Tag Archives: branding strategy
A business invests time, resources and money building a brand over the years. Its image and reputation are sensitive matters which should be kept top of mind as they form perceptions on the mind of the consumer. This in turn drives revenues and noteworthy profits. Thus, it goes without saying that a brand is core to a company’s success. Moreover, the leadership behind it should be making methodical decisions to retain the brand’s reputation through diligent decisions and actions. Surprisingly, this is not always the case with some brands ─ primarily the people behind it, the brand custodians, along with their organizational culture.
So, What Gives?
The main reasons why a company may be neglecting its brand image includes:
- Bad products or service;
- Below average post sale service;
- Not delivering on promises or lying and over-hyping the features & benefits offered;
- Mixing and associating politics, race, religion, sensitive causes, and rogue individuals;
- Overexposure including not carefully vetting the licensees;
- Not delivering on a positive and effortless total customer experience;
- Lack of employee training, empowerment, motivation and not everyone being on the same page or common goal with customer centricity throughout the organization;
- Paying little attention to the noise and discussions made about the company/brand over social media.
Classic Cases of Greed, Over-exposure, and Negligence
Pierre Cardin: When the late 98-year-old fashion designer with the eponymous name passed-away, he left behind a legacy mixed with unique creativity, yet his name was overexposed on hundreds of products, from accessories to home goods. From an icon to a blemished brand whose prestige waned to oblivion. For over seven decades, he designed unique and unconventional clothes which pushed the boundaries of the acceptable. For example, he introduced his “bubble dress,” a short-skirted, bubble-shaped dress made by bias-cutting over a stiffened base. He would experiment with synthetic materials such as vinyl, and Plexiglas among other avant-garde textiles. He also introduced unisex fashion which were indistinguishable between man and woman.
Later, Pierre Cardin developed licensing agreements with several industries which put his brand name on a vast number of consumer goods, including cosmetics, pens, even cigarettes. He once amused that, if given the opportunity, he may even put his name on a roll of toilet paper. As a result of his practice, he eventually cheapened his brand despite the wealth it afforded him. The overall effect of making Pierre Cardin appear on a variety of items was solely to make habitually non-fashionable products appear high-end.
By the mid 1990’s with about 904 licenses globally, his licensing overexposure led to the devaluation of the brand. In 2011, he attempted to sell his business. Despite discussions with several potential investors, he did not succeed in that endeavor.
So why did Pierre Cardin chase money to the detriment of his brand? He answered this question while defending his strategy by stating: “I don’t want to end up like Balenciaga and die without a nickel — then, 20 years after I’m dead, see others make a fortune from my name.“
The moral of the story is that a fashion icon brand which wanted to exploit its reputation and expand beyond its in-house offerings, required a strategy of licensing with a selective and discerning manner.
Donald J. Trump and the family owned Trump Organization: The former US President and once renowned NYC Real Estate developer went from a hyped-up and aspiring luxury lifestyle brand to one presently looked-upon with disdain. He spent four years treating politics, diplomacy, the climate, and the well-being of his people as trivial matters, and in the process, alienated more than half-the country’s voters. The final nail in the coffin was the backlash from the Capital riot that he incited on January 6th, 2021. Timothy O’Brien, Bloomberg opinion columnist and the author of Trump Nation, on MSNBC News declared: “Trump’s brand is associated with violence, insurrection and hatred.” The headline in an Ad Week January 8, 2020 article, states: “Exclusive: Trump’s Name, Once a Brand, Is Now a Banner of Extremism.”
According to several people close to him, winning the Presidency to the WH in 2016 came unexpectedly to Donald J. Trump. He wasn’t quite up to the task for the job, other than the prestige and power bestowed upon him. While moonlighting as President of the US, Trump spent four years destroying two brands: his own and his Republican party’s. Consequently, banks, business partners, his lawyers, and political allies have distanced themselves from the former president. Much of his licensing business, which grew somewhat following the popularity of The Apprentice TV show, has reached a low point since he became president.
