Brands are not made through advertising, as most company executives have been made to believe. Indeed, advertising helps to create name recognition in the minds of customers, brand knowledge and to some extent, brand preference.
Building strong brands is a collective effort that can be achieved through three broad strategies. Brand positioning involves the initial placement of a firm’s brand in the mind of current and potential customers, making the physical features of the product appealing to the intended end user and communicating to the clientele the desirable benefits and strong values associated with the product.
At this level, the firm is required to implement programmes that would involve continuous communication to the customer about the firm’s offering.
Selection of the brand name is the second strategy. The name and the representative symbol or logo have to be unique. A brand that stands out of the crowd is easily remembered and gives the firm a competitive advantage above the competition. It has to be representative of the product, reflecting an attribute or a value a customer would desire to have or be associated with. The brand name should be protected in the long run. It should be something that cannot become generic with time, which would eventually transform the product into a commodity product.
Brand sponsorship is the ultimate step of introducing the brand to the public. The firm may launch the brand on its own, or sell the brand to another entity for the reseller to launch it or combine synergies with another firm to co-launch the brand.
How are brands sustained?
Market dynamics change customer preferences. Emerging firms and competition have put extreme pressure on existing brands in their attempt to erode market dominance. Brand managers in an attempt to manage these market disturbances usually execute brand strategies for short-term gains. This is where they go wrong.
Sustaining and maintaining company brands is a long-term effort and personal customer experiences count a lot. Brand managers should endeavour to facilitate the emotional link between their firms’ brands and the end user. The need to make products and provide services that exceed the customer’s expectations cannot, therefore, be underestimated.
All outward-bound communication should reflect the firm’s unique values. The sensory messages relayed to the public should portray in a strong sense the personality of the firm and its competencies. All public campaigns should be synchronised to the company’s core corporate values.
The firm, through its employees, must live the brand. The values it inculcates should be exemplified through the organisational culture. This calls for internal brand building initiatives to sensitise employees on the brand values and create enthusiasm about the promise. An example is aligning job descriptions to exemplary customer service deliverables and entrenching this during performance reviews. Service organisations have to specifically emphasise their brands through human resource empowerment, as brand value is hugely generated by employees’ actions.
Markets undergo transformation over time, hence the call for innovation. Brand managers have to know and feel the dynamics that go with changing tastes and preferences of customers and transform their offerings.
The firm has to be the first in the market. The manager has to continuously establish new distribution channels, new market segments and push for adoption of their offerings in the market.
All dominant brands have a niche. Markets which are differentiated offer opportunities for niche creation. On the contrary, customers do not realise the difference between brands in undifferentiated markets. Therefore, creating a special niche for an offering might prove a challenge. The brand manager has to be on the ground to identify opportunities for differentiation. Undertaking periodic audits would show the brand’s strengths and weaknesses. The firm has to invest in market research to establish if the brand delivers value and if its position in the market is fully supported by the customer touch points.
Can a brand fail?
The late 80s and early 90s saw the rise of the brand rage phenomenon characterised by eroded brand loyalty among customers. Customers became deal-prone rather than brand-prone. Established brands like IBM lost their clout to newcomers like Compaq who hitherto were small time manufacturers. Customers had become sceptical and less willing to pay price premiums on established brands due to existence of cheaper, quality substitutes. Even now, new entities may match quality attributes of established brands and create a similar effect in the market. It can occur when customers have become sophisticated and realise the premiums paid on brands are due to emotional attachment. Such consequences result from reliance on short-term gains, rather than instituting long-term brand strategies.
Continuous innovation to match up to changing needs through listening to the customer would help keep up with changing tastes and preferences. The firm has to be aggressive in setting new quality and performance standards.
This is a risk worth taking. Resources have to be prudently managed so as to effectively drive the price agenda. Finally, the firm has to be ready to go global and build a world-class brand to minimise aftershocks of micro-environment disturbances.
A brand is a great corporate asset. A great management strategy would translate into higher returns over the long term. Corporate brand executives have to plan over the long-term to sustainably manage this resource that is central to the health of a commercial firm for long-term sustainability.