Standing Out Through Effective Branding (3)
In the second part of this article we began a discussion on ten special considerations in establishing strong successful brands. In this third part we continue with the second key.
Ten Special Considerations in establishing strong successful brands
The second key is consistency. When it comes to effective branding always take a long term view. Branding like research and development is a long term exercise and deserves thoughtful thorough long term attention. The third key is credibility, credibility. A powerful brand can only be built on a credible foundation. So there’s no point promising anything to your various customer audiences and not having the internal capacity to deliver it. Credibility is key if you want to build a strong successful brand. The next special consideration is integration. Align your organisation with all your brand promises. Support a consistent brand definition in each way you interact with your key audiences. Align, align, align!! The next consideration is differentiation. Stand out from the crowd! The companies that are flagship brands always have something that is not easily replicable.
The next key is risk - dare to be different. Leaders, CEO’s, heads of successful brand organisations take calculated chances to follow their vision. The next key is support. Invest in the corporate brand. Ben, invest in the corporate brand. It’s such an important thing. You can’t have sub-brands or product brands that thrive with a weak corporate brand. It’s not going to happen. Continuity is critical. Even if the management of the company changes, always make sure the corporate brand is being built in a very consistent manner. The eight special considerations in establishing strong brands is focus. Target your brand’s critical audiences, internal as well as external; and be creative about using the right vehicles to deliver your brand messages.
The ninth key is relevance. Evolve with the changing times. Brands that are static tend to die. Fourteen years ago I worked with an international brand that was a three million dollar investment in Ghana. They came into the country and had mammoth brand challenges. So we kept giving them customer feedback regarding the ways by which they could improve the brand, you know, adapt the brand and they said well it’s a global brand that cannot be amended for any local market. Eventually the brand died. It was a three million dollar disaster. It was so painful because I think the brand was unique in several respects but because they had a relevance challenge eventually the brand just collapsed and the rest they say is history.
The last key is leadership. Put someone in charge of your brand building efforts. Assign one point of accountability. Without a responsible branding leader, you cannot obtain full benefit from any of the nine other keys. Put someone in charge. I will prefer the CEO were in charge but if he’s not going to be in charge, we need a really senior person to be in charge of all your brand building efforts. I’m going to now speak about seven steps to a global brand. You know I just spoke about that global brand that came and died after three million dollars was invested into that effort. I know several other brands that have come into Ghana and died in the last fifteen years or so. I’m also aware of brands that are also beginning to move outside the shores of this country in financial services and the alcoholic beverage sector so I thought I should close up by sort of discussing some seven key steps to building a good global brand.
Seven key steps to building a good global brand
The first one is research your constituencies. Always begin a global branding effort with research. Carefully study the audiences you want to interact with; internal, external, foreign and domestic. They’re very important to a company looking to go global. What is their knowledge of your company, products and services, what is their opinion of your reputation, find out and set benchmarks for future measurement. Measure, measure, measure!!
The second step is understanding your business. Conducting business locally is very different from international business and the international business arena has so many dynamics that you need to understand what your prospective place in the global market is as soon as you leave your local country of origin. So you need to set some guidelines and goals for your communication programmes that are based on an in depth understanding of global objectives and recognition of the strategic benefits of corporate branding.
The third step is advancing the vision. When you want to go international the CEO must decide on the reputation he/she desires internationally and create a strategy to support it. It will interest you to know that brands can change their demeanour depending on which geographical markets they’re operating in. So brands can have a core mission\vision but depending on where they are in they can adopt different strategies
The fourth step is releasing the power of communications. After you’ve done all your branding ground work for going global, you need to create a communications platform that validates the direction you’ve chosen and is targeted at key audiences through all the channels the company commands.
Step five entails the setting up a communication infrastructure. I’ve had the benefit of working on global brands like Microsoft, Canon, Acer and they have a very sophisticated communication infrastructure because it’s fully integrated, and you find that you assemble all your audiences, internal\ external and align them with one vision. So people from human resource specialists, advertising and PR professionals, investor relations people can all come together to form what you call a global brand communications council. So they work as a team, to create and implement a brand communications program that can improve the reputation each of the identified countries and continents the local Ghanaian firm chooses to work in.
The sixth key is including employees in the message mix. This is so important to me because of my services background. I’ve found that building product brands is hard enough, building service brands especially in a global context is even more challenging. Communication to all groups must be clear, consistent and appropriate to the target culture. And don’t forget employee audiences. Their full and cooperative support can go a long way to strengthen your company’s image during any potential crises. It’s an important step to take in protecting your company’s reputation and minimising any possible damage; should trouble occur. You know recently we had some local flagship companies getting into trouble in West Africa and having problems with the World Bank a and so forth. It is very important that we manage all these things very well.
The last key is measuring performance. These seven steps started with research, benchmarking your corporate reputation with various audiences and the final step I want to discuss is research. Performance measurement should involve analysis and market research to ensure that we are always on track. I want to close by saying that branding is both science and art and if you don’t master the science and the rigour of what it takes to set benchmarks and measure them, you’d just be wasting a lot of money and the marketing function would be attacked again as a glorious waste of funds. So branding is science and its art. You need to understand the science in order to effectively employ the art.
Bernard: You typically find people who start new organizations. They come to Citi FM and say “oh we are in the brand building phase so we want to do adverts”. It seems brand building is only important at the beginning of the life span of an entity. Is this correct?
Prof: It’s totally incorrect and I can appreciate advertising. I did advertising for five years and it’s a very useful tool when you’re doing brand building. But what you need to understand is that at every stage of the brand life cycle there’s a combination of communication tools and platforms you should be used in order to maximise the growth of your brand. So in the starting phase, yes advertising is very important and tools like trade shows can also be important at start. Then when you begin to peak, you change the mix a little. You employ tools like sales promotions and so on. If the brand starts to decline; there’s also another set of communication tools, messages, and media that you could employ in order to let the brand continue living. That’s why brands like Coca Cola have been around for more than a hundred years. It’s a question of understanding the dynamics of where the brand is in its life cycle; the kind of contextual nuances it’s facing from the environment and how it is positioned against key and remote competitors.
Bernard: When is it appropriate to rebrand?
Prof: Rebranding is useful usually when a brand is peaking or beginning to experience decline. You typically don’t rebrand when a brand has just started or is sort of ascending in the brand life cycle. So you typically will rebrand when you are peaking or beginning to decline. But rebranding can be a glorious waste of funds if you don’t specifically have objectives for the rebranding programme or understand exactly what kind of benefits the rebranding assignment would deliver to you.
So what I would respectfully recommend is that those who want to do rebranding shouldn’t be too excited about the budget alone but make sure they get the kind of expertise in-house or outsourced that helps them to develop a coherent rebranding plan and then they choose the appropriate partners to ensure that the rebranding delivers more benefits than when they had the old brand. Re-branding should be conscientiously and very carefully done.
Robert E. Hinson is an academic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org