continued to evolve to encompass identity — it affects the personality of a product, company or service. The word ‘brand’ is sometimes used as a metonym, referring to a company that is strongly identified with a brand.

People engaged in ‘branding’ seek to develop or align the expectations behind the brand experience, creating the impression that a brand associated with a product or service has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique. A ‘brand’ is therefore one of the most valuable elements in any marketing and advertising theme…

Some ‘brands’ have such a strong identity that they become more or less cultural icons which makes them ‘iconic brands’. Examples are: Coke, Nike, Harley Davidson… Many ‘iconic brands’ include almost ritual-like behaviour in purchasing or consuming the products. There are four key elements to creating iconic brands (Holt):

  • “Necessary conditions” – The performance of the product must at least be acceptable, preferably with a reputation of having good quality.
  • “Myth-making” – A meaningful storytelling fabricated by cultural insiders. These must be seen as legitimate and respected by consumers for stories to be accepted.
  • “Cultural contradictions” – Some kind of mismatch between prevailing ideology and emergent undercurrents in society. In other words a difference with the way consumers are and how they wish they were.
  • “The cultural brand management process” – Actively engaging in the myth-making process in making sure the brand maintains its position as an icon.

A strong brand can increase the awareness of a company and its offerings in such a way that establishes strong feelings and reactions and a favorable view towards the company as a whole. To create this sort of “brand awareness” in your market, it takes skillful ‘brand strategy’ know-how. Successfully out-branding your competitors is a continuous battle for the hearts and minds of your customers.

The proposition your brand strategy makes must be very compelling, attractive and unique among competitive offerings. The proposition must also be consistently reinforced throughout all phases of an organization, from senior executives to marketing, sales, customer service, and even your business partners…

“A brand is the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly…it is your best and worst product/service. It is your best and worst employee. It is communicated through award-winning advertising as well as those ads that somehow slipped through the approval cracks and sank anything riding on them. It is your on-hold music and the demeanor of the receptionist who puts that valued client or prospect on hold.

It is the carefully crafted comments by a CEO as well as negative buzz by the water cooler or in chat rooms on the Internet. Brand is expressed through written, audio and visual content. It is interpreted through emotional filters every human being has—where anything can happen. Ultimately, you can’t control your brand. You can only hope to guide it.” ~ Scott White.

In the blog “Building Brand Awareness Posted” by Brad VanAuken writes:  Brand awareness’ is generally viewed to be one of the two most important drivers of strong brands (the other being ‘relevant differentiation’). Past research has shown ‘brand awareness’ to have a high correlation with purchase intent, market share, and other important brand equity and business metrics.

If your company has created a superior product offered at a price that delivers an outstanding value and supports the product by unparalleled service, but no one has ever heard of your company or its products; how many of those products are you likely to sell? Very few, and that’s why ‘brand awareness’ is so important.

It is the cornerstone of strong brands. Research indicates that the primary impact advertising has on brands is to build awareness for those brands.  A strong identity requires a strong icon, a tagline that reinforces the brand promise, a highly functional identity system and guidelines and a champion (‘identity police’) to ensure consistent use…

In the article “The Brand Audit: Key For Determining Brand Health” by Derrick Daye writes: Brands have life-cycles. They begin with excitement and promise; enter their growth phase; reach a plateau, and then slowly lose relevance as customers move on to the latest and greatest new thing. This is as natural as life itself. That’s why it’s a good idea to monitor ‘brand health’ along the way–before sales slip. Completing a ‘brand audit’ is a chance to take a fresh and objective look at your brand from a number of critical perspectives.

A comprehensive brand audit will often reveal new grow opportunities for your brands, and new ways to make your brand resonate with a new generation of target customers who will represent your brand’s bigger future. Periodic brand reviews are critical. Take the time to make a close examination of the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats facing brand health.

In his autobiography, “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” legendary advertising pioneer David Ogilvy, tells how he was once invited to a corporate meeting to compete for a major account. When he entered in the chairman’s board room, the chairman said, “Mr. Ogilvy, we are interviewing several agencies. You have exactly fifteen minutes to plead your case.

Then I will ring this bell and the next agency waiting outside will follow you.” Ogilvy quickly asked: “How many people will be involved in the decision?” “The twelve members of the Committee here today,” replied the chairman. “Ring the bell!” Ogilvy said, and walked out. David Ogilvy understood the perils of ‘decision by committee’. He knew that this approach to decision-making often failed, especially when it involved issues about ‘brand’.

A study by McKinsey & Company found that companies willing to invest in branding and advertising activities while their industry peers were cutting spending outperformed industry performance averages when the economy recovered.  For many companies, a down economy is an ideal time to invest in the ‘brand’.

Spending on the brand may provide an advantage, but only if that spending is well-focused. When budgets are tight, your objective as the brand manager is to pick the brand investments that will deliver tangible business value, preserve the equity in the brand, and mitigate risk.

In the article “Identity Myths and Storytelling are Keys to Building Iconic Brands” by Martin Roll writes: ‘Brands’ that resonate and show direction to the masses through the brand stories and brand activities gets etched into the culture. These unique brands enhance shareholder value, become catalysts for better leadership, enables shared vision throughout their organizations, and help to balance short- and long-term perspectives and performance: These are ‘iconic brands’ (e.g., Apple, Starbucks, MacDonald…).

Psychological research demonstrates that these brands are durable because people are ‘cognitive misers’. The modern society is overloaded with information, and people seek to simplify the world by relying on a variety of heuristics to minimize the amount of searching and information processing needed to make reasonable decisions. Once people believe a brand works, they are less likely to seek out new information that challenges the assumptions.

Sociological research also demonstrates why people are less-likely to switch brands: Multiple elements like images, stories, and associations are attached to a brand, and shared collectively by groups and networks of people, which then form generally accepted conventions about the brand. Individuals are less-likely to switch these brands and, thereby, abandon the shared conventions. Creating an ‘identity myth’ is critical for perpetuating the brand…

“Successful brands are built on the twin foundations of awareness and relevance. If target audiences are not aware of you; if they don’t notice your message in the cacophony of messages they receive each day, then you will never have a chance to be relevant. And if they become aware of you—if you capture their attention—and fail to deliver relevance, then they will learn to ignore you.”