Outright Reject Creating Scams and Malfeasance
Moreover, as anyone who maintains an element of morals and ethics in the business world will acknowledge, scams and malfeasance are not a good brand-building strategy. Consider the extinct Trump University: an online education scam, the Trump Foundation: a scam-packed philanthropy, and Trump Network: a multi-level marketing and devious organization.
What Can You Do to Preserve Your Brand Reputation?
- Have a viable plan in place to build and preserve your reputation: It is not a onetime event, or a serious of occasional events but rather an ongoing process. Constantly monitor your brand. Be proactive vs. reactive to prevent issues from turning into a crisis.
- Develop an online strategy to spot increases in negative conversation before they reach bloggers and online media.
- Use social media to clarify customer misunderstandings, reducing overall complaints and building brand fans simultaneously.
- Keep an open-door policy and encourage dialogue with your employees to obtain any adverse issues before they get exacerbated.
- Apologize to customer complaints in a timely manner.
- Be transparent when handling client issues and avoid using pretexts.
- Use testimonials as these can help boost any image problems.
- Reward loyal customers and supporters by making them feel appreciated.
- Do not associate your brand with any rogue partners. Choose the charities, sponsorships and cause marketing affiliations carefully.
Finally, avoid being entangled with religion, politics or any other sensitive subject and institutions.
Complacency and insensitivity in your business should, by all means, be avoided let alone developing and retaining a stellar brand reputation.
To begin the new year, I have once again rounded up the ten most read/popular articles — this time for 2020. The following ten captured the most attention by numbers and from 152 countries in all. See them all below!
Your views are always encouraged including subject matter you think I should be covering more of.
THANK YOU for your readership and I look forward to feeding your mind with additional practical business food for thought this year which can be applied for timely results.
When you visit your local Porsche dealership be prepared to engage. Staff will talk to you about the total experience. This will invariably include discussing the firm’s racing pedigree and performance. In your
mind, you will be able to feel the steering wheel, smell the leather seats, and hear the roar of the engine. This car represents to you an exclusive club and you desire to be part of the privileged few. The brand also added its own private race tracks in several parts of the world for its customers to have exhilarating moments testing various models. Clearly, one does not buy a Porsche simply to go from point A to point B. In practice, you might use this care to commute to work, but this is not the incentive to purchase a piece of automobile and racing history.
Porsche is clearly a brand with authenticity and heritage. The principles shaping the consumer’s buying behavior go beyond intention. There is a sense of engagement in fulfilling a dream. It can be to make
a social status statement or a personal style choice. Whatever it is, it is not an unconscious choice. The codifiers are clear: This is who I am, and what I believe in. Ultimately, it can also articulate your sense of
self-worth and your emotional aspirations.
The most important emotional benefit in my view is that a product of this caliber and class expresses itself when the consumer can declare, “It suits my lifestyle.”
Lifestyle Brands Matter
Not every brand is a lifestyle brand regardless of whether it strives to portray itself as such. A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote more than a product with key benefits and
attributes. Note however that lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life”. It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand. Think of Ralph Lauren and you can readily see it is not about the clothes. It becomes an attachment like Porsche to an exclusive club in which you can be a member through emotional identification through use of the products in question.
Savvy companies understand these principles and look to keep the customer engaged. By doing so, they clearly forge the sort of long term relationships, which become the envy of their designated sector. Financial benefits clearly follow, but the raison d’être of the firm must back up its promotion for this to work effectively. One reason so many firms want to enter the lifestyle arena is profitability and high profit margins. Established brands can tap economies of scale when they launch new products at a cheaper cost to the firm. Surplus revenue can then be channeled into extensive advertising and promotion costs.
Building a Lifestyle Brand
Generally speaking, a brand that is designed for the lifestyle segment should have more emotional value to consumers. Features, cost, and benefits do play a role but by themselves they would be insignificant. There are companies that become a lifestyle brand by tying their product ranges to a distinctive culture or group. Marketing guru, Seth Godin labels this with the key word as a “tribe”. A classic case is Harley Davidson, who sells branded merchandise to customers whether or not they own one of the firm’s motorcycles. Other key lifestyle brands include Nike, Wholefoods, Red Bull, Hackett, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton among others.
