BY FARAI CHIGORA
Brands by their nature are an emotional creation and thrive in the mind and soul of the target market, hence the concept of emotional branding in the age of entrepreneurship. This is where the customer leads the show and brand ownership becomes a market alliance rather than for the SMEs intellectual property rights only. There should be a human connection between the brand and the customer (not mechanical). Brands firstly are a creation as an intangible asset before they are seen or felt by the customers. Like in the knowledge economy, we sell and exchange feelings as brands in this entrepreneurial world. This is the focus of this edition. In all the success stories I have received from my branded colleagues I am reminded that to keep the fire burning, one should understand the chemistry of brand bonding (where the customer should be brought closer to the brand).
Our SMEs should not only develop but also prepare to live with brands that bond with the customer as an ongoing evaluation and measurement of success. Evidently, most of our enterprises have evaluated their brands’ success based on mere sales in the assertion that “figures don’t lie”. Yes, that is a good sign of progression, where more sales are realised as a result of brand marketing intelligence. But this should not define the wholesome of our dedication to live as branded since there should be continued growth through connection (away from the accounting double entry and instant profits). Yes, these can be temporary signals to measure brand success as the product/service can be in demand just because it is the season or aligning to a short-lived trend (yet we say our brands should live longer in success beyond the life of the originator).
Look at Henry Ford whose brand is still alive beyond his life on earth. We should then go beyond the temporary but aim to last, where brand bonding is created against all odds. The reason for that Mercedes Benz brand having renowned followership is through its bonding as a perfect match for luxury and efficiency in the mind of the customer. Our enterprises should do their own brand audits to come up with their own bonding nodes so that they create a lasting experience in their existence by developing lasting ties with their customer. This can be related to brand personality relationships as alluded in previous editions. If we live up to this in our practices, our customers will become buddies for life. Just like Econet Wireless “Buddie”, which has been extended to the Buddie Beats as they further bond with the customers though melodies.
First and foremost in this brand bonding audit as a practice, SMEs should evaluate the brand presence in the mind and existence of their customers. As informed in previous editions, customers should be involved in brand excellence assessment mainly because they are the ones who feel the brand presence during “consumption” (which is the reason they don’t consume unbranded products/services). When they ask themselves, what do I know about this brand? It prompts a decision whether to buy or not. That’s what the markets for SMEs are asking about relatively new brands. Enduring entrepreneurs should improve on the market brand presence in order to know what the market is saying about a particular product line. At the same time, we should be projecting positive publicity through various modes and mechanisms. Like I always say, brands are not for briefcase matters, but for making noise and to improve on our corporate reputation for lasting positive market awareness. In this new dawn of social and digital media marketing let us utilise these too as they are conveniently closer to the global customer (of course for good publicity).
Secondly, you will find that customers do not only want to know us, but also to understand our brands’ relevance. The customers will ask themselves if your brand will offer them something. Most importantly the brand must give the customer peace (to consume and associate with). How far are we as SMEs in this perspective? Are we the peace-maker of this world through our branded offerings? Since it takes two to tango we need to go back on the drawing board. Through carrying out market surveys and researches we will know our own brand relevance on the market. It shows that the concept of understanding brand bonding is not an overnight journey (there are no short-cuts). Understanding ourselves in this manner can be daunting, especially when it is done hurriedly (it is a process).
Therefore, as we develop our brands as SMEs lets use brand bonding assessment as a part of our systems and structure. As the enthusiasm of our customers intensify towards bonding with our brand they then at this stage ask themselves if the brand can deliver. These are now performance issues as discussed in the previous editions (brand performance). Our brands’ market performance is of paramount importance. The taste of the pudding is in the eating. It is mainly to with trials in consumption and engagements with the producer. Where we as SMEs should go out there together with our brand and let it be consumed as we also interact and get informed by the customer. Most of the time we push our brands into the market as hunting dogs. No we should accompany them hand to hand so that we know the viewpoint of the consumer, especially with regards to his/her wants and needs for improved performance rather than imposing.
We should go beyond merchandising to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and wowing of the customer (investing in public relations also as we structure our enterprises). This has seen most successful brands doing road shows, showcasing their offerings on the local and international expos, bill boards, websites and any other contemporary. What are you waiting for? Then as we escalate it, the brand should be at the apex of the show where our customers will ask if our brand can offer something better than others on the market. This is the brand advantage as concept for our SMEs. It should be above competitors. As we all know that from clothing, food stuffs and automobiles, we do not buy for convenience but rather for satisfaction. One can drive a hundred miles in search of a product/service leaving those near home or in their proximity. That’s where we want to be with our superb enterprising brands. In this ever dynamic world, we should strive to be the best through continued innovation and creativity that match the needs of time of our markets (where customers will sacrifice just to be with us). In some instances we are forced to rebrand in order to survive above the rest (but it should be done with caution otherwise we lose identity). As the CEO of Amazon once said: “our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers them a better service”. So as excelling entrepreneurs, we should always be on the top. After all has been said and done, we then arrive at the apex of our desire in this brand management bandwagon. Where we say it is now bonding time. That is with our best customers and any other stakeholder who will further walk with us as advocates or ambassadors. This will become a life-long relationship where we are irreplaceable and can proudly parade that “nothing else can beat us”. Brand bonding is what’s left of us in our desire to industrialise through entrepreneurship. I leave you with the wise words from the book of Proverbs, “lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.” Thus our hands should mould brands that bond and attract more profitable customers in the age of industrialisation.
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The unique differentiation point in our brands is in our ability to understand and be intertwined with our customers through emotional intelligence. It enables us to better understand ourselves and the customers, which allows for the provision of unique offerings through our brands and creating an exceptional experience to the target market. Till then, think, dream, eat, sleep total brand management!
- Dr Farai Chigora is a businessman and academic. He is the Head of Business Science at the Africa University’s College of Business, Peace, Leadership and Governance. He is into agribusiness and consults for many companies. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted for feedback and business at [email protected], WhatsApp mobile: +263772886871.