A robust brand strategy necessitates taking a pan-company perspective to understand the organization’s competencies and core values, identify new opportunities and leverage the advantage of corporate culture to deliver the brand promise. A brand strategy needs to align with the company’s strategy and the brand. Companies such as Zappos, Method and Virgin are some of the best examples. Brand success does not result just from focusing on customers; it is not user-centric design or product development. It is from switching and adopting a more balanced perspective by addressing multiple stakeholders. Branding is a design thinking exercise that brings in imaginations, insights, interactions and integration. Competitive differentiation is hard to come by and any functional differentiation can easily be copied. The brand’s meanings that create a deep emotional bond are difficult to copy, particularly if the brand is deeply embedded in the culture of an organization. In that case, the brand is the culture. Though we tend to think that branding comes first and company success follows, it is in fact the exact opposite.
Companies should develop their products and first, build the channel and service delivery infrastructures. Then their brand evolves along with the success of the products over time. Or if the branding comes even before the company’s strategy, if branding guides the values and forms the core of the culture, and then the branding becomes truly strategic. In that case the company is living the brand. The proliferation of media has seriously diluted the effectiveness of traditional forms of brand building. Add to this the increasing interest in understanding brand equity and what sort of development (marketing, customer experience design) augments equity, and it becomes clear that you need to develop more sophisticated tools for measuring how specific marketing activities form customer impressions of the brand and add value to the brand. CMOs must provide their vision to the rest of the company and help build brand consensus and understanding of the brand at all levels.
Brand management is becoming a cross-functional activity, undertaken by senior managers from different disciplines and backgrounds. There is a big difference in brand management perceptual processes. Brand taxonomies can be very useful team, and help achieve a more coherent implementation of brand strategy. Brand taxonomies provide a defined process to identify and resolve any difference between brand, product, business strategy, operations and marketing. Brands are also used to align an organization’s people and resources around its business goals. An organization’s fiscal responsibility and its ability to keep the business competitive rely on the people that determine its direction and its operation. As a brand’s success is ultimately linked to its financial performance, it’s imperative that brand accountability emerges from those responsible for performance. Often executives and managers are not aligned on goals, purposes and processes. Different functional departments need to use a common framework to unify their thinking and action. Unless all members of the brand’s team fully appreciate the type of brand and assets that they are managing, they may individually be making different and inconsistent assumptions about the work their department should undertake. At best, this engenders sub-optimal efficiency. Why diversify views among the brand’s team? In part, different views result from the large amount of brand information team members review and digest. Managers’ perceptual processes, which vary widely between individuals and departments, also create diversity. The brand life cycle model was first developed in the mid 1990s when I was trying to help senior marketing executives understand how a particular brand should be positioned and its relation to the company’s overall long-term strategy. This was based on an extensive study of US and European companies and their brands in different categories and life stages. This model enables companies to look at their corporate strategies, portfolio of brands and products in a meaningful way. Due to editorial constraints, this article cannot fully cover the framework to its fullest applications. The analogy is that all brands basically evolve through four stages. Most of them start as a Product Brand, and then some are transformed into a Service Brand. Over years of brand building effort and market presence they gradually become either a Category Brand, which is defined as having leading market share within a category, or a Personality Brand, which establishes a strong brand personality.
This article appears in MISC Spring 2014, The Brand Issue