What is branding actually about? Is it worthwhile investing in brand development, brand management and brand maintenance? And how does a brand become an icon?
The basic idea of branding is the active shaping of a brand towards an identity. Good branding turns first-time buyers into life-long customers and the target group into loyal fans. To create a strong brand that stands out from the crowd and attracts the attention of the relevant target group, branding is a must.
What makes a brand a strong brand?
The first thing to clarify is what a brand actually is. A trademark is basically nothing more than a marking - it identifies products and services. The term "branding" can also be explained quite simply in this way. Whereas in the past, animals or objects were identified with the help of a brand, today it is the brands that are supposed to be "branded" in the consumer's mind.
However, this is only successful if the brand is so special and unique that it has a personality. And the more pronounced the personality, the stronger the brand - and also the branding. To do this, we take a look at the human psyche.
The long-term memory only stores content that is relevant to the individual.
These are, for example, events and facts that are linked to emotions and therefore remain permanently significant. In order for brands to have a recognition value, they must therefore trigger emotions, tell a story or convey an attitude towards life - in the best case, exactly what the consumer can identify with. This set of associations - whether we perceive them consciously or unconsciously - is then what we understand by a brand. Whether we evaluate the associations positively or negatively ultimately influences our brand preferences and thus the purchase decision.
Starting from the brand name, the concept of the brand has now developed significantly in the marketing sense. A brand is the feeling, the voice, the image and the appearance of a company. The brand provides the necessary discriminatory power towards competitors, bundles all relevant characteristics and transports them to the recipients. The better it is able to do this, the stronger the brand is.
How does a brand become a lifestyle?
The answer is: brand management. It comprises the construction, development and establishment of a brand towards a personality of its own. Brand management describes, so to speak, all actions that are taken to form a brand.
The strategic development of the brand core with the help of a brand strategy is called brand development. Branding is the external communication of this brand core. Or - to stick with the brand mark: Brand Development is the forging of the brand mark, Branding is the application of the brand mark.
There are various methods for defining the brand core in terms of brand development. These could be workshops on the status quo of the company identity, performance and future plans. Surveys and/or interviews on the current state of the company are also conceivable. In this way an internal status quo is documented, which provides an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the company.
In addition, the focus should be on the ANALYSIS of the market, competitors and the target group(s). The results of this environmental analysis, together with the findings on internal strengths and weaknesses, often flow into a SWOT analysis. In doing so, they form the external opportunities and risks that affect the company from outside.
An analytical, strategic approach is necessary to successfully position a brand in the market and to distinguish it from competitors who offer similar services, ideas and products. A well thought-out branding strategy helps companies to create a high brand value and to successfully meet their target groups along the entire customer journey. However, there is not "the one" brand strategy that leads to success. Every company and its brand(s) has different requirements, different target groups and different products, for which a tailor-made brand strategy must be developed.
How the brand core is communicated is determined by the so-called brand story. As a detailed communication concept, the brand story includes the logo, corporate design and corporate language. Before the brand story is communicated to the target group, the employees need to be trained. Internal workshops, give-aways or a brand guide should create understanding for the brand and ensure that it is "lived" by the employees. Every employee is ultimately a potential testimonial of the company.
However, implementing the brand in the relevant market is not enough. In a constantly changing environment, the brand must be constantly monitored and, if necessary, adapted. This operative observation and maintenance is called brand management. The goals defined in the brand strategy are the focus of attention. In order to take the latest market developments and social trends into account in brand management, regular sector-specific market analyses are suitable. In addition, the media used to date and measures implemented should be evaluated in terms of their efficiency. If there is a need for optimisation, a concept for the adaptation or transformation of the brand is then drawn up.
One possibility for the brand review is the Brand Equity Model by Kevin Keller.
The Brand Equity Model
Keller's Brand Equity Model can be used as an insight tool to build or develop a brand. It is based on 4 basic questions that companies should ask themselves in the course of branding. To highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the company and the brand, each question from the model is worked through from the bottom up to the top of the pyramid.
