What is this thing called “the brand”? Why do marketing gurus treat it as the icon of selling, investing it with something akin to religious significance?
The motivation behind brand building is financial. Successful brands are very, very profitable. More than that, many of them generate those profits year-in, year-out over decades. That success makes a brand, in its own right, equity in a business.
Major consumer goods manufacturers list their brands in their report and accounts in the capital valuations section - carrying some big valuations, too. Manufacturers regularly sell brands - not the production plant, just the brands. Thus the expenditure of no little time, effort and money on brand building shows a return both as income and capital growth. Companies refer to marketing spend as “investing in our brands”. It’s not glib, it’s reality.
That’s the upside. The downside is just as interesting. Businesses with strong brands withstand recessionary pressures better, because their margins stand up better to downward price pressure. Equally, a business with a powerful brand can recover faster from its own failures e.g. BP and Marks and Spencer some years back OK, enough of justification. Just exactly what is a brand and what’s it got that a name alone lacks? When does a name become a brand? A brand gives a product intrinsic and extrinsic values enabling it to become a dynamic part of customers’ lifestyle. They will pay more for their brand of choice because they perceive benefits in it, which are valued in cash. Whilst some of those benefits are tangible, most are intangible.
A brand may be some of the following: good value, high quality, reliable, modern, traditional, original, individual, stylish, sexy. You will note that all these words are highly subjective. However, the key virtue of a brand is consistency: when you buy product x or shop at store y, what you get is always good value or high quality or modern. This indeed is the origin of branding; when mass marketing first existed it needed a way to reassure customers that, yes, this is that product you bought before, it’s just as good, look - the pack’s the same size and colour and the name’s in the same typeface. This consistency makes customers trust a brand, gives them faith in it’s promise - and there’s that quasireligious aspect of branding.
The brand-owner reinforces that consistency by stressing all his brand’s values in every aspect of presentation to the customer: packaging, advertising, POS, literature and all other ancillary activities. At every opportunity the customer is reassured: “You have gained far more than the extra you have spent”.
What then are the tools for building a brand? Let’s start by considering advertising because big brands spend big bucks on advertising, don’t they? Actually, it’s not an absolute. For many, many years, Marks and Spencer spent very little on advertising. Similarly, many quality brands especially those carrying premium price - clothing, perfumes, alcoholic drinks - have grown without being pumped up by a big ad budget.
Advertising is branding’s expensive sledgehammer. For the retailer, especially the singlesite retailer, there are other more important issues to address before spending in the media, starting with the corporate identity.
It is essential to create an identity that defines your business, which is instantly recognisable and which can work in a whole host of settings. It then becomes your brand identity. If you feel that yours is dated or no longer reflects the qualities you are selling, a re-design is indicated. Don’t be scared by this - brands develop their identity all the time.
Next apply your identity with rigour. Colours, typefaces, layout are always, always precisely the same. I can’t stress this too much - if you’re so-so about creating your corporate identity or lazy about its application, you’ll never build a brand.
Then apply it everywhere. Your stationery, vehicles and advertising are the obvious start points. In your store, apply your brand identity at every opportunity where the customer’s eyeline naturally goes to. So, from the pavement forward, this would include front of house signage, window displays/posters, decal on front door, floor graphics or, more expensively, woven into the carpet, point-of-sale material, ticketing, labelling.
The till is vital: it’s where the customer says I love you with their plastic. Give the customer a branded pen to sign with and let them keep it, if it’s a cheap one. Your till receipt should carry a friendly message and print your brand, albeit in black.
What they carry away is important and the carrier above all. It isn’t just an advertising medium for you, it’s a style statement for the customer, publicly stating their allegiance to your brand. Make it worthy of that allegiance; think how people re-use Harrods bags and aim for the same value.
What products do you put your brand on? Focus on your key area of expertise. Start simple and aim to build. Be creative, be brave.
A table tennis ball can carry many repetitions of your logo. So can a paddle. Colour offers infinite variety – use it. Turn the packaging into your own personal small billboard. Above all, aim for quality and uniqueness: a brand is not about cheap.