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About brands

Branding Brands are everywhere, and everyone is familiar with brands, if nothing else just from looking at adverts and everyday shopping. However, from a marketing perspective brands are more complex than at first they seem.

Brands work at several different levels at once, conveying information about what is on offer, the quality of a product or service, who the product is meant for and what the product says about the buyer. Strong brands create long-standing intangible value with unique, defendable market positions.

Brands encapsulate a whole range of experiences, communications, learning, history, feeling about a product or company within a simple name and logo. Although a name and logo look simple, the ideas underpinning brands and the different ways in which brands are used are both complex and multi-faceted.

Brands need to be nurtured, developed and managed as strategic assets. Choosing how to invest in a brand, the underpinning brand values, and communicating and building these values through sales channels to grow defendable brand equity are long term strategic tasks for modern business.

 

The brand pyramid

A simple model to understand brands is the concept of as a brand pyramid consisting of different layers of meaning and involvement.

Brand pyramid

At its lowest level a brand is simply an identifying mark to distinguish the product from alternatives. At this simple level, the brand acts as 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. Reliability allows the brand to support higher prices through a direct functional benefit.

Moving up another step, the brand starts to associate with 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. Brands can target specific moments of choice to 'own' that decision point and become the default choice for that moment. Achooo - pass me a Kleenex. I'll Google that.

The strength of the brand association gives the product or service a defendable position that acts as a barrier to entry for competitors, and by becoming the default option, it can hold the market position without requiring the same marketing spend as new entrants.

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.

In choosing to be part of the club, consumers often demonstrate long-term purchase loyalty. As markets change and develop, the brand becomes the first choice going forwards, and buyers will often turn into lead purchasers, and product evangelists.

As the association increases, the brand extends 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. I shop in Bodyshop, buy organic food. I am that type of person and this brand represents my values.

Emotional involvement can be bound up with social perception, status and the idea of buying moods. As emotional purchasing is distant from buying by functionality, the brand has opportunities to price to the customer value, away from competitive decision making.

 

Brands as relationships

An additional perspective of brands  is as a relationship. 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.

A brand is not just imagery, and managers can overlook the implicit specification and assurance aspects of a brand, and the need to represent a positive brand experience, which rely on basic quality and meeting the implicit service promises. Brands need to work through the whole customer experience, including through 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, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Guinness, Wrigley's, ...) through brand development, reconnecting their products with each generation.

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


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