In the first step, the aim is to create brand awareness. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the brand stands out, that it stands out and that customers perceive it. However, it is not only brand identity and awareness that is created, but also ensuring that the customer's brand perception is "correct" in the buying process.
1. Who are we?
In order to influence the brand value as positively as possible, thorough research on the market and the target group or target group segments should be carried out at this point. What is the unique selling proposition (USP) and do customers recognise it? How do customers decide between their own product and the competition? Finally, possible mistakes and problems in brand perception should be identified which need to be corrected (by adapting the message or the product).
2. What are we?
The aim of the second level is to find out and communicate what the brand means and what it stands for. It is divided into the building blocks "performance" and "symbolism".
"Performance" defines how well the needs of the customer are satisfied by the product. According to the model, performance consists of five categories:
- Main features and characteristics of the product
- Reliability, durability and serviceability
- Efficiency and empathy
- Style and design
If the product delivers on these promises in the brand awareness campaigns, this should lead to positive experiences. If not, the loss of customers is at risk.
Next to the performance is the symbolism. This is about how well the brand meets the needs of the customer on a psychological and social level. What would the brand be like if it were a human being? Would it be strong and persistent? Reasonable and sophisticated? Strange and exciting? When it comes to symbolism, the decisive factor is what customers think when they see the brand. Would they be proud if they were associated with it because of its reputation?
The ideal brand symbolism results from the initial discussion about brand values, which from the company's point of view are related to the interests of the customers. How important is the environment to us? Do we want to advocate for specific social groups? Those who find answers to these and other questions can project a brand image that customers want to see.
3. What does the customer think about us?
The next level of the brand value pyramid is also divided into two parts and covers ratings and feelings. Both relate to what customers think about the brand and what impact this has.
The evaluation focuses on the customers' opinion of the brand. The evaluation is usually divided into the following four segments:
- the actual perceived quality of the brand
- the credibility and reputation of the brand
- the relevance of the brand
- the superiority of the brand compared to competitors
In order to make judgments, a customer does not even have to use the product himself - he can simply form his own opinion by word of mouth propaganda. In order to fight these devastating effects at their core, a responsive complaint management system is helpful.
The other block relates to the way customers feel about the brand. According to Keller, there are six positive perceptions that companies should aim for. These are fun, excitement, warmth, security, social recognition and self-esteem.
Probably the brand does not fit all emotions. However, the focus should be on one emotion and ensure that customers feel it when they interact with the brand.
It is crucial for building brand equity that customers associate the brand with positive feelings and judgements. This strengthens trust in the brand and helps to build a lasting customer relationship. Eliminating negative feelings once they have become established is a major challenge. It is therefore important to convey positivity from the very beginning.
4. How does our relationship with the customer look like?
At the top of the pyramid is the relationship between the brand and the customer, the resonance. This is where customers have more than just an awareness of what the brand is and buy it - they actively support the brand. This is undoubtedly the most difficult level of the pyramid, but it is the one that brings companies the greatest benefits.
In Keller's model, resonance is divided into the following categories:
- Customer's buying habits and behaviour
- A sense of community that connects customers with other users of the brand
- Attitudes that people have towards the brand
- Commitment, i.e. how much people engage with the brand, even if they don't buy from it (e.g. social media followers)
In order to achieve customer response, there are numerous incentives that can be considered. Customer cards, exclusive offers for premium customers, special discount promotions, community forums or marketing events are just some examples of how to maintain a long-term relationship with customers.
As Keller's model shows, building a brand personality is a great challenge, but it involves many considerations and individual steps. But branding is also a great way to create tremendous value and win lifelong, loyal customers. Not every brand is destined to become known worldwide. But even small brands have the chance to form a loyal target group that will enable them to achieve lasting, financial success.
Furthermore, brand development is not a one-off event, but a continuous process. It is therefore important to constantly question one's own brand and its effect on the target group and to adapt it if necessary.
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