In the electronics and computer industries, it is uncommon to have lifestyle products. However, Apple has broken this “glass ceiling” by its unconventionality with products which come with its seamless eco-system. Even its ubiquitous white headphones have become a fashion accessory and, some would even argue, a status symbol. The people who follow Apple and its “lifestyle” are clearly all obsessed in a way that the firm intended when it embarked on this well-thought-through strategy.
Lifestyle brands have clearly impacted on luxury brand management. The usual suspects such as BMW, Armani, W Hotels, and Rolex — just to name a few, have fostered commitment and loyalty with their promotional campaigns. These have given consumers an “associate” status with all that is glamorous. Just think of Daniel Craig and James Bond. Sales at Omega thrive on this “Bond engagement”.
The methods to reach a target audience require an integrated marketing/communication strategy. They clearly require taking into consideration and harmonizing the following aspects:
• Experiential Marketing;
• Grassroots marketing;
• Promotional tours;
• Sponsorship of lifestyle events;
• Lifestyle marketing on the Web: think Facebook;
• Viral video marketing;
• Social media/networking (blogs, chat rooms & message boards);
• “Interactive” is key;
• Mobile phone media, text messaging & applications.
Not Every Brand Can be a “Lifestyle”
New research from Kellogg at Northwestern finds that the strategy of traditional brands to reposition themselves as a “lifestyle” brand may fail. The reason is not rocket science: they simply fail to “bond” with
their customer base. “The open vistas of lifestyle branding are an illusion,” said Alexander Chernev, lead author of the study and Associate Professor of Marketing at Kellogg. “By switching to lifestyle positioning, brands might be trading the traditional in-category competition for even fiercer cross-category competition. Now they have to compete not only with their direct rivals but also with brands from unrelated categories.”
The study reveals how brands serve as a means of self-expression along with the limitations of expressing a consumer’s identity through brands. Moreover, the study uncovers customers’ desire for self-expression through brands is finite.
Forward-thinking brands are those which will continue to develop creative ideas and solutions that will allow people to interact with each other and explore, as well as share creative opportunities. Moreover,
those same brands will make it a strategic priority to add pleasure into the lives of their consumers.
To be sure, there are many excellent examples of lifestyle branding. Just examine the “hotel as lifestyle” creator, Ian Schrager. Since the 1970’s, as an entrepreneur, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of
Ian Schrager Company, he has achieved international recognition for concepts that have revolutionized both the entertainment and hospitality industries.
His passionate commitment to the modern lifestyle has been expressed through a series of pioneering concepts:
The hotel is no longer just a place to sleep. It is portrayed as your home away from home. This allows hotels to act like theater. Think of the boutique hotel or “cheap chic”, “lobby socializing”, the resort, or the spa.
His keen instincts for the mood and feel of popular culture were honed during the 1970s and 1980s, when he and his late business partner, Steve Rubell, created Studio 54 and Palladium. In 1984, they turned their attention to Morgan’s Hotel and introduced the concept of “boutique hotel” to the world, which is today one the hottest segments in hospitality.
The goal of a lifestyle brand is to get people to relate to one another through a “concept brand.” These brands successfully sell identity, image and status rather than a “product-service” in the traditional meaning of
If they are successful in capturing their audience, then they become legends in their own right. If you examine the published photographic testament to “Il Pelicano” in Tuscany you will understand perfectly the meaning of the lifestyle branding spirit.
Why are visually appealing products rare which make purchasing it a delight and worth talking about? Common sense dictates that product design should be attractive – perhaps possess sex appeal if the brand behind its product(s) seeks to make a sales impact. Although beauty is subjective, there are common standards of attractive packaging, which are smart and demonstrate the intrinsic value of the product’s attributes.
However, many will agree that smart design looks timeless, expresses character and is visually seductive.
Barring lingerie labels such Victoria’s Secret (now defunct) or Agent Provocateur – which in and of themselves will ooze with sexiness, most other brands and their products from non-seductive sectors can still create and possess a sense of styling along with desire.
