By Heidi Blade Hewlett,
There is an abundance of information and business study material designed to help you improve your marketing strategy or implement an advertising campaign but if you don’t understand the meaning behind the hints then it was all just a big waste of time. Let’s take some time to examine one of the most prevalent marketing “buzz words” used today: Branding. When it comes to branding, it may be most important to remember that the consumer ultimately determines the meaning of your brand. A brand is a name, design, slogan, visual cue or color scheme associated with the goods or services of a seller. Collectively these items are considered the “brand elements”. In planning your brand strategy, you must choose your brand elements wisely. Just as Jerry Yang, of Yahoo! realized, the shorter the name, the better. You want to make it memorable, meaningful and likeable. In an effort to manage the perceptions of consumers, companies begin the branding process by teaching the consumer “who” the product is, “what” the product does and “why” they should care. Since branding is all about creating differences, if consumers don’t perceive a difference in the product category, the branding process was not successful. Take a look at this list of the top 10 out of the Top 100 Global Brands as reported by Business Week in 2009 and mentally audit your personal brand knowledge (thoughts, feelings, beliefs and so on associated with that brand).
1. Coca Cola – US
2. IBM – US
3. Microsoft – US
4. GE – US
5. Nokia – Finland
6. McDonalds – US
7. Google – US
8. Toyota – Japan
9. Intel – US
10. Disney – US
Even the 100th brand on the list, Campbell’s, probably evokes some strong associations. As evidenced by that top 10 list, the branding process can involve millions of marketing and advertising dollars. But what about the small, emerging company working on a shoestring budget? Luckily, the basic tenets apply to everyone and with the goal of “creating differences”, consumer education can be achieved by all. The Harvard Business Review (2000) published some of the attributes shared by the world’s strongest brands.
– the brand excels at delivering the benefits consumers desire
– the brand stays relevant
– the brand is consistent
– the brand is properly positioned
With the increase in marketing communication channels and the narrowing of customer segments, the traditional advertising agency model of branding has diminished. In its place we find an emphasis on building the customer experience not only in service industries but in product businesses with plans such as “after market service”, “support” and “customer solutions”. This emphasis on customer experience also spotlights the often overlooked issue of the important role that internal employees play in the branding strategy. Not only must you create perceived differences in the minds of your potential customers, you must also convince your employees of the brand’s promise. Consistent delivery of the brand promise by the employees and the company as a whole works to strengthen the brand and create differences within the product category.
Regardless of the size or nature of your business, branding will come into play. In order to stay on the path to success, keep in mind that the perceptions of the consumer are most important, not your vision of what the brand will provide to the consumer. Conversely, your vision of what the brand will provide (brand promise) must be delivered to the customer on a regular basis in order to reinforce the value of your brand. Learn a valuable lesson from the infamously failed brands of New Coke, Crystal Pepsi and Cracker Jack cereal, take the time to review your target market, brand elements, brand promise and delivery system.
Heidi Blade Hewlett is the owner of BladeHewlett Marketing & Development. BladeHewlett offers outsourced marketing services to companies without a full-time marketing staff and especially to small- to medium-sized businesses. BladeHewlett can be reached at (570) 226-0660 or visit www.bladehewlett.com.