linked in facebook twitter rss

  • Interbrand
  • Brandchannel

your chance!
your chance!


     Vincent Grimaldi de Puget  

What Is Branding?

Branding is the foundation of marketing and is inseparable from business strategy. It is therefore more than putting a label on a fancy product. Nowadays, a corporation, law firm, country, university, museum, hospital, celebrity, and even you in your career can be considered as a brand.

As such, a brand is a combination of attributes, communicated through a name, or a symbol, that influences a thought-process in the mind of an audience and creates value.

As branding is deeply anchored in psycho-sociology, it takes into account both tangible and intangible attributes, e.g., functional and emotional benefits. Therefore, those attributes compose the beliefs that the brand's audience recalls when they think about the brand in its context.

The value of a brand resides, for the audience, in the promise that the product or service will deliver. Clearly, a brand can recall memories of a bad experience. The value for the audience then would be to avoid purchasing that brand.

From the perspective of the brand's owner, the value of the brand often lies in the security of higher future earnings, but may also be assessed in terms of votes for a politician, career for an executive, foreign direct investments (FDI) for a country, etc.

In conclusion, branding is the blend of art and science that manages associations between a brand and memories in the mind of the brand's audience. It involves focusing resources on selected tangible and intangible attributes to differentiate the brand in an attractive, meaningful and compelling way for the targeted audience.

Brand management then becomes the organizational framework that systematically manages those customer-centric processes. It aims at gathering intelligence, allocating resources, and consistently delivering the brand promise over time at each contact-point with the customer.

Coca-Cola, for example, has become a cliché of brand management. Before branding or even management emerged as disciplines, the Atlanta-based company was already spending over US$ 11,000 on a mass advertising campaign as early as 1892. Its trademark was officially filed in the US that year and has consistently been displayed with the same script to this day. Over time, it also associated its brand with a bright red color, the hour-glass shaped bottle (1915) and the ribbon logo (1970). Together these aspects contribute to differentiating Coke from rivals such as Pepsi-Cola, which has applied a competitive pressure since 1898.

Is Branding Different from Naming?

Naming is a subset of branding. Any combination of sounds, or phonemes, can compose a name, and perhaps be unique enough as to identify a product or service without ambiguity. But that is not enough to make it a brand.

For internal purposes, engineers or designers often use code names to identify their projects, such as PN96. To become a brand, however, a name has to be able to fit in its audience's memory in a way that will make the brand's attributes recalled. Thus, "PN96" turns out to be the best selling vehicle in the US, the F150 truck, "Built Ford Tough."

Nevertheless, naming is a critical step of branding, and it would be a missed opportunity to leave it to Tarzan or the CEO's spouse. Deprived of access to the Brandchannel, Tarzan sought common nouns from his limited vocabulary to name his adopted son and quickly ended up with "Boy." Little he knew! If new parents cringe at the idea of getting the new name past their mothers-in-law, brand managers have to deal with a long battery of naming tests (and eventually the CEO's mother-in-law). On the bright side, a well-chosen name can be so powerful as to become a one-word commercial. It is especially critical for small businesses, which often lack of the necessary marketing budgets to promote their brand effectively.

The story of a small business of California marvelously illustrates this situation. Until 1991, the airport of San Diego, California, was served by Supershuttle, the franchise of a largely undifferentiated shuttle operator. Its brand experience was no more than four wheels under a van, lacking any emotional appeal. As a result, even former customers arriving at the airport were about as likely to call a competitor, such as Sureride. That was good for the competition, but not for Supershuttle.

Loaded with debt, the operator filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, restructured its balance sheet, left the franchise network and changed its name. Since its phone number was 1-800-9-Shuttle and San Diegans live in a corner of paradise, the name Cloud-9-Shuttle came to mind. (To be on "cloud nine" means to be in paradise.)

At first, the new name seemed crazy and unbusinesslike, but it was clearly differentiated and San Diegans came to love it. Bearing its new identity, Cloud-9-Shuttle flew out of the rubble to quickly grab a 75 percent share of the local shuttle market.

Does Branding Apply to Us?

The concept of branding applies to any individual, organization, product, or service, as long as there is a transaction between human beings. Indeed, branding relies on fundamental principles of psycho-sociology – essentially the way our memory processes, stores, and recalls information. Not to actively manage one’s brand name is therefore the equivalent of putting one’s head in the sand and wishing for the best.

