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Good, solid brand starts with a strong foundation

Readers will remember this column from March, which discussed the value associated with a brand and the branding process. Once companies understand that branding is a necessary (and profitable) part of doing business, the next logical question is — how do you brand?

Tactically speaking, there are numerous ways to go about branding. The look and feel of the communications, the balance of advertising versus public relations versus grassroots, the media used, etc., all reflect tactical aspects of the branding process. However, these are only vehicles used to brand, and do not inherently lend themselves to developing a brand, per se. To ensure a good, successful brand is the methodology used to develop and/or refine the brand in the first place. In other words, just like a building, a good brand starts with a strong foundation.

Every ad agency worth its salt has a “proprietary process” used for brand development. These processes are often called by various names — Brandwheel, 360 Branding and the like. Each agency brings a unique prospective to the brand process, adding valuable insight, such as informed objectivity, expertise and consumer behavior knowledge. However, regardless of the process used, sound branding practice begins with addressing five key attributes present in any effective brand: uniqueness, relevance, credibility, sustainability, and practicality.

Uniqueness

The average American is exposed to approximately 3,000 advertising messages per day. That means everything from the logo on your watch, to product placement in television and movies, down to traditional commercials and print ads. And all this static is in addition to children, family, job and various other aspects of everyday life that are constantly vying for attention. To break through all of the clutter, a brand has to stand out, has to be memorable — it has to be unique.

We tell clients that people remember two types of advertising — the really good and the really bad. The rest are lost amidst the thousands of other mediocre ads out there. Obviously, you want to be remembered for the really good advertising. The same is true for the bigger picture of branding. Folks remember really bad brands, and the really good ones. The rest tend to be also-rans.

Relevance

This attribute seems like a no-brainer, but it is an important check-off. If a brand is positioned in a way that has no bearing in the life of the audience, then how can the audience be expected to develop an affinity for the brand? A favorite hyperbole of mine that illustrates this is the “Quiet Beer.”

Let’s say a company develops a beer that pours more quietly than any other beer on the market. It may be true, but why do I care?

In this industry, we often talk about “hot button issues.” This simply means we have to ask the question — what is important to the audience that can be reflected in the brand.

If a brand addresses “hot button issues,” then it will be relevant.

Credibility

Things can be true, but not necessarily believable. For instance, Kia brand automobiles could spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the development of a luxury car that rivals BMW in every aspect. However, it is a good bet that such an endeavor would fail. At the very least, Kia could only command a fraction of the retail price of BMWs. The Kia brand has successfully positioned itself as a low-cost automobile maker. People would simply not believe the company had produced a car that was on par with BMW.

The lesson here — don’t let your business stray from your brand. Once credibility in your brand is lost, it is near impossible to regain it. Just ask Arthur Andersen, WorldCom or Enron.

Sustainability

This factor represents the most significant difference between advertising and pure branding. An advertising campaign is finite, while a brand should theoretically be credible and relevant forever. The core values inherent in a brand should reflect core human values.

For example, Nike’s core value is achievement. McDonald’s core value is convenience. CitiBank’s core value is financial security. These values will be as relevant in 2055 as they are in 2005, which gives the brand consistency, staying power, and the ability to build consumer loyalty.

Practicality

This area is probably where most ad agencies have been the least diligent, and the best ad agencies excel. A dynamite branding/marketing program can be developed, but if the program cannot be executed within budget, or does not match corporate culture, it is not practical and will not succeed.

In these situations, the results are under-funded campaigns, and/or campaigns which have no internal buy-in. Either one equals a death knell for a branding effort.

Working your way up

So there you have it, how to build the foundation for an effective brand. These five attributes represent only part of a successful branding effort, but it is a very important part.

As any builder will say, a fine house will never stand on a shoddy foundation. The same is true with a brand. Just like building a home, start with a good foundation, and work your way up from there.

Tim Mask is vice president of brand planning and development at Maris, West & Baker advertising in Jackson. He can be reached at tmask@mwb.com.

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