60-minute-brand-strategistWhy do we need a theory for strategic brand management? Because theory is eminently practical. Managers are the world’s most voracious consumers of theories. Every time a brand marketing decision is made, it is usually based on some implicit understanding of what causes what and why. The real problem is that they often use a one-size-fits-all theory. There are many ways to build great brands. Here are the four basic approaches:

1. Planning
2. Imagery
3. Customer Experience
4. Self-Expression

Branding by Planning

Here branding is approached as part of a formal strategic planning process. Most of the time this occurs in the context of strategic marketing planning. The typical approach uses portfolio and product life cycle concepts together with overall market overviews and competitive intelligence. The information is distilled and analyzed through each individual brand’s performance in terms of market share and margin contribution. The heart of the exercise is positioning to ensure that products cover all necessary profitable or emerging segments and use brand to achieve these objectives.

Usually, multi-brand organizations and category managers assume the ownership role of the brand portfolio and manage the brand architecture. The key is to articulate the overall brand strategy and approach (e.g., a master brand approach using targeted sub-brands). This entails far more than just organizing the brands as individual performers. To truly optimize their value requires a dynamic framework that makes the most of their interrelationships under a system of brands working together to drive clarity in the marketplace and increase synergy and leverage within the company’s portfolio.

Companies who exemplify this technique:

  • Procter & Gamble
  • Pepsi
  • Intel
  • Gillette
  • Nestlé
  • GM

Branding by Imagery

Here branding is approached in a more functional manner. Usually advertising agencies take a leading role and advertising is linked to branding. The levers of brand building consist mainly of TV commercials, posters, and print advertisements.

In some cases, a first showing of a 60-second TV spot during the Super Bowl is a milestone of the brand building effort. Visually stunning posters and ads in national magazines such as Vogue or Vanity Fair are also used. Marketers and agencies closely link the brand to creative advertising execution.

Sometimes the burden is given to a celebrated photographer. The Calvin Klein success is hugely indebted to Bruce Weber, and Benetton to Oliver Toscani. These photographers gave those brands meaning. The risk here is that advertising failure means brand failure. But a great campaign produces a very desirable brand and many products and advertising agencies came to fame with just one highly memorable campaign. The marketer continues to enjoy the benefits for years.

Companies who exemplify this technique:

  • Abercrombie & Fitch
  • Calvin Klein
  • American Apparel
  • BMW
  • Absolut
  • Milk
  • Tag Heuer

chanel-image

Branding by Customer Experience

Companies see customers taking functional benefits, a high-quality product, and a positive brand image as a given. What they want is products, services, and marketing communications that dazzle their senses, touch their hearts, and stimulate their minds. Here the customer becomes the most important part of the brand. Over the years many brands have transformed themselves into experience brands by creating a compelling customer experience.

Starbucks and The Body Shop did not use mass advertising to build brands. Instead, they put their resources into designing and delivering unique experiences. The Tiffany & Co. experience consists not only of the purchase experience but also the whole experience of giving and receiving something special. The Tiffany & Co. trademark is inseparably linked to the ageless elegance and quality that define the brand. The blue box serves as an identifier and sensory reminder of this, as does the Hermès online experience by relentlessly improving user experiences.

Companies who exemplify this technique:

  • Starbucks
  • Zappos
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Hertz
  • Disney
  • Marriott
  • Apple

Branding by Self-Expression

Here companies put the role of brand building partially into the hands of customers. This has long been practiced by the luxury and sporting goods industries as well as the fashion industry, where there’s never enough time to build a relevant and meaningful brand that keeps pace with fast changing customer needs. Consumers in these categories do not want to use the brand to endorse or reflect their personality; rather it contributes to building a personal or individual brand. In other words, strong brand identities deter customers because they dominate.

The consumer uses the brand as a tool or status symbol, then adds in his or her own hallmark to express who they are, who they want others to think they are, and how they see the world and things. The brand only requires some associated meaning so customers can pick, or mix and match with other values or uses they identify with as part of building their “Me” brand. Consumers actively participate in creating meanings for brands. Sometimes, they do more than actively participate. By transforming basic products into complex signifiers of identity, performance, and social membership, consumers often oversee some of the finer details of how a brand is “managed” in the real world.

With help from Marlon Brando to Dee Dee Ramone to the kids they stood for, work wear, first sewn up in 19th-century San Francisco and then ripped around the world, became the global signifier of youth culture.

Thanks to early B-boys in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City, a 1982 basketball sneaker with no advertising or marketing budget became an enduring icon of global hip hop culture.