A brand that caters to all the senses, begins with an appealing brand identity, followed by creative industrial design of its products – which are complemented with a positive customer experience in every touch point.
Artfully articulating what your brand and offering represent
Adding personality to objects and human interaction are quintessential to customer envy and desire.
There are brands that design and churn sensuous looking products. However, there is one that most will agree is top of mind for the refined consumer electronics market –- Apple. It’s all about the appealing logo, the attractively designed and “feel good” products, the alluring packaging, the intriguing ads, and the overall positive customer experience at their retail level, Needless to say, it’s a contemporary brand that undoubtedly gets it. It’s no wonder it created a strong following, or as marketing maven Seth Godin would describe as a “tribe.”
When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying into the brand repeatedly and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s image and reputation.
Product design is key to a great brand. Design is the elemental differentiator with competitors. Allure builds the emotional bond and turns owners into enthusiasts.
“It’s all about integrating design and brand,” says Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet Studio.
“We need to cease thinking of them as different disciplines. The essence of the Apple brand comes through its design. Take the logo off a BMW and you still know it’s a BMW.”
Design also needs to be part of the strategic plan from the start, embraced by the CEO and across the Board.
“A brand is not your logo or ID system,” says Robert Brunner, founder of the design shop Ammunition and author of ‘Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company.’
“It’s a gut feeling people have about you. When two or more people have the same feeling, you have a brand. You get that feeling via smart design, which creates the experiences people have with the brand. Everything you do creates the brand experience; ergo design is your brand.”
The holistic approach to customer attraction and retention
Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.
To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:
- Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
- Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
- Tactile – textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment. This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
- Olfactory – fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
- Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections. The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.
Creativity, quality, storytelling and above all, customer experience
Standard products and mundane user experiences don’t offer compelling reasons for consumers to do business with certain brands. If a business can’t articulate its USP (unique selling proposition) ‒ as to why anyone should do business with your brand, your product and/or service merely becomes a “commodity” whose price will be the sole determinant in any transaction. Being formidable and considered top of mind in your B2C sector requires a philosophy – a certain culture which will develop a following by consumers who share your values.
Quality materials, assembly and final product look increase a company’s competitiveness. The quality of a product may be defined as “its ability to fulfil the customer’s needs and expectations”. If the characteristics and specifications of a brand’s product line are equal or superior to its competitors, along with a fair price-value equation, the brand will turn out to be a preferred choice.
Storytelling, on the other hand, builds relationships by the stories that are well told. Stories add personality and authenticity to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands tend to boast their pedigree since their discerning clientele desire a deeper level of involvement and understanding of the history and heritage of the brand when it comes to their luxury purchase. This is referred to as “experiential luxury.”
It is essential that the sales professional be product proficient and adept at assisting and guiding the client to the purchase making use of flattery, romance and showmanship. To illustrate, when selling a niche automobile such as a Porsche, the sales consultant can talk about racetracks, describe road-holding capabilities, build-up a fascinating story – after which time he/she can bring-up reliability and the technical details which confirm to the discerning client what he/she is already aware of.
When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with it. They become brand loyalists and advocates – purchasing the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.
Be first, different & daring – above all, visually stimulating
Plan and execute flawlessly the following to differentiate and develop into, as well as remain an enviable brand through artistic design and function:
– The brand logo and company presentations should possess flair, consistency and be memorable;
– Focus on a specific target audience/niche market rather than divert to several markets or the general population;
– Innovative and “feel good” product design (both visually and tactile): Get inspired by designs from Philippe Starck, Pininfarina, Porsche Design and Bang & Olufsen. Architecture by Frank Gehry and the late Zaha Hadid and automobile design trends by Audi, Tesla, and in the last few years, Hyundai with its entire model makeup. Kohler Group doesn’t simply design functional bathroom and kitchen sinks and faucets, but rather bold designs and technology to an otherwise lackluster plumbing product sector.
Perhaps product customization and personalization should be available as an additional offering.
