Branding elements are the foundation of a branding strategy and help distinguish a brand from its competitors. There are several elements that are important in distinguishing a brand. These include brand personality, brand image, brand identity, brand differentiation, brand positioning, brand communication, brand loyalty, and brand equity. Analysis of these elements will allow marketers to understand the performance of a particular brand.
The branding elements described in the sections below are critical for a successful branding strategy.
Successful brands acquire a brand personality over time, which is a set of human characteristics that is associated those brand name. Consumers “assign personality traits to products”—for example, rugged, romantic, rebellious, or sophisticated—and choose those brands that are more in line with their “desired self-image” (Kerin & Hatley, 2017, p. 304). Marketers can instill a brand with a personality; for example, Pepsi’s personality traits include exciting and young, while Coca Cola is real and all-American. On the other hand, Harley-Davidson portrays defiance, masculinity, and individualism (Kerin & Hartley, 2017).
The five key dimensions of brand personality include the following (Imagibrand, 2017):
1. brand competence—Is the company branding its expertise? The attributes represented by this brand personality are success, intelligence, expertise, and reliability.
2. brand sincerity—Does the company have a genuine brand? The attributes represented by this brand personality are honesty, wholesomeness, genuineness, and cheerfulness.
3. brand excitement—How daring is the company’s brand? The attributes represented by this brand personality are daring, playfulness, spirit, and imagination.
4. brand sophistication—Would James Bond ever use the company’s brand? The attributes represented by this brand personality are poise, elegance, and charm.
5. brand toughness—Can the company’s brand stand against the competition? The attributes represented by this brand personality are potency, forcefulness, power, and ruggedness.
The American Marketing Association (AMA) (n.d.-b) defines brand image as the “The perception of a brand in the minds of persons. The brand image is a mirror reflection (though perhaps inaccurate) of the brand personality or product being. It is what people believe about a brand—their thoughts, feelings, expectations.”
There are two conventional—but incorrect —wisdoms about brand image (Johansson, 2009):
1. Brands are only important for luxury products. The typical reasoning behind this misconception is that luxury products are hedonic (i.e., not bought for functional utility).
2. Brands are not at all important for B2B products. The typical reasoning behind this misconception is that business buyers are coldly rational and are not influenced by emotions.
Research has shown that even utilitarian product choices are influenced by brands., and the driving force is competition. When competition is intense, all products will soon offer equal functional advantages (benchmarking, “me-too” strategies, follow-the-leader, etc.). Accordingly, the one sustainable advantage is the brand image. Anything can be differentiated and branded, even a commodity such Butoni or Barilla pasta (Johansson, 2009).
Brand identity refers to the distinct and relatively lasting characteristics of a brand. A brand tends to have an appealing and solid identity when consumers perceive its identity as more distinct and prestigious (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2003).
Creating a company’s brand identity involves more than designing its logo. A brand identity is both emotional and visual and communicates trustworthiness and relevance. Building an effective brand identity takes many years of perpetual tweaking and hard work; however, it is crucial to the success of the company. When it comes to creating and maintaining a brand identity, every small detail counts. It is a delicate task of following the company’s core values, while simultaneously being able to adapt to changing market forces and trends. This task is difficult for even big multinational companies (Jansen, 2018a). Remember how Kodak failed to adapt to changing market conditions?
A strong brand identity can help a company succeed (e.g., Apple and Amazon). This success requires a strong focus and strict brand guidelines to maintain the company’s brand and keep it elevated in the face of the changing market forces. In order to do this, companies are advised to heed the following guidelines (Jansen, 2018b):
· Keep things simple and focus on their core values.
· Be flexible and adapt to changing market trends.
· Follow data, but do not ignore emotion.
· Do not jump on market trends without thinking of the bigger picture.
· Do not wait too long to rebrand themselves.
· Do not ignore market trends.
Building a strong brand is crucial to success in today’s business world, and strong differentiation is necessary to build a compelling and powerful brand. Brand differentiation is the means by which a company’s brand is set apart from its competition, by associating a superior performing aspect of its brand with multiple consumer benefits (Carter, 2014).
