Building of World Class Brands


By

Dr Rajendra K Gupta
BE Mechanical Hons, MBA, PhD, FIE, MIMA
Director
Sobhagya Consultancy & Marketing Services-India
K5A Saket, New Delhi-110017
 


Abstract:

Abraham Lincoln once said, "Whatever you are, be a good one

Successful and popular brands are like rocks in turbulent waters of dynamic environment and fierce global competition where rapid breakthroughs are taking place in product design, data acquisition, communication channels, technology complicated by fast changing consumer behaviour. Companies that build great brands are nearly world class. That is holistic approach to make your organisation near to heart of consumer. But very few companies are able to develop brands that make any impact. That includes famous organisations too. This paper is based on intense review of literature and 30 years hands-on experience of author across several industries. The paper introduces concepts, enlists vital points about branding, processes to develop great brand and enlists some models used for brand creation. Paper discusses some important companies and lucidly points out by comparisons, what ought to have been done and what not. Paper challenges the myth that branding is basically a marketing exercise.

Key Words: Branding, Brand Management, world class brands, great brand, brand development

Introduction:

The brands often reflect accumulated intellectual property-Unique product ideas, processes, patents, copyrights and state of the art technology, superior data acquisition and processing capability and not the least, tremendous  customer goodwill acquired by company over the years.

Brand is not merely a logo or design but it carries with it history/story, associations, images, feelings, experience, promises and of course expectations of consumers.

Brand is Identity of product that reflects trust and emotions in mind of customer- Many brands over the years have become synonymous to a product or product line (Example SKF, Surf). Brand reflects a great product and a great product is one in which customer sees superior value, year after year after year (Example, Cadbury). Hence branding is not two year phenomenon. A great idea or design may click with consumers for a short while but can't last long, if not built around value.

Continually search out what makes the brand unique. Customer preferences, competitive frameworks and market conditions are incredibly dynamic. Renewing and refreshing the brand to ensure continuing relevance, differentiation and credibility are the most strategic tasks. Brand managers must determine what cannot change and what must change.

Brand is a continuum of successfully adapting to changes in business environment, technology and preferences of consumers shaped by changing lifestyles, awareness and standards of living, further complicated by globalisation of information and resources. Hence, brands have to fight battles throughout their existence, trying to remain relevant and at top.

Advertising can only make the target consumers aware of product and its key attributes that consumers may hopefully value. But brand can only be built by first creating a clear brand promise (Say, 30 kilometres per litre by a petrol car) and then delivering that promise repeatedly for customer satisfaction. Secondly, this experience has to be repeated and consistent. There is a specific zone of tolerance for each product/Brand where minor defects in product, delivery or service can be allowed by customer, for example take-off of a flight up to 5 minutes beyond scheduled time of departure. The companies that deliver inconsistent quality or delay deliveries often can never build a great brand.

A brand cannot be built in short time unless it relates to a disruptive or innovative product concept that is launched by a company and quickly accepted by consumers as Industry standard in near monopolistic situation( I-pod, for example). The company gains this advantage as there is not much competition in market and it remains leader for some period. I-pod appealed to young music lovers.

A brand can be built over time only with usage, quality and satisfaction delivered to consumers, repeatedly. A brand reflects perceptible value and emotional connect with potential customers. Brand is built only with consistent positive brand experience.

In management Institutes in India, for example, several private sector colleges have cropped up. Every year they spend millions of rupees on admissions, advertisements in media but fail to attract students since these advertisements can create only awareness about admissions and not the desire (A high elaboration process). Hence they manage to attract those students who are rejected by their choice Institutes and not those who come to them because it is their choice Institute. Hence in effect most private Institutes are low rated by students right at entry stage not high rated as entrepreneurs tend to believe. They come unwillingly to participate in learning process. It is major challenge. When the student counters bad service the frustration is complete and image is severely damaged. In a few years the market reputation becomes negative and students simply disappear. To justify their failure, the managements of new institutes call it a shakeout.

While building a brand, customer view is to be considered. What are the attributes that target segment of these customers value? In this example of Institutes given above, most students prefer to enrol in state university campuses. Why? They see big value there in terms of low fees and the appreciation they receive for being at campus and not affiliated institute. Admission at campus shows the student is one of top rankers in entrance tests. So there is tremendous value to customer in University campus course. No amount of strategies, advertisements will work to divert students from university campus.