– As for service related domains, place emphasis on employee attitude/personality, empowerment, constant training, effortless accessibility for your clients, flexibility when solving issues and presentations with style, as well as finesse. Each and every customer should be treated with personal care – a sign of individuality;
– The Total Customer Experience: Be easy to do business with – accessible – at every stage of a transaction from initial contact/pre-sale, during the sale and post-sale (follow-through and customer service). Zappos, Nordstrom, Ritz-Carlton Hotels and American Express (to name some of the finest examples) are renowned for their obsession with customer service and total customer experience;
– Soothing sounds and striking visuals: Consider sound branding complimented with refined standout visuals (audio, images and video). Surround your brand and its products/services with fashion, beauty, design and attractive models – without any marks of tackiness;
– Packaging design should be visually appealing, distinctive, tastefully decorated, and equally inviting to open.
– Sponsor, collaborate and/or associate with a fashion related brand and/or the arts. Both brands can benefit from combined exposure (PR and advertising). Luxury goods brands such as Versace, Bulgari and Fendi have teamed up with property developers to offer upscale designer hotels. Their trademark at hotel properties, in a select number of affluent cities worldwide, offers their loyal clients something new to get excited about. It’s a collaboration which celebrates a shared fondness in design and luxury experiences.
– Create and own a captivating name and category for your product or product line. Luxottica, is the world’s largest eyewear company, controlling over 80% of the world’s major eyewear brands (eye glasses and prescription frames) including Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses, along with Chanel, Prada and many other designer labels. It re-invented eyewear which were once considered a “medical device” and developed them into a fashion statement. They no longer label their products as “glasses” but as “eyewear” and “face jewellery” (for a lack of a better term/descriptive);
– Marketing collateral and ads should be: (i) slick, (ii) minimalistic, (iii) emotional, (iv) portray a lifestyle, and (v) apply the “less is more” mantra. Arouse curiosity. Effective marketing campaigns should also include elements of: Imagination, Mystery and Memory;
– Be a visionary and innovate – anticipate what your sector will look like in 3-5 years and begin to plant the seeds/strategize in a timely manner. Avoid complacency. Blackberry is an excellent case study exemplifying what they should have done a few years ago to remain relevant amongst iPhone and the Android platform smartphones.
Lessons from luxury brands: creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment
Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.
It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.
A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.
Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market including prominent brands such as BMW (ultimate driving experience), W Hotels (avant garde designer hotels for a younger audience, along with whatever you want, whenever you want it, as long as it’s not illegal), Louis Vuitton (prestige and opulence), Rolex (representing the pinnacle of achievement; fulfilling and perfection in one’s life) and Aston Martin (power, beauty, soul and heritage). Those brands have given way to consumers to buy their products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol.
The final take: Elegant & intelligent design
Beauty and design in all things is artistic, engaging, stimulating and creates a sense of comfort. It’s also a very personal thing. Creativity is beauty in art form. It starts from nothing, utilizes mind exploitation, imagination then something awe inspiring is produced which stimulates the mind and senses. The approach to creativity is the way an artist might stand before a new canvas, on which a beautiful painting can be crafted. Staff who work in a creative environment should be given plenty of leeway to utilize their full potential – the freedom to flourish. Not doing so limits their artistic talent and deprives the company from taking a leap at the competition. Apple has successfully unleashed the talent from their product engineers by creating a non-stifling work environment. As for architects and industrial designers, they should definitely possess the talent and imagination to create and turn extraordinary drawings into reality.
Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. When Apple releases a new consumer electronic device, people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This is a result of Apple constantly building an emotional attachment to its products by managing the total user experience.
“Total customer experience” is not an option but rather compulsory as part of an alluring brand. It takes savvy planning, execution and perpetual refinements to stand above the crowd. It’s how you get noticed and remain relevant. Luxury brand desirability is driven by standout design, craftsmanship, as well as what is felt.
It takes vision, creativity and intuition, along with unflagging discipline and a sense of style, to keep a consumer focused company relevant and its products on everyone’s must-have lists. No brand should be complacent.
Once again, the ten most read/popular articles have been rounded-up — this time for 2019.
