Brand Management 101: Five Principles of Highly Effective Branding

Geox's Differentiation Strategy. Image source: blog.footwearetc.com

I am very passionate about the brands I admire. All my friends and colleagues know that Cervelo is my favorite bike company and I am a big Apple fan.

I often ask myself: what is that I like the most about these companies? Their product design? Their advertising? The fact that their brands are clearly differentiated from competition?

Each brand management project is different in terms of resources and execution, however the ultimate goal is the same: building a brand that is differentiated and profitable.

Brand Managers often get sidetracked by everyday tasks such as sending e-mails and answering product-related requests. They need to get a lot done and sometimes tend to pay less attention to the final output.

Below are five brand management principles that force me to think of the final outcome of every Marketing initiative. I apply them to each project to make sure I work toward what’s really important when it comes to brand building.

Differentiation

The question I ask myself at the start of each project is: will this initiative contribute to my brand’s differentiation strategy? Or Am I just copying the competition?

A successful brand stands up for something unique in the mind of the consumer. The reasons are simple: fierce competition and the multitude of choices consumer have today. If are not able to provide your target market with a reason to buy then your only option is to compete on price.

The hybrid car market provides an excellent example of successful differentiation strategy.

The undisputed leader in the segment is Toyota Prius, with US sales of over 18,000 units in March 2011, according to www.hybridcars.com. The number two brand, Honda Insight, is far behind with only 2700 units sold.

The reason for their success is obvious in my opinion: while their competitors took existing non hybrid models and added the word “Hybrid” after the name, Toyota implemented a complete differentiation strategy: a stand alone name (Prius) and a design that is looks different than the non-hybrid models.

As a result, “Prius” is the synonym for “hybrid car”.

Focus

Any major decision regarding a new product launch, accessing new distribution channels, or entering a new market has to start with an important question: Is this new initiative in line with what the company is known for?

The more focused a brand is the more it breaks through the clutter. A brand that wants to be too many things ends up being nothing, and give specialized competitors the opportunity to claim a slice of the market. Loss of focus leads to brand failure.

Let’s look at some examples:

RIM, the maker of the Blackberry smart phones, decided to compete head-to-head with Apple for a slice of the consumer market instead of focusing on the market segment where the company has a strong competitive advantage: business customers. The result: RIM has recently laid-off 4500 employees, and the company struggles to remain relevant.

Dell Computer became the number one computer manufacturer because of the ability to customize each system and sell it directly to the end user. When they started distributing their product through brick and mortar stores they lost the leadership position to HP.

Simplicity

People’s attention span is shrinking, which makes the Brand Manager’s job challenging. Brands have about 10 seconds to make a first good impression. That’s why the KISS (keep it simple stupid) principle is highly effective and recommended.

Simplicity means focusing on the essentials and leaving the rest out. In terms of product, simplicity might mean “easy to use”. In Marketing Communications it means using plain language and getting to the point quickly. Less is more. Simple is better.

One way to validate this principle is to ask for feedback whenever possible. If your colleagues, friends or business partners get the message quickly without asking questions, you can put a check-mark beside simplicity.

Visual Appeal

I am a strong believer that aesthetics plays an important role in the purchase decision, although a lot of people don’t like to admit it. Product packaging and marketing materials that “look good” can make the difference between success and failure.

I often use visual appeal as a differentiation point, in categories where the main competitors don’t pay attention to how the brand presents itself to the world.

Between two products with the same features consumers will choose the one that looks more attractive to the eye. That’s because visual appeal is usually associated with a better user experience and functionality.

Consistency

Most brands compete in a crowded and noisy environment, where the “core message” is difficult to communicate. The same differentiating message has to be repeated over and over in order for it to be understood.

Consistency means having a simple and clear core message and using a smart communication strategy to reinforce it over and over again.

Geox built their shoe brand around an innovation that allows the insole to absorb sweat while it expels it as a water vapor through the micro-holes in the out-sole. This differentiation idea is reflected into the core message and tagline “The shoe that breathes” and depicted visually by a shoe sole that “breathes”.

The five principles above help me be efficient and see the big picture. What about you? Please feel free to share your experience in the Comments section below.

Comments

  1. Hi Victoria,

    Thank you for your kind words. I will contact you directly to discuss your particular situation.

