Quick! Take three seconds to think of a brand.
Did you think of Apple? Google? Amazon?
They’re arguably three of the biggest brands in the world.
Have you ever wondered why their branding is so strong, or how you can (hopefully) get people to think of your brand within three seconds?
This brand management guide will help your business establish and maintain a strong brand identity.
Let’s dive right in.
The role of branding
Before understanding branding, it’s important to know what a brand is.
A brand is a product with an identity.
It’s not just about having a cool logo.
Have a think about why Nike is so different to Adidas, even though they’re both sports brands.
Nike’s identity is all about performance and its athletes, whereas Adidas identify themselves as a cool, urban street-wear brand with its ties to Hip Hop.
Successful brands must be able to differentiate, create relationships, and add value.
As a cumulative effect, this creates relevancy and trust with consumers, which enables brands to out-perform competitors and create strong brand equity.
When comparing two brands that fulfil the same purpose, you can often tell what their differences are based on their benefits. There are five main benefits of a brand:
- Functional (superior product/service functionality)
- Emotional (creating an emotional connection)
- Self-expressive (consuming a brand to create an identity)
- Moral (focusing on social/environmental issues)
- Experiential (providing unique experiences)
Brands can differentiate by changing their benefits.
Take Lush, for instance, which is a cosmetics brand that focuses on functional and moral benefits. They differentiate because of their product quality, as well as their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
By providing more benefits, you are adding value to your customers. This can help establish relationships (also known as brand loyalty).
How to create strong brand equity
Brand equity refers to the assets (and liabilities) that are related to a brand which can provide or hinder value towards a business and its customers.David Aaker
Brand equity has five asset categories, all of which are essential to establishing a strong brand equity.
1. Brand awareness
Brand awareness relates to the extent of which a brand is present within a customer’s mind.
It is usually strengthened when paired with communication elements such as social media, PR, and events.
There are a few ways to measure brand awareness: recognition, recall, visual branding, and top of mind.
When a customer is able to recognise a brand through seeing its logo or hearing its jingle, they are showcasing strong levels of brand recognition.
For example, when you hear the famous whistling of the “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle, you immediately recognise the McDonald’s brand.
Likewise, seeing the swoosh on the front of a sports bag instantly makes you recognise that it’s a Nike sports bag.
Brand recall is when someone is prompted to recall a brand from their memory,
The associations with a brand name will trigger a spontaneous recall, such as when you are out of toothpaste, you may recall the Colgate brand.
Brand recall can come as a result of contextual prompts, such as the example with Colgate, however, it can also be used within market research. This would entail a researcher posing questions such as “name a brand for cat food”, in which case you may think of Whiskas.
Recall is fundamental within the searching process after problem recognition, and brands should avoid the dilemma of being high on recognition but low on recall.
All brands should aim for recall to become habitual.
Visual branding refers to the visual cues that trigger brand awareness, including logos, designs, and other visuals that have no written words.
Visual branding is very potent within sports, as you can identify many sports teams because of their emblems/badges.
You can also elicit visual branding through posing questions. If you’re in a busy town centre, for instance, asking where the nearest McDonalds is will usually prompt someone to point in the direction of the golden arches.
Top of mind
Top of mind is a form of brand awareness that relates to a specific category.
When you are asked to think of a basketball team, the team which comes up first in your head is your top of mind choice. This may be the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics.
Top of mind brand awareness can be very subjective due to customer’s tastes and preferences, however, it’s usually a good indication as to how well a brand is ingrained within your mind.
2. Brand loyalty
Essentially, 20% of your loyal customers will contribute up to 80% of your profits.
This is known as the Pareto principle.
Brand loyalty is imperative to sustain revenues from the most frequent customers, as well as to communicate the brand in a positive way to others.
Brands aim for a repeat-purchase strategy, whereby loyal customers create barriers to entry through behavioural and attitudinal loyalty.
Behavioural loyalty is the frequency of purchases a customer makes to a brand, whereas attitudinal loyalty is the customer’s love of the brand.
With attitudinal loyalty, whilst customers may not buy regularly, they will advocate the brand to others through:
- sharing advertisements
- spreading positive word-of-mouth
- making recommendations online
Brands attempt to have both behavioural and attitudinal loyalty, however, this can be hard to achieve depending on the industry. For instance, you may regularly fill up your car with petrol from Shell, but you might not necessarily be passionate about the brand.
Why is this important?
Loyal customers reduce marketing costs, as it is harder to acquire new customers than it is to retain current ones.
Loyalty can be enhanced through customer relationship marketing (CRM) and loyalty cards, as well as social media marketing (SMM) and online brand communities. The best way to achieve this is to communicate and understand what the customers’ needs are.
3. Perceived quality
Perceptions of quality are incredibly powerful to brands as they can often justify a brand premium, whereby the price is much higher due to a brand’s added benefits.
Perceived quality doesn’t necessarily relate to whether or not you consume the brand’s products, however, it can simply imply that you are aware of its superior image compared with other brands.
Think of a premium brand.
