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I cannot overestimate the importance of creating and maintaining a powerful brand identity which, in the minds of your customers, will conjure up an image of incomparable quality and simply awesome service. Seek as your branding role models the legendary corporate icons such as Microsoft, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and McDonald's -- undisputed leaders in their respective markets. It should be the goal of every Strategic and Neighborhood Marketing plan to establish a brand that is the powerhouse of your market niche.
"Branding is a big deal because it is about asserting conscious control over all the ways you influence the perception of your key audiences. It is actively directing customer loyalty, perceived quality, brand awareness, brand identity/associations and other proprietary assets you might have that drive your point of differentiation in the marketplace." Marketing expert.
A powerful brand creates an indestructible image in the minds of your customers. A searing, indelible mental picture of what you are all about that is just as powerful as the imprint Texas rancher burns into his cattle with a searing hot branding iron. If you're a restaurant operator, each exquisite entrée, and the immaculate service you provide to each guest, should blaze your brand deeper into the minds of your customers. No matter what business you are in, your brand is the memory and the future of the product and service you provide.
A successful branding campaign fosters and nourishes a one-on-one love affair with each and every customer. Unfortunately, not every branding effort helps build those all-important relationships.
The challenge I pose to you today is -- how can you sustain and better the brand that you have worked so hard to create. And if you grow in numbers of units and sales volume, what must you do to continue to keep that indelible impression of our excellence alive and vibrant within the minds of your customers?
To say that creating and maintaining a strong brand identity is essential to marketing is an understatement. Fundamentally, branding IS marketing. It's building a brand in the mind of your customers and prospects. If you can build a brand in the mind, you have a powerful marketing program, indeed. You simply cannot afford to overlook the importance of brand management.
Speaking to the Association of National Advertisers Brand Champions Conference, the president of Proctor & Gamble admitted that his company had forgotten the fundamentals of brand management that it once pioneered. "We lost focus," he said, "and drifted like everyone else into practices, which not only did not reinforce brand loyalty, they created disloyalty."
He went on to say that Proctor & Gamble diluted its brand awareness by trying to buy the loyalty of brand switchers with complicated trade deals and ended up confusing its customers. P&G forgot the first rule of branding:
FOCUS ONLY ON THE CUSTOMERS -- NOT ON COMPETITORS, AND CERTAINLY NOT ON SENIOR MANAGEMENT.
This cardinal rule seems pretty simple, but most companies lose sight of it and have to relearn it or face extinction. As you grow in number of units and sales, your brand grows. And it becomes more difficult to maintain the integrity of your brand. A brand is more than a symbol in the public's eyes. A brand is a warranty. Merely creating a catchy marketing message, slogan or jingle does not make a successful marketing program. A message, slogan and jingle that isn’t backed by an established brand is meaningless. How successful would the Budweiser Clydesdale commercials be if Budweiser wasn’t a beloved brand? The same goes for the ever-present blue jeans and automobile commercials.
Branding is a promise that the service carrying the brand will live up to its name and perform. Making a promise and not fulfilling it is a sure formula for disaster. “A brand is both a commitment and a community,” says the founder of a nationally respected marketing consulting firm. “The marketer has to deliver over and over again, over time, what a customer respects, which in turn creates a community of passionate consumers…”
To understand the impact of branding, we have to look at its basic concepts:
- Brands drive profitability
- Brands drive equity
- Products are not brands
- Consumers own brands
- Brands are about consumer insight, not data.
Let's look at the first concept -- Brands Drive Profitability
Research has convincingly shown that there is a link between strong brands and profitability across a wide spectrum of businesses. One of the more prominent studies observed a nearly 2 to 1 differential in average ROI for brands with stronger reputations among consumers. Another found that brand-loyal customers are exponentially more profitable to businesses than brand switchers.
Secondly, Brands Drive Equity
This is an amazing and powerful example. Ford paid $2.5 billion for Jaguar, whose antiquated assets were assessed at less than $400 million. Do you know what comprised 85% of Jaguar's assets? Its famous hood ornament and the equity it represented. The Jaguar acquisition rested on the principal that it is the expectation of future cash flow for a brand that commands a premium.
To build brand equity, service-delivery systems must be established that guarantees that the product quality and level of service meet customer expectations. The key to successful marketing is getting brands and customers together in a relationship that is healthy and productive to both parties.
The market value of a restaurant brand lies in its ability to capture price premiums above the intrinsic value of the products it sells.
Great brands transcend the products and services they offer and establish a secondary meaning in the marketplace.
My third concept is -- and this is one of the toughest ones to grasp -- Products are not Brands!
We have to get past the foolish notion that product management and brand management is one and the same. They aren't. Products come and go, but a properly nurtured brand can last forever. The unit of value today is the customer relationship. The customer's loyalty is NOT for sale! It cannot be bought with coupons or deals. Branding is about character, and if you don’t convey a clear, distinctive difference about what that character is, then it’s difficult to say what you’ve invested in a brand. At the end of the day, branding is how you make the consumer feel about your product or service, how your guests think about it and how it relates to them. If the customer is positive about this experience, then he or she becomes a loyal customer.
Loyalty is the reflection of a consumer's subconscious emotional and psychological need to find a constant source of value, satisfaction and identity. Real loyalty can only result from an emotional bond created by trust and constant communication. The object of this emotional bond is the brand. The president of Proctor and Gamble recognized this truth when he stated that P&G's mission was to earn "the deep, enduring trust and loyalty of consumers."
We must NEVER forget the next concept --Consumers Own Brands - you don't own them! That's hard to fathom because, after all, you created the brand in the first place, by blazing into your customers' minds, hearts and bellies that indelible image that I talked about earlier. But marketers forget this simple truth again and again and again.
The last concept -- Brands are About Consumer Insight, not Data.
Remember the infamous "New" Coke? Coca-Cola spent millions of dollars on 200,000 blind taste tests that demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that its proposed new product tasted better than Pepsi and even better than the original Coke. The evidence was overwhelming, as was the consumer rejection of the "New" Coke. Blind tests are well and good, but consumers don't buy products blind.
In fact, they don't buy your products at all. They buy the brand and its associations in life and legend. Coca-Cola messed with its customers' heads when it tinkered with its brand.
The moral of the story: Don't lose focus! Or, as the famed Texas football coach Darrell Royal said: "Dance with who brung you." If you've been dancing with your brand for many years and it has been successful, don't make the mistake of looking for a new brand.
The heart of your brand is not artful packaging, slick advertising or the company name printed on everything from T-shirts to ashtrays. The heart of your brand is the integrity of the people behind it.