Article Summary:An overview of the elements of a branding strategy.
Branding is a way to differentiate a company, product or service from its competitors, and establish a personality that is both unique and appealing to potential customers.
It is a multifaceted, multilayered process and discipline that aims at establishing long and profitable relationships with stakeholders. It begins with a branding strategy and is implemented throughout an organization and communicated to significant company stakeholders over time. It springs from a company's core - its vision and mission - and develops the corporate "story" in ways that relate and resonate with target market members.
The benefits of branding
For smaller companies, well-focused and consistent attention to branding, and to creating favorable, memorable positioning of their products and services is the most effective way to compete, to rise above the static and become a factor in the competitive arena in which they've chosen to participate.
But of higher concern to the chief executive, branding builds stronger, longer relationships with customers. For those embracing the concept of "customer life value", branding is integral. A powerful, well-established brand also removes the product from the "commodity" category and often allows the company to operate without the need to participate in competitive price wars.
Importance of branding
Branding has taken on a greater significance in the past decade as companies begin to see their brands as assets - as valuable and as tangible as their systems and patents. So brands have become more than marketing slogans and icons today: they are now closely monitored by the CEO and CFO, and assessed by industry analysts and pundits. Today's accounting practices can actually value the brand as an asset on its balance sheet
Yet many businesses, particularly business-to-business marketers and service providers, have yet to accept, or even appreciate, the value of branding. The truth is every business, even a commodity supplier, is building a brand through their actions and their presence even if that brand is not being intentionally created and nurtured. They acquire a "position" in the minds of customers and prospects, a position or identity based solely on exposure and experience with the provider. With focus and action, these companies can enhance their brand and increase its value.
Elements of the branding process
The following are elements that should be considered and incorporated into your branding strategy. They will take on a different mix of importance depending on factors such as product life cycles, competitive activity, significance to consumers, loyalty patterns of consumers, commodity/custom perception and others. But within this product environment, these elements should all be addressed.
- Existing perceptions of the product category by target market segments.
- Existing structure and infrastructure of this product category and anticipated trends and upheavals.
- Competition for the same dollar from other product categories.
- Product attributes deemed important to target market segments.
- The positions currently occupied by you and your competitors in the minds of target market segments.
- Product differentials, real or perceived, by target market segments.
- Corporate images of the marketers of products in your category.
- Expectations of target market segments about products in your category.
- The programs, activities and policies in support of your brand. They include names, logos, packaging, slogans, ad content, ad media, ad specialties, trade shows, spokespersons/celebrity associations, demonstrations, employee training and evangelism, contests sponsored, public relations, literature, promotions, events sponsored, distribution channels used, charities and causes supported, web site activity, guarantees, return policies, co-branding activities, graphic standards, customer relations policies and personnel, audio symbols/themes, trade association and standards committee participation, and any other activities that provide exposure of brands to your markets by you and your competitors.
- Relation of a particular brand with other brands from the same company (line extensions, brand adaptations, co-offerings etc.).
- Credibility and continuity of the brand and its many elements as perceived by the market.
- Alignment of all influencers (employees, distribution chain personnel, suppliers, media and investors) to deliver a credible, consistent brand "story"
- Budget and financial considerations.
- Product expectations for volume, profit, longevity.
The mix of elements and environment make branding a complex and ongoing activity, but it can lead to focused, consistent, powerful and cost-effective marketing performance which leads to increased market share and profits.
Utilizing the Elements of Branding listed above, you can establish a brand audit of your existing product, service and corporate brand strengths and performance. The same list can be used as a checklist for launching a new brand. It's a way to make sure all elements associated with a brand are coordinated and directed toward the branding goals you have set forth.
There's a lot of hard work associated with establishing, maintaining and defending a brand and its position. But it pays off in market awareness, acceptance, preference, customer loyalty, and most important: customer equity,
Some decisions about branding are required at the outset. For instance, should the corporate name be branded and promoted, and if so, to what extent. If products and services are also branded, what should be the balance between the two. Then, how do acquisitions and mergers affect brands? If brands are indeed assets, how can they best be managed when merged into another corporation?
Nomenclature systems can help an organization keep track of brands within a structure of divisions and subsidiaries, but don't expect customers to become familiar with, or even interested in, your artificial and internal organization.
As has been suggested, branding is interactive with customers perceptions and expectations making a large contribution to the success of a brand. For those marketers who persevere, the result is a longer and stronger customer equity position, better margins and long-term profits at reduced marketing expense, Branding works and it's worth it.
Martin Jelsema is CEO of Signature Strategies where he helps small businesses profit from the power of branding. Martin has 50-years experience with ad agencies (BBDO, Marstellar, J.M.Mathis) and companies (IBM, Coors Ceramics, Information Handling Services). He has been a marketing consultant and freelance writer since 1983. Martin also blogs at The Branding Blog. For more info, visit Signature Strategies.com