Organizations must strive to acquire and build up their internal competencies on branding. A strong brand is one of the most sought after strategic capabilities; it allows a company to compete successfully.
This article describes the Brand Maturity Model, which quantifies the degree of brand maturity in terms of management, development and promotion of brands within an organization. Companies can gauge the maturity of their capabilities to deliver strong brands into the market, using an audit exercise shown in the following model.
The Brand Maturity Model divides companies into seven levels of branding capabilities and each level normally corresponds with the stage of growth experience by the company. The more mature and systematic brand management and development becomes within an organization, the stronger the brand is in terms of its performance and contribution to the company’s success.
Level 1: COMMODITY PUSHERS
The first basic level is what we label as “Commodity Pushers.” Basically Commodity Pushers don’t own any brands. These companies may own registered trademarks to their products but they are not brands. (Brands possess certain market powers than just a name and a mark.)
Companies typically undertake activities that are related to sales and trading of products or services in their respective markets.
Level 2: SEED BRAND COMPANY
As the business of a Commodity Pusher grows, branding becomes an accidental activity that will be featured in the business. Apart from sales and trading activities, marketing comes into play as part of its activities to help push for better margins and sales. Marketing activities are also carried out to provide its customers perceived values to its products and services.
Awareness about its products and services also becomes important to help the company achieve its sales target. The management of the company realizes the importance of marketing and brand awareness to help them reach out to their target markets.
Level 3: START-UP BRAND COMPANY
Companies at this stage have strong consistent activities in marketing, promotion and sales. They have now established a market base and some degree of customer base that frequently buys from them. The ongoing marketing, promotion and sales activities are typically planned not on the basis to establish a brand in the market. They are a continuation or expansion from activities with positive results to sales from past trial and errors.
Due to this ongoing and consistent approach in some of the activities performed, the products and services inevitably establish an accidental brand image in the market. Companies begin to help shift their customers’ focus on the strengths of their brands. These strengths are mainly derived from functional aspects about their products or services such as faster time, more features, etc.
Management of "brands" at this stage takes the form of promoting the functional strengths of the products and services. Constantly you will be hearing these companies preaching "our strengths," "our differentiations," "what we have that others don't," etc.
Aside from marketing, the management of these companies begins to establish the importance of brand communication. Their product catalogues or communication channels start to become more aesthetically pleasing. These communications however lack strong identity and are typically not consistent in the way they are being presented across the organization.
Level 4: CONSCIOUS BRAND COMPANY
The management of the companies at this level begins to realize the need to have concise and properly defined brand identity. The brand identity will be developed so that it will be synergistic with the company's marketing and sales efforts. The purpose is to create and build the desired brand impression on customers and other brand stakeholders.
The management of such companies no longer tolerates haphazard management of the brand image and begins to scrutinize details of the presentation of the brand image in every communication channel.
The brand image is no longer an accidental event but that which drives how marketing, sales and promotions are to be performed. There will be some form of restrictions that will be imposed upon tactical planning and execution in promoting the brands. These companies will usually own some form of brand policies or brand identity guide books.
Level 5: MEZZANINE BRAND COMPANY
Branding now takes on greater strategic roles within the company. The management begins to allocate more funds specifically for brand building and brand research instead of just apportioning them from their A&P budget.
The management now demands in-depth data on how the brands impact the market. Intellectual property rights (IPR) become a concern to the company. Companies begin to explore more than just protecting their IPRs but also how to better manage and commercialize their potential.
Differentiation in the brands becomes more than just "nice to have" and "nice to see." Marketing and brand development activities are systematically planned and deployed to achieve specific strategic purposes. Brand awareness is relatively strong, thus more resources now are concentrated on developing the brands as the preferred choice in the market. Companies at this stage also start to begin investing in audit programs to gain better knowledge on how their brands are consumed and used.
Level 6: MATURE BRAND COMPANY
Branding is the leading thrust that influences every strategy that the company makes. The management team talks about implementing the brands' promises consistently and across all business operations. Investments in branding research, tracking, and audits are given huge budgets, and are usually geared toward making the brand interact better with its stakeholders.
Company profits and performance are strongly tied to how the brand performs in the market. Marketing activities are designed from a brand perspective. Brand trust and loyalty become important matters that are consistently focused upon. Brands now become the bridge that links customers to the company's financial performance. Matters with regard to infringement of IPR are taken seriously.
Level 7: LEADER BRAND COMPANY
Brand building means industry leadership for these companies. The brand governs the company, in what it does or develops, how it acts or behaves. Brands at this point have very high market value and are extremely influential, even across geographical borders. Consistency and internalization of brands in the company become important. Business processes and other brand related processes are often redesigned and improved upon to be synergistic with brand values, image and promises.
Employees and customers wear a proud badge to be associated with the brand. These brands possessed very strong market powers such as price negotiation powers.
Cseng Lim is Chief Consultant at EAST&URBAN Sdn Bhd, a brand systems company in Kuala Lumpur. EAST&URBAN designs, implements and deploys brand management and performance systems to help companies better manage and improve their brands' performance.