Branding, coupled with positioning, can differentiate your business and its products and services from your competitors, That combination can also establish a personality that is both unique and appealing to potential customers. It is a multifaceted, process and discipline.
The benefit of branding:
No matter the company size, a well-focused and consistent attention to branding, and to creating favorable, memorable positioning of your product/service in the minds of prospects and customers is the most effective way to compete. It allows your offering to rise above the static and become a factor in the competitive arena in which you’ve chosen to participate.
Importance of branding:
Branding has become more important as years pass. That’s because companies begin to recognize their brands are valuable and tangible assets just like factories, patents and delivery fleets. So brands have become more than marketing slogans and icons today: they are now closely monitored by the CEO and CFO, and assessed by industry analysts.
Yet many business-to-business marketers and service providers in particular are not brand conscious. They have yet to practice, or even appreciate, the value of branding. The truth is every business, even a commodity supplier, is building a brand through their actions and their presence even if that brand is not being intentionally created and nurtured. They acquire a “position” in the minds of customers and prospects, a position or identity based solely on exposure and experience with the provider.
When Al Ries and Jack Trout labeled and defined the term “positioning” in their breakthrough book, Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind, they stated anyone in any business will establish a “position” in the collective mind of their customers and the prospects who know about them. That position is built through the accumulation of contacts with the company and its competitors, through their experiences and their impressions based on everything from the color of a salesman’s tie to the overnight express service they use. In other words, the position is built through the sum of all the exposures, direct and indirect, positive and negative, that customers experience about you and your competitors. Customers will judge and then label a company/product/service based on these exposures, and it’s extremely difficult to dislodge that label once established, whether it be positive or negative.
Competitors compound the problem because they, too, have made impressions and have occupied specific positions in the collective customer mind, and they are almost impossible to dislodge. Trying to occupy a position preempted by a competitor is next to impossible. Customers tend to “pigeon hole” and rank suppliers, and only through a major event or circumstance will they wish or need to reevaluate their initial opinions.
Product categories: Your Competitive Arenas
If you wish to occupy a favorable position in your customers’ and prospects’ minds, it’s best not to attempt to try to unseat a competitor from their established position. Rather, attempt to find an equally positive, unoccupied position. If this is not possible, or if you’re seeking a leadership role in a product category, try to reposition your product in another category or create a new category in which to compete.
For example, in the mid 1970’s, Tectronix had a hefty lead over Hewlett-Packard in the analog oscilloscope market. Both companies introduced “digital oscilloscopes” in the same time frame, but H-P established a different playing field by naming a category, “digital analyzer”, and forcing Tectronix to compete in this new category where Tec and H-P competed as equals for a while. H-P became the undisputed leader in the new category in two years.
Positioning in action:
By determining what attributes of a particular category of product or service are important to customers, and measuring how individual companies rank in these attributes, the positions of the competitors can be determined; their strengths and weaknesses exposed. Thus, you can identify positive, important positions which are unoccupied (customer needs not being adequately met). You can also determine which positions to steer clear of because of entrenched competition. Moreover, you will be able to differentiate your offerings from competitors in a way that’s meaningful to customers – provided you are fully able to deliver on your brand promises.
Some decisions about branding are required at the outset. For instance, should the corporate name be branded and promoted, and if so, to what extent. If products and services are also branded, what should be the balance between the two. Then, how do acquisitions and mergers affect brands? If brands are indeed assets, how can they best be managed when merged into another corporation?
Nomenclature systems can help an organization keep track of brands within a structure of divisions and subsidiaries, but don’t expect customers to become familiar with, or even interested in, your artificial and internal organization.
As has been suggested, branding is interactive with customers perceptions and expectations making a large contribution to the identity, and certainly the position, of a brand.
Elements and Issues of branding:
Here are the factors and facets that need to be considered and incorporated into a branding strategy. They will take on a different mix of importance depending on other considerations specific to your market such as product life cycles, competitive activity, importance to consumers, loyalty patterns of consumers, commodity/custom perception and others. But within this product environment, these factors should all be addressed.
» Existing perceptions of the product category by target market segments.
» Existing structure and infrastructure of this product category and anticipated trends and upheavals.
» Competition for the same dollar from other product categories.
» Product attributes deemed important to target market segments.
» The positions currently occupied by you and your competitors in the minds of target market segments.
» Product differentials, real or perceived, by target market segments.
» Corporate images of the marketers of products in your category.
» Expectations of target market segments about products in your category.
» The programs, activities and policies in support of your brand. They include names, logos, packaging, slogans, ad content, ad media, ad specialties, trade shows, contests sponsored, public relations, literature, promotions, events sponsored, distribution channels used, charities and causes supported, web site activity, guarantees, return policies, co-branding activities, graphic standards, customer relations policies and personnel, audio symbols/themes, trade association and standards committee participation, and any other activities that provide exposure of brands to your markets by you and your competitors.
» Relation of a particular brand with other brands from the same company (line extensions, brand adaptations, co-offerings etc.).
» Budget and financial considerations.
» Product expectations for volume, profit, longevity.
The mix of elements and environment make branding a complex and ongoing activity, but it can lead to focused, consistent, powerful and cost-effective marketing performance which leads to increased market share and profits.
Utilizing the elements of branding listed above, you can establish a brand audit of your existing product, service and corporate brand strengths and performance. The same list can be used as a checklist for launching a new brand. It’s a way to make sure all elements associated with a brand are coordinated and directed toward the positioning goals you have set forth.
You can anticipate hard work to be associated with establishing, maintaining and defending a brand and it’s position. but it pays off is market awareness, acceptance, preference, purchasing, re-purchasing, and finally, brand equity for those who persevere. It works and it’s worth it.
If you, as a smaller business manager, see the potential and the need for an integrated branding program, we can help. Just click here for access to an hour’s free consultation.