Many law firms, for example, assume that branding would negatively impact their reputation. However, branding should not be confused with television commercials. Whereas relationships and quality work are still fundamental to the success of a law firm, brand management can help a law firm in many ways, including (1) making clients more loyal to the firm as a whole than to specific professionals within the firm; (2) communicating a focused message to attract new clients, who increasingly shop around for razor-sharp legal expertise; (3) retain talent and attract bright new graduates, for whom the reputation of a firm is often an important non-cash factor.

Along the same lines, branding can usefully help David defeat Goliath when an asymmetry of resources makes the battle seemingly one-sided.

In 1981, the mighty IBM Corp launched the IBM Personal Computer -- the smallest IBM computer to date -- at the aggressive introductory price of $1,565. The IBM PC became an immediate success and an industry standard, epitomized as Time magazine's 1982 "Man" of the Year.

Apple Computer needed something radically novel to counter the new IBM PC. Unfortunately, Apple's own new products, the Apple III and Lisa, missed an opportunity to make much of an impact and were received with a cold shoulder. Working with Frog Design, an industrial design firm, Apple decided to wrap its innovative technology into an equally innovative product design that would contrast with the boxy IBM PC. This collaboration gave birth to the original Macintosh, which is now part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

There are branding steps that can have a considerable impact on revenues without the need for big budgets, such as the brand positioning strategy, the naming of the product, the packaging design, the delivery process of a service, the consistency of the brand experience at each contact-point with the customer, to mention a few.

How Long Does It Take to Build a Brand?

It takes as much time to build a brand as it takes a person to build a reputation. The difficulty is not as much to perfect a strategy as to be focused, differentiated, and consistent everywhere, every time. Will it take one, five, ten or over twenty years? That essentially depends on the memory and openness of the brand's audience.

For instance, it took about 15 years for Nike to build one of the strongest global brands, thanks to (1) a focused brand positioning, (2) consistent 360-degree delivery, and (3) its association with All-Star basketball player Michael Jordan. BRS (Blue Ribbon Sports) first used the Nike brand in 1971, and introduced the Air Jordan in 1985. By then, all the pieces fit well together, from the brand strategy to the product's air technology to distribution in over 40 countries. Revenues soared from about $1 billion (1985) to over $9 billion (1997).

Nike truly distinguished itself in its ability to deliver a consistent message across 360 degrees. Indeed, over a long period of time, Nike consistently delivered its brand message at each contact-point with its customers, from product, to advertising, to distribution, to merchandising, to website. For example, fans of Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls could enjoy a remarkable consistency between Niketown and Nike's TV commercials, as the gothic atmosphere depicted on the small screen could also be experienced three-dimensionally by the visitor at the Niketown store on North Michigan Avenue in the Bulls’ hometown.

How Can Non-marketers Contribute to Branding?

Marketing and its sister branding are too important to be left to marketers alone. In a corporation, it is everybody's business to be cost-conscious as well as customer-driven. In fact, it is the purpose of brand management to transform a company into a customer-centric organization to the point where the traditional walls that separate functions become permeable.

In a customer-centric organization, management can thus be defined as a discipline of action that integrates holistically all the corporate functions to deliver systematically value to customers beyond their expectation.

Although the development of a brand strategy typically involves a limited number of executives and their aides, the successful implementation of a strategy is everybody's responsibility. Indeed, a major source of failure in the attempt to build a great brand is the lack of consistency among all the contact-points with the customer. In such a case, the brand message makes a promise on which the organization does not fully deliver. A sure way to ensure that the customer will consistently enjoy the brand experience is to implement processes throughout the organization.

In the demanding hotel industry, for instance, the Ritz-Carlton has demonstrated that -- with customer-driven targets, metrics, and processes -- the same high quality of service can be delivered all over the world, day after day.

Although the word process may connote something cumbersome, most processes can be (and should be) simple to the point of becoming second nature. As such, processes become like the syntax that children learn to align words into meaningful sentences. They allow entire organizations to communicate with their customers more effectively and convincingly.

Readers may also enjoy What Makes a Brand Great by the same author, and brandchannel’s Glossary for helpful definitions of branding terms.     



