Branding Decoded

The problem with 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 fundamentals when it comes to discussing what their brand is, what it represents, how it’s arrived at, and how it’s promoted.

Seldom, however, is this the case.

Exacerbating this is the advice offered by “experts” on branding.

Case in point:

Lynn Upshaw who wrote the book “Building Brand Identity” suggests the following:

“A brand identity lives entirely in the mind of the beholder. It’s not what a marketer creates, but what consumers perceive has been created.”

In part I think we can  agree with a part of Ms. Upshaw’s take on branding. Certainly the consumers “perception of what has been created” is critical. Reality is in the eyes of the beholder.

However, is it true that the marketer has little or no control over creating what this perception will be which her statement clearly suggests?

This kind of thinking has been perpetuated, in part, by “consumer experts” who suggest that the consumer is now all controlling and omnipotent, while suggesting by default, that marketers have become impotent and at the mercy of the consumer.

Not surprisingly this movement towards customer omnipotence started around the same time the digital and social age emerged only some 15 years ago. There are now more books on this subject than on science, many written by those who have never been involved with creating, repairing or managing a brand.

A simple Google search of Books on Consumers reveals a staggering 740  Million+ results, where as a search of Books on Science reveals a dismal 84 Million.

This blog, and subsequent blogs on this subject, will all be dedicated to bringing back the clarity it took to create National and Global branding successes like Coke, Apple, ESPN, Adidas, IBM, Nestle’s, Starbucks and Mini.

Your comments would be most welcome, if not for the author’s sake then for those seeking clarity and a return to practical, workable and implementable brand architecture techniques and technology.

Complexity #1: Defining a Brand

To do so, we need absolute clarity on what branding means.

This may be considered old fashioned but I firmly believe we do not need Wikipedia for this. Instead we source Webster’s and Britannica, each of whom were responsible for initially capturing the basics of our language and its meanings.

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, label or Icon of a product such as the star encased in a circle sign of the Mercedes brand or lower cased f surrounded by a blue block for Facebook.

Complexity #2: Differentiating Product from Brand

Today, these two words have come to be used interchangeably.

However, this creates its own set of confusion – a classic example of this can be found in the automotive industry.

Is the F150 a product of Ford or is it a Brand?

Is it both?

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

Ford’s Truck tag line is “tough”. Great for trucks.

How good is it for their Mustang?

And what about their entry level sedan the Focus?

You see the dilemma?

Lexus is an automotive company that got it right from the get go.

They said, and I paraphrase from a speech I heard a senior director at Lexus give to his staff in the 80’s:

“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 boys.

However, the die-hard “racing enthusiast”, with what they would refer to as purist philosophies, 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.

Brand Decoded

In its most fundamental form, as previously discussed, we see that a brand is the mark (icon) used to say: “This is who we are”.

Not what we are, but who we are.

Therefore what does the manufacturer want you to think when you see this brand: The Nike Swoosh.

You might say; “Oh, that’s a Nike Sneaker” or “Nike Runner” or “Nike Shirt” or “Nike Hat”, or “Nike golf club”.

But in every case – independent of what the product is – its always regarded as a Nike.

That’s the first and foremost job of branding. To have the consumer regard the generic product or service as identifiably and ubiquitously yours.

It’s about “owning an identity – yours.

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

Therefore, the definition of a brand:

“A brand is the mark designating ownership. It simply says whose it is, who made it, who is responsible for it being”.

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

Case in Point:

Quizno’s owning Toasty. No surprise that a short while later, Subway invested over $150M on toaster ovens for all their stores nationally and trained servers to ask; “Would you like that toasted?”.

Actions to take:

1) Identify the most relevant mark, label or icon representing your company

2) Identify everything else that communicates your ownership

3) Work hard to identify and eradicate everything working against the consumer knowing your brand – remember the “real” impact of intangibles like service.

Next Installment:

Now that we have clarity on what represents us, how do we give this label meaning, or otherwise known as Brand Positioning?

Other than the mark itself, what other senses, in today’s cacophony of communications, ensures our ownership of our brand’s positioning?

Toni Louw
Louws – CEO & Founder

About the author:

Over the past 34 years, Toni Louw has trained, coached and consulted with over 480 Brand advertising, promotion, direct marketing, digital, interactive, social, media and public relations agencies worldwide. This has also included over 50 of the top 150 brands internationally.

Toni has recently re-constructed and updated, for 21st Century business application, 18 different business critical subjects that has made Louws one of the most ubiquitous leader of innovative performance based training, coaching and consulting services worldwide.

Click on the link provided: Louws Branding for more information on Louws Brand Consulting, Training and Coaching.

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