Brands first evolved as symbols stamped on barrels, crates or bags containing products. People became familiar with these “brands,” and sought to purchase those brands over others with less familiar names. Over time, brand came to stand for more than merely a company or its product. Reliable, consistently delivered products gained reputations that inextricably linked their names – their “brands” – to consumer trust in that brand. The brand stood for more than the product. It represented how consumers felt about or thought of the product.
What does a great brand do?
A strong brand:
- Guarantees authenticity
- Reassures delivery of a consistent, replicable consumer experience
- Taps into emotions to transform consumer experience into something personal and desirable
Truly powerful brands go a step further and become aspirational. Consumers buy or use certain brands because the brand feeds into a fantasy or value system that makes consumers feel better about themselves. The brand is perceived as delivering a benefit beyond the merely functional.
Consumers therefore see a strong brand as:
- Authentic, the “real deal” – not a cheap knock-off or generic imitation
- A reliable source that they can count on and trust every time they purchase
- Something they want because it makes them feel better or in some other way “improves” their lives
Great brands succeed on the strength of the emotions that consumers bring to the brand. These emotions result in consumers supporting and promoting the brand through consumer word-of-mouth and a positive media image.
Perceived value is one thing brand gives you. Actual share value is also strongly influenced by brand. About one-third of current corporate share value at any one time is based on brand-related issues, including reputation, familiarity, culture and other brand characteristics. Also, even as brand can drive growth in up markets, it also protects corporate value in down markets.
For all of these reasons, companies should regard branding as a must in their business planning. In fact, brand should drive all business decisions. A strong brand not only requires top-to-bottom support of the brand, but guides decision-makers toward intelligent choices that will help grow the brand over time, from hiring the right people to developing the best products to acquiring the most productive partners. The entire business strategy should be built around the brand.
Brand is not a band-aid to be slapped on a faltering business plan. Brand is not a cure-all for a company whose products are substandard or insufficiently innovative. But correctly developed and supported, and used as the driving force for business success, brand can elevate companies to the top of their industries, and keep them there.