By Vikas Shah, founder of the Ultima Group.
All too often, my clients look at brands as simply being the "logo on a product". In times gone by, this could well have served as a good generalised description, but those were days when the 'consumer' was still an evolving entity, and communications were not as pervasive as ours today.
Consumerism has also evolved well beyond the generalised concept of people choosing which brand of beans, or clothing to buy.
We, as individuals or as groups, are consumers of products for ourselves, our families, and our businesses, and in all of these cases, more than ever before, we buy into the brand of our supplier, not just the product itself.
The reasons for brand based decisions are diverse and include:
- Perceived value of the product (commonly seen in clothing, luxury goods, and electronics)
- Differentiation of a product in a largely homogenised marketplace (e.g.: petroleum, courier services, telecommunications, et. Al)
- First move advantage (i.e.: those brands which were there first, and so gain respect regardless of quality, the advantage which, for example, yahoo maintained for a long time)
- Emotional Equity (i.e.: the intangible connection a consumer makes with a brand from having spent time and capital engaging with it, common in banking, utilities, and in the real-estate market)
- And many more!
But in any case, the argument for a business is quite clear, that branding is more than a logo. The great David Ogilvy even said, “You now have to decide what 'image' you want for your brand. Image means personality.
Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place.”
Like products, brands tend to go a lifecycle, likened to the “classic” product lifecycle, i.e.: a process of development, introduction, growth, (saturation), and decline.
For most, the “development” process is a creative one, with introduction and growth being operational with leadership and/or support from marketing, and saturation/decline are the stages where the brand is either extended, rejuvenated, or dumped.
“Getting the branding right” allows you to manage this process with agility, and should give you the nice tall wide lifecycle you want to generate the best return.
When considering your own company brand, usually asking yourself a series of questions is important:
What do we do?
This may seem like a basic question, but being able to succinctly answer ‘what’ your product/service is bares great importance, focus builds brands, whilst being ‘all things to all men’ quickly kills them off (imagine, for example, if Versace had initially gone to all ends of the market, their equity now as a luxury brand would have quickly been destroyed).
Why come to us?
This is the most important question, and involves a really good analysis of the reasons why a customer would buy your product, or engage your services. What are your strengths against your competition? A useful process to go through, is the creation of strategy maps for your organisation, which will give you a clear perspective (recommended book - Strategy Maps by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton.)
What creates the ‘buy in’?
When considering a ‘buy in’, we look at factors beyond just the raw numerics of price and service. The buy in can be combinations of emotional, societal and other factors. TVR, for example, never won any supporters on quality and service (which would be typical value adders in brand thinking) but engaged their buy-in with the rarity, noise, speed, and lifestyle of the brand.
In the business sector, we see similar behaviour with brands like UPS (couriers), Dell (Computer Manufacturer), Rackspace (web hosting provider), and others, where the buy-in is a result of the association (i.e.: “look at me, I use XYZ inc”) or the historic or other emotional link with the company (i.e.: “we’ve used ABC & Co solicitors for 40 years” or “we’ve all invested a lot of time building this relationship).
How can we represent this?
The answer to this question will give you a toolkit for creating the brand. Organisations such as Virgin group are great templates for brand representation, and paying some attention to their techniques will give you a great insight into how it should be done.
From the logo, colour consistency, style of writing on outbound materials, the personality and culture of the workforce, and style of leadership, EVERYTHING within the organisation sings “Virgin”.
The same can be seen in firms like Eddie Stobart, UPS and others. For many firms, an ‘all encompassing’ approach like this is difficult, but you should always look at your “dream” view (if we had all the budget in the world, and all the resources, how would we do it). This can then filter back, to create manageable strategies for your brand today.
Branding is subjective and an often inexact science, which evolves over the lifetime of an organisation, and don’t forget, even some of the most pervasive brands of our generation, didn’t start out that way.
“It is a pretty recognizable brand name. Originally it was "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web" but we settled on Yahoo” Jerry Yang, Founder of Yahoo with a net worth in excess of US$2.2bn.
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