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Branding for The Rest of Us

Branding is no longer the exclusive preserve of consumer marketers.
Here's why other types of marketers might consider a branding strategy.

 


Branding for The Rest of Us

by Robert P. Woyzbun - T H E / M A R K E T I N G / W O R K S c

The concept and practice of "branding" is enjoying a resurgence in business circles and is being discovered in organizations and sectors beyond consumer products and services. The principles of branding and brand management are equally (if not more!) relevant for professional services organizations. Because the concepts of branding are so closely related to traditional consumer marketing strategies, many organizations are hesitant to adopt (or even investigate) brand-focused marketing strategies. This article addresses the questions and misconceptions related to branding and branding's role in the marketing and promotion of non-consumer goods or services.

What is Branding Anyway?

Branding is a marketing-based business strategy and philosophy that has the ultimate objective of building goodwill for and supporting the "raison d'Ítre" of a product, service or enterprise. When properly implemented, brand strategies provide clear and consistent differentiation in a given marketplace.

A brand is the sum of the expectations that a customer or stakeholder has when purchasing a product or dealing with an organization. A brand can be thought of as the "mental image" generated when exposed to a product or company name. What mental images or perceptions do the names Porsche, Apple Computer, Coca-Cola generate? The images conjured by these well-established and strategically managed brands convey a variety of meanings, values and associations that are related to experiences with the brands themselves or with the marketing and communications associated with them.

A brand can also be viewed as the variables or factors that "surround" an organization's core product or service offering - or surround the organization itself (please see Figure 1).

Every product or service features certain tangible aspects or variables which may or may not be unique in any given marketplace or market "space". These variables can include the scope or breadth of services, the attributes of the product (size, price, packaging, etc.), the quality of the product/service and its potential uses. In Figure 1, these variables are seen as the "core" of a product, serving as the center of the "brand".
  

Figure 1

Branding: Figure 1



In effect, the brand (and brand strategy) surrounds the generic product or service with the variables or dimensions that make an organization unique and that ultimately create value for a customer or client.

As seen in Figure 1, those "surrounding" variables might include the personality of the product or company (e.g., progressive vs. conservative), the emotional benefits that stem from association (such as security or confidence), symbols associated with the product or brand (such as a logo, name, wordmark, theme or taglines), even the country-of-origin (Swiss watches vs., Japanese watches). Based on this model, a product, service, or organization can be effectively differentiated through branding - even if the basic offering is not unique.

Brand strategy (also referred to as brand management) is the process by which an organization first defines and then manages the key brand related elements of its business. Strategies are prepared for the tangible elements of the business (the things customers pay for); and the intangible aspects such as the image, emotion and experience-based elements that make the product or company memorable and valued.

Why Adopt A Branding Approach?

Almost any organization that has customers or stakeholders can benefit from a brand based approach to marketing or communications.

The benefits and positive impacts of adopting a "branding approach" can include:

  • Establishing brand equity. Brand equity is a set of assets that add value to a product, service or organization, beyond the generic service or product benefits. Brand equity is the goodwill related to a product or service - the goodwill that cannot be easily quantified or copied. Brand equity is important for both customers as well as intermediaries or stakeholders who must interact with, or represent the "branded" product or organization. Strong brand equity also allows an organization to better "weather" downturns or instability. For example, Tylenol's strong brand equity (and Johnson & Johnson's effective brand management) helped the product survive the Tylenol poisoning tragedy.

  • Making an intangible product or service more tangible - and easier to differentiate and communicate.

  • Increased long-term sustainability. With a strong brand, an organization's raison d'Ítre and identity is more firmly established in the minds of influencers and stakeholders. A strong brand is better able to resist competitive or market forces that may otherwise undermine or weaken an organization's mandate. Any product or service can ultimately be copied - a brand cannot.

  • Improved ability to communicate and internalize corporate vision and mission. A well-conceived and communicated Corporate brand provides a clear, easy-to-understand set of principles that help guide management decisions and operations.

  • Greater leverage of marketing resources. Since branding strategies are not restricted to advertising or promotion, a strong brand can ultimately spend less on marketing efforts and make available budgets go further.

  • Increased consistency of communications, both internally and externally. This consistency comes from the discipline imposed by the branding process.

  • A platform for future service or product developments - due to the equity established and the positive association between the established brand and new initiatives.

Isn't Branding Expensive?

Another popular misconception is that brand building is synonymous with large budgets and major marketing efforts.

While a successful branding effort certainly does require "communicating" the brand to customers, prospects and stakeholders, it does not necessitate significant advertising or marketing investment.

Branding budget requirements are primarily related to the development of strategy and implementation within the organization. Specifically, most brand strategies involve some level of customer and staff interviews, development of planning documents, and internal brand orientation, training and communications.

Organizations can integrate brand strategies with on-going service delivery and customer communications such as sales collateral materials, web sites and publications/newsletters. In many cases, adopting a branding philosophy simply requires adjusting creative materials to reflect the brand proposition and to ensure consistency of messaging. It's not how much is spent, but the consistency of effort over time.

So How Do We Do It?

Most successful branding efforts start with the development of a sound strategy and plan that takes into account the organization's mandate, employee input, and customer perceptions.

The branding process usually features an action plan that includes internal and external research, the development of potential branding models/platforms, validation of proposed direction with customers and employees, and finally a 1 to 2 year implementation plan for "communicating" and supporting the brand both externally and internally.

In addition, like any business strategy, the impact of the brand strategy needs to be monitored and adjusted as required.

Please refer to other articles in this series for information on the brand planning process itself.

The author is President of THE / MARKETING / WORKSc Inc., an Ottawa-based marketing services firm. Rob is also Managing Partner of the firm's Marketing and Brand Consultancy practice.
Telephone: (613) 789-7331
Email: robw@the-marketing-works.com

Tags: Sales and Marketing


 

 

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