Branding's a hot topic among many of PEIE's tenants - we've over 400 - So, we've decided to explore the nitty-gritty of branding and explain when, why and how to undertake it.
There are as many definitions of branding as there are branding agencies and consultants. Your brand is what you stand for, and what you won’t stand for. It’s your company’s personality. It’s how you will and won’t do business. It’s the customers you seek and the ones you don’t. It’s how you treat employees, partners, vendors and customers. It’s the care that goes into your product or service. It’s your overriding principles and your diligence in adhering to them. In short, branding is the sum total of your values, as evidenced by how you deliver on those values, at every point of contact.
Now, if you think about it, we’ve all seen oil companies, telcos, manufacturers and banks proudly telling us they’ve revitalised and redefined their brand. They release a new logo — generally a poorly designed one — and a meaningless slogan. And believe it or not, they’re genuinely chuffed with what they’ve got. More to the point, they’ve paid through the nose to get it. Listen up folks, a slogan and a logo don’t make a brand.
Originally, branding referred to burning one’s mark on bovine rears to help US ranchers distinguish among look-alike cattle but it was the American railroads that brought branding into the marketing lexicon. Railroads made mass distribution possible, which, in turn, made mass production viable. With mass production came copies, and with copies came the need for manufacturers to differentiate their products. They solved the problem by adding proprietary marks to their packaging and began referring to the practice as branding.
To cut a long story short, branding worked. Consumers liked brands and it wasn’t long before brands became highly valuable assets. For example, after an unsuccessful foray as a women’s cigarette, Marlboro reintroduced itself as the cigarette for manly men. Powerful TV spots, road-side billboards and magazine ads featuring handsome cowboys puffing away on the cigarette quickly had any male smoker who wanted to look cool, smoking Marlboro, and the Joe Consumer was willing to pay extra for the privilege.
Other brands without a readily apparent competitive advantage were quick to differentiate by image as well. Substance was optional. It worked for a while, but as brands and choices proliferated and Joe Consumer paid more attention to the benefit of a product, brand loyalty began to erode. Folk soon realised that buying Hunts, Heinz or Paul Newman’s tomato sauce had little impact on the outcome of their Thursday night pasta sauce. The unthinkable was happening, despite distinctive trademarks and carefully crafted images, well-known brands were becoming parity products. Even the cowboy lost his grip, and mighty Marlboro found itself doing the ultimate brand no-no and lowered its price to compete.
Road to Damascus
For many companies, the branding process can be a real soul-searching journey, one that leads them to defining who they are, what they stand for and why customers should place their faith in their products or services. Brands are experienced through, inter alia, a company’s Website, letterhead, brochures, corporate film, office environment and the receptionist. The brand has to permeate every level of the organisation and every point of a customer’s experience to be effective. People want to connect with a brand, but for this to happen, the brand has to appeal on an emotional level.
Your brand should be thought of as a set of values implied by your product, service or experience and not simply as a symbol, which is usually your logo. Your logo is merely the manifestation of the brand, the visualisation of the emotional reality. Indeed, all the values associated with the brand, good or bad, are brought to mind when the logo is seen. Technically speaking, a brand isn’t created by designers or other professionals – it’s created in the minds of customers, audiences and participants through experiences with the brand. Brands, therefore, live outside the company. Let’s be clear, what the customer thinks, does and ultimately buys is driven by perceptions. So how does an Omani company go about branding? What are the hoops they need to hold up and jump through? Here are some tips:
Who are you Anyway?
Investigate and research, talk to your competitors, vendors and customers. Find out how your brand’s perceived. What is its current position? Consider your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. What are the opportunities and threats? Also think about the strategic goals behind existing marketing efforts and who your primary target is and how they behave. Figure out where your brand stands before you opt for a new direction.
Once you understand where your brand is and what it is to become, discuss with colleagues how to get it there. What tactics will help you achieve your strategic goals? What tonality and aesthetic is appropriate for the target? What’s your Brand Contract, the target’s “take away” after engaging the brand? And what needs to be done to continue the relationship once it’s begun?
Piece it Together
Answering these questions ought to give you a direction that can be pursued. The direction should take the form of a Concept Board and is the final step in the pre-design stage. The Concept Board should take your complex business strategies and mould them into a visual and verbal representation that triggers Joe Consumer’s emotive values. This is the litmus test against which all creative decisions are measured, keeping the work focused and on strategy.
The Bit Everyone Likes
Design is certainly the most difficult part, for many, it’s the most obvious; the best understood and needs the least explanation.
Print it and (e-)mail it. Immediately after launch, begin to generate findings. From this valuable data will emerge more questions, which will continue the focus on the most efficient, effective way to meet brand objectives. No matter how much brand designers contribute, if a brand isn’t viable or sustainable, it won’t succeed. On the other hand, well-managed and well-executed brands that keep business objectives and target audience in mind will effectively capture Joe Consumer and maximise return on your investment.
Who Brands Right?
BMW - the ultimate driving experience. When BMW makes a claim like this, it had better back it up with performance. What has BMW done? It has re-engineered its legendary 3-series and made it even better. Then it goes to the extremes of technology in its top-end 7-series. When they say 'the ultimate driving experience', that is the promise and BMW sales are strong because they are what they say they are. They’re keeping their brand’s promise.
Apple - think different. Who would have believed egg-shaped computers in citrus colours? Titanium cases and movie-shaped screens on laptops? Clear plastic cube-shaped computers? Flat screens suspended on articulating arms from hemispherical CPUs? A totally new operating system and software - is Apple thinking 'different'? Looks like it - because that's its brand promise, and it’s keeping it.
Ralph Lauren - enduring, consistency in style, quality and cachets. Ralph Lauren consistently uses its brand on products that match its image - good quality, comfortable, enduring and tastefully stylish. Ralph Lauren keeps his fashions on track because that's his brand's promise.
Times have changed. Linking a brand to a cowboy isn’t enough anymore. Indeed, it’s become more difficult to get Joe Consumer to part with his hard-earned Rials. Today, the practice of claiming to be unique without changing anything but your advertising isn’t enough.More and more Oman-based companies run campaigns telling us they’re different in the way they think, hire and behave. But when you visit them, you find a bank, a petrol station or a telco that looks, feels and acts just like it did before. This isn’t branding. It’s letting your customer down. Let’s be clear, Joe Consumer demands substance and rewards those who deliver it.