Vincent Grimaldi de Puget is a leading brand strategist. He is a partner at GRIFIN PARTNERS, focusing on capital investing and business restructuring, and a visiting professor at US and European business schools.

 commenting closed Add Social Bookmark bookmark  print
 suggest topic  recommend ( 31 )  email

  brandchannel home archive   2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  |  2005  |  2004  | 2003  |  2002  |  2001
Dec 22, 2003 Are We Still Lovin' It? -- A.K. Cabell
  What is McDonald’s strategy for getting back to the business of international success?
Dec 15, 2003 Will E-Government Click with Its Constituents? -- Stephen Gardner
  Electronic services cannot grow without attracting the public on more than just functional benefits.
Dec 8, 2003 Products that Rise Above Their Corporate Brands -- Edwin Colyer
  How important is the corporate brand compared with the product brand? We may request our Prozac by brand name but do we care who makes it?
Dec 1, 2003 When Imposters Knock Off Profits -- Diane O’Brien
  From street corners to websites, knock-offs rip off fashion brands.
Nov 24, 2003 Low-Carbs: Are Brands Losing It? -- Dale Buss
  Food and beverage brands deal with the latest trend to hit the industry: the low-carb frenzy. Is it time to throw your entire product line down the trash disposal over a trend?
Nov 17, 2003 Hip Marketing: Targeting a New Audience -- Randall Frost
  Medical product brands are skipping trials and heading straight for a jury of their patients.
Nov 10, 2003 Is Bologna Bologna if It's Not from Bologna? -- Michael Standaert
  The EU brings trademark law to the table as it cracks down on the generic use of terms such as Parmesan, Burgundy, Chablis, Bologna, and Feta.
Oct 27, 2003 Navigating the Economic Upturn -- Dale Buss
  Baby steps or giant leaps? As the economy slowly improves what’s the best strategy for your marketing plan?
Oct 20, 2003 Taking Advantage of Women -- Edwin Colyer
  Would you like a loyal customer from cradle to grave? Pharmaceutical companies are missing out on opportunities for a long-term product line for women.
Oct 13, 2003 Are French wines screwed? -- Emilie Boyer King
  Is France’s reputation enough to sell a brand of wine? Or is this strategy causing French wines to slip behind in global sales?
Oct 6, 2003 Made where? -- Ron Irwin
  English roses grown in Kenya, American skis built in China, Italian shoes made in Romania? Home brands insist offshore production is the only route for survival.
Sep 29, 2003 Turning Over a New Leaf? -- Edwin Colyer
  We care about our staff and the environment… right? Are businesses really improving their records on environmental responsibility? Or is this cynical marketing at work?
Sep 22, 2003 Who Is Securing Your Identity Online? -- Randall Frost
  Brands from to IKEA have exposed sensitive customer information on their websites. Are these events hindering the growth of e-commerce?
Sep 15, 2003 Pharmaceuticals Go to the Dogs -- Edwin Colyer
  Do consumers want the same drugs as their dog? Some like Pfizer offer animal and human products all under one brand. Others like Merck and Eli Lilly prefer to keep man and beast separate.
Sep 8, 2003 Can Bosch spark its OEM brand? -- Brad Cook
  Could OEMs in the automotive industry apply the Intel Inside approach to their products?
Sep 1, 2003 Are Your Employees the Solution? -- Edwin Colyer
  Is branding a waste of your company’s money?
Aug 25, 2003 Viral Marketing: It's Infectious! -- Randall Frost
  Is your brand contagious? Some brands promote through viral marketing and let their customers do the talking.
Aug 18, 2003 Promoting Brand Allegiance Within -- Edwin Colyer
  Can your employees behave on brand? Brand management is nothing without internal buy-in.
Aug 11, 2003 Marketing Beauty Products From the Inside Out -- Dale Buss
  Brand owners dig deep to bring skin care to the surface of consumers’ minds.
Aug 4, 2003 Me Incorporated: Your Own Magnetic Brand -- Randall Frost
  Is there power in a personal brand?
Jul 28, 2003 Samsung Shows its Strength -- Robin Rusch
  Five years ago Samsung Electronics was a cheap Korean brand; today it’s a quality name that climbs to number 25 in Interbrand and BusinessWeek’s top global brands survey.
Jul 21, 2003 Taking a Closer Look at Your Customers -- Edwin Colyer
  Ethnography breaks the boundaries of conventional branding.
