The traditional, large, multinational advertising agency as portrayed in the television series Mad Men is a thing of the past. The changes in the ad agency world are similar in some ways to changes that have occurred in the music industry. It is adapting and transforming in response to circumstances outside of its control. In the advertising world, the changes are due in part because traditional media spending is giving way more and more to digital and social formats, and partly because the Internet, online and digital have changed the nature of the relevance of scale. Being bigger no longer guarantees strategic excellence or digital aptitude. As the media world has changed, advertising firms are having to adapt to remain competitive with leaner, nimble and more agile smaller specialty agencies. The future will require collaboration and coordination among a diverse group of efficient specialists to deliver the best strategic marketing solutions.
Brands need to know, live and communicate their purpose to differentiate themselves in their marketing efforts. Customers are looking to buy why you sell as much as what you sell. So, you must make “why you sell” an important part of your messaging.
Successful brands will also need to focus on employees living the brand and marketing from the inside out. Marketing can no longer be a department. All employees must be able to communicate the company’s mission and vision, becoming, in effect, brand ambassadors.
Brand alignment has become a key corporate initiative. Brand success will require simplification and alignment with core business strategies. Brand alignment will increasingly replace departmentalization and silos in the corporate infrastructure. Integrated marketing will support this shift and will make marketing and branding efforts more effective and strategic.
ELEVEN ATTRIBUTES OF THE WORLD’S MOST MEMORABLE BRANDS*
- The brand is consistent.
A strong brand maintains a successful balance between continuity and change. A strong brand is consistent with its message of product or service benefits through different promotional campaigns and to varying audiences. It avoids creating confusion or sending conflicting messages about who it is or what it sells.
- The brand reflects the company’s core values.
A company’s products and services should be an extension of what a company stands for and believes in, those essential principles that guide its business operations and relationships. Core values help consumers understand a company’s personality and build trust in the brand and its products and services.
- The brand maintains its relevancy over time.
With strong brands, equity is a dynamic attribute. It’s tied to the actual quality of a product or service, as well as other intangible aspects that may change over time.
- The brand uses a full range of marketing and communications activities to build brand equity.
A strong brand uses all of the elements associated with the brand—logos, symbols, slogans, packaging and signage to enhance and reinforce consumer awareness of the brand over time. It uses these elements consistently across multiple media, in advertising, in sales promotions, online, through sponsorships and through endorsements to spread recognition and build awareness of the brand across the marketplace.
- The brand does an excellent job of delivering the benefits that customers need and desire.
Why do customers buy a product? It’s not just because of the product features and attributes, but also because of the brand’s image, reputation, quality of service, and several other factors. This unified impression in the consumer’s mind is what influences buying decisions. A brand with a favorable impression becomes a trusted asset and an extension of the customer’s lifestyle or personality.
- A brand’s pricing strategy is based on the consumers’ perception of its value.
Many managers are unaware of how price should relate to what a customer thinks and expects from a product or service, and as a result they can make the mistake of charging too little or too much. The right balance of quality, cost, price and consumer expectations of the product and brand can be tough to achieve, but is well worth the effort and study to build customer satisfaction. If a product is perceived as high quality, then it’s expected that a higher cost will follow. But if a company cuts corners on quality to increase profitability and consumers notice the difference, the brand could suffer long-term damage and take years to recoup its perception of quality.
- The brand’s product family and hierarchy make sense within the larger brand identity.
Many companies have multiple product brands under the main brand umbrella. For a strong brand, it’s important that sub-brands make sense in the overall brand family identity.
- The brand is properly positioned against its competitors.
When a brand is well positioned, it fills a particular niche in the consumer’s mind. That’s because these brands have worked hard over time to build and maintain their niche in the public’s awareness by emphasizing their distinct differentiators from their competitors.
- The company’s managers and employees understand what the brand means to consumers.
With strong brands, the managers and employees appreciate and understand the personality of the brand and how consumers perceive it. When it’s clear what customers like and don’t like about the brand and what qualities they associate with the brand, then managers will know in advance if a specific action will make sense within the brand personality.
- The company monitors various media sources to manage its brand equity.
Strong brands conduct regular checkups and brand-tracking studies to determine the health of the brand’s identity. This may consist of a detailed review of how the elements of the brand have been used in all marketing and communications during the recent past. It may also be done externally through consumer focus groups, online data and surveys.
- The brand is given adequate resource support and that support is sustained over the long run.
Brand equity is built carefully and intentionally over time by sustained brand awareness. Think of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Over the years this company, through community building and brand building efforts, has created a cult-like status.
*The Brand Report Card by Kevin Lane Keller published in Harvard Business Review
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