The very intangibility of a “Brand” gives it immense potential at the same time surrounding it with uncertainties. The importance and criticality of Brand Equity in current times is no secret and it is something that all organizations realize. Building a strong brand encourages and stimulates consumer buying decisions.
But what exactly is Branding? There is no doubt overwhelming consensus regarding the value of branding and the importance of owning a strong brand but most of us would be left confused in defining it in no-uncertain terms. This article aims to generate some understanding about the concept of “branding” by examining what some of the world’s more foremost experts say and by having a close look at some interesting real-life examples.
The first and foremost thing to realize about branding is that it’s a continuous process; not a project which has a defined start and end but something which is ongoing with every interaction between an organization with its customers whether the company intends it or not. It may occur between a company’s truck driver and a woman who passes him on highway, when a customer reads an instruction booklet of a product, even something as trivial as just a chanced conversation between the receptionist and a person who has accidently called at the wrong number. Any of the above incidences can leave a strong impression on the minds of consumer which then is very difficult to alter with all the tried and tested branding tactics. These impressions accumulate over time to form a “living memory” in the minds of individuals and a “collective perception” across a wider audience. A brand then can be called as a unique sum of impressions associated with a company, a product or a service. Excellent impressions lead to long lasting affiliation with the brand which makes it the most vital asset to an organization.
A powerful brand transcends product and services since the individual experience with a certain product is transient, the product itself may change completely over the years but the lasting sum of impressions endures itself so strongly that even occasional product or service failures do not have a major impact on the organization. This essentially re-iterates the fact that brand loyalty arises not because of a rational consideration but more because of the emotional affinity.
For instance, we all have experienced , warm Coca-Cola at may be a local shop , but we still continue to associate Coke, the brand of the cold drink with a bubbly, cold and exciting drink that we first tasted as a kid. The strength of the Coca-Cola brand can endure these many failures of its product just like the failure of Coke Vanilla. The value of the brand which was developed over the decades is inestimable.
“Branding is not based on what goes on, but on what goes in…It should be an investigation of [the brand’s] very substance-the facets of brand identity.”- Kapferer Page 32
Thoughtful and planned brand formation can in turn force an organization to revisit its important internal and strategic concerns, its immediate as well as long term goals, its values, and it’s USP relative to competitors. This can only be attained if a business realizes that branding begins at home – initiated with a through introspection and then refinement of our identity. This differentiating aspect of an organization can then be distilled into a core essence over which a cohesive brand can be built.
Branding can start only when the identity of an organization is defined and this requires a deep introspection on the part of a company. It can start with gaining a business perspective, evaluating where the business stands in terms of its product and service offerings, values, customer profile, competitive position etc and where it wants to be in future. After establishing its identity an organization can then proceed to a brand building strategy: to articulate what makes it different.
Identification and articulation of a differentiating message is the next step in the brand formation process:
- Brand Message – Should include two or three key facts or assertions which will be essential to generate understanding of the organization. Instead of throwing many unrelated and incoherent messages a brand should only focus on 2 or 3 specially crafted messages which can enable a business to form a coherent and accurate description that customers can relate with and retain.
- Brand Positioning – Brand essentially defines the one essential idea we want in the minds of our audience. In Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, Al Ries argues our society is “overcommunicated” and “the best approach is to is the oversimplified message”. The key here is to claim a single differentiating quality or attribute that no one else can dispute and question.
- Brand Promise – Any brand communication should emphasize on the emotional as well as the practical value that the customer is assured to receive. This essentially replicates a cause and effect sequence that starts with business’s key messages and ends with indicating the unique advantage that audience enjoys.
- Brand Personality – It is imperative for any brand to develop a personality which its target customers can relate with at both personal and emotional level. A personality that reflects the true character of the business. These are known as Brand Archetypes: personality types that customer identifies with and to which they can attach a coherent meaning. Archetypes such as The Outlaw, The Sage and The Healer, encompass a variety of human characteristics and traits and provide a strong foundation for the further branding processes which will be undertaken by the organization.
Branding from Inside Out
Jean-Noel Kapferer observes in Strategic Brand Management, “Knowing the brand identity… allows a certain freedom of expression, since it recognizes the preeminence of deep identity over the strictly formal features” of visual identity. Working from a solid, carefully crafted foundation, a business also has the freedom and flexibility to express its identity, to present and portray itself to the world, in the most strategic way (or ways) possible. The next steps in the branding decision to work upon the fundamental elements such as brand logos, names, slogans etc
“The most important branding decision you will ever make is what to name your product or service… All other factors being equal, the brand with the better name will come out on top”
It cannot be denied that brand name perhaps is the most critical expression of the brand identity, As outlined by Al Ries in The 22 Immutable laws of Branding” in the long run a brand is nothing more than a name”. When a corporation moves from defining its product and service identity, development of a brand name comes first. In a single word the brand name speaks of product and service’s messages, brand personality and brand promise. Combined with the brand logo it serves as a “memory tag” which can store unique impressions of the brand.
Brand Logo: Visible Brand Identity
Brand logo just like the name speaks volume about the brand through continued exposure at all points of contact. It humanizes the brand providing it with a face in the form of a symbol. This can eventually lead to the formation of a trusted relationship. Imagine that you have been away on a assignment from your home for long. You desperately miss your home, your bike, your favorite burger, your coffee from a local coffee chain. But as soon as a visual symbol of any such object comes into your vision (any sign, similar logo) it is very likely to experience some emotional relief. Without even actually experiencing the product it triggers memories and associations which have been built over time which constitutes your brand perception. This is essentially what a logo is meant to do.
Putting Brand identity into action
As mentioned in this article branding is essentially a process through which we can strive to create an enduring impression of our organization and its product and service in the minds of our customers. It is something which goes on continuously, in every interaction. So it’s fairly obvious that we need to control it as much as possible. We can conclude that a methodical brand identity program can determine the correct process and way to portray our organization to the outside world, to deeply analyze our business and get a clear understanding which can then translate in the branding efforts. This can then result in the birth of a brand which is perceived in a single way by majority, who reflects our true identity and what we promise to deliver.