Jul 14, 2003 PR Stirs it Up -- John Karolefski
  Move over advertising and marketing, the spotlight's on PR.
Jul 7, 2003 Will the Wireless World Connect? -- Vivian Manning-Schaffel
  Cellular service providers vie hard to ring your bell.
Jun 30, 2003 Delivering Global Brands -- Edwin Colyer
  Global express distribution operators, like TNT and Exel, are consolidating supply chains to better service and win contracts with brands like Deutsche Post, FedEx and UPS.
Jun 23, 2003 Battle of Biblical Proportions -- Dale Buss
  Zondervan revises the New Testament and faces a challenging marketing effort to convince readers that it’s still a Good Book.
Jun 16, 2003 Can Hip Hop Cash In? -- Abram Sauer
  Courvoisier, Burberry and Mercedes have all gotten the hip hop treatment. What if that placement were planned and paid for?
Jun 9, 2003 Pushing Pills to Those Who Pay the Bills -- Edwin Colyer
  Since most patients don’t choose their drugs, pharmaceutical brands typically target physicians, but should these brands be targeting healthcare payors as well?
Jun 2, 2003 Celebrity Endorsements Reach for the Stars -- A.K. Cabell
  Can celebrity endorsements knock out the competition?
May 26, 2003 Membership Has Its Privileges -- Brad Cook
  The epitome of brand loyalty can be seen in a phenomenon called "brand communities."
May 19, 2003 Can Tobacco Brands Extinguish Their Bad Rap? -- Elen Lewis
  Do tobacco companies have any hope of shedding their evil image?
May 12, 2003 Brands That Go Places -- Patricia Tan
  Forget the passports and plane tickets, did you pack the guidebook?!
May 5, 2003 Who's Filling Gen-Y's shoes? -- Dr. Pete Markiewicz
  Surprising developments among the so-called Gen-Y or Millennial market in the US could point to future trends worldwide.
Apr 28, 2003 All Sweeteners Are Not Equal -- Dale Buss
  The substitute sugar wars are not sweet.
Apr 21, 2003 Crash Course in Auto Branding -- John Karolefski
  Is safety a compelling brand attribute when it comes to car purchase decisions?
Apr 14, 2003 Brand Leader -- Edwin Colyer
  How closely is the CEO linked with the company's brand?
Apr 7, 2003 Happily Ever After? -- Dale Buss
  Looking to ally forces in a co-branding relationship? Match-making is a skill fraught with pitfalls, but done right it can expand market and grow opportunities.
Mar 31, 2003 The Brands We Love to Hate -- David Liss
  What can we learn from the brands we just can't stand? WWE, Jerry Springer and NASCAR aren't as far from Tiffany's or BMW as we may like to believe.
Mar 24, 2003 The Side Effects of Going Off Patent -- Edwin Colyer
  Can pharmaceuticals retain their brand equity after brands go off patent?
Mar 17, 2003 Do Online Ads Boost Brands? -- Fiona Harvey
  Combine web advertising with tv and radio, and you've got an effective brand-building tool.
Mar 10, 2003 The EU Marks Its Territory -- Ed Meikle
  The European Union now offers trademark protection across its member states for managing your intellectual property.
Mar 3, 2003 Estonia and Belarus: Branding the Old Bloc -- Stephen Gardner and Mike Standaert
  Estonia's exercise in nation branding kick-started tourism and investment. How does Belarus compare and what can it learn?
Feb 24, 2003 Advergaming Scores -- Dale Buss
  Brands break through online clutter with games and contests to engage the consumer.
Feb 17, 2003 Life Saving Brands -- Edwin Colyer
  Are branded medical devices the next must-have accessory?
Feb 10, 2003 Google Ranks First: 2002 Readers' Choice Award Results -- Robin Rusch
  Our readers choose, Nokia, Target, LG and Corona as global and regional brands for Brandchannel's 2002 Readers' Choice survey.
Feb 3, 2003 Brand USA: Tarnished? -- Patricia Tan
  How is it that American brands do so well in Muslim countries, while Brand America itself is so tarnished?
Jan 27, 2003 Big Brand on Campus -- Dale Buss
  Smart brands head back to university, where a captive audience awaits them.
Jan 20, 2003 Down to the Core: Branding Not-for-Profits -- Patricia Tan
  Why should not-for-profits concern themselves with branding?
Jan 13, 2003 Is Advertising Effective in Brand Building? -- Robin Rusch
  Could it be that advertising is a very expensive waste of time in building a brand?
Jan 6, 2003 Urban Consumers Get Phat -- A.K. Cabell
  Can mainstream brands like Motorola tap into urban youth market through co-branding with brands like Phat Farm?