The State of Branding from our perspective…
(compiled from recent interviews)
How has the public’s perception of a brand changed within the past 20 years?
•People have gotten savvier about advertising messages and claims.
•People increasingly hold brands to their promises.
•Younger people actually feel more of an emotional connection to brands then they do to traditional institutions such as schools and churches (especially compared to previous generations). Brands say something about them. Brands have badge value.
•Brands have been under attack by “copy cat” generic and store brands.
•Brands are increasingly becoming a way to break through the clutter of product proliferation and the purchase decision difficulty that it creates.
How does the increased globalization of markets affect the standing of brands?
•Brands from certain countries and regions still have a particular cache within certain categories (such as Swiss watches, Italian designer clothes, French wines, American jeans, etc.), however, to survive, most brands will need to go global. This requires a common brand essence that transcends country borders, supported by products and marketing programs individualized to the needs of specific countries and regions.
What, at the moment is the biggest threat to brand equity?
There are many. Here are some of the more serious threats:
•A driving focus on quarterly profits to the detriment of brand and product investment. (One manifestation of this is focusing marketing dollars on sales promotion rather than brand building, providing an immediate sales lift at the expense of brand equity. Another way this plays itself out is when companies gradually and incrementally lower product quality while raising prices over time. Categories in which this has occurred have experienced major price corrections. Witness Marlboro’s Black Friday, the rapid emergence of deep discount greeting card stores (from 0% to 20+% of the total U.S. market in just over 5 years), Malt-O-Meal cereals, and HMOs.)
•As all brands within a category increasingly deliver against most category benefits, the consumer becomes indifferent between brands and makes her purchase decision based primarily on price. (Brand managers must continually refine the brand positioning, especially as previous points-of-difference become points-of-parity.)
•Senior managers lose track of what the brand stands for and what makes it different in the marketplace.
•Brands make a promise in advertising but then don’t deliver against the promise at its points of contact with consumers.
•Hollow brands, ones that have no soul, no point of view are quickly vanishing.
Are brands losing their power as consumers become less deferential to authority and more interested in personal ritual and creating their own lifestyle?
Brands are less able to make hollow claims these days. Brands must have a strong “point of view” and they must be authentic, consistent and trustworthy. Only then, will they win the hearts and minds of consumers. The Blake Project’s research shows that brands must deliver the following five attributes to survive in today’s marketplace: awareness, accessibility, value, relevant differentiation and emotional connection.
People will use brands that reinforce their chosen persona and lifestyle, but the brands must be authentic.
Our additional thoughts…
•All product categories and brands are experiencing greater price pressure due to increased retailer power and manufacturers’ ability to more quickly “reverse engineer” and match competitors’ products.
•Commodity categories (categories in which price is the only basis of competition) lack strong brands. Often the problem is the lack of brand vision and relevant differentiation.
•Brands provide manufacturers greater bargaining power with retailers. This is one of the few ways manufacturers can shift leverage back to themselves. With strong brands, they can maintain a relationship with the consumer and exert some influence on her shopping behavior.
The Blake Project Can Help: The Brand Positioning Workshop
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education