There are thousands of products and services out there, but not many brands. This article explores the potential, the pitfalls and risk reduction in creating new brands or evolving existing brands.
A product that hasn’t made it to brand status is considered a ‘me too’, an ‘also ran’, with low awareness and a higher risk of commoditisation. Brands generally return better profits because they are less sensitive to price undercutting. They achieve a level of awareness and customer loyalty by building a set of emotional connections in the consumers’ mind. This is brand equity - a deeper, measurable form of good will that operates on a number of levels and often make its way onto the books as a tangible asset that can be bought and sold.
Could you turn some of your products or services into brands? Perhaps your entire business is struggling to reach brand status? Strong brands strengthen the asset value of the company as a whole.
You can have relatively small, healthy brands within a tightly defined market, which may be determined by scope and territory. For example, business-to-business brands are exponentially the cheapest to create and maintain from a marketing perspective.
Brands can be frail things and reviewing them annually should be a given. Consider the following:
Like immature brands, these may have a number of different ‘brand idea’ messages in the market place, probably because you haven’t uncovered one that resonates with the audience and everyone will commit to. Immature brands require guidance and a long-term view.
Maybe you haven’t managed to reveal the brand idea creatively? A good, strategically minded creative person can often see and express aspects of the brand you may consider mundane because you’re too close to it. We created huge impact for a shipping company because one of their people revealed to us in passing that their ships go 3 knots faster than the competition. The resulting campaign dramatised the message that meat exporters could get their money quicker because of the faster delivery. The proposition was a strong emotional promise based on a difference the client had not perceived as valuable.
Plain old-fashioned brand
Usually requires a straightforward design evolution to update the ‘clothes of the brand’. When St.George wanted to shift from building society to bank, this was the opportunity for us to contemporise the brand with a careful, evolutionary step. The objective was to broaden the bank's purchase with the business world whilst retaining as much ‘friendly’ equity as possible.
If sales are declining you must find out why.
You can either re-invent the category by reviewing your brand offer within it, or at least elevate the brand perception. Being commoditised happens. A raft of imitators suddenly swamps your carefully built brand. Most telcos are struggling for differentiation.
Either you have failed to communicate the brand idea properly, or you need to change your own perception of what the brand is, by listening to what the customer tells you it is. Then strengthen that position.
This can happen when a brand develops along a specialisation which prevents line extension and category dominance. Take Typequick ‘learn to type’ software for example, which bought Readquick. The brand name Typequick becomes a misnomer. These kinds of brand/product architecture issues need working through in strategic sessions, where you leave your preconceptions at the door.
Also some brands simply won’t stretch to the lengths the parent wants. Consumers said "no" to paying more than $55,000 for a Toyota. The answer was to invent Lexus.
There are at least four motivations for brand development.
You uncover a gaping hole in the market based on customer wants. Here speed is of the essence.
Insurance for the future
Markets constantly shift. This motivation is prevalent with fashion brands and many IT companies. It’s a form of spreading the risk. 3M has a culture dedicated to new product development and they’re always looking for the next holy grail.
Curiously some companies seem strangely myopic in this regard.
The grass is greener or "I want what she’s having"
Possibly the worst reason to approach the new brand development process, which is almost doomed to being an also-ran. It’s based on imitating a successful brand in the same market. Jumping on the brandwagon simply means that with more entries in the market the profit disappears.
"We can do this"
We have a range of core competencies and there’s little capital risk. eg; line extensions. Line extensions serve some purposes, like dominating supermarket shelf space, though in many cases they distract from the core brand.
Bear in mind that if you are going to invent a challenger brand it needs to shift the paradigm or ‘reinvent’ the category, but you must be able to communicate its difference easily.
Knowledge and ideas - the spark
First, arm yourself with a good understanding of what is already out there: check store shelves, talk to customers, ask your wife or husband, look in the yellow pages, search Google in words and pictures on the internet. Use this stage to explore and discover ideas.
A good short cut is looking at other markets and categories. In 1985 Bill Jordan of Jordan’s Cereals in the UK came back from America with a muesli bar bound together with honey. It was three years before the big producers caught up to him.
But be careful. In 1995 we were asked to help BBC Hardware who had come back from the USA with the concept of the "Category Killer" hardware superstore. They had rushed ahead and BBC re-branded their 4 largest stores "Home Depot". Home Depot found out and objected. Practically overnight we had to invent a new brand and Hardwarehouse was born. As a brand it was hugely successful but the management probably could have been stronger, witnessed by Bunnings who bought it and are killing it off.
There are visionary people who see opportunity where others only see struggle. There are ideas that jump up and hit you in the face and you can’t believe no one has done them before. (I keep notebooks of ideas.)
Shaping the idea and branding the brand
Next, you’ll want to know if there’s a feasible return on investment.
Be conservative as to the size of the prize. If most dot bombs had been honest with themselves, they wouldn’t have started.
Remember, the more targeted your product, the greater the ability to build in characteristics that answer their specific needs. Consider the difference between "We can make a sparkling wine, let’s do it", and "We’ve seen a need for a sparkling wine targeted at women 25 to 40 years old, which has romantic love as a focus and is priced at just under $10". It’s easy to see the array of questions that get answered immediately. The whole exercise becomes much more cost efficient from pack design to advertising media selection. It formulates the basis of the creative brief.
What’s in a name?
Non marketers often misjudge the value of the right brand name, acting on non-consumer focused agendas.
Also the more difficult the name to pronounce, the harder and more expensive it will be to gain acceptance. And avoid funny names where the joke may be short lived, like a hair salon called ‘Curl Up and Dye’. Be careful too of alphabet soup. Take IAG, IGA, AIG. You are condemning the brand to being personality-less before you even start.
Then make sure the name and logo combination takes into account these three vital elements:
- the source or sender of the message,
- the message, and
- the receiver.
Sounds simple, but when you apply this filter it’s amazing how it removes a lot of subjectivity.
Putting the flesh on the bones
This is done with draft logos, colours, pack concepts, business cards etc. and a refinement of the brand idea for each. We call these ‘look and feel’ schemes or ‘creative prototyping’.
It is wise to see if they achieve what you set out to.
Recently we conducted research for a major rebrand for Keno online. It gave a large, well-targeted sample very cost effectively.
This will vary from business to business. In the process, the crucial thing is not to lose sight of the core customer insight that the brand is answering.
Soft launch or hard launch?
This depends on different factors such as:
- available funds
- the competitive situation
- in the case of a rebrand, the comfortable transition for existing customers.
Once you have your brand and it is getting a foothold, you need to protect and nurture it.