With industry giants like Google and Verizon jumping on the rebranding bandwagon, the question is: Does rebranding ever deliver value? Do customers care? In an era where technology can be easily copied, your brand has become more important to differentiating your products from those of your competitors. The Google brand, for example, is worth an estimated $65.6 billion, according to Forbes. Yet Google’s rebrand is mainly a reflection of internal restructuring and the new logo an example of the sort of bland redesign that probably cost hundreds of thousands but left customers wondering: Why did they bother? Yet it is possible to develop brands in a customer-focused way that inspires lasting partiality both among current and future customers.
First things first – what is a brand? Definition
The original meaning of branding is ‘burning a mark into the skin of an animal (such as a cow) to show who owns the animal’. In marketing, branding is somewhat more complex, but has a similar basic purpose, namely expressing ownership and facilitating recognition. In their book ‘Principles of Marketing’, marketing thinkers Kotler and Armstrong define a brand as a “name, term, sign and symbol (or a combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product”.
This is a helpful definition as it hints at the multi-dimensionality of a brand. Similarly, we suggest that a brand is made up of multiple elements, which may grow over time as customers experience brands through new media.
The power of brand
Building strong customer-based brands is more important than ever. Why? In a knowledge-based, global economy, products are becoming less unique. Take generic drugs vs branded ones – when patents expire, brands theoretically lose their advantage as customers can buy cheaper, generic versions of the same drugs. But is that what people do? This study showed that people who were told that they were given brand name drugs had significantly better health outcomes than when they were given generic, non-branded drugs. The catch? Both drugs were actually saline solutions with no active medicinal ingredient whatsoever. On one hand, this shows that the power of brands is significant, but on the other hand it also makes clear that brands are only as strong as the beliefs held by customers.
How to build customer-based brand equity
Without active brand management, companies run the risk of not achieving the brand identity and brand positioning they would like to have. But brands are impalpable – you can’t touch them or feel them with your hands. In fact, David Ogilvy aptly described a brand as “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.”
As a result, brand building is not as simple as house building: When you build brands, you need a solid foundation of marketing research and customer insights, and your building blocks include brand names, brand logo, naming, product pricing strategy as well as other elements that make up your organisation’s corporate identity, such as your employer brand and mission statement. Yet the most important step of brand management is not the rollout of new fonts, colours and business cards, but to make the brand highly relatable and relevant for your target audience.
A widely used framework for just this task is Keller’s Brand Equity Model, which is also known as the Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model.
Keller argues that there are four steps to building strong brands:
- Who are you? Establishing breadth and depth of brand awareness
- What are you? Creating brand meaning through strong, favourable and unique brand associations
- How do customers feel about you? Eliciting positive brand responses
- What about you and the customer? Forging brand relationships with customers that are characterised by intensive and active brand loyalty.
The brand managers of famous brands manage this four-step process by aligning their branding strategy with Keller’s six brand-building blocks:
Companies looking to revive their brands or reposition their offerings through a rebranding exercise need to be clear about their marketing objectives. Then, they can organise focus groups of relevant customers, prospects and influencers and ask the following practical questions to develop their company’s new evidence-based brand personality:
- Which products or brands can you think of in product category xyz?
- How frequently do you think of brand abc?
- Compared to other brands in this category, how reliable is this brand?
- How well does it fulfill the basic service in this category?
- To what extent do people you respect use this brand?
- How well do these words describe this brand? Reliable, market leader, up-to-date, robust, responsive…
- Quality – how do find the quality of this brand’s products? Does this brand offer good value?
- Credibility – how knowledgeable are the producers of this brand? To what extent do they care about your opinions?
- Consideration – how likely would you be to recommend this brand (use net promote score to capture these answers)
- Superiority – how unique is this brand? Does it offer advantages that other brands cannot?
- Does this brand give you a feeling of warmth? Security? Reassurance?
- How do you feel when you use this brand?
- Do you consider yourself loyal to this brand?
- Attachment – would you miss this brand if it went away?
- Community – do you identify with people who use this brand? Are you proud to have others know that you use this brand?
- Engagement – do you like to talk about this brand with others? Do you like visiting the brand’s website? How often do you speak with your account manager?
These focus group branding questions are not comprehensive but paint a clearer picture of what your company needs to do to start building a truly customer-based based brand with strong emotional equity in your specific target market. The insights from this exercise, which can also be supported by quantitative research, should then inform a review of the current marketing mix, so that the brand values are reflected in every aspect -from price and product to promotion, processes, physical evidence, places and people.