It is very common to list the likes of Porsche, Gucci, or Apple.
This is because they have tremendous perceptions of quality, as customers can be assured that purchasing these products will elicit luxury and reliability.
Remember, quality is determined by your customers, as well as their social circles.
4. Brand associations
Arguably the most important element of brand equity, brand associations are tangible (functional) and/or intangible (symbolic) elements that are associated with the brand.
Brands can take different approaches in terms of their associations:
- Brand-as-product (Oral-B with their various types of electric toothbrushes)
- Brand-as-organisation (Apple has a strong corporate)
- Brand-as-person (known as anthropomorphic branding e.g. Ronald McDonald)
- Brand-as-symbol (such as the Nike swoosh)
Think of the car manufacturer Aston Martin.
They have functional associations with speed and performance, but also have symbolic associations with James Bond.
These associations can differ depending on the country, and cultural dimensions make it difficult for brands to adapt the same associations overseas.
For instance, Red Bull is a massive brand that holds strong associations of extreme sports and self-expression in the UK, but they haven’t recreated these associations in the USA.
So if you’re looking to adapt into different markets, you may need to adapt your brand’s associations.
The power of social media has shaped brand associations to stem further than just the company’s point of view.
Customers are increasingly able to create brand associations, and ultimately, dictate a brand’s identity.
Ever wonder why Adidas has associations of Hip Hop and street-wear?
It wasn’t because of Adidas.
Run DMC loved Adidas, and that led their fans to love the brand too.
Now, assuming Run DMC aren’t going to promote your brand, there are plenty of other ways to do so.
Brand-building through mediums such as PR, influencers, and product placements can help create strong, new associations.
5. Other proprietary brand assets
The likes of trademarks, patents, and other assets that brands own are examples of proprietary brand assets.
These are especially useful in increasing the barriers to entry, as a patent can deter direct competition, whereas a trademark will protect your brand from being mistaken for another which might have a similar name.
High and low involvement brands
When we use the term high involvement, we’re referring to a high degree of market research conducted by a customer before purchasing a product.
Low involvement is the opposite, often referring to more habitual and instinctive decision-making.
The biggest factors that differentiates the two are perceived risk, amount of research needed, and the degree of self and social-symbolism in the brand.
Strategies for low involvement brands include awareness (mass advertising), price competitiveness, and value propositions.
For high involvement brands, they should be offering symbolic and personal meanings, as well as some form of status and social integration whereby these meanings can be shared amongst a group of customers with similar interests.
Managing brand portfolios
A brand portfolio refers to all the brands and categories that belong within an organisation.
Brand management is increasingly about managing portfolios, rather than individual brands.
Managing brand portfolios allows you to:
- Exploit commonalities to generate synergy
- Reduce brand identity damage
- Achieve clarity of product offerings
- Facilitate change and adaption
- Allocate resources
Your brand portfolio can consist of brands which serve different purposes, or roles.
Fundamentally, you must have a driver, which fuels purchase decisions and links to the core benefits of the brand.
A good example of this is with the “i” brand from Apple, as this will trigger a want for purchasing their quality, no matter if you see iPhone 11, iPhone SE, or the iWantYouToBuyMe 3000.
It doesn’t matter.
The endorser role is what provides reassurance, credibility and trust. It is usually the corporate brand, which would be Apple in this example.
Silver bullets are brand or sub-brands that support the brand image of the parent company.
They may not generate lots of profits, but they are crucial for the portfolio. An example of this would be the Apple AirPods.
Brand positioning is a term that is often misinterpreted.
Positioning is where you are in the market, NOT putting your brand in the mind of the consumer.
The three stages of brand positioning are:
- Create position
- Create identity
- Communicate position and identity
Positioning is the act of designing the company’s offering and image so that they offer meaningful benefits to targeted consumers and are able to differentiate themselves from competitors.
Repositioning occurs when brands change where they are in the market, and thus change the benefits of their products.
There are several strategies about how to reposition a brand. They could:
- Change the tangible attributes
- Change the communication
- Change the target market and deliver same product
- Change both their product (attributes) and target market
Remember, both the brand positioning and identity must be updated because of the changes in the environment.
High involvement products are typically highly perceived risk, highly researched, and highly symbolic.
Nowadays, most good brands position themselves as self-expressive, whereby customers can show off their identities. Keep this in mind and think of how your customers can express themselves through consuming your products.
Remember what was mentioned earlier about how if a product has no identity, it cannot be brand.
Every brand needs meaning, a direction, something it stands for.
Brand identity deals with two distinct but related phenomenon:
- The identity of the brand itself
- The identity which the brand provides to users by possession and consumption – often referred to as symbolic branding
Nowadays, people buy certain brands because they want to develop and show off their identities.
This allows them to essentially absorb elements of the brand within themselves.
Essentially, brands sell identities which is why consumers purchase them.
All strong brands have strong identities, and without them, they may lose their value and become reduced to mere commodities.