Thank you for your readership and much success to you this year.
- The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion
- Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly
- Genuine Luxury vs Accessible Luxury: Two Distinct Yet Opposing Categories
- Luxury vs. Premium vs. Fashion: Clarifying the Disparity
- The Luxury Brand Ranking and Consumer Accessibility Pyramid: What It Takes to Move Up
- Start-up Essentials: A Universal Roadmap for Starting a Business — Infographic
- Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions
- Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible
- Superior Customer Service: An Investment with Ample Return
- Catering to a “Luxury Lifestyle”: Definition and Execution
Much success this year and beyond.
When a brand reaches a stalemate, management is to blame for neglecting constant evolving market trends, competitive pressures and ignoring customer feedback. If sales turnout to be lackluster for several quarters, it may be time to consider a re-branding strategy and implementation. Investing and continuously reinvesting in a brand’s nuance will earn and retain consumer loyalty. However, it is not adequate to merely change the look of the logo through an image makeover. The promise it conveys must be delivered each and every time – irrespective if selling a product or service. The advice offered herein concerns a fatigued brand and its product(s). As for a damaged brand, due to a company crisis, it is a subject on its own not reviewed in this article.
Complacency breeds mediocrity
In business, as with any other endeavor, progress is an ongoing process. Nothing should be taken for granted. Undoubtedly, the most profitable and enduring companies achieve their longevity and lengthy track record of success by constantly reinventing themselves. Once a brand is launched, it requires constant nurturing if it is to remain relevant, as well as customer engaged. This includes seeing opportunities and acting upon them in a timely and focused manner. Moreover, being aware of making adjustments according to ever changing trends in the marketplace, as well as through customer feedback, is paramount. The tools in a company’s chest is marketing research which uncovers needed information for a thorough understanding of its target market including perceptions its customers have for the brand. As a result, its knowledge will be updated with regards to consumer preferences and expectations. Following this, a short-term and mid-term approach should be implemented.
Customer centric vs product centric
Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished via “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.
Building and sustaining a brand necessitates continuous enhancements by means of innovation and customer centricity. The marketplace is also evolving and the consumer is more savvy, thanks to the internet. Add to that competitive and price pressures. In addition, there is a massive shift in purchasing behavior of the younger target groups most notably the Millennials, who unlike their parents, are very particular in their tastes and purchasing habits. This is due in part to an expanding world of choices and options for just about everything they ever need or want. Thus, new market realities should be contemplated when re-establishing a brand.
Branding in essence is the heart and soul of the business. It sets a business’s products and/or services apart from the competition. This is particularly true in certain sectors where price is the only differentiator, though competing merely on price is a dead end game as your product falls into a commoditized category. The only firms which can win at this game are those in high volumes and low margins. Needless to say, it is much better to target a niche market, especially in the premium category, where there is less competition and margins are higher.
Examples of brands which overhauled their brand to a higher level, reflect on the following:
Hyundai: From dull automobiles and inferior quality they transformed to developing striking designs, improved quality and sold at attractive prices. Taking their brand one step further, they added a halo effect by creating a premium category, in Genesis to rival the well-established and pricier German competitors such as Mercedes, BMW and Audi models.
Apple: This strong brand began as a premium personal computer company with its first product, the Lisa, in the early 1980s. Much later, it introduced new and sought after categories in consumer electronics including the renowned iPhone. Fast forward to today, by hiring two former luxury domain senior executives and with the introduction of the Apple Watch, including an 18-Karat gold version (named Edition), the brand appears to be implementing a luxury strategy. Since perception and brand image is important in luxury distribution, Apple is considering opening separate stand-alone watch boutiques.
IBM: This brand went from computer manufacturing to IT consulting services. The company had to make a painful choice: innovate or die. It made the bold decision to abandon the core of its business model – selling low-margin personal computers, supercomputers and other computer hardware to a completely new focus – providing IT expertise and computing services to businesses. The business model revamp paid off. A few years in and IBM had acquired a significant number of companies in the IT services sector to dominate it with high margins.
