It’s Time for a Brandversation!

I think it is time to begin a pragmatic conversation about brand, let’s call it a “Brandversation.” I am talking about having an on-going practical and interesting conversation about brand that we all can learn from and enjoy. The good news is that there are a lot people talking about brand today. My concern is that they are talking past each other and not learning much from the conversation. One way to harness the interest and the on-going chatter is by creating a practical common language around brand. Let’s capitalize on brand’s popularity so everyone can learn more. Ever notice how when a word becomes colloquial in its use it can lose some of its meaning? It seems that the more people use a word or concept, the less useful it can become. The word brand seems to be going down this path. The explosion of social media has propelled personal brand into the culture of online conversation. In the business universe brand has reached much wider acceptance as a way to describe and rationalize strategies and tactics. Using the word brand more doesn’t seem to be translated into brand building that helps organizations more readily achieve their goals. The effective use of brand management as a business tool lags considerably behind the popular use of the word brand. Don’t get me wrong; the greater acceptance of brand in the business world-at-large is a huge step forward and a great platform to build upon. All this interest demonstrates there is an appetite to learn more and do more about brand building. The more practical knowledge people have about brand the more brand building will take place. As an analogy consider how many people use only a very small number of features of a software program or an app. (As an example, the “paste,” “save,” “copy,” “undo,” and “bold” comprise 32% of the functions used in Microsoft Word.) With more practical knowledge of a software program’s features, individuals would gain considerably more value from using it. Similarly a broader, more practical, working knowledge of brand will enable business professionals to gain greater value from its use. Complexity is the enemy of pragmatism. Too much of the general conversation about brand is bound in complexity, by simplifying the key concepts it makes them more usable and accessible. For starters let’s take a random list of a few common questions and address them in a “lightning-round” format, just to get the conversation started … How do you define brand? In its richest form it is the perceived distinctive quality(ies) of an organization or product that creates differentiated value for a customer. Think of Apple’s design and product usability that spans all of its products. The distinctive qualities define an organization’s brand ethos. A brand isn’t what you say, it’s who you are. The more times these qualities are extended to additional products the stronger the brand and the more definition it has. What benefits do you expect from a strong brand? Think of the relationship your organization has with its very best customer. How different would your organization be if every customer acted like your best customer? Having a strong brand is having more of your customers act like your best customer. In addition your organization is much more likely to attract new customers who act like your best customer. Organizations with the strongest brands have a higher share of high-performing customers. (Generally speaking a strong brand provides its owner with pricing advantage, preference in initial purchase decision making, higher rate of repeat purchase, higher referral rates (NPS, if you will), service efficiencies and collaborative possibilities.) How do you measure brand equity? There are two ways to measure brand equity; one is based upon a financial valuation and the other is more practical and centers on customer performance analytics. Developing a financial evaluation of a brand is a matter of managerial finance (e.g., valuing intangible assets for balance sheet purposes) used by a limited number of organizations. The other measure is based upon customer performance and contribution. Customer performance analytics can segment customer groups based upon their strategic contribution (e.g., revenue, profit margin, number of products purchased, length of customer tenure, service contracts). A strong indicator that a brand’s equity is growing is when customer analytics report consistent growth in targeted customer segments. What is your brand-building framework? Any organization can build a strong brand. The size of the marketing budget is not the constraining factor. Many organizations can build a stronger brand without increasing their marketing budget. More importantly building a strong brand is not a complicated process and is within every organization’s reach.Essentially branding is a four-part process. The process involves everyone in the organization and is led by marketing. The first part in the process is clearly articulating what the brand stands for and for whom; the end product of this process is called a brand platform. An organization’s brand platform must meet the following criteria: be authentic; distinctive; relevant and consistent. The second part of the process is determining how brand relationships the organization needs to create strategic differentiation. This step involves determining the best mix of product brands and the corporate brand. (The general rule is that most organizations have too many product brands and under-leverage their corporate brand.) The third part is the discipline of ensuring marketing communications and products consistently deliver on the promise of the brand platform. The fourth part is internal brand building. This is the newest brand-building competency. In its truest form internal brand building is a collaborative effort between HR and marketing. The objective of internal brand building is to actively engage everyone in the organization to passionately and consistently do his or her part to consistently deliver on the brand’s potential. The operative phrase here is that the brand on the outside is only as strong as the brand on the inside! That’s the start of our Brandversations series, more on the way. Let me know if you have any specific questions or Brandversations you would like to have take place. Meanwhile how about starting a Brandversation with colleagues about your organization’s brand building competency? Here are a few starter questions:

  1. Can you identify one or two authentic outstanding qualities of the organization, its brand ethos, that are a common thread to the success of its products?
  2. Make a list of different products or services (not simple line extensions) that demonstrate how the organization’s authentic qualities, its brand ethos, were applied to make them successful brand extensions. How about products that were not successful because didn’t embody the organization’s brand ethos.
  3. How well known is your organization’s brand ethos known and actively embraced inside your organization? Do customers know the organization’s brand ethos? Do they respect your organization because of it?

Enjoy the Brandversation!

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