It is easy to see how having a brand – not just a name that identifies you – is an advantage. McKinsey’s study "Uncovering
the Value of Brands" showed that 18% of the purchase decision in U.S. consumer markets is
due to brand. And, in studies conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide, the
percentages of Americans (ranging from 30 to 50+% on average) who say that some
brands in a category are "different and worth paying more for" are up
an average of 7 to13 percentage points since 1994, across a number of diverse
product/service categories from furniture to airlines to computers.
Branding battles are heating up as companies recognize this growing
importance of brands and the fact that customers do not simply buy a company’s
products or services – they buy the company and its people.
The changing face of competition also impacts branding dynamics. Companies
can now move across traditional industry boundaries by basing their brand
strength more on customer relationships than on product characteristics. In
addition, new and unforeseen competitors can create brands rapidly through the
Internet, direct marketing and strategic alliances. Amazon.com, Costco,
MSNBC, and Travelocity.com are examples.
Forward thinking companies – like Gillette, Disney, Nike and Marriott –
are leading. They are building, protecting and leveraging their brands in new
ways: to rise above commodity status; grow market share; support premium prices;
successfully launch new products; extend markets; and, enter new geographies.
Brand Building Discipline.
Clearly, no company should see its brand building efforts as
complete. Companies must continually nurture deep connections with customers
that transcend the actual product or service offered, to withstand
competitors’ ongoing seductive appeals. To achieve super brand status,
companies must leverage strong alignments between what the brand stands for and
the values of employees and customers. Strong alignments = strong commitment.
The CEO as Super Brand Builder.
No longer satisfied with managing the brand as if it were an
inanimate object to be pushed, pulled and manipulated into new forms and
directions yearly, the CEO needs to redefine and elevate the branding challenge
and vision. Super brand builders must manage three relationships...
between the company and its employees
between the customer and the company–through the brand
between the customer and the employees
...and the consequences of these relationships on three
communications, both external and internal
...to gain a brand which transcends products and services and
stands for a lasting, deep connection with customers.
Super branding is a senior management responsibility
can’t be delegated.
Super branding is a company-wide activity involving every
employee. Only a CEO with this vision, and with the prestige of the corner
office, has the necessary influence to change the attitudes of management about
what brands really are, and the organizational prerogative to cross functional
boundaries in order to gain the data about what is truly going on between the
company, employees and customers.
Super brand builders see the branding discipline as dynamic
and overarching – like great strategic planners who are always thinking about
their companies’ next move, and great human resources executives who are
constantly upgrading the internal environment.
But unlike strategic planning or human resources management,
branding is also a belief. If the CEO is going to engage in super branding, he
must believe that customers buy for a whole host of reasons, some rational
(price, specifications, terms) and some emotional (honesty, partnership, trust).
The CEO must champion branding as a top priority despite the impossibility of
precisely quantifying its returns.
A Little Perspective – Every Brand Doesn’t
Need To Be a Super
Some product and/or service categories simply don’t fit this model, such as
simple, one-time purchase items with limited use-life, many commodity products
and products that hold little possibility to spark consumer interaction. Purchasers in these categories
often respond to little more than cues about
cost-benefit trade-offs, and therefore, additional branding efforts would be wasted. For
other categories there exists a sliding scale that reflects "what’s at stake"
in the consumer’s mind. As you move up this "scale," underestimating the
need for super branding can be costly.
The Brand Mystique.
We all think we know what brands are. We’ve seen them ...we recognize them.
Names...logos... reputations... product identifiers. Brands are all of those
things, and more. But, why are some brands captivating while others, although
recognizable, seem to be superficial and forgettable? When brands work well,
what is at the root of their success?
When viewed in a straight-forward manner, brands can be defined simply as "names or symbols which carry a positive meaning
that people are willing to pay for." While most people would agree with
this overview definition, there is much less consensus regarding how we get
While consultants and academics have shown how brands work mechanically, and
what the benefits of a strong brand are, they haven’t shed much light on what
underlies success, nor much about creating a plan for the strategy, management
and maintenance of a brand.
When we ask the following questions about our definition , we begin to see
how complicated it is to "get it right" when it comes to branding.
- What kinds of symbols work best?
- How does positive meaning derive from our
- Where did all that consumer "willingness"
"motivation to pay" come from?
- Is that all we want from a brand...to get people
to "give us the money"?
As we will see below, the answers are multi-faceted.
The Basics are Still The Basics.
No one should ever underestimate the importance of the basics of branding. Companies still have to determine what niche they want to
be in and what the customers in that niche want. They have to be careful about
what product and service cues are evident in both the visual and non-visual
representations of the brand that the customer and prospective customer gets to
see and hear.
The brand name has to work. Logos need to make design sense in order to
create the desired emotional response. Graphics have to be professional, and the
communication and advertising themes need to resonate. No one disputes these
basics. But, to enhance the brand and sustain it over the long term, there needs
to be more – much more.
Super Brands are More
Variables and Motivations...Values and
Relationships Underlie Brand
American business tends to be run by management professionals who love
numbers, prices, quantities, specifications. These perhaps are unique American
strengths and the source of our resilient economy.
But opportunities are missed when a purely rational philosophy is behind the
branding process, because employees and customers act as much by their gut as their intellect.
Being able to step out of our rational comfort zone, into the world of
values and relationships, is essential to start the super branding
process. And this means a change in perspective. People’s values (such as
their beliefs about what fairness and goodness look like) influence the
expectations they have of others and, accordingly, how they view their
relationships. In other words, their values provide a set of standards which
they use to calibrate and hold their relationships accountable.
In similar fashion, if and when customers calibrate the
relationship they have with a company and determine it is not aligned with their
values, they will hold back their support for that relationship, and the brand
Executives must accept that while a brand is a symbol, it is not
rational symbol of a product or service. Rather, a brand is an emotional symbol of the
nature and quality of the relationship that the values-based customer has with
the very company providing the product or service.
Alignments among Brand, Employee
Customer is Key.
Customer perceptions of how a product or service performs is a strong
determinant of a brand’s stature. However, most companies underestimate the complexity
of the alignments that are required to optimize that equation.
When alignment is present between customers, employees and brand promise,
customers show supportive attitudes and behaviors.