Vital Concepts in Brand Building:

Brand referrals are key issues in case of services like the above mentioned Institutions, hospitals and professional services. A great brand can only be built by repeated use by customer, by customer delight/satisfaction and recommendation by past or current customer. Although brands do sell since consumer is not aware of available alternatives or follows the brand used in home, by a friend or in office. Trust in brand or a trusted brand can only be built by repeated use by consumer and satisfaction in all areas which consumer values- Some of  these are functional capability, appearance, durability, easy to use and service (cost & availability). For example Tata sky offers relocation facility to a customer anywhere in India. Tata Sky, BSNL, Maruti (Suzuki) are everywhere, easy to buy, easy to use and easy to service.

In short, brand is nothing but a package of product functions, quality and reliability which delivers superior value to customer either physically or emotionally or both. Brand cannot be remembered and valued by consumers unless it is periodically used by them.

The organisations that manage to build and sustain strong brands ultimately become world class organisations that are difficult to beat by competition. Because strong brand carries both price premium and purchase preference from loyal customers.

The processes adopted by companies should not only be standardised but flexible and adequately speeded up to service clients, especially in service industry. One example we give. Mahindra Holiday Resorts of Mahindra Groups runs a timeshare product Club Mahindra. If a time share owner wants to transfer the membership, there is long chain of harassment and bureaucratic process. Not only there is no set time limit, but transferor, transferee, co-applicants are asked to physically present in concerned branch for the process. Such negative and time wasting processes can never build a brand but only destroy goodwill.

Customer will always evaluate a brand by criteria of her own interest which include product reliability, convenience, service attitude, cost-benefit perception and several other psychological factors. Many organisations are immersed in self praise of their brands. When customer feels ignored, misinformed or shabbily treated and denied legitimate dues, the customer abandons the brand, however good the product may be.

Building a brand is function of time the brand has been in use (old brands need periodic face-lift, though), product performance, service performance and innovation in product and processes (Customer related) on a continuous basis which leads to repeated purchase and customer satisfaction. Such brands lead to decision and not mere preference in product buying decision by prospective customer who is willing to even pay a premium. There will hardly be a customer who will buy a MCB (miniature circuit breaker) switch of unknown or small supplier instead of Siemens for 5% price benefit. But this 5-10% can make big difference to bottom line of Siemens. Some brands like Dettol, Bisleri and Colgate have been around in lives of Indian consumers for a long period and have created perception of authentic heritage, a factor important to Indian consumers (Talwar, 2013).

The choice of a brand by customer is not impulsive as market experts think or make us believe except for very small group of products. For example, a speciality hospital may have a strong brand because of either No waiting time for critically ill patients or lowest treatment cost (example, Narayana Hrudayalaya, $ 800 cardio surgery) or less than 0.1% complication rate or combination of all. In latter case it will be a formidable competitor and unbeatable brand in market or simply world class.

There are only three ways a customer chooses a brand

1. Trust: For example a Tata Company product (Brand umbrella) or Siemens product. This trust is often not based on information of product or technology but based on indirect factors like corporate name behind brand, length of time it is in market and other products under some brand. In all other cases a customer takes a risk while choosing a brand or that simply she has no choice under circumstances.

2. Personal experience- Previous use  by the customer (Brand experience)

3. Word of mouth by existing customer or third party recommendation including by sales agents

Choosing a product and choosing a brand are different and ultimate position a marketer can achieve is that both become synonymous. That is only idealistic situation. There was a time when Parker Pen was synonymous with fountain pen.

Therefore, never create a brand promise and fail. It is disastrous. Don't promise what you can't deliver. The customer cannot be fooled by selling dreams and using laudatory high sounding statements about product. Creating high expectations and then not meeting these is also unethical marketing and to an extent, cheating.

Hence we return to the idea that strong brands are built by world class organisations that focus on strong business processes and always have customer needs (and changing needs) in focus. Such organisations deliver superior customer value which gets associated to brand experience. They involve customers and carry continuous consumer research (Example P&G).The superior processes result into superior and consistent financial performance which in turn improves corporate image which invariably gets associated to product brands. When brand has large market share it can derive economies of scale thus outcompeting the alternative products on price criteria, the most important for customer. A competitor with say 3% market share can never create a strong brand.

According to Stainley Hainsworth, the well known architect of Starbucks and Nike brands, consumers emotionally connect with brands when the brands repeatedly provide something that the consumer wants, desires, or needs. Stanley says, "No one is going to pick up your product and try it if they don't want to buy into the experience."

