Branding DeCoded

The problem with embarking apon creating a new brand or re-branding an old one is that those responsible for this activity have to, at least initially, be on the same page and operating from the same fundamental agreements when it comes to discussing issues pertinent to the branding process.

To assist with this, Louws Managements’ CEO, Toni Louw, created this Blog to help clarify a subject wrought with misunderstanding, complicated definitions and erroneous direction which has unkindly served to only confuse a quite simple subject.

Step One: Define a brand.

Brand Defined:

  • 15th Century: A mark used to punish and identify criminals and slaves.*
  • 18th Century: A mark used on cattle to show ownership.*
  • 21st Century: Identifying mark or label on a product.

*Source: Webster’s Collegiate

For Nike it’s the swoosh. For Mercedes Benz the star.

Therefore, as a Noun, branding is simply the Mark or Symbol that represents a company, its products and/or services.

Confusion over brands and products

Confusion abounds when the product line and brand become interchangeable – a classic example of this can be found in the automotive industry.

Is the F150 a product or is it a Brand? Is it both?

We all know that Ford is the brand. The F150 is one of Ford’s entry-level trucks.

Ford’s tag line is “tough”. Great for trucks. How good is it for their Mustang? And what about their entry level sedan the Ford Focus?

See the dilemma?

Lexus got it right.

Originally they said; “Our brand is Toyota, catering to middle and low-end American tastes. We want to take over part of the premium market but our Brand “Toyota” doesn’t stand for premium and we do not want to compete with ourselves. Therefore we will create a new brand called Lexus”.

Nissan soon followed suit with Infiniti.

A contemporary example is seen with Harley Davidson.

This is a bike for the bad boy allure in all those good guys.

However, the die-hard “racing enthusiast” views the Harley brand as a joke.

Thus the advent of Buell® – a completely new and separate brand from parent Harley Davidson catering to that “enthusiast” marketplace.

What should a brand be doing?

In its most fundamental form, a brand is the mark used to say: “This is who we are”.

Not what we are, but who we are.

Therefore when you see the Nike swoosh you say; “Oh, that’s a Nike Sneaker” or “Nike Runner” or “Nike Shirt” or “Nike Hat”, or “Nike Golf club”.

That’s the first and foremost job of branding.

To have the consumer regard the generic product or service as yours. It’s about owning an “identity” – yours.

When you see the Starbucks logo on a cup of coffee it’s not just a cup of coffee. It’s a Starbucks cup of coffee.

It’s about asserting your ownership over the product. It’s not about the product.

One of the many reasons why Burger King, even with a documented better burger than McDonald’s, is still #2.

The more you try to make the product the differentiating factor, the more you lose ownership over the product.

Think about Quiznos and its “Mmmm Toasty” tag, followed by Subway investing millions of dollars in on premise toasters and asking patrons if they wanted their sub toasted.

Therefore, we offer up this definition of a brand:

The visible representation (icon) that identifies ownership over a product, service or category

Step Two: Understand Positioning.

Positioning Defined:

  • To put in a situation of status*
  • To put into a location or condition in which one has an advantage*

*Source: Webster’s Collegiate

Combining Branding and Positioning, we see that Brand Positioning is the meaning given to the brand and it’s this meaning that should be the central focus of all branding or re-branding efforts.

When you think of  owning a Mercedes, it says you’ve made it. An Apple – you’re cool. A Harley and you’re a bad boy.

This meaning, too frequently changed, results in brands constantly fighting to regain lost ground, which at a minimum, is a very expensive proposition.

Maytag is about dependability. Volvo – Safety. They have both successfully stuck to these simple positions for decades and are still today known by them.

On the other hand what singular concept pops to mind when you think of American Airlines, Chevrolet or even iconic brands like Nike or Starbucks. Notice how that single concept does not jump out as easily.

When it comes to Brand Positioning a lot can be said for consistency, and it’s this consistency that’s most inconsistent by marketers.

Conquer this menace and ones Brand will flourish in perpetuity.


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