In practice, you could ask yourself the following questions: Does my brand have any substantial positive impact on sales and market share (If market share is difficult to assess, consider your sales level against industry averages or against the estimated sales of your main competitors)? Does my brand hook our customer-base and make them loyal to the company?
If you answered "Yes" to those two simple questions, Congratulations! You most likely have a great brand and it is a valuable asset for your company. In the case of Coca-Cola, for instance, Interbrand values its brand at a whopping US$ 68.9 billion, ranking it “most valuable global brand.” The Pan Am name sold for over US$ 40 million, the Rolls-Royce brand for US$ 66 million, and Coca-Cola could probably borrow billions of dollars using only its name as collateral!
Building a great brand is therefore serious business, albeit a blend of art and science. Whatever your brand and its specific situation, the path to greatness remains the same and is almost entirely based on the way the brain stores, recalls, and processes memories. Considerable progress has been made in the last 15 years in this research field, to the great benefit of marketing and branding.
In a nutshell, great branding starts with a rigorous assessment of your audience and of the brand positioning in the minds of those people. What beliefs pop up in their mind when they think about your brand and its category? What are the good and bad memories coming back to mind? In the case of a car make, for instance, people may remember that this was the automobile of their first kiss, but they may as well remember a tire recall. In the case of a law firm, memory may associate with a painful divorce and broken family, for example. As it transpires, a brand interferes with a considerable level of noise in the collective memory of its audience.
As part of that assessment effort, great branding typically seeks to isolate a segment that would be particularly receptive to its message – to the point where those select few would champion "their" brand around them (remember the tattoos) – and have a strong direct or indirect impact on revenues. For instance, many companies – e.g., breweries – have successfully focused their marketing message on the heavy user of their product/service, e.g., those chugging an entire 6-pack in one sitting.
That group constitutes the marketing target, which is a much narrower subset of the economic target made up of all the people buying the product/service. The goal is to rally that economic target because they identify with your marketing target. In the case of Marlboro, for instance, many smokers buy that cigarette because it makes them feel independent and free like a cowboy, not because they are cowboys. As it appears, great branding is deeply rooted in psycho-sociology.
Great brands sell, and sell repeatedly! The fundamental reason for building a great brand is essentially to increase revenues relatively to the competition. However, branding can be tremendous fun, and therefore, it is easy to lose focus. It is focus that creates successful brands and helps businesses grow by, first and foremost, increasing sustainable sales and price premiums, but also by attracting and retaining the best talent, and facilitating relations with employees, suppliers, vendors, shareholders, and the community. A focused brand also helps internally as it creates alignment at all levels of the organization. Alignment is good in itself, alignment with the mind of the customer is even better!
Therefore, once the marketing target is mapped, great branding seeks to focus on one or two attributes in the mind of that customer. They should be "hot buttons" that will trigger the positive response being sought. The brand positioning strategy is then ready to be delivered at each contact point with the customer: product, advertising, retail, website, merchandising, toll-free hotline, PR, and recruiting.
For large corporations and partnerships, it seems that the three most difficult hurdles to overcome are (1) the tendency to manage by committee, which will dilute the positioning into a bland bouillon of clichés, (2) the difficulty to implement and coordinate the brand message consistently at each contact point with the customer, and (3) to maintain that consistency over time, in spite of the regular rotation of managers.
Nike is among the few brands that have successfully achieved this tour de force on a large scale. The brand positioning strategy has been remarkably well delivered 360 degrees over a long period of time. For instance, its 1990s dark gothic theme portraying man overcoming nature could be found all at once in its TV commercials, in its merchandising at the Atlanta Olympics, on its website, and at its Niketown stores. As a result of that marketing rigor, Nike and its fancy swoosh have joined the top global brands in less than two decades.
It used to be that Italian cars would have a hard time starting on misty winter mornings, and that Japanese electronic equipment was cheap and unreliable. Not any more! With the effect of globalization, competitors – wherever they are located – can now all acquire about the same technologies and management techniques at a reasonable cost. As tangible products tend all to offer similar functional benefits and high reliable quality, companies will now have to compete on intangibles such as customer service and branding to remain successful. Bragging about screen resolution, memory size, microprocessor speed, number of cylinders and displacement, will soon be a memory of the past, as product parameters get easily compared, copied, and imitated. Whereas the power of emotions will always make Apple think different, and Harley Davidson keep turning heads.
Orange, the European mobile company, is among the great brands that leads this movement to the point of leaving its telecommunication competition flatfooted in the last century. Even though Orange delivers a tangible mobile service, its message has always wandered away from the product. Loaded with emotion, Orange's brand message is actually all about life. Unlike any other in its industry, Orange has become a brand with a beating heart, a brand that lives.
Great brands are more than the sum of their parts. Coke is more than water, syrup, and bubbles. As a matter of fact, nobody really cares about what Coke is made of any more: Coke is Coke. When the memory is gone, the emotion remains. That's greatness.