The Importance of Staying True to Your Brand in Today’s Economy
Experts don’t always agree on how to brand. But most do agree that the care and feeding of a brand is especially prudent during periods of economic turmoil. While consumers’ purchasing behaviors may be temporarily modified to address a moment in time, human psychology remains a relative constant, and study after study shows that our minds are practically hardwired to prefer the familiar to the unknown. Marketers who understand this reality tend to come out ahead of their competition when the economy picks backup.
So, as a steward of your organization’s brand, are you staying true to your brand truths? The following provides a framework for evaluation.
Do you distinguish between brand identity and brand positioning?
Particularly in the business to business arena, which functions on an arguably more rational plane than consumer advertising, marketers are often tempted to blur the line between identity and positioning, and consequently over-communicate.
The best articulation of brand identity comes from David Aaker, author of Building Strong Brands. He describes brand identity as the sum total of what your organization, product, or service stands for – both inside and outside of a marketing context. Identity can include a variety of attributes, values, benefits, aspirations, imagery, uses, personality traits, and more.
But positioning is only a small part of the brand identity – the part that gets actively communicated. The part of identity that gives a company leverage to influence prospects’ decisions.
Do you sell your attributes or your benefits?
While attributes may bolster claims of a benefit, marketers must distinguish between the two. Consequently, Volvo doesn’t sell the fact that the wheels won’t fly off, thereby causing vehicles to careen across the median. Volvo sells the benefit of safety. (Insider’s tip: Don’t be offended, but agency copywriters who can’t identify your benefits will use the trick of focusing on attributes. If your marketing copy seems to fall in this category, sit down with your agency to review brand identity and positioning.)
Does your positioning focus on competitive advantages?
The first critical step is to identify points of leverage with your target, but the second, equally critical step is to emphasize those particular points in which an organization surpasses its competition.
Do you own the market or a segment thereof?
Brand strategist Al Reis postulates in his book, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, that successful brand positioning results from category leadership. If you don’t lead the category, create one. For example, until Proctor & Gamble’s Clorox brand, bleach was bleach. It was just one category, and it could be used in a variety of cleaning applications. But Clorox focused branding efforts on only one use of the product, and consequently created a whole new subcategory of laundry bleach, which it still leads.
Does your brand co-opt irrationality?
Consumption isn’t an entirely rational exercise. Consider your office’s purchasing habits. What kind of computers do you use? Where do your office supplies come from? Who provides your voice and data services? Chances are there’s a brand name attached to each of these answers. And not because branded products and services are inherently better.
The truth is that when it comes to marketing, actual quality isn’t as important as perceived quality. For further proof, just look to the cola wars. In blind taste tests, consumers really do prefer Pepsi to Coke by a significant margin. The same consumers, when given a choice, insist Coke tastes better. Perception rules.
But branding can flip the equation and rule perceptions. To do so, advertisers often turn to the realm of the irrational whether it be through the development of brand personalities (Target is both hip and smart) self-expressive benefits (Blackberry users are connected) or relationships (Wal-Mart is looking out for me and my family). And regardless of the great, perfectly sensible reasons for prospects to purchase your product or service, it certainly won’t hurt to augment your positioning with one of the aforementioned tools.
Are your branding efforts consistent? Repetition is a mnemonic device. And if you want your target to remember your brand, then you must repeat the same message again and again. And again. Chances are the marketing department (and agency) will tire of the message. But history proves (and consumer anthropology corroborates) that a consistent investment in message redundancy produces demonstrative effects on marketplace preference – and your brand’s bottom line.