Branding – a subject with as many claimants to its parentage and origins as there ever could be. That scarring mark that seared the rump of cattle and slaves centuries ago has been claimed by professionals in marketing, advertising, sales as well as agricultural economists to be a landmark moment in the development of their areas of study. I doubt if those poor farmers ever thought that the simple act of differentiating one man’s cattle from those of his neighbour was going to become a multimillion-dollar industry, employing millions of people all over the globe.
The roots of the word ‘brand’ is as simple as the rustic origins of the act of branding. It is generally agreed that the word is of Old Germanic origin and means ‘burn’ – obviously referring to burning the sides of those poor animals using red-hot metal branding-iron
The days of hot-metal brands are long gone. Today, brands are way above our heads in outer space and deep beneath the ocean floors. The multiplicity of brands means that we are bombarded and inundated with so many different brands that we have become immune to their effects. We have become like the fish that is oblivious to the water it lives in. We, literally, live in an ocean of brands.
It is surprising that for a concept so pervasive, there is no universally-accepted definition of what a brand is or what ‘branding’ is all about. It is not difficult to see that one of the earliest-known definitions can no longer stand on its own. The American Marketing Association’s definition of a brand was “a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors”.
Unfortunately, this definition sees branding only from the viewpoint of the organisation. However, branding is now accepted as the perception that customers and the general public form about an organisation or its offering. There has been a seismic shift of the power base—from the business to the customer.
Currently, there are as many definitions of the subject as there are of experts. To the award-winning author, business strategist and Internet pioneer Jay Baer, “branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company, and vice-versa”.
Sales guru and best-selling author Dave Kerpen defines branding as “the representation of your organisation as a personality. Branding is who you are that differentiates you”.
To Scott Davis, the Chief Growth Officer of global consulting firm Prophet, branding is “a 15-second elevator pitch that every employee in the organisation can not only get and articulate, but can talk about their role in bringing that to life”.
David Ogilvy, one of the most influential personalities in the world of advertising over the past century, defined a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised”.
Marketing professional and author Al Ries defined a brand as “a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect”.
Another marketing professional and author, Sergio Zyman, creatively defined a brand as “essentially a container for a customer’s complete experience with the product or company”.
Seth Godin, the popular American author and entrepreneur, defined a brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that – taken together – account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another”.
Author David C. Dunn, in his book ‘Branding: The 6 Easy Steps’, stated that “a brand is more than just a name and a logo. It is a lifetime relationship with a customer”.
I believe a good summarisation of all the definitions was given in the book ‘The Brand Mindset: Five Essential Strategies for Building Brand Advantage’, by brand strategist Duane Knapp. He defined a genuine brand as “the internalised sum of all impressions received by customers and consumers resulting in a distinctive position in their ‘mind’s-eye’ based on perceived emotional and functional benefits”.
Many attempts at defining what a brand (or branding) is leaves students of the subject more confused than ever before. However, one thing holds true. No matter its parentage, definitions or origins, the truth is that it is now common knowledge branding goes beyond mere logos, typefaces, fonts and colour combinations. It is more than just a name. Branding is much more.
Branding goes beyond what the eye can see. The feeling that the mere mention of the brand name evokes in the customer—that is the brand! However, since feelings can be very subjective, a brand therefore becomes what a customer thinks it is. It is the perception customers have of the particular product or service offering.
A brand refers to the emotions surrounding the choice of colours, logos, typefaces, etc. of the offering. The best the organisation can do is to lay out the brand identity and all other accompaniments. The appreciation, meaning and feeling the brand evokes is the consuming public’s job. Critically assessed, branding is nothing but an exercise in emotions-management.
At each and every stage of the branding process, the focus must be on emotions – not just any emotions, but powerful, positive emotions. The stronger the emotion associated with the brand, the more successful the brand becomes. Anything less would lead to not achieving the desired results; or, at worst, be an exercise in total futility.
There is a general agreement that the first step in building a brand is an appraisal or research into the market. Author, Brand Coach and Brand Strategist M. G. Parameswaran, in his book, ‘Building Brand Value: Five Steps to Building Powerful Brands’ enumerated five main steps for building a brand. These five steps make up what the author refers to as the ‘brand-building pentagon’, the first being Brand Appraisal or Exploration.