Brand identity provides the brand with several advantages:
- It differentiates the brand from competing products
- It serves as the basis of long-term and deep-rooted relationships with consumers
- It communicates to consumers what the brand stands for and what benefits it promises
- It serves as the basis for brand extensions
- It is used to drive all the brand-building efforts
It’s important to note that many brands get caught in what David Aaker calls “the four brand identity traps”:
- The brand image trap (too concerned about what others think of your brand rather than what you think of yourself)
- The brand position trap (over-position e.g. we’re all about CSR)
- The external perspective trap (following what everyone else does)
- The product-attribute fixation trap (focusing too much on the product and not the identity)
Once you have established your position and brand identity, you need to communicate the position, identity, and the benefits of your brand.
Brand equity has to be communicated to your audience authentically, otherwise they will find it hard to relate to your brand.
The role of communication is to bridge the divide between brand identity and brand image.
The public can easily spot when a brand isn’t being authentic, and if you aren’t, then you’re going to have a tough time. Consumers are becoming incredibly conscious of misinformation from brands, especially related to sustainability. Social media is notorious for naming and shaming companies that adhere to risky and unethical business practices such as greenwashing.
Your communication needs to evoke trust and generate engagement (as opposed to a burnout, where the customers just aren’t there).
This is also down to how well you encode a message, as well as how your audience decodes it.
Another important thing to note is that your brand communication must be relevant to your audience.
I see many brands that jump on hashtags even though they mean nothing to their business.— Itamar Blauer (@ItamarBlauer) August 12, 2020
I call it the 'hashtag brandwagon'#SEMrushChat
Please. Stay away from the hashtag brandwagon.
There are six integrated marketing communication (IMC) tools that you can use to communicate your brand.
- Sales promotion
- Direct marketing
- Personal selling
- Public relations
- Social media
Although there were five initially, we’ve added social media because it’s a massive tool to reach and engage with your customers.
These IMC tools can be used to move customers through the buyer readiness stages.
Public relations must always be the first IMC tool to use, as it creates trust.
This is because you wouldn’t care about an advertisement if you don’t trust the brand.
High involvement brands will invest heavily in personal selling to reassure customers of their benefits.
For example, a Lamborghini car salesman will spend a lot of time communicating the benefits of purchasing the car in an authentic way.
This isn’t likely with low involvement brands, as a shopkeeper won’t spend an hour persuading you to buy a chocolate bar.
When developing a communication plan, it’s crucial to know where your customers are. Most likely, they’ll be in various different online brand communities.
Online brand communities are platforms whereby people interact with each other about a particular topic.
Characteristics of online brand communities include:
- Shared consciousness
- Members know each other even if they’ve never met
- Rituals and traditions (e.g. Comicon)
- Moral responsibility to each other
- Share knowledge and demonstrate cultural capital
- Hierarchical, experts and novices, active and passive, leaders and followers
- Provide better CRM through engaging with the communities
Popular online brand communities can be found in forums, such as Reddit, however, there are plenty of other platforms to look at, including Quora, Facebook groups and Twitter hashtag threads.
Let’s assume your communication campaign has gone live.
What do you do next?
Simple – perform a brand audit.
Brand audits will identify if your plan is working, but more importantly, they check the perceptions of your brand position.
Brand audits should be conducted at least twice a year. Many large brands conduct brand audits every month.
There are different ways to perform a brand audit, therefore it’s important to check the elements of your brand equity in relation to what your brand position is.
Everything is online nowadays, so checking your digital analytics is a very common way to identify if your campaigns have been working.
Using platforms such as Google Analytics to check your engagement metrics, or to create goals alongside Google Tag Manager and see if people have converted, are helpful (free) tools to use.
It’s best to check year-on-year results to see if engagement metrics such as bounce rates have reduced, as well as looking into the traffic sources to identify where the majority of your audience find your website.
Customer relationship management software can be helpful to see where you sales are coming from, and there are various platforms out there such as Salesforce, Hubspot, and Zoho.
You can also monitor your social media accounts for post engagement, as well as diving into online brand communities such as Reddit to see what people are saying about you.
There are offline ways to audit your brand, too.
Research methods such as focus groups and interviews can help you test different elements of your brand awareness.
You can perform a recognition/recall test for brand awareness, or measure your brand associations by asking a focus group open-ended questions such as “If our brand was an animal, what animal would it be?”
The results from your brand audits will help plan the next phase of your brand’s position.
Branding is 50% science and 50% art.
With the increasingly saturated nature of industries, brands need to constantly monitor their position and evolve when customer trends change.
Creativity is just as important as understanding the theory behind how branding works in the 21st century.
Branding expert Dr Michael Heller predicts that “branding will increasingly be based on providing meaningful and distinctive experiences that are co-created between networks of consumers and the brand. Engagement, social media and resonant content marketing will be the core strategies for achieving this.”
Of course, branding strategies and implementation will be unique to the organisation. If your business needs any branding help, feel free to contact Itamar Blauer, your SEO consultant London.
With this guide, your brand will be able to identify its position, establish a strong brand identity, and be able to effectively communicate and audit your campaigns.