    Michael

  2. Victoria Onwubiko says:

    Hello Michael, I truly enjoy your posts as they give very straightforward and simple interpretations of the work we do. For me, working in financial services in a developing economy, i find that our products are so very similar to competition because regulatory controls force it to be that way. There is very little room to differentiate yourself so we are forced to use the context of our advertising to show we are different. E.g oldest bank, more secure, etc. I would like to learn more about effective marketing and branding in these situations to create differentiation. Many thanks.

  3. Jeffrey, thank you for your comment. I look forward to reading the book you suggested, as well as your review.

  4. Michael,
    Your blog truly gets at the essence of marketing. I read a lot of marketing books and blogs but the single best book I have read in the last 5 years on these topics is by Youngme Moon called Different. She teaches at Harvard Business School. Her book is a wonderfully clear and concise articulation of those ideas you discuss in your post. I wrote a review on my marketing blog. I’d urge you and your readers to check out her book.
    http://momentslater.blogspot.com/2011/12/different-marketing-book-review.html

  5. Good summary. My belief is that there are only two (possibly, depending on how you parse the language, only one) fundamental principle — if these are rigidly maintained, then the other extremely important disciplines Michael discusses, will fall inevitably into place.

    Simply put, to be successful the brand must be relevantly different — that is, it is not good enough to be differentiated, but that difference must be relevant to the target market. If this is the true situation (and not what we call “derived relevance” which is making something sound, or appear, relevant by the context in which it is advertised, but not through it’s intrinsic qualities and the actual experiential needs of the target consumers), then focus, simplicity, consistency will be unavoidable (or at the very least take some effort to avoid:)).

  6. NAWAL KUNDRAI says:

    To me brand management is consistent on going process of upgrading brand manager’s commitment to its customers in terms of assured service life ,at reasonable price , after-sales service and the top of it a leadership in recognizing their need and product development .

  7. Abdallah Alkhaled says:

    Mr. michael,

    thanks a lot for sharing this topic , from my point of view most important is SIMLPICTY, because if they missed this factor the massage of our Differentiate or our foucing will be hard to get customer attention, I recommended to see Mobinil Advertisement on YouTube; they go direct to the point…

  8. Hi James,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    Consistency is hard to implement and maintain, particularly in big companies, with multiple levels of management. I think the advertising agency , as an independent partner, becomes critical in helping its clients stay on the right track, and provide them with the long term creative vision needed to build a strong brand.

  9. Hi there, really interesting blog and well worth a good read. As a MD of a design agency in Leeds UK called Definitive Creative (http://www.definitive-creative.co.uk) we have more recently moved in to brand management.

    I have to agree to the above comment as ‘consistency’ is at the heart of a strong brand.

    We regularly work with large national and international businesses who have incomplete and/or disjointed brands.

    Organisations simply don’t realise how inconsistency throughout communication, both internally and externally can seriously damage a company’s integrity as well as future growth.

    We have just heavily invested in developing a piece of software that assists in consistent communication through a cloud based application, this enables national and international field sales and marketing executives to consistently monitor third party usage of their brand.

  10. Marketing ROI is a very hot topic. The principles listed in my post are the foundation of effective marketing, which should translate into meaningful communication and interaction with your target market. Marketing communication initiatives are easier to track and quantify than marketing strategy (principles). However the tracking methods vary with every company and initiative. Some of the more common are: asking the new client for feedback when the sale took place (what is the reason you chose my company), requesting feedback from the sales force when a new client is acquired, establishing clear objectives and tracking methods for online and offline communication initiatives.
    Feel free to contact me privately if you have a specific scenario in mind that relates to your company.

  11. the quotation is : how we can can measure the effect of each one of these ?i.e in general how we can measure the effsct of marketing in the revenue far of sales acheivmnet ?

    any one has feed back please

  12. Couldn’t agree with you more. The communication agency also plays an important role in ensuring that consistency is achieved across different platforms, but sometimes they are the first to recommend a change in direction for “creative purposes”.

  13. Hi Michael,
    I think the most important principle of this post is the last one: Consistency. Brand Manager will at some point get sidetracked by short-term objectives and will forget about long term branding and positioning. For me, this explains the results of Dell (which saw a short-term opportunity in a new channel – but didn’t include it on the overall brand development).

    BM are paid by the results that year, and if they are successful they might get promoted (so the long-term issues are someone else’s problem). Big brands such as Apple or Nesspreso have bet on the long-term positioning of their brands and have acted with consistency. Hence, the great long-term results.

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