David C. Dunn also supports that stance, stating the first step in branding is a market analysis. This is done to gain an understanding of the customer, the competition, and the current and emerging trends. Whether the brand is a new entrant on to the market, an old brand seeking to refresh itself or an outstanding brand seeking to hold onto its leadership in the market, it is imperative that as much research and analysis as possible is done. Areas that need to be properly explored include the market, the socio-economic landscape, the competition and consumers.
More often than not, those charged with doing the initial exploration for the building of the brand focus solely on the figures. Their interest is more on the size of the market, potential or real market share, growth rates and number of key players in the market. The final reports that come out of these initial work tend to be full of figures and graphs. These are very important pieces of information. However, they are not enough to build a super-brand.
The figures tend to hide a very important piece of information that has to be collected – the emotions surrounding the product, in the case of a new entrant; or the emotions that the name elicits in the case of an already-existing product. Those feelings must be captured together with the figures. These will come in handy when the rubber hits the road and the real brand-building starts. It is only when the emotions which come with the brand are truly captured that one can confidently say that a complete picture of the brand-potential has been established.
With all the relevant information – including the emotions surrounding – collected, the next step in the brand-building process is to put together the brand’s architecture; or as some prefer, the brand’s DNA. Dunn enumerates 18 elements of a brand’s architecture that must be put in place. These include the product or service to be offered, the vision, positioning, target, name, identity, promise, character, personality, experience, quality, pricing, packaging, distribution, association, credentials and message of the brand.
It is important to note that this is a stage of the branding process wherein emotions become very important. Every single one of these elements must be chosen knowing the kind of emotional response they will get. Every element chosen must be infused with the right emotions so that it engenders the right response from customers. Builders of outstanding brands know this, so they ensure that every step of the brand-building process is taken with the right emotions in mind.
For instance, a brand name that elicits anger or a negative emotion from potential customers and consumers is a no-no for brand builders. The brand name might sound good to the originator, but what emotions does it generate in the consumer? A brand personality must be something that appeals to the intended target market. If the brand were human, would customers want to hang around with that individual? That is question which must be answered from an emotional point of view. The brand character, which is different from the brand personality, must also be something that sits well with the intended consumer or customer. What are some of the moral issues that the brand will be known for?
Because people normally see a product before they experience it, the outward appearance really matters. Great products that had wrong packaging have lost out on the market just because customers did not feel an emotional connection to the package. The shape of a bottle of perfume can have such an effect on the brand. The sleek designs of cars are meant to connect with consumers at a deep emotional level.
The imagery that is used on a brand-packaging even goes a long way to determine the kind of reaction consumers have toward the brand. An image that rubs a customer the wrong way will ensure the customer stays as far away from the product as possible.
Even something as seemingly logical as pricing must be done with the customer’s emotions in mind. Set the price too low and it might turn-off a customer who believes she is “bigger than that”. That customer’s reaction to the price would have nothing to do with the perceived value to be gained or quality of the product/service offering. It is just an emotional reaction, and the builder of an outstanding brand knows that.
With the brand architecture in place, the next step in building the brand is to market or promote it. It is important to note that promoting is not a single event or step. It is a commitment that must go on throughout the lifetime of the brand. However, in promoting, marketing or communicating the brand’s essence, it is important the emotions which each and every medium and channel arouses in the target consumer are all taken into serious consideration.
The media used in promoting the brand must not be chosen based only on facts and figures. The emotional appeal of these media must also be considered. It is not every newspaper, radio station or TV station that must carry ads or commercials for particular brands. A good ad in a wrong newspaper or magazine might generate negative emotions from customers.
The emotional baggage in distribution and location of the product or service must also be carefully considered. There is a certain feeling people have buying things in the mall that is not associated with purchasing the same items at the second-hand clothes market at Tema Station or Kantanmanto.
As consumerism continues to rise and competition continues to increase, the issue of branding is going to take on greater importance. As long as consumers remain human, they will continue to be largely emotional beings, and the truth is that one cannot deal with an emotional being by relying only on logic. It is an exercise in futility. In building outstanding world-class brands, organisations must ensure that they approach the entire process from an emotional point of view. This is the only way that they can ensure they build brands Which move emotions.