If I brought you a sticky, sweet, brownish, bubbly drink, but it wasn’t Coca-Cola, would you drink it? Or if I brought you a slick-looking phone, with a smooth matte exterior and an alarming price tag, but it wasn’t an iPhone, would you buy it?
Chances are you wouldn’t. But once the brand name was attached to the product, the conversation would change. Why? Because there is value in the name Cocal-Cola.
By Thembe Khumalo
There is value in the name iPhone. That value is the basis of our expectations about the benefits the product to deliver.
Without the name, we cannot be sure whether to expect the same benefits.
But it is not the name per se which carries the benefit — it is the set of expectations we have come to associate with the name. When you set out to grow a brand therefore, you cannot just grow the name — you have to work on the entire set of benefits that constitute delivering on what that name promises.
Those become the customers’ total experience of a brand. Investing in a name, symbol or logo while neglecting the undergirding structures that enable you to deliver, is a futile exercise. It will not deliver the reputational advantages that you seek, because reputation is a product of performance.
Every brand name carries with it some kind of promise. When we say Mercedes Benz, or we say the Calvin Klein, or we say CNN, there is a set of expectations that immediately arise in the mind of the consumer.
There is a promise that the name evokes because we have come to expect a certain degree of performance from that name. But these names were not born with the promise attached. They acquire it through years of consistent performance.
The issue of consistency is an important one, and is part of the reason why I have hesitated to use local examples. It’s difficult for a product to remain consistent in an environment where things are constantly shifting.
Consistent performance is what makes people trust brands, and that’s what makes brands grow stronger.
In economies where it is easy to source funding, a business can plan well in advance for production inputs that they need. This secures the consistency of their inputs and if their processes are also consistent, their chances of producing a consistent product are high.
For us in less stable economies, the road is rocky as we are not assured of finance for inputs, we can’t be sure that the company we buy a specific input from will still be there tomorrow, or even that the quality of their input will be the same as the one we bought from them yesterday. This makes it difficult for us to deliver a consistent product to our customers, and with that it becomes very difficult to build the kind of reputation that results in a strong brand.
To understand branding, one must understand business. Running a business entails managing an endless list of competing demands from a finite resource pool.
Every effort and expenditure must be justifiable, and a well-executed branding strategy ensures that your brand makes an effective contribution to profitability through increased revenue, improved distribution and growth through new products or increased sales. That delivers value for shareholders, and makes it easier to attract investment for additional growth.
Customers will buy from companies they trust, and will continue to buy from them for as long as they trust them. For a business owner that means repeat business.
It also means a lower cost of customer acquisition. You no longer have to spend any resources in persuading customers to switch to your brand, only in building and maintaining the relationships.
In the retail space, a strong brand will enable you to strengthen your presence on outlet shelves. Retailers feel more confident in stocking a product with a strong brand, because they know there is high consumer demand for it.
Retailers also like products that are supported by good branding practice, because they have a better chance of moving off the shelves and generating sales faster.
In turn, consumers are more likely to purchase a brand when they have developed a clear perception of the performance, benefits and quality of our products. A good brand strategy will help us sell into retailers and build retail sales by stimulating demand.
A strong brand makes it easy to introduce new products that carry the same brand name. The new product could be a range extension — a different size, colour or variant of an existing product. Or it could be a new product all together.
In the minds of customers, the new product will have the same qualities as the existing range because of its association with the existing brand. This enables us to leverage the investment we’ve already made for the benefit of the product extensions.
The process of brand positioning will help clarify the company or product’s unique identity, and communicate what makes us different from and, therefore, better than our competitors — this is also known as a unique selling proposition.
Without a strong USP there is no brand, only products. And without a brand, we cannot cause customers to make purchasing decisions that favour us.
Proper brand strategy allows for strong identity, and differentiation, as well as consistent execution. It ensures protection for the investment we make in any marketing or communication activity.
Building the company’s reputation is in fact building its brand; and it is the reputation that supports purchase decisions. A sound brand strategy will help us build on this, to develop long-term relationships with our customers.
Good branding communicates the values that matter to the customer, and provides the confidence that the brand will continue to meet their expectations, minimising the customers’ risk in purchasing our product.
Strong brands serve as a focus for customer loyalty and develop into assets which ensure future demand, and, therefore, future income.
Thembe Khumalo is a brand builder, storyteller and certified life coach