Introduction to Brand Management
In a situation where you are selling your product or service to many customers, it’s best to first connect all of them to a common platform, and then articulate clearly what’s there for each of them. The goal should be to generate an engaging conversation which will allow you to change perceptions, diagnose expectations, and forge clarity in the dialogue.
That, in essence, is the moot point to develop a brand management strategy i.e. the foundation of your communication which builds true relationships between you and the audience. A brand strategy helps you to utilize your advertising, marketing, public relations and the social media, to accurately and consistently reinforce your product/service character.
What is brand management?
It’s all about capturing the target market for your product or service, and generating a confidence in the minds of the present and prospective customers. The aim of branding is to vividly convey a message, raise customer loyalty, and persuade an individual to buy the product, thereby establishing an emotional connect with customers. It also builds customer perceptions about a product or service. Needless to say, the main aim of branding is creating differentiation.
A strong brand reduces the perceived safety, monetary, and social risks of the customer to buy a product or service. A customer can have a better perception of tangible goods with a brand name. A strong brand has a higher market share and should be given good support to sustain itself over the long run. It’s important to manage all brands and build brand equity over time.
Here comes in the usefulness and importance of brand management. A good brand management plan helps to build a corporate image and the brand manager must oversee the overall brand performance. Successful brands are the result of a robust brand management system.
On a wider scale, brand management includes managing both the intangible and tangible characteristics of a brand. For product brands, the tangibles include the item itself, packaging, price etc. In case of services, tangibles comprise customer experience, whereas the intangibles include the emotional connect.
The key principles Brand Management
Here are 12 major brand management principles that can usher in business success.
1. Define your brand
It all begins with authenticity, the key purpose, mission, vision, position, character and value. Focus on what you can do best and then communicate your strengths with consistency. There have been several instances where companies acquired other brands, only to sell them off later, because the acquisitions didn’t fit into the parent company’s brand architecture. Microsoft acquired Razorfish—a major internet and technological innovation company—when it bought aQuantive—a digital marketing service company—for about $6 billion in 2007. But a couple of years later, Microsoft sold off Razorfish for about $530 million.
Simply put, Razorfish wasn’t a good fit for Microsoft’s brand strategy.
2. The brand is your business model
Support and challenge your business for maximizing the potential of your brand. Think of personal brands like Richard Branson, Martha Stewart or Barack Obama. These individuals almost built their businesses right atop their personal brand, and everything they offer are an extension of that brand promise.
3. Consistency, consistency, and consistency
If that wasn’t enough, consistency in your message is always the key to differentiate. Own up to your position on all reference points for all that you do. Obama, for instance, focused on only one message during his 2008 presidential campaign: Change. Automobile major BMW has always been branded as the “ultimate driving machine”.
4. Start inside out
All those working for your company can tell you what they feel and think of your brand. And that’s the story you must place before your customers. Drive the impact beyond mere marketing walls. That’s how online apparel store Zappos empowers its employees to bolster customer perception about the brand.
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5. Connect at the emotional level
A brand is not just a logo, name, website, public relations exercise, or TV commercials. These are merely tools and not the brand. A brand is a much larger thing, a desirable idea manifested in products or services, places, people, and experience.
Coffee major Starbucks created a third space experience that was exclusive and desirable so that people preferred staying back and pay for the overpriced coffee.
Try selling something which satisfies not only the physical needs of people, but also their emotional needs. They will slowly start to identify with your brand.
6. Empower brand champions
Award those who love your brand and help to drive home a message, so that they can be a part of the brand building process. If your brand advocates stops telling you what you should do and what you shouldn’t, it’s about time you start evaluating the brand promise.
Go and speak to someone working at an Apple retail outlet, or an iPad owner and you’ll see how passionate they are about the company. It’s almost a culture and a lifestyle.
7. Stay flexible and relevant
A brand that’s well managed should always remain open to adjustments. Remember, branding is not a race but a process. It’s not an eventuality. So constantly tweak the message for your target group and refresh your company’s image.
A successful brand will never cling to the traditional ways because that delivered results in the past. It has to adapt to the changing market conditions. It will always try to reinvent itself by being flexible. Companies embracing change in a positive way will be able to free themselves to become more creative and savvy.
Sample this: When the global economy went southwards in 2009, Hyundai Motors introduced an assurance program. It allowed buyers to return their cars if they suffered a job loss, with no outstanding financial obligation or damage to the owner’s credit.
