About brands

Everyone is familiar with brands, if nothing else just from looking at adverts and  everyday shopping.

From a marketing perspective the brand is more complex than at first it might seem. The brand works at different levels, conveying information about what is on offer, who the product is meant for and what the product says about the buyer.

" I have been very impressed by the overall management of the project from the brief, through the fieldwork, the analysis conducted to the presentation of results. The communication between yourselves and us has also been clear and prompt.

The presentation gave the audience a clear understanding of a complicated study. Our Circulation & Marketing Director, was also impressed."

Research Manager Northcliffe Newspapers 2005

Brands encapsulate a whole range of communication, learning, history, feeling about a product or company within a simple name and logo. But although the name may be simple, the ideas underpinning brands and the different ways in which brands are used are both complex and multi-faceted.

The brand pyramid

The concept of a brand can be thought of as a pyramid consisting of different layers of meaning and involvement.

At its lowest level a brand is simply an identifying mark to distinguish the product from alternatives. Normally, at this simple level, there is an implicit statement of specification. A4 paper consists of paper of a certain size. Low fat yoghurt consists of yoghurt with a maximum level of fat content.

At the next level, the brand becomes more than a mark of specification, it becomes a mark of assurance. Food marked 'Nestlé' will achieve a minimum standard of quality. Cars made by Ford will have a certain level of reliability.

Moving up another step, the brand starts to represent moments of choice. Are you thirsty? Then think Coke - the brand is immediately in your consideration set. Eat Mars when you need energy. If the brand becomes associated with a choice (in the consideration set), then it is more likely to be purchased. The moment of choice might not just be an event, it might also be a mood. Drink Champagne to celebrate. But successful brands can position themselves to become the only choice. Achooo - pass me a Kleenex.

At the next step, the brand provides a mark of association or connection, a badge of a club that the individual wants to be associated with. Here the purchaser is starting to make some form of emotional connection with the brand and to use the brand to establish a self-image to other people. I am in the Apple user club. I wear Nike. I read the Financial Times.

If you then increase this association with the brand to a point of emotional involvement, then the brand starts to represent who the individual wants to be and the types of feelings and emotions that person wants to have and display. "The brand is me. This is my brand". One person may say I drink Gordon's Gin, wear Burberry. I am that type of person. Another, I shop in Bodyshop, buy organic food. I am that type of person. Or I support Barcelona. I am that type of person.

Brands as relationships

We can also view the brand as a relationship. Ultimately the brand reflects a relationship between the buyer and the product bought (and so indirectly with the supplier). This relationship like all others is based on trust, the fulfilment of promises and common values. This brand will deliver these features and these emotional benefits to you.

Over time the brand relationship changes as needs change. Buyers can become promiscuous, change interests, become bored with their habits. Brands on the other hand can stagnate and wither, or become focused on new customers, or change in their essence.

The brand relationship is fragile. A single event, such as contamination (eg Perrier) or a misplaced word (eg Ratners) can irreparably damage this trust. However, brands can also suffer chronic damage over time - constant failure to deliver on promises, failure to be reliable, failure to deliver on specification diminish and destroy brand value. As an example, the under-performance of Virgin Trains threatens the entire perceptions of the Virgin brand.

There are cases where companies have focused purely on the brand's imagery and completely overlooked the implicit specification and assurance aspects of a brand which rely on basic quality and meeting the implicit service promises (Boo.com is an example). This means that companies should also see the way they deal with distribution channels as part of brand management to ensure that the brand is not compromised on its journey to the customer.

Not surprisingly, brand-focused companies spend a great deal of effort nurturing and developing their brands to maintain their status, value and relevance to the relevant target audience over the long term. In these days of constant innovation and constant newness searching for a better product, it's worth recognising that the strongest brands have been selling the same product for more than one hundred years (Coke, Kelloggs Corn Flakes, Guinness, Wrigleys, ...) through marketing, rather than product innovation.

For help and advice on branding in your business contact info@dobney.com