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Building Successful Brands

Building Successful Brands

As marketing and brand building efforts face new and increased pressure to demonstrate ROI of their spends , it is important at the outset to define expectations that are set from these functions. To me brand building needs to deliver the following to an organization:

1. Above average business performance - revenue, growth, margins: Brands have to grow revenues and profits at above-market rate or else the efforts and resources on branding will be highly questionable. The Top 100 global brands are known to deliver at least 20% more return than market average to investors.

2. Ability to grow in existing and new markets: Brands have to pave the growth in not just existing markets but also new ones. Learning from domestic markets, brands are able to penetrate new markets much better. Global brands like Nike, Coca Cola etc are able to grow in mature markets through innovation and in new markets by adapting to local needs.

Learning from domestic markets, brands are able to penetrate new markets much better. Global brands like Nike, Coca Cola etc.

3. Build respect and trust with all stakeholders: Through performance and integrity, brands should be able to gain and retain the confidence of all stakeholders – customers, employees, investors, government, and communities in which they operate,

With these expectations set, how does one define the characteristics of a great brand? Broadly a great brand has the following attributes:

  • An aspirational air about it – a deep desire amongst large number of customers to own the brand or at least get a slice of the brand. For e.g., it is always aspirational for everyone irrespective of the income levels to own a Mercedes Benz . The customer therefore fulfills his desire to own the brand at the first opportunity he gets.

  • Have a strong emotional connect – stand for something beyond a functionality. Colas are a mix of water, carbon-di-oxide and sweetener. But through constant communication they are able to stand for many emotional connects such as happiness, fun, friendship and energy.

  • Give air cover to organization when under competition onslaught – Under pressure from competition onslaught, great brands are able to buy time from the customers through the emotional connect built over decades. Bajaj Hamara Bajaj campaign ran for several years as the brand was trying to protect its share in the two-wheeler market faced with competition from motorbikes.

  • Have customers as advocates and spread great word of mouth: with the advent of social media, the spread of word of mouth has become faster and easier. This is more emphatic in the case of B2B markets.

  • Cogently articulated and communicated to all stakeholders: Integrated marketing communications to ensure that the brand has the same communication through all media to all stakeholders.

  • Stand the test of time and environment – durability in facing tough market conditions: Many brands ranked in the list of global top 100 lists are over 50 years old.

  • Driver of the category – grow the markets, innovate and guide other players: Great brands do not complain about saturation in their markets. They find innovative ways of growing the market. Being the usual first interests, they benefit disproportionately in a growing market.

  • Relevance in global markets:. Brands like SAP and Tata are able to grow globally catering to markets in different stages of evolution and thereby peculiar demands. Global brands are able to negotiate the terrains very well.

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In the effort to build brands, are there pitfalls to avoid? Yes, Several!

  • Poor understanding of customer needs in a category: The biggest blunder a brand can make is not knowing what its customers need and building brands around these inaccurate understandings. This pitfall can assume geometric proportions in categories such as food brands. A prominent food products manufacturing company launched an evening snack meal, made of rice and vegetables which was meant to be a short meal between lunch and dinner. The test market chosen was Tamil Nadu. The brand was a massive failure as it went against the palette where people do not consume rice for dinner.

  • Inconsistent messaging to stakeholders: Some brands speak to different audiences with messages which are radically different, creating massive confusions to audience as well as to brand managers.

  • Overestimating the strength of the brand: If a brand has performed well for a few years, complacency may set in. Poorly planned brand extensions, disproportionately large media spends, mindless brand acquisitions etc are a fall out of this.

  • Narrow definition of the brand and what it can do: Indian Railways is a classic example. The largest employer in the world, it has defined itself as a transporter of people and goods on railroads. Why cannot it think of being a travel service provider covering all aspect of tourism and holidaying? Given its reach and influence in the deepest corners of the country, it can multiply its reach several times over.

  • Inaccurate or insufficient measurement of brand performance: Many brand managers are of the opinion that their work is more art than science. Hence creativity, innovation and lateral thinking are what they should do as brand custodians. This is a great approach except that it should come at the altar of analysis and study of how the brand is performing. Market research, sales data analysis, consumer touch points etc are very critical to sustenance of a brand and should be done at regular frequency.

  • Promise and not deliver on value proposition: This is fatal. Inducing trials alone cannot be the task of marketing. Ensuring a seamless customer experience from awareness to customer advocacy of the product are crucial for success

  • Trying to be everything to everyone: This is somewhat contradictory to the defining of a brand and could be partly due to arrogance or desperation on the part of the brand custodians. The customer in his multiple touch points is unaware of what he has to perceive from the brand. For e.g. many kid brands advertise ahead of late night horror shows. While this might be because of poor media planning, it still has an adverse effect on the brand perceptions by customers

  • Not learning from the environment: The markets are always changing. In the last 10 years we have seen seismic shifts happen in the Indian market. Changes in consumer behavior, proliferation of media especially penetration of social media, increased spending power, global brands etc have influenced the brands tremendously. A brand manager has to take into account these factors while planning the brand strategy everyday. There are no excuses or leniency for a marketer who wishes to grow his brands.

About the Author

Sunder Madakshira has 22 years in leadership roles in Sales and Marketing positions across B2C, B2B products and Services.