At the end of February 2010, only two buyers had returned their cars. But at the same time, Hyundai’s sales saw a 14% year-on-year jump. Hyundai was one of the only two companies that was able to increase its revenue in those hard times of truncated business activity, while companies like Honda, saw sales plummeting by over 30%. The Korean automobile major again rebranded its image with another program, by guaranteeing an year’s worth of free gasoline at $1.49 per gallon across most models, when gas prices pushed higher during the peak summer travel months. It was less of clever marketing and more of a carefully devised rebranding strategy.
8. Align your tactics with strategy
Convey your brand statement on the most appropriate media platform using specific campaign objectives. Each day, consumers are bombarded with commercial messages. It often becomes an overkill. Many customers actively block commercials on the internet or switch channels on TV. Invest your branding efforts on the correct platform which communicates it to the target audience.
While TV may be the most expensive, it also has a wider reach, and can come up with largely instant results. On the other hand, social media is much cheaper, but has a longer response time. The resources may not give a prompt outcome if that’s what you want.
9. Measure the effectiveness
Focus on the return on investment (ROI), which is a key indicator to measure the effectiveness of your brand management strategies. It often depends on how well your company can be inspired to carry out these strategies. The effectiveness is also reflected in your brand valuation i.e. how the customers react to your product and price adjustments. Brand readjustments should ultimately lead to better sales and profits. But make sure not to focus solely on increasing sales, when you can achieve better margins by reducing expenses and overheads.
There are several options to test various marketing tactics. Just make sure they complement your brand authenticity and also align with the strategy you have taken.
10. Keep enemies closer
Even if you have one of the most highly desirable and innovative product or service, expect new competitors with a better value proposition to enter the market, some days down the line. A market, regardless of the product or service, is never small enough to discourage new players from entering it and create competition. You’ll always find another competitor delivering faster, better, and more importantly, cheaper products or services. Call it innovation economics or hyper-competition, peer challenge could be better for you, believe it or not. It urges you to raise your strategy and give more value.
For instance, look how the big three automobile manufacturers—Ford, General Motors (GM), and Chrysler—was crushed in the past decade by car makers from Japan and Germany. Not only the latter made better cars, they did that more efficiently and commanded a much better brand loyalty. Toyota, in 2008, beat GM, while Honda overtook Chrysler in the US market.
11. Cultivate your community
The community is an effective and powerful platform which can engage buyers and also create a loyalty towards the brand. In active communities, members feel an urge to connect to each other, regarding your brand’s consumption.
All of us want to be an insider to something. It is usually exciting for us to tell others in our community that we have some exclusive knowledge about something.
In several ways, we take pride in our ego to be part of a professional group or say, a sports team. Guess which car the members of a Jaguar club would consider at the time of purchasing their next vehicle?
A brand community allows companies collaborate with customers across all sections of value creation via crowd sourcing like pricing strategy, product design, availability, and selling metrics.
12. Brand strategy thinking
CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, calls design thinking as a “process for creating new choices.” It essentially means not to just settle for the available alternatives but to think outside the box, sans being limited. The concept, in effect, applies to the brand strategy creation process that experts often term as brand strategy thinking. It’s always easier to execute tactics, instead of introducing a new strategy because that could imply a possibility of failure. It’s always much easier to copy what worked for the competitor than come up with something creative and original.
But the fact is, you can’t do that because it violates the very basics of brand management. Branding is about creating the correct experience which involves all stakeholders to devise a better strategy.
Leveraging the ecosystem which includes your partners, employees, customers for helping you articulate the brand strategy so that they can sync together, could be a wonderful idea.
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Customers, both present and prospective, will identify your company, the product or service, and your status in the market, via your brand. An incredible brand is built via strong messages, advertisements, and images. But whether you realize or not, your company is carving out the goodwill and reputation with everything that you and you sales channel do. Thus, you must ensure that you continuously live up to your brand’s promise every day.
Upholding your product or service’s image is the most crucial part of brand management. A proper brand management strategy must ensure that all promotional pieces, touch points, and every use of your logo, name and message, support the company and its goals by reinforcing the brand in the planned way. This would enable you to continue strengthening the association you brand has on customers. Many reputed brands fell apart in the past for not being properly managed.
Most large companies hire a full-time brand manager for ensuring that the brand earns goodwill in the market, which at the same time, is not misused. Even with brand managers, producing top quality campaigns could be a challenge for a majority of the brand management companies.
The take away
What does all this lead to? Having an appropriate brand management strategy will bring meaning and clarity to your product or service so that you can focus to make, create, and sell things that people genuinely care about. Once you do that your brand will become unique and memorable it its own way and earn reputation in the market. But then also begins the most difficult part i.e. upholding the brand value in the days to come.
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