Brand differentiation is related to a company’s corporate reputation. There are several elements of reputation, including a good customer service, packaging, prompt response to problems, and product-specific comments, that consumers seek when buying. These elements not only provide a basis on which the company can improve its reputation, but also help it differentiate itself from the competition. Corporate reputation may be enhanced by different activities that are closely related to the vertical differentiation of a product, such as technological innovation and a strong brand image. On the other hand, a solid corporate reputation may also help to differentiate a brand. Companies are increasingly recognizing consumers as their most important asset in building an estimable corporate reputation (Vahabzadeh et al., 2017).
In this era of globalization and hypercompetition, companies need to rethink the way that they manage their customer portfolio, as well as how they interact with their customers. Fader (2012) stresses that customers are an asset (customer equity) that should have a place on a company’s balance sheet. The author defines customer equity as “the sum of the customer lifetime values across a firm’s entire customer base” (p. 62). Since every company’s objective is to maximize its overall equity and since customers are perceived as an asset (customer equity) that is an integral part of the company’s overall equity, the company should dedicate the necessary resources to maximize its customer equity (Fader, 2012).
Employees are another crucial factor in enhancing a company’s reputation. They may help differentiate the company from the competition, as consumers evaluate the corporate reputation that is behind the product and brand presented to them. Accordingly, many companies use their corporate reputation as a vital resource in developing their strategic value. Reputation includes corporate social responsibility, innovativeness, and honest communication, which customers subconsciously convert into brand differentiation of the company’s products (Vahabzadeh et al., 2017).
Brand positioning is the designing of a company’s offering and image to occupy a distinct place in the mind of the target customers (Kotler & Keller, 2015). Brand positioning is the sum of all the marketing activities that position the brand in the target customers’ minds relative to the competition. Positioning does not create something new or different, but rather manipulates the mindset (Ries & Trout, 2001).
Positioning is a crucial stage in a brand management strategy. A good brand positioning strategy helps in the development of new products, communication, market expansion, pricing, and the selection of the distribution channels (Fayvichenko, 2018). Brand positioning is a process of creating the brand’s own image, values, positive associations, and distinctive properties in the customers’ minds in order to create a sustainable brand image and ensure consumers’ attachment to that brand (Fayvichenko, 2016). Today, brand positioning is perceived as a process that begins with the design of a trademark position; however, it is “difficult to specify the essence of positioning when its ultimate goal is not clearly understood” (Fayvichenko, 2018, p. 245). To understand the essence of brand positioning, it is crucial to determine the ideal position of the brand. A clear representation of the ideal position of a brand is a “prerequisite for researching positioning as a target process and developing a system for evaluating its effectiveness” (p. 245).
Ideally, a brand will be positioned so that the customer has positive associations with a brand, is convinced of its unique advantages over other brands, and considers the brand to be of high value or a necessity. This brand-supporting customer is convinced that people who buy other brands are making the wrong choice, considers it a duty to recommend this brand to other consumers, and feels a spiritual unity with consumers who have chosen this brand (Kendukhov, 2008).
Accordingly, Kendukhov (2008) perceives brand positioning as a process of managing the perception of a brand by a customer. The purpose of this process is “persuasion of the consumer in the unique advantages of this trademark over other brands; formation of the consumer’s exclusive affiliates with this trademark; formation of the consumer’s sense of the indispensability and vital necessity of the brand; formation of fanatical devotion to the brand; raising a sense of duty to recommend this brand to other consumers; forming a sense of spiritual unity with consumers who chose this brand; forming a belief in the consumer that other consumers who buy goods under other brands make the wrong choice” (Fayvichenko, 2018, p. 246).
The value of a company’s brand may rise or fall with its brand communication. Even strong brands must communicate their values and core benefits to the customers in order to sell. Successful brand communication involves satisfied employees and enthusiastic customers. Companies used to communicate their brands using PR and advertising. Nowadays, customers and company employees define the reputation and reality of a brand. They discuss their experience with the company and its products around the clock using social media. Trust plays a crucial role here, and is only built up when the customers receive a consistent and credible brand experience. Employees help a company earn its customers’ trust if they credibly communicate the brand’s values and positioning (BrandTrust, 2018).
