Some searching questions recently from executives who seem to pride themselves on being brand sceptics prompted me to review the parameters of what brands can do, what they can’t and why I still believe that branding is a vital business activity.
There’s a tendency to see disruption and innovation as huge moments of significance that shake the status quo to its core. Ultimately though neither is about that at all. It’s often about having the courage, vision and confidence to (gently) do big things. And to do them when and where they were least expected.
Everyone strives to win, but what happens when you compete in a market where you are, and can never be more than, number two? If you’re Pepsi, for example, or Bing, how do you find the energy to continue to build out a business that will stay where it is, behind a massive incumbent? How do you do that without becoming uninspired, distracted or stuck?
Everyone loves a good story, and the critical strength of heritage brands is that they have such stories in abundance. Little wonder then that as American consumer confidence starts to look up, the brands that remind consumers of what they have, where they are and where they’ve come from are doing well. It’s a timely reminder of just how much the story of a brand links to the narrative that buyers run in their own minds of the lives they lead and the lives they would lead if they could.
Recently Jan Rijkenberg raised some interesting points in an article (thanks Jeremy) in which he questioned the importance, indeed the relevance, of underpinning individual brands with the identities of their corporate owners. It does brands no favours, he suggests, to collectivise them as part of the bigger entity. In so doing, he maintains, they lose their individuality and therefore their specific appeal.
Familiarity is something every marketer craves for their brand. They want the marque they are responsible for to be known, asked for, a household name. But does icon status in and of itself guarantee anything anymore?
How fast do you want to grow? Even the question is loaded. At a time when rapid seems to be the only desirable speed for everything, it’s easy to believe that foot-to-the-floor is the only pace in town.
Marketers can be surprisingly heavy-handed. The temptation, especially with big brands, is to thunder out answers that let customers know, in unequivocal terms, that they have been recognised. Think about the almost coarse way in which airlines greet their frequent fliers – with a bunch of features dressed up as privileges and a tiered recognition system that allocates them a colour.
While there has been plenty of discussion around how marketing and sales teams should play well together, the onus on brand owners to proactively support people in the field seems to have attracted less attention. Customers, of course, make no distinctions between which parts of the organisation they are dealing with at any one time. In that sense, brand is sales: a brand is only as good as its ability to attract, convert and retain fickle buyers.
Whilst the measures for evaluating what a brand is worth are well established, those for quantifying a brand’s potential seem less so. In general, brands are valued on their residual equity (what they are associated with and the depth and competitiveness of that association), their competitive performance and how much they are assessed to be worth.