And with Portland bike messengers latching on to its underdog status and bar discounts, a down-and-out beer became a celebration of American low-brow culture.

Companies who exemplify this technique:

  • Louis Vuitton
  • Gap
  • Prada
  • Swatch
  • Method
  • Mini
  • Allsteel

american-apparel

Brand success is a case of more than meets the eye. That Pabst Blue Ribbon has enjoyed increasing sales in a dwindling beer market since 2002, Nike’s Air Force 1 has been remastered and sold out in more design manifestations than any product and, although the last few years haven’t been kind, Levi’s 501s have been a fashion staple for more than 50 years is testament to what it is that transforms products into brands:

  • Usability: Does it work for me, work well, and fit into my life?
  • Consumability: Does it taste good? Look good? feel good?
  • Performativity: Does it help do/say/be/show something important?
  • Desirability: Is there a social, cultural, or personal need it fulfills?

Of these, desirability is where branding usually enters the picture. But in the case of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Nike’s Air Force 1 and Levi’s jeans, branding didn’t enter the picture until well into the success curve of these brands. One day, maybe after fumbling through sales reports, someone in an office woke up to the fact that kids on the street made these brands hot, not brand managers or media.

Does That Mean I Can’t Architect Consumer Attraction to my Brand?

No. What it means is that consumer cultures and communities are often best left to their own devices to build themselves from the ground up with their own rules and regulations. With a little field exploration to determine the boundaries that these cultures and communities wish to keep, permeate, or dissolve between you and them—and with a healthy respect for those boundaries should you want to maintain your most loyal consumer base—you might collaborate, nurture or simply help perpetuate the conditions under which they will continue to thrive.

Companies used to be product producers. Now they must become meaning brokers.

Marketer as a Healer

What more can you do to today’s consumers’ already battered brain? More new products, more new services, more outbound direct marketing phone calls during dinnertime and more stress? If others are selling stress, then the market is in need of products that heal.

What’s Your Healing Benefit?

The new reality for marketers is that only those offerings that go beyond the need for superior product quality, competitive pricing, and emotionally driven image-building communications to deliver some healing benefit beyond the functional purpose of the product itself will have enough consumer appeal to break through the defense. This will be a new competitive dimension. From recycled to sustainable to CSR and beyond, doing good unto ourselves, our consumers and others will differentiate the past from the new present, the leaders from the followers.

The Challenge

How can you address and fulfill the consumer’s deepest needs and wants—particularly if you’re not in the pharma, cosmetics or entertainment industry?

It involves the deepest understanding of what the consumer cares most about and what state of mind they’re in. At the heart of an effective brand strategy philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive consumers, what instincts inform their actions and how they perform—even though language so often camouflages real motivations.

marketing-healing-chart

The Solution

In the space between brands and consumers exists a complex web of personal, social and cultural relationships, perceptions, meanings, actions, reactions and interactions. Understanding that Web and, more importantly, appreciating and celebrating it for its complexity — and for how every little vibration across it could signal impending doom for your brand — is absolutely key to cultivating authentic, dynamic relationships with consumers. So how do you do that? By nurturing a brand culture that is intensely critical, introspective and research centric. Here are five ways to get that culture started.

  1. If your thinking is locked in a database, break out of it! Numbers can be a prison. They reveal patterns, not people. Instead, develop a culture with an insatiable appetite for qualitative research.
  2. Turn your focus groups into fieldwork. No amount of coffee, donuts and cash-on-completion to taste chocolate bars or describe shopping patterns will mine the kind of critical, deep insights you need. Stop creating and controlling the context in which you learn about your consumer.
  3. Prioritize what people DO over what they SAY. Interviews are good, but the most valuable answers are in the consumer’s actions. How they reflect, refute or reveal layers of articulated and unarticulated need and desire leads to the deepest insights.
  4. Mash up your staff. Send brand managers out into the field with consumer insights, designers with usability and strategists with marketing. When a culture of collaborative research is part of every job description, every job will contribute to furthering that culture.
  5. Stop believing your own hype. No amount of office mythology or self-congratulations can disguise what you ARE NOT. If consumers are saying it, it’s probably true. Now is the time to start engaging them on their terms and in their language to discover the path forward.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from 60-Minute Brand Strategist: The Essential Brand Book for Marketing Professionals by Idris Mootee. Copyright (c) 2013 by Idris Mootee. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

Originally published Jul 8, 2013 1:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Brand Management