Branding has been my fascination for long time and here I wish to revisit the Branding in its contemporary context.
According to popular mythology, it began with the great ranch-owners and cattlemen in the wild-west. They were literally ‘branding’ their cattle, communicating a clear message to others which said, “hands off, this is mine.” From the ranch owners to the producers of consumer goods, at the most basic level, the branding has always been about asserting ownership.
But now the very meaning of the word ‘brand’ has become much more broader and sophisticated. To the cattlemen, a brand was simply a mark—no more, no less.
Generally speaking, a brand is a name, term, sign or symbol or design or a combination of them which is intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors. But again this view of brand puts the emphasis on asserting the ownership, in other words to differentiate the source of supply. This is the point where business tends to get hooked up with.
Seeing a brand from different vantage point, it is something of intangible values created by a badge of re-assurance. The brand is no longer synonymous with ‘mark’, but it makes it instead a bigger, but more abstract concept. On a much deeper level, a brand is an assortment of expectations established by seller that once fulfilled form a covenant with its customers.
Eventually a brand complements the hard features of a product with intangible elements such as heritage, status, elegance, exclusiveness, belongingness and so on. That’s why all companies wish to develop a brand with a set of associations that differentiate it significantly in the customer’s perception from various competing brands. But even this differentiation would be rendered meaningless unless it is the ‘value’ of the brand that is differentiated, and is perceived to greater by the customer himself.
Thus, while we think of branding, our real job is:
- To try to manage the customers’ perceptions and beliefs about our company, products or services as best as possible;
- To build on those perceptions which add value to the products or services in questions; and
- To try to eliminate those perceptions which don’t;
- To keep the brand’s value relevant in the light of changing consumer lifestyles and changing competition.
Here is one point worth consideration, i.e., the ownership of the brand, resides now in consumers’ minds and that the consumer will resist anything which contradicts his beliefs about that brand.
A brand aims to segment the market we operate in. After all, brands are a part of marketing strategy which is aimed at differentiating the supply. A good company would always seek to fulfill the expectations of a specific group of customers better. They do it by consistently and repeatedly providing an ideal combination of attributes of products or services—both intangible and tangible, practical and symbolic, visible and invisible—under conditions that are viable for the company from its economic point of view.
Good brands are built up by persistent difference over the long run. While starting, the name of our brand is just a non-sense word attached to a new product; but year after year, it would acquire a ‘meaning’ composed of the memories of past emergent communication and products, of course their consumption. Thus the element of time-factor and the element of ‘competition’ are too vital for the success of our brands. When a new company, product or service is launched in the market-place, it’s mere a ‘me-too’ situation. Our competing brands would most likely follow the suit, especially if they don’t want to fall below the expectations of the market. In this scenario, the role of brand-name become highly important –it has got to protect the innovation—it creates a kind of mental patent, for the company (seller) and its customers. A good brand would always designate something unique. The brand name makes the innovation exclusive and protects it against imitations.
Remember, new products are introduced, they live and then eventually disappear, but you know very well—brands endure. The consistency of this creative action is what gives a brand its meaning, its contents and character. Creating a brand would always require time and identity.
A good brand is a ‘living memory’. The contents and the character of a brand grow out of the cumulative memories of product, its experience, its advertising, but only when they are governed by a ‘unifying idea’. The way in which our customers are introduced to a brand creates an anchor in their memories that would shape all their future perceptions.
But a brand is both the memory and the future of its products. The brand memory develops what would contain the program for future developments, the attributes of later models, the characteristics they would have in common, their family resemblance and their individual brand personalities as well. This is the reason why the famous and well-known bottle of Coca-cola has been printed on its can-version.
As mentioned earlier, a brand becomes credible through endurance and repetition of an objective quality-level. It generates an implicit contract between the brand and its customers. It guarantees that what customers see is what they get, means, the customers would get the product in terms of what they expect out of that particular brand.
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