To revamp a brand, consider carrying-out the following enhancements with purpose:
- Add an element of sensuality and desire: Read article
- Enhanced, appealing and easily recognizable identity: The logo, communication style, color scheme and any other visual elements of the company. Perception by its target market is key. Brand identity (company created and how it wants to be perceived) and brand image (what the consumers actually perceive) should be in sync.
- Improved product and service: It is not simply adequate to reinvigorate a brand without refining the company’s products and services which should also make a positive difference. Read article
- Compelling USP: The unique selling proposition should be meaningful and convincing if it is to be convey differentiation for the brand along with its products and services.
- Storytelling: Brands build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. For example, luxury brands boast their pedigree.
- Lifestyle brand: Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone. Read article
- Prestige or premium category: Move away from a commoditized product to a prestige and premium category if you want to differentiate as well as charge a premium price which in turn improve margins. Doing so should justify the “prestige” and “premium” labels through high-quality workmanship and materials along with benefits which trump its competitors. Adding a story behind it increases justifies the price increase. The brand may also be considered “mass luxury” or “masstige” (“prestige for the masses” and defined as “premium but attainable” by the masses.). Lacoste apparel is a fitting example.
- Social media and PR savvy: Engaging with your target audience – this is conducted through social media and requesting Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.
- Make it fun and effortless to do business with you: Make each touch point a pleasant and graceful experience. Hire for attitude and train for high standard of customer services including thorough product knowledge and a no pressure consultative selling approach. Read article
To add to the above, it is imperative to include a management team and subordinates who buy into, as well as apply the above-mentioned elements.
Image is perception – repositioning time
A brand should be sensitive to its image and equally mindful about what its perceived strengths and weaknesses are as compared to its competition. A SWOT analysis helps uncover these.
There are a good number of factors to recognize in regards to what can erode a brand. According to The Blake Project’s Brand Strategy Insider newsletter, an article entitled “60 Signs Your Brand is Dying”, it describes: “What kills a brand, more often than not, is what it lacks rather than what it does: conviction; energy; value; humility; cash; discipline; imagination; focus…” along with a list of 60 reasons a brand is dying. We witness this with the downfall of the Blackberry brand of smartphones. The executives at the company were so arrogant, that they did not initially see yet later ignored the disruption Apple and the now ubiquitous Android platform would bring to the smartphone market. As a result of Blackberry’s lack of a long-term strategy to outmanoeuvre its competitors, it hastily introduced new products which still left the brand two steps behind Apple and Google with its licensed Android.
The brand is the personality, as well as an (intangible) asset of the business since it possesses equity which in turn is its value and goodwill from a consumer perspective. The more valuable it is, the more can be charged for the product and/or service. The foundation of the brand is/are its product(s) and/or service(s), followed by the total customer experience ‒ which includes customer service. Thus, building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings.
A brand ought to undergo rejuvenation and in some cases, a fundamental change if it is to be relevant with its intended audience. To do so requires a systematic understanding of its typical customer profile, its wants, desires and the changing marketplace. This is done through a market analysis – the results of which will be taken in consideration for a new/updated and creative strategy with efficient implementation. If the brand has become stale, which is usually revealed through a steady decline in sales and discouraging customer feedback, it is a strong indication that its products and/or sales ought to be improved and re-launched.
In the end, can you frankly answer the following?
– What do you aspire your brand to stand and be relevant in the mind of your target market?
– What is your unique selling proposition?
– What is your raison d’etre? (Watch this immensely popular TED video by Simon Sinek)
– Are you admired?
– What are you doing to align your goals, objectives and to remain a compelling brand in your market?
There was a time when brands and their sales staff would tout the features of their products. This was most notable with consumer products and automobiles amongst other goods. “Our product has this and that” and “Our product will do this and that for you.” sound alike, but are distinctly different. In this day and age, the second one wins over customers by a long-shot.
