Brand management is a term often bandied around in advertising circles along with brand equity, brand engagement and brand leverage. For brand management professionals, the big question is: how do we make these abstract terms relevant to organisations and markets that traditionally measure performance via financial systems that simply don’t account for the brand?
Many companies declare their brand to be fully invested in their logo – the graphic device that communicates direct to their market. True, the logo is an important component, but the brand itself is where the power is. It’s the brand that reaches out and grabs the market – emotionally, economically, ethically and philosophically. The brand is about perception and promise, connection and reputation. The brand shouts much louder than the logo itself. It even listens.
For clarity, let’s talk in terms of something more tangible and familiar, like the humble apple (the edible variety, not the Macintosh one). Where is the brand value of the everyday apple vested? Is it in the tradition or the health and well-being message? Is it in the convenience and shelf-ability, or is it purely the familiarity of the look, shape and crunch of the apple itself (the logo, if you like)? Brand managers know it’s an intricate combination of these factors. For each consumer (and potential consumer) there is a unique mix of brand values that build their perception of the product – a complex fusion of emotional, economical and psychological factors that create loyalty and drive purchase decisions. The brand management discipline is framed around coordinating these brand values to create positive and enduring brand equity.
A top-down, bottom-up, enterprise-wide approach is the key. If your CEO can’t define the brand, if your back-office can’t fulfil the brand promise, if your front-line staff don’t clearly communicate your brand proposition or if your product/service doesn’t hold up against your competitors, then even an exceptionally well-designed logo won’t carry through to your bottom line.
A functional brand strategy requires understanding, insight and the effort to deliver. It demands input from all levels, not just the marketing department. Every single part of your business needs to identify with your brand and accept responsibility for driving it.
What are the specific actions that reinforce, promote and develop your brand? Again, they are unique to every business, every sector, every product, every service. Staying with the apple analogy, a brand strategy might include engaging the consumer (key messages about health, taste, economy, versatility), leveraging from existing loyalty (think Granny Smith), offering new varieties/sub-brands that are distinct from the original but don’t differ dramatically from the intrinsic look and feel (think Pink Lady) and hearing and responding to feedback from your consumers. Add in seeking to maintain the brand reputation by providing quality and excellence, “keeping your nose clean”, and fostering an emotional connection between your market and your brand – a mutual sense of belonging and ownership built on familiarity. None of these actions is isolated from strong leadership, financial investment or front-of-line promotion. The brand is clearly an organisation-wide responsibility.
Branding is all about managing how people feel about your product, business and even sector. It occurs on all levels from customer service and consumer/media communications right through to how you answer your phone, merchandise your products or implement damage control. The “brand experience” is paramount – that’s where your brand’s potential is lost or won. A poorly or under-managed brand results in negative consumer experience, which quickly translates to negative brand equity.
In contrast, an intelligent brand strategy drives your organisation’s reputation and seeks actions that positively influence how your market perceives you. A genuine long-view brand management strategy transcends the immediacy of marketing tactics, the constraints of this year’s budget and the shortcomings of the sales department. If well-executed, your market (and bottom line) will react favourably to an improved brand experience and there will be measurable outcomes. Notwithstanding other variables, your brand equity will increase and drive increased sales or service uptake.
We are not out to diminish the value of the logo in your overall branding proposition. But if you believe your logo is all there is to your brand, you may well be barking up the wrong apple tree.
DDG has been managing business brands for many years. We promote and build brands that have meaning for our clients’ customers, staff and stakeholders.