Social media provides an array of constantly changing brand communication tools in the corporate world, which play a crucial role in how customers research and share information, and learn about their brands. Similarly, companies use social media networks for the advertising and sponsorship of their products and services brands in order to develop trust and create sustaining relationships with their customers (Khadim, Hanan, Arshad, Saleem, & Khadim, 2018).
Social media comprises well-built platforms that have a significant and substantial impact on brand loyalty. Customers use social media as a tool to communicate and respond quickly to each other at any time (that information moves much faster on social media compared to traditional media). In addition, social media allows a company to send its brand messages to multiple audiences and collect their recommendations. This feature is crucial, as markets and customer preferences, needs, and wants change quickly, especially in this era of globalization. Social media allows a company to judge how its customers think about its brand and what they want from it. It also enables the company to make improvements to its brand and think forward to anticipate changes in customer needs and preferences (Khadim et al., 2018).
Consumers usually benefit from branding, and trademarks may help them shop more efficiently, as they avoid brands that they dislike, while buying the brands that they like most. Brand loyalty is a favorable perception of, and the consistent buying of, a certain brand over time. The marketplace has been dramatically changing in the past decade thanks to advanced and cheaper communications technologies, which enable consumers to make better choices and share their buying experiences with others, worldwide. Consumers are now increasingly dependent on the internet to acquire information and compare brands before buying. Consumers can easily shift brands if they believe that they have not been treated fairly by a certain company (Kotler & Keller, 2015).
AMA (n.d.-a) defines brand equity as “the value of a brand. From a consumer perspective, brand equity is based on consumer attitudes about positive brand attributes and favorable consequences of brand use.”
According to Johansson (2009) brand equity is “the value of the positive associations that consumers have with a product’s brand name. These associations often involve emotional attachments, affinity, positive brand image, and brand identity. They also involve cognitive factors such as familiarity, knowledge and perceived quality, as well as social factors including peer-group acceptance. When these associations turn negative (as in antiglobalization sentiments against global brands) the brand equity can go down very quickly.”
Brand equity is basically the added value that a brand gives to a product beyond the functional benefits that it provides. Brand equity provides competitive advantages; for example, Mercedes Benz implies quality. A second advantage is that consumers are willing to pay more for a product with a brand equity. Here, brand equity is represented by the premium that a consumer is willing to pay for a certain brand over another when both brands provide similar functional benefits. Acura, Infinity, and Lexus cars enjoy a price premium that arises from their brand equity (Kerin & Hartley, 2017).
Brand equity takes time to develop and is carefully crafted and nurtured by marketers who forge unique, strong, and favorable experiences and associations with the brand. Brand equity resides in the consumers’ minds, and results from what they have seen, heard, felt, and learned about the brand over time. Brand equity is not quickly or easily achieved (Kerin & Hartley, 2017).
Financial brand equity is the monetary value of a brand in terms of net revenues the brand is expected to generate over time, across all country markets. The set of assets linked to a brand name include the following (Johansson, 2009):
· brand name awareness
· brand loyalty
· perceived quality
· brand associations (in the consumer’s mind)
Financially lucrative brand licensing agreements may arise from brand equity. Successful brand licensing needs a thorough marketing analysis to ensure compatibility between the licensor’s brand and the licensee’s products. Companies such as Ralph Lauren, Disney, and Luxottica eyewear earn millions every year from licensing their brand names to others (Kerin & Hartley, 2017).
Why are global brands often the most valuable assets of a global company? Global brands are important because product differentiation is difficult to sustain. Accordingly, global brands become the most sustainable competitive advantage. Global brands have become more important because financial brand equity is strongly correlated with global reach (Johansson, 2009).
AMA (n.d.-a). Brand equity. Retrieved from https://www.ama.org/resources/Pages/Dictionary.aspx?dLetter=B
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