Take the case of buying a watch. The function of a watch is to tell time. All watches do this. To differentiate, a watchmaker must bring something else to the table. For example, the Rolex Submariner has many outstanding features. Watch fanatics can recite the details like kids cite stats of baseball players. However, most clients want to feel elegant. They already know that a Swiss watch means high quality. The benefit of wearing a Rolex is to make the wearer feel like James Bond or Gianni Agnelli. The benefits are is style, class, and self-esteem.
People Buy Benefits Rather Than Features
Features of a product are considered a ‘good to know’, whereas its benefits are deemed more relevant to its users as “what I can relate to and need to contributes positively to my sense of self” sell not only the product, but the “idea” of the product. Since there is competition with virtually every product, brands should create interest to more than practical needs of potential customers. The brand’s product(s) must persuade customers to think that it/they perform better and offer a much better value than the competition. For example, Hyundai’s Genesis, through its advertising and sales consultants, stress ‘intelligent value’ when compared to the established premium auto brands like Mercedes, Audi, BMW and Lexus. The emotional benefits are what a brand/product ought to be targeting and appealing to. This would make the driver feel as if he/she has made financially and emotionally a wise decision.
As marketers are quite familiar with the term “sell the sizzle, not the steak”, in layman terms, it signifies that you’re not only selling the product, but the idea of the product.
What is Your Brand USP? Benefits Must Be Tangible
To begin with, a “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. A brand promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. A major part of this is what’s called the “Unique Selling Proposition” or USP.
Prior to launching or invigorating an existing product, the questions which should be asked are:
- What is our purpose?” and as a result: How is our target market going to benefit from our product?
- What will the brand and product stand for? How are they going to be positioned?
- What is the product’s intrinsic value? Perceived value?
- Is it going to be a lifestyle product?
Simon Sinek takes the aforementioned a step further with thought provoking questions. An accomplished author and adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world, in his popular talks worldwide, including TED, compellingly emphasizes the following:
“Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders, but not others? Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.”
Alternatively – Sell a Lifestyle and an Experience
Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone. Brands also build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands boast their pedigree and craftsmanship, amongst others.
Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or any new product launch such as the imminent iWatch. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.
It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.
A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.
The Final Take
If your product stands-out on its own because it functions splendidly and enhances its intended purpose, then it can’t help but be embraced by consumers without the artificial hype. It’s what they will talk about to others which is the most candid endorsement the product can earn. It’s equally important to sell the idea of a product as it’s to sell the actual product.
The key to success is to market your brand, not your product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with your customers. Branding positively adds value to your company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value.
A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote a more than a product with key benefits and attributes. Note however that lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life.” It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the brand.
One way to overcome the ‘price only’ differentiation, which erodes profits and does not generate loyalty, is for a company to consider building a lifelong relationship with each customer. To do so, requires that each customer enjoys a positive and hassle-free transaction with each touch point consistently every time.
Those in business should know the meaning of a “brand” (source: Investopedia”/ …a distinguishing symbol, mark, logo, name, word, sentence or a combination of these items that companies use to distinguish their product from others in the market.). Taking it further, a “brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
A brand is an intangible asset which may increase in value if the business is positively impactful. We refer to this as “brand equity” which is comprised of brand awareness (the level of familiarity with the uniqueness of a company’s products and/or services), brand attributes (are the practical and emotional links which are allotted to a brand by its clients and potential customers), perceived quality (the customer’s perception of the quality of a product and/or service of a particular brand), and brand loyalty (when customers turn into advocates and loyalists due to their favorable series of experiences).
To get an idea of the value of global brands, one only needs to consult the annual list of the most valuable brands compiled by Interbrand ─ a global brand consultancy firm.
Consumer trust is the company’s most valuable asset; thus it must be protected.
Brand building: the importance of transparency
The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster. Along with ethics, transparency affords many benefits to the organization such as higher business valuations when seeking investor capital, improved attraction and retention of high caliber employees, and scores of loyal clients. Companies which are forefront with their mistakes will be heavily rewarded. This is a trend called “flawsome.”
According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.
When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.
Faux pas or deceit?
Reputations and trust affect brand equity. They are more difficult to win back than to lose. To become a desirable brand, be easy to do business with, