Sales and Marketing
Building a Business Brand
We hear a lot about the power of brands today and it’s not just in the retail or consumer product world (and therefore only those companies behind them). Today it is seen to be important for every business to have a strong brand and to make sure that its customers know what it stands for. So what is a brand and (as our graphic at the top of this article illustrates) what are some of the sub components that we should think about?
At its most simple level, a brand is only an identifying mark or design that is attached to a product or service. To “brand” livestock historically was to give it a uniquely identifying mark so that farmers and purchasers could identify the animals apart and it is this thinking that has been extended into the business world. However, having started more narrowly at first with signs and logos (or just basic brand names) the business world has taken this concept much further and a brand these days is a much wider concept. Today, a company’s overall “brand” is what your existing or prospective customer thinks when he or she sees, hears or otherwise experiences your brand name. It’s therefore everything the public at large thinks it knows about your name brand offering—both in factual and emotional terms.
There are many factors that make up a brand but the following four are the major ones that need to be considered:
1. The Brand Promise
Any brand is a “promise” or a commitment made to customers or to the end consumers. It is a commitment in terms of what they should expect to actually receive when they purchase a product or service? The brand promise therefore includes a lot more than just the “nuts and bolts” or mere features of those tangible products and services but also includes the wider intangible benefits including the feelings that consumers get when they use the particular product/service. For example, the Apple brand (across all of its products) conveys a sense of accessibility, good design, simplicity and even elegance as well as ease of use. Customers expect all of this no matter what Apple product they buy.
2. Brand identity and attributes
Consumers may think that a product or service is simply the physical item that he or she buys but according to marketing theory this is only the CORE part of the brand. In actual fact, most brand attributes tend to be associated with other features and benefits outside the CORE or what is called the ACTUAL product in its entirety (including things like its name, logo design and packaging style for example) and the ENHANCED product (or the many other attributes that go beyond the product like a warrantee or service support package for example). The diagram below illustrates all three of these layers and where brand attributes typically stem from.
For example, Starbucks sells a lot of CORE product coffee but the ACTUAL product comes in takeaway or china cups, of several sizes and with many possible additives (not to mention many other drinks and food items that can also be purchased of course). In addition, the general “ambience” of a Starbucks store give the brand many other attributes (such as familiar colors and comfortable seats for example).
3. Brand Perception and expectations
Brands are created by companies but established in the minds of consumers. This means that even if you constantly tell your customers that your product or service is better than the competition in particular ways, they will only believe this if it is consistent with their experience or perception (and not yours). This perception may grow out of the brand attributes at all three levels above but are shaped by consumers as they experience the product or service for themselves.
Staying with the Starbucks example, customers perceive this brand to deliver in a variety of consistent ways regardless of the location of the store – it is this consistency that helps customers to keep seeking out the Starbucks brand even when coffee may be closer or even better tasting! Of course, this can work in the wrong direction without considerable care. If Starbucks offered unusual new products in different stores or a very different store experience from one location to the next, the brand perception would shift and in the confusion possibly negatively. To illustrate even more strikingly perhaps, this is why we don’t see Rolex watches in Walmart – the perception of both brands would suffer considerably!
4. The Brand Persona and Trust factors
It’s probably becoming clear that a brand has a persona or what can be thought about as a personality. Some brands are “soft” and others are “hard”, some “brash” or “loud”, some “quiet” or “peaceful”, some “energetic” and some “calming” etc. The point here is that just as you would expect an individual’s personality to be relatively consistent from one meeting with them to the next, so a brand should be broadly consistent also. This is what helps to build up trust in the eyes of the customer who then knows what to expect and, as a result, they are more likely to do business with your organization. Disney is a good example here. Disney’s vision for the brand is wholesome fun and entertainment for children and adults and they build this into the brand persona at all levels and across all product and service lines. Parents and their kids can therefore trust the brand to be consistent even when a new product or service offering is introduced.
In summary, a well thought-through brand should be clear and consistent to everyone who comes into contact with it (and that will include your employees as well as your customers). However, it is important to recognize that a brand is not established overnight. It should ideally therefore be carefully planned and crafted (based on solid research about your values as an organization and the needs of your customers). This means that you should well-understand the audience that you want to influence so you can develop a brand that promises the right things to the right people at the right time.