Brand strategy, when used as part of an overall marketing strategy, can be the most important aspect in the success of your business. The reason is simple. People use Brand as a shortcut. It implies not only quality and other reputational elements, it equates to a personality for your brand. It tells customers that this product is “for them” more than any other element of the product. Brand image captures this notion of a brand having a defined personality.
Business dictionary defines brand image as:
Impression in the consumers‘ mind of a brand’s total personality (real and imaginary qualities and shortcomings). Brand image is developed over time through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme, and is authenticated through the consumers’ direct experience.
However, this definition is somewhat dated — it reflects a bygone era (several years ago) when companies controlled their brands. Today, with conversations about brands flying through social media, brand image is a shared function of what the company says (through advertising and PR) and what consumers say about the brand.
Tied up with the notion of a brand are the consequences of a good brand strategy: brand loyalty and brand equity. Brand loyalty is the nirvana of good branding. It means consumers will continue to buy your brand and are resistant to the efforts of other brands to get your business. Brand equity is the name we give to the value of a brand to its owner. And some brand, think Coke or Apple, are hugely valuable.
So, how does a brand gain brand equity?
1. Quality (or at least consistency)
Quality is more than simply doing a job, however. Quality involves fulfilling customer needs. Those needs may be functional, such as a car is expected to get you from one place to another. Other needs are social needs, for instance, a red sports car not only gets you where you need to go, but people admire your car (and you). Others might value styling or innovation and brands who consistently deliver on these aspects will be seen as better.
For instance, its not clear that an iPod is superior in performance or durability. Its popularity is more a function of the cool styling and its ease of use. iPod remains in the #1 position due to its innovativeness — it stays one step ahead of competition by introducing new styles and increasing usability.
2. Integrated Marketing Communications
Brands, at least good brands, present a consistent image to consumers. This means everything from your logo, to your packaging, to your employee uniforms, to your advertising, to the celebrities who endorse your product … every aspect of communicating either verbally or non-verbally sends a consistent message to consumers. Otherwise, a clear image of the brand fails to materialize.
You’d also like the image that emerges to be distinct in some way. Some brands do this by being outrageous, such as GoDaddy or Howard Sterns. Others target attitudes and values salient to a specific segment of consumers — their target market.
Unfortunately, some folks equate branding with logo design or advertising. While these are elements contributing to your brand, its just not that easy. Logos may be the outward image of the product, but may have little impact on the personality consumers find in a brand.
3. Reputation management
You’re not the only one talking about your brand. While once you talked the loudest, that’s not even true anymore. Now the media, including social media, has a significant impact on your brand. A consumer putting up a Youtube video spoofing your brand can change your brand image significantly, especially since these have a tendency to go viral. Or a product recall can damage your brand — look at the loss of brand equity experienced by Toyota.
To build a strong, consistent brand in this environment means listening to conversations across multiple media sources and having a system in place for responding to these conversations.
- If people are complaining about your brand on Facebook, you need to respond immediately.
- If there’s a real problem, apologize and fix it, if its just the perception of a problem explain the misunderstanding.
- Maintain good relationships with local and national media.
- Be honest and open — lies always come out in the end and magnify the problem.
- If people are saying good things, support them, encourage them, and incentivize them.
- If you use celebrity endorsement, make sure they are representative of the image you want for your product and investigate them thoroughly. You don’t want to be caught with OJ Simpson as your image.