Creating a Brand – Think Strategically
The importance of establishing a strong brand is not a new concept, but is currently generating a lot of interest in the business world. More and more, companies are realizing that in order to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive market they need a strong brand that creates a specific image in the mind of a potential customer or client. It takes more than a clever name and logo to establish long-term customer loyalty. A company’s brand should be a reflection of the vision, values, and philosophy of the organization. Two immediate examples that come to mind are Southwest and JetBlue. Both companies have done an excellent job of establishing brands that evoke a favorable image of affordable air transportation, with customer-friendly service, and an excellent on-time flying record. That would not have been possible without a lot of up-front soul searching and development of a specific plan by the founders of both companies.
Clearly, creating a strong brand requires a lot of thought. John Drachman is the head of The Drachman Group, a Massachusetts-based company that specializes in providing strategic marketing solutions for financial services companies. Drachman notes that branding means different things to different people, sometimes even within the same company. “It’s very complicated and emotional”, he says. When he is working with a company to develop its brand, he prefers to talk about “identity” which is an easier concept to work with. The financial services world has its own set of issues to consider when thinking about brand awareness. One important factor to consider is how the brand will be used. A company with a very strong, well-established presence in the market, for instance Fidelity, may find that broker/dealers who sell competing products may be reluctant to carry a fund product bearing that name. Under those circumstances a company may decide to develop products under an alternate brand that is not so directly linked. Drachman says that the further out on the wealth management curve advisors work, the less distraction they want from a brand name.
Drachman describes the major components involved in creating and developing a brand – what he refers to as a “strategic roadmap”. Essentially, there are three major elements:
1. Internal Investigation – What is being offered? Who is the target audience? What are the benefits to both sellers and investors? What image is to be promoted? How does this mesh with other internal brands?
2. Identity Development – Mission statement – what do you want to achieve? Concept development – what are the major elements of the brand? Development of talking points and marketing materials that tie into each element.
3. Launch Planning – What is the timing? What training will be needed? Development of public relations and marketing campaigns. Campaign plan for the first year.
One last thought from Drachman – “All good brands take a risk. There is no such thing as a safe brand”. Sometimes the most important step in brand development is to step back and take a look at the company with fresh eyes.
Establishing a brand also requires patience. Brand loyalty takes time to build. In their 2002 book, “The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR”, Al and Laura Ries compare the merits of public relations -v- advertising, and look at the importance of a strong public relations campaign in creating long-term brand awareness. While the authors recognize that advertising has the advantage of immediacy, they also draw a distinction between a fad and a trend, and note that “Brands that take off too quickly are likely to sputter out just as quickly”. This seems to be a wise distinction to keep in mind when embarking on creation of a brand.
It’s clear that companies that have established a successful brand have something in common. They had a vision of where they wanted to go and the identity they wanted to establish; they ascertained the need in their target sector; and perhaps most importantly, they shared their vision with the people who were going to make it happen, and made sure that those people understood its importance also. The two companies mentioned at the beginning of this article would not have the brand recognition and acceptance that they have today if the customer service representatives, flight crews, and maintenance teams, were not all committed to sustaining the integrity of the JetBlue and Southwest brands.
There are many elements that go into creating a successful brand, however, as John Drachman can attest, developing a strategic roadmap is an essential first step.