Starbucks and Nike are sold at a high premium. Both organizations have taken commodity products and turned them into desirable, sexy, coveted products that incite enormous loyalty and an almost zealot-like behaviour. It would be educating to brand managers to study their story.

Hence challenge yourself: Do you know what your brand values and brand personality are? Do you know how they manifest themselves in your Customer Experience? If you don't, how are you delivering that promise?

Out of 20 top world brands one can find 15 brands being American. It appears that American culture supports professional approach and seriousness towards brands.

According to the Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model proposed by Keller (Keller, 2001), building a strong brand involves:

1) establishing breadth and depth of brand awareness;
2) creating strong, favorable, and unique brand associations;
3) eliciting positive, accessible brand responses; and
4) forging intense, active brand relationships.

The most important aspect is to achieve 'brand resonance' with the customers.

Marc Gobč, an expert in Emotional Branding, says, "Today, I feel, an emotional branding approach is quite simply the crucial defining element that separates success from indifference in the marketplace. But only a few companies understand the art of accessing, with intelligence and sensitivity, the true power behind human emotions. Emotional branding brings a new layer of credibility and personality to a brand by connecting powerfully with people on a personal and holistic level."

Advertising is unquestionable aid to manage brand recall and availability but has very limited scope to build brand. It is great to tell brand story and launch a new brand. Advertising has not much role to induce repeat buying. The brand has to be on its own feet and perform well and meet expectations of customer.

In the book, The Ad-Free Brand, Chris Grams (Grams, 2011) writes that the four main building blocks of good brand positioning are:

1. The competitive frame of reference
2. Points of difference
3. Points of parity
4. The brand mantra

A well prepared Brand statement that gives clear guidance to company and conveys what brand delivers and its core values to the customers is great way to start. Brand Statement should not appear like Company Vision or Mission statements with lofty and vague wordings, like in case of Toshiba Brand statement.

The Salient Activities for Creating Great Brand:

We now enumerate key steps one needs to build a great brand:

1. Identify or try to create key differentiating product/service attribute of value to consumer and which is clearly visible ( For example, guaranteed and secure delivery of document/valuables in 72 hrs)

2. Design and use a purposeful, working and regular consumer research campaign

3. Remain in forefront of technology & product research

4. Meet world class operational benchmarks specially on product-service delivery and customer care

5. Adopt a well designed formal and informal communication system inside and outside organisation

6. Try to connect customer emotionally with brand

7. Identify and nurture core competencies that are consistent with the product

8. And finally find ways to keep consumer excited  about the brand by fresh products, fresh ideas, marketing campaigns and product-price combination

We again repeat, branding is not just a clever marketing idea. It is end result of creating a world class organisation. The above points are not as simple as they look. These efforts may require drastic changes in organisation setup and culture and its resources, to implement.

Any sensible business owner would prefer to build a lasting brand by performance and not by dramatics or advertising attempts.

Conclusions

The purpose of this research article is to search for common traits and methodology across products categories that can create world class brand based on value and. In this paper we are using the word 'repeatedly', emphatically. Many consumers prefer to use or simply adopt Papa's brand or Grandpa's brand that stood test of time. Strong brand cannot be created and sustained by one time or casual use by a consumer. It has to be based on repeated experience. In emerging patterns of market dynamics, what has become more important is how the brand resolves defects, complaints, doubts and after sales problems with customers. Six-Sigma is one way to minimise such conflicts and dissatisfaction. This is done by not allowing defective product to leave factory. But then what about service? Due to rapid growth Indian companies have failed to create dependable and efficient service network with trained and skilled staff. It is serious limitation in creating world class brands.

We would like to stick to the argument that what is best, sells best. A bad product can't be sold again to same consumer despite tremendous advertising or sales promotion tactics or freebees.

In long run, product has to function well up-to the expectations of customer (Which may change), perform better than nearest rival in market; there appears value in product and price customer pays for it. The product has to grow and adapt with times and technology and lifestyle of consumer. The 'product-service-acquisition cost' triangle must work in favour of customer.

In conclusion what emerges is that organisations should try to build world class competencies which shall result in a great team, great organisation and great brands.

References: Available in Full Version of Paper

For Full Paper  send request at : director@scms.in
 


Dr Rajendra K Gupta
BE Mechanical Hons, MBA, PhD, FIE, MIMA
Director
Sobhagya Consultancy & Marketing Services-India
K5A Saket, New Delhi-110017
 

Source: E-mail August 24, 2014

 

         

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