Branding is an abstract concept, and a lot of marketers have different ideas of what the act of branding really means from both a strategic and tactical perspective. At BioBM, we have a very clear vision of the role of corporate branding efforts, and we want to share that vision with you so you can move towards improving your own brands.
One quick note: For the purposes of this discussion we’ll refer to corporate brands only, with the understanding that divisions or product lines can have their own brands as well, and that everything we mention here applies to any such brand.
First, we need to understand what brands and brand value really are. A brand is basically the abstract notion that is your company. It is all of the things which the perceptions of your company are effectively attributed to. Brand value (which is distinct from brand equity – how much your brand is worth in money) is the collective opinions of your brand. It is the resulting sum of all the experiences which customers and / or other stakeholders have had with your brand. Given these definitions, we can see that on an individual level, the brand and brand value can differ from person to person. There can be no singular thing that is the brand in its entirety. It is therefore also useful, in various situations, to consider the brand or brand value from the standpoints of different groups of stakeholders. For instance, your target market may have a different perception of your brand than do your employees or the public. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll assume that you, like most marketers, are primarily concerned with the perceptions of the target market.
Considering that the brand value is held externally, and that it is a matter of perceptions, marketers cannot create brands in the way that they create other marketing assets (a brochure, for example) or the way that your company might create a product. What we CAN do is try to influence those perceptions, and corporate branding efforts should be seen as an effort to do just that.
When marketers think about “creating” a brand, what they really need to do is think about brand positioning – aligning the brand for the maximum probability of success. Successful brand positioning requires two things. The first is differentiation. If your brand is not differentiated from competitors, then it will have a difficult time demonstrating comparative value and, therefore, outcompeting the competition. The second is alignment. Your brand needs to be aligned with your vision and values, and it also needs to be aligned with the customers’ values and goals. If your brand is not aligned with your own values, then you will have a difficult time staying true to the brand positioning and providing experiences that reinforce it. If it is not aligned with the customers’ values, then your claimed position will not contribute any perceived value to your brand.
To understand what your brand’s ideal position is, you need to understand three things. First you need to understand what brand position you would like to claim and could validly claim independent of any external considerations. This requires an understanding of your vision, your goals, your core competencies, and other company-centric factors. We then need to understand competitors’ brands: both their desired brand positions and ACTUAL brands. In other words, we want to understand both how they want their brand to be perceived and how it actually is perceived by the markets in question. Lastly, we want to understand the customers within your target markets. What are their goals and values? What do they value in a company?
Where your potential brand positions overlap with the customer values with minimum competition from other brands, you can identify your most opportune brand position!
Your brand, therefore, isn’t something that should simply be conjured up by locking a few creative types in a room for a few days. Your ideal brand positioning can be expressed as a [non-quantitative] mathematical equation! It’s a rational endeavor in addition to a creative one, but the rational elements of positioning are arguably more important, as they’ll inform you how you need to be positioned in the first place.
Next week, we’ll discuss how to determine the three necessary “variables” in order to to solve this equation.