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Brand Building in the New Era

Well known brands bring the maximum amount of returns to companies that own them. Hence, brands need proper care and attention. Companies that know how to manage their brands will always perform better than those who do not

Brand is not just the name of a product; it is much more than that. Brand reflects the company culture, the values the company stands for, the value it gives to its customers and all these have a profound influence on the consumer's decision making. Going back to our earlier example, consumers perceive Mercedes as the most luxurious vehicle that enhances their status in the society. It's all in the mind. Hence understanding the psyche of the target consumer is vital while creating brands. Having said so, it is not that easy to create and build a brand. It may take a year, a decade, or even generations to build a successful brand. Sometimes brands just disappear even before making their mark.

Well, then how do you create successful brands? Before embarking on creating one, there are certain things we need to understand better like, firstly, the word 'brand' itself? A brand is a distinctive identity that differentiates a relevant, enduring and credible promise of value associated with a product, service or organization and indicates the source of that promise. The promise must be tangible and predictably manifested in a company's business behavior and, ultimately in its products and services.

Second is 'logo'. Customers have a tendency to interpret a logo on the product as the brand. It is not correct. Logo is just a symbol that supports the brand. The distinctive identity exists in the physical world as a system of symbols, but a brand is more than just
a logo. It lives in the minds of customers and employees as a set of associations and emotional meanings. It is the nature of this latter psychological component that makes branding important to a business. The consistent reinforcement of the logo can
help build a brand as customers make their decisions on what they believe and how they feel about what they believe. Organizations would do better if they understand that brand is a consistent, holistic business promise, which if not delivered would be disastrous
for them.

How it started
The start of brand management can be traced as far back as 1927 when Procter & Gamble decided to give Camay soap its own advertising agency, and Camay was allowed to compete with Procter & Gamble's leading soap - Ivory. From that point on, Camay & Ivory were managed by distinct brand teams, which focused on an individual product without regard for the other. Under this new and innovative organization, both products prospered.

Building blocks
Organisations need brands to sell their products. Without them, they cannot do any business. So, the importance of brands can very well be understood. Also, brands are not created out of air. They need a lot of planning and execution. There are three important elements involved in building a brand.

  • The brand's personality: Create a character or personality for the company, the product or service. Just as you would for a real person, based on that person's reputation, attitudes and behavior. And if your service is not all that different from the guy down the street, or the product on the shelf below, then it's the personality of the brand that creates a distinction, a point of differentiation, a reason for people to buy it.
  • The relationship the brand has with the audience: Build a relationship with your  target market based on that personality. Do this over time, using advertising in addition to all other communications, including the way employees are trained to interact with customers.
  • Visual icons, symbols or other representations of the brand such as the logo:  Reinforce the relationship and trigger recognition with consistent visual symbols.

These symbols can include everything from a color scheme and logo to an imaginary character, or even the president of the company. The right choice of visual images, words and media are needed to send across the message effectively to the target segment. Unfortunately most of the organizations do not pay enough attention to this aspect.

As David A Aaker, Professor of Marketing, University of California, says, "Visual Imagery has been the neglected element of branding, usually treated in an ad-hoc manner. It is wonderful to see how visual imagery works to build strong brands." One of the best examples of visuals and colors these days is the Intel Pentium processor advertisement.

Apart from these fundamental aspects, a couple of things that also need to be kept in mind are that a brand should be based on genuine qualities that exist in the product, service, or best of all, the company itself. Ideally, the brand reflects what the company is all about; the corporate culture values and practices. It should be an honest Communicator. This makes it all that difficult or impossible for a competitor to duplicate a company's culture. He might copy the product or service but not its culture and values. And remember that a brand should differentiate the product from competitive offerings. It has to be distinctive.

Aiming for success

Brand building starts with strong, differentiated positioning. Translate the positioning into appealing and memorable images and styles through an identity programme. Demonstrate the brand through the tactics chosen for communication. Support and reinforce the brand with follow-on programmes. It may be kept in mind that brand name is the outcome of corporate brain storming, while successful brand is the result of what customer perceives about the brand name. That is why understanding the pulse of the target customer is vital in creating profitable brands. The interpretation of branding can be taken even further. The crucial element in brand creation is to apply brand consciousness - not only to every customer communication but also to all customer-affecting processes and customer related activities. Every step of the customers' purchase and ownership experience adds to or subtracts from the brand; brand equity becomes the sum of all customers' individual experiences.

Managing brands

Brand creation is not the end, it only starts the process of an eventful journey. A journey during which one can witness the now familiar 'brand wars'. How well one manages this journey and fares in the brand war decides the fate of the brand. Needless to say, the better managed brands perform better in the market and reign in the customer's mind. A brand is an intangible dimension of a product or service, which can add value that can influence purchase decisions, that people may be willing to pay more to posses. Hence, extreme care and caution need to be taken while promoting them. One has to avoid portraying the brand as something it is not. A brand must be an honest reflection of reality. If a brand has a bad reputation it does not deserve, then that issue has to be addressed immediately and proven wrong. Recent examples that come to mind are that of Ford Motors recalling its vehicles due to defect in Firestone tyre and McDonalds fast food chain proving that it does not use certain type of oil for its preparations in India.

These actions by the companies put the consumer confidence back on their brands and products. In the globalize market, it becomes even more difficult to manage brands. Facing international giants such as Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Nestle, Honda, Hyundai, Ford and others is a very tough proposition. India has a good example of a brand that has not only withstood foreign competition but has also given MNCs a run for their money. Amul has proved more than once that proper projection of the brand will work wonders in terms of brand loyalty and identity. The way Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), the marketers of Amul brand, have gone about building the brand needs to be closely studied to understand the whole concept. Its positioning, pricing, visual images (especially the butter girl), its advertisements (based on current happenings), the programmes Amul sponsored (like cultural programme Surabhi) and not to forget its slogan 'The Taste of India' have created a sense of nationalistic feeling around the brand. Finally, Amul is identified as one that reflects Indian values and culture. It belongs to India and Indians across the globe

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