The first stage of developing a brand is understanding what drives the organization, and what customer needs are going to be satisfied by the products on offer. The design of a brand is much more than just a name, symbol or typeface; it is a marriage of tangible and intangible elements.
These individual elements themselves are very important, but are part of a much larger entity – the brand.
Additionally, an organization must consider that every interaction or touchpoint with a customer is a potential opportunity to build or damage the brand, which means every employee of the organization is a brand ambassador. This is particularly so in the service industries, where the interaction with a company and its staff is vital to consumer satisfaction.
For many consumers, the brand is the point of reference and offers a shortcut to many other aspects of the organization. The brand name for consumers is a mnemonic, where the mention of the brand, the logo, or in some instances the colour, can bring forth a rush of emotions, associations, memories and meanings that can assist the brand to enter the small group of brands that consumers consider for purchase. Additionally, the colour (eg Cadbury’s purple), smell (eg Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani) or sound (eg Intel) of the brand can evoke images or feelings of joy, summer or quality.
The Holy Grail for brands is to be one that consumers consider for purchase (part of their consideration set), but more importantly, even for high-involvement products such as insurance policies, to be the salient brand or the first brand that is recalled under a variety of conditions. If you can get your brand to be the first recalled, then you have the beginnings of a competitive advantage over the other players in the market.
The brand needs to be something that is:
• easy to pronounce
• relates to the product at hand
• makes sense to the consumer
• is not too long
• can be recalled easily
These are some of the golden rules when developing a brand name. There are notable exceptions to every rule, but these are generally held up to be the standards.
Consumers own the brand
If your organization is working with an existing brand name, then the most important thing is managing its position in the mind of the consumer. A brand’s position is that space that it occupies in any consumer’s mind. It is an important piece of real estate, and it can change at the whim of the consumer. It has been said that organizations manage the brand, but consumers own the brand.
Consumers are the people whose understanding and perception of the brand and brand image can change rapidly, which influences the outcome and how people treat the brand. A second point to consider is that brands are not only owned by the consumer, but that perception can be just as important as reality. How a consumer or the market perceives your brand is crucial, and can determine the fate of your brand, just as much as the reality of what your brand does.
Understanding your brand
When an organization is managing its brand it is important to understand what the brand means internally, and externally. Important questions you may wish to pose include: What is my brand? What does it mean? What are the associations with my brand? Asking consumers what words come to mind when they think of or hear your brand name is also a great strategy.
Brand associations are those words or images that come to mind upon hearing a brand name. It is important to get an instant reaction so that consumers are not filtering the responses. Importantly, it does not matter whether the brand is real or has been concocted – brand names evoke associations and images. Additionally, these associations will be either positive or negative, and unique or common.
Firstly, a brand needs to have more positive than negative associations. If a brand has many negative associations, then consumers will recall it to a rejected set, and this means that they will not consider buying it. If the associations are more positive, this helps to locate the brand against competitors, and in the industry. It is important to have positive associations to your brand despite the fact that consumers may be forgiving.
Then we look at unique associations, which can be measured as the associations that reside with one brand and not the others. These unique associations are what help to differentiate your brand in the consumers’ minds, and they also provide a great point of difference for the organization. Even if the perception is different to reality, it can work to the advantage of the organization.
When you have information about brand associations it can be good to develop these associations into meaning for an organization. This will allow you to develop a short statement or a brand mantra that may be used to guide branding decisions. This is a short, three- to 10-word statement or series of words that sum up your brand and determine which components fit within your brand architecture. For example, Nike is authentic athletic performance and all of Nike’s branding fits this mantra. Disney is fun, family entertainment, and again, Disney makes decisions to maintain and protect this. It is a very useful exercise to undertake to develop a brand mantra or something that can be used very quickly to guide your branding decisions, and to guide your marketing decisions and even your purchases.
Organizations must continually ask if the decision fits the brand mantra and that should determine the behavior of the organization with regard to branding decisions.
An organization can also analyse its distinctiveness, novelty and associations to position itself in the market for the long term. Brand managers must analyse what makes the brand unique and different in the market. The brand must have something that is novel and makes it unique and interesting in the minds of the consumer. Additionally, it gives points of parity (what you need to compete in the space) and points of difference.
The word with regard to brands is to treat them with respect, nurture them, and help them to grow. A good brand is generally a consistent brand. Making changes is fine as brands must evolve, but make changes to the brand with care and with research. Understand what the brand, design, logo and typeface mean to the customers, and then make considered changes. Brands can be updated slowly over time (just noticeable difference) or quickly (butterfly effect) but if they are updated then these decisions should be made with the consumers in mind, and the position and perception of the brands must be considered and managed.
Consistency is the key for brands, although Google may be an exception to the rule. Google has the confidence, as a clear market leader, to change its logo daily to reflect important world events or historical figures. Generally, it is best to offer consumers what is known – consumers like to buy from organizations that are familiar and who they trust, and the brand is one way of communicating familiarity and trust. There has even been a move to brand love, where consumers develop feelings of love toward a brand (e.g. Apple).
Pay attention to how your brand is perceived in the market, how it is viewed both internally and externally, and be consistent with what you do with it. Don’t change the brand without reason or make rash decisions and make sure that the brand matches the products, and the organization.
It is important to invest in marketing support to assist your brand management. Marketing should be seen as an investment and not an expense, and gaining further knowledge in the area of marketing and branding can be one way to invest in your brand and your business.
This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Julian Vieceli, senior lecturer in marketing, the director of postgraduate education and program director MBA at Swinburne University of Technology (SUT). It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.
Arguably, the most important asset for any company is its brand. Sustainable, powerful and successful brands can take years, even decades to build. They can be damaged very quickly and are often the soft target for new senior managers looking to make their mark on the company.