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 that their brands are clearly differentiated from the 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.
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”.
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 2000 employees, and the company struggles to remain competitive.
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.
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.
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.
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.