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Nigel Hollis is chief global analyst at Millward Brown, Colmar Brunton’s global partner. He has 30 years of research experience and has a popular brand blog, Straight Talk with Nigel Hollis.
Brand Premium is his second book on marketing communications.
EVERYTHING IS BRAND
When does the taste of the product stop being a function of the recipe and start being a memory of a pleasant experience?
There are two sides to any brand: the tangible assets that the brand owner controls and the intangible assets that arise from consumers’ feelings about the brand.
Because marketers usually concern themselves with the intangible—the ideas and associations that they promote with the intention of making the brand more desirable—they risk decoupling those ideas and associations from the tangible brand experience.
That risk is exacerbated by the growing focus on digital communication, since ideas and information are paramount in the virtual domain.
In reality, the tangible assets have far more influence than the “advertising” on whether someone buys a brand and sticks with it.
Even if advertising alone leads someone to consider purchasing a brand, most buyers will try to check it out before buying; they will try to anticipate what the brand experience will be like.
If marketing is to be really effective, then it needs to encompass both the tangible and the intangible. Sometimes the biggest return on marketing investment will come from simply highlighting a good product experience and the feelings it evokes.
In a recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog, Dan Pallotta drives home the point that a brand is a two-sided coin.
Pallotta proposes that “brand is everything, and everything is brand.”
Your brand is your strategy, call to action, customer service, communication with customers, and, yes, your logo and visuals too. He concludes, “Ultimately, brand is about caring about your business at every level and in every detail, from the big things like mission and vision, to your people, your customers, and every interaction anyone is ever going to have with you, no matter how small.”
To Dan, a brand is essentially a promise incarnate, but there is another side to this coin: how well the brand lives up to its promise in the mind of the customer. This is what will determine how much the brand is actually worth to someone. You can care about your business as much as you like,
Unless your customers care too, your brand is not worth anything. To create value from your brand, you must understand what matters most to your customer.
While a brand is everything its owner controls, it is also everything it suggests in the minds of its customers.
A brand is the ideas, the memories, and the feelings evoked every time someone thinks of the brand.
To create value, those mental associations must make the product or service more salient, more interesting, or more compelling than the alternatives.
They must make the brand meaningfully different in some way. That difference does not need to be tangible or significant, but to create value for the brand owner, that difference must resonate with the potential customer more strongly than competitive brands do.
The degree of differentiation required for a brand to create value will depend on the nature of the brand and cat- egory. The key question to ask is whether your brand is perceived to be different enough given its competitive context.
So Dan Pallotta is right—“everything is brand.” The person on the street makes no distinction between marketing, production, sales, or customer service—those distinctions are reserved for the business world alone. To the individual consumer, these are simply different aspects of the same brand.
A compelling online video is just as much a part of a consumer’s brand experience as is using the product, seeing the brand on sale in the store, or talking to a customer service representative on the phone. These interactions are all part of the brand experience, and everything a brand does should be aligned to make that experience meaningful.
The objective should be to build, reinforce, and enhance the ideas and associations that resonate with customers and drive their predisposition to buy the brand and pay a premium for it. The end result will be the creation of value for both brand owner and brand buyer.
And if consumers believe they are getting good value from a brand, then they will talk about it. They will become advocates for the brand.
From Brand Premium by Nigel Hollis. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.