Five key drivers to assure consistently strong brands.
As we look back over our years of branding experience, we've discovered there are key drivers that consistently create strong brands. Using several brands that recently ranked in CoreBrand's Top 100 Powerful Brands as examples, we've culled some specific tips for building (and maintaining) a powerful brand.
Spend more - Great brands spend more aggressively on advertising. According to a recent report from Kantar Media, while advertising expenditures declined overall in 2013, spending among the 10 largest advertisers for the first nine months of 2013 increased by 6.4%.
Although not a stand-alone strategy, advertising is a way to help increase a brand's power because it enables that brand to control the message and therefore, communicate more distinctive, emotional benefits. While other companies may be able to mimic product or service attributes, the combination of an organization's culture, personality and processes inform how those products and services are delivered. As the foundation of advertising messaging, this more emotionally driven approach helps create differentiation, favorability and lock-in.
Say less - After suggesting you spend more on advertising, simultaneously suggesting that you say less may seem counterintuitive. We understand that increased advertising helps you speak in more places — in magazines, on billboards, and online. However, saying less enables you to focus what you are saying in those places on the pure essence of your message. Hone your communications to just a few clear, simple and believable statements. And repeat them consistently and with frequency.
Strong brands have high familiarity, meaning stakeholders understand what a company does in totality. Consider PepsiCo as an example. Currently No. 7 on the Top 100 Most Powerful brands, PepsiCo was for a long time perceived as solely a beverage company. However, recent communications have made a concerted effort to communicate the company's better-for-you strategy that, in part, includes its successful snacks division. Clearly, this powerful brand understands that familiarity must go beyond name recognition to achieve more comprehensive understanding of the organization as a whole.
Build trust - Our most recent Top 100 Most Powerful Brands notes that while distrust in brands is declining, trust has been slower to recover. This is especially true when it comes to trusting management, a key factor in building and maintaining the favorability necessary to become a powerful brand.
Nowhere is this trend more apparent than within the financial services sector. Financial services buyers indicate that what's most important to them are softer variables, such as trust, transparency and accountability. In an industry crippled by controversy and distrust, there has been a keen understanding of this buyer tendency and a collective effort to rebuild the trust of consumers through communications. Perhaps as a result, companies including Charles Schwab, JP Morgan Chase, Merrill Lynch and American Express all saw advances this year in terms of their brands' power.
Perform well - Here, we speak not only of your financial performance, an important component of the favorability required to being a powerful brand, but also your operational performance. Strong brands require follow-through, and the internal processes and culture that enable your employees to live the brand and deliver it consistently to your customers.
New to the top 100 list and improving 25 positions to No. 91, Amazon was the highest gainer in part because the company understands performance. Always known for its superior customer service and for giving employees the freedom to make the right decisions for customers, Amazon has recently topped itself. Take for example, the company's “Mayday” feature incorporated in its latest Kindles. With the press of one button, customers can access a real person, in real time with real answers. It doesn't get much more powerful than that.
Be transparent - In the absence of a proactive message, customers create their own based on experience or hearsay. In today's age of social and viral media, arming your customers as brand ambassadors has become alarmingly more important. Delivering consistent and pervasive messages is the first step. Taking responsibility and offering a track record of honesty increases trust and favorability - and is yet another means of building a powerful brand.
For instance, Unilever's Ben & Jerry's customers can easily find the following statement on its website: “Ben & Jerry's is proud to stand with the growing consumer movement for transparency and the right to know what's in our food supply by supporting mandatory GMO labeling legislation.” Yet, the company goes on to acknowledge that this is a process; it will not be able to source all non-GMO ingredients immediately, but are committed to doing so over time. The ultimate result is that consumers feel heard and valued, and Ben & Jerry's has generated brand power through transparency.
As the midpoint between art and science, branding requires both creativity and practicality. Consider these key drivers as you build your brand.
James R. Gregory is founder and CEO of CoreBrand, a global brand strategy, communications and design firm headquartered in New York, with offices in Los Angeles and Tampa. He helps clients develop strategies to improve their corporate brands and profitability. Gregory has written four books on creating value with brands: “Marketing Corporate Image,” “Leveraging the Corporate Brand,” “Branding Across Borders” and “The Best of Branding.” Contact him at [email protected].
This week's column was co-authored by Beth Flom, brand director, CoreBrand. Beth can be reached at [email protected]