Brand equity is so valuable it appears on major marketers’ balance sheets.
A brand fulfills the real or perceived needs of customers. It isn’t just a look, a difference or a USP, though
these can be elements. A brand is a personality to which customers are attracted.
A brand strategy is a statement of the brand’s sustainable competitive advantage, usually consisting of a demographic and psychographic description of the intended customers and the benefits they get from the brand. The brand strategy statement is developed within a competitive framework.
The purpose of branding is to achieve consumer perception that will deliver a sustainable competitive advantage.
Where do brands come from?
Brand personalities start with customers. The marketer seeking branding success listens closely to customers’’ wants and needs and observes the behaviors of the customer when making purchase decisions.
For example, for the purpose of argument, let’s
assume that all laundry detergents are pretty much alike. They are all effective in cleaning clothes in a washing machine when properly used. However, one detergent has taken on the whiny personality of eliminating ring around the collar. Another is even conveniently safe in all temperatures. And still another is tough—it’s stronger than dirt. These brand personalities were the result of researching heavy detergent users by organizations which developed products that
would address those specific customer needs and wants in language the customer understands.
The concept of using language the customer understands is important. As marketers tend to understand the details of their products’ design or chemical formulation, it is often tempting for to express that knowledge in advertising, promotion or packaging. But how
important are these details to the customer?
Sales vs. Marketing
Once upon a time companies were sales-driven. Over the years companies began adapting their products to fit customers
needs. Today, successful marketers partner with customers to determine the wants and needs new products can address.
Branding has to do with customer perceptions and their behaviors when buying; it is not a characteristic of a product, a graphic design, a company or category.
Branding and Marketing
Branding is almost synonymous with marketing.
Marketing is the
process by which companies satisfy customer wants and needs. This forms the basis of repeat business. A popular definition of marketing is the “Four P’s”: product, price, promotion and place (distribution). Decisions in these areas cannot be made without a clear idea of the benefits sought by customers and those offered by the product. Branding is a device that telegraphically communicates those benefits to the customer.
Customer perception does not always occur at the conscious level. If you ask a customer why he or she bought a product, they usually give a rational answer. But, feelings about products are not easily articulated. They are emotional, and based on a relationship. Marketing research is a device we use to probe into the subconscious to uncover what is driving buying decisions.
To have the strength to deliver superior perceived quality, a brand has to address many elements of consumer perception and demand. Since quality is a customer perception rather than a tangible characteristic, we present the following criteria for successful branding.
1. The product must deliver functional benefits to meet the market need at least as well as the competition. Brands are not developed solely through advertising or packaging. A product cannot survive without performance.
2. Brands offer intangible benefits beyond the product. To establish loyalty, brands must offer certain intangible benefits, supported by drivers. Levi jeans offer brand drivers of toughness, informality, and American-ness, whereas Gucci jeans offer style and a cosmopolitan image. These drivers are the basis of branding. Personality is a benefit, and premium pricing over the years demonstrates that fact.
3. The combined drivers of a brand must be harmonious and present a unified personality.
Brand perception isn’t based upon scientific research; customers make quick, belief-based decisions. If the offer is too complex, or has changed from last year, it may not be considered at all, since customers won’t take the time to determine what is being presented. The brand must be different from competitive products. A marketer must continuously support the brand personality to make it clear and consistent over time.
4. The brand drivers must represent values desired by the consumer.
No brand personality, however clear and consistent, is of any use unless it meets customer wants. All purchases are made on the basis of value. Value is not measurable in absolute terms, but on customer perception. If the brand can offer something that is valued and that customers believe other products don’t offer as well, there exists the basis of a long-term preference.
Successful brands eventually have the opportunity to take on brand leadership positions. This is often expressed in advertising as a product superiority driver; and it works— consumers often prefer the market leader because they assume it is better.
Strong brand positions can be built on anything enduring, including images or simply the biggest selling. The message must be presented consistently in all marketing initiatives.
There are two central elements to brand personalities: the type of
benefits offered by the brand and the type of consumer who will value them. The 1990s are the decade of niche marketing. As markets fragment, brands must be targeted at smaller groups. The concept of the market life cycle encourages the belief that more segments will emerge in maturity. The scope of the target for a brand is therefore becoming more important then ever.
There is no formula for determining a promotion budget. It should be managed as a process, drawing on industry experience and using quantitative methods as checks and balances.
The evaluation of promotional activity is best divided into three categories:
- A straightforward check on how the budget was invested in terms of media planning: Who saw the promotion and how many times?
- Behavioral changes, especially where the promotion
elicits a change in buying response. Behavioral responses though, do not necessarily indicate a shift in the image or attitudinal aspects of brand-building.
- Long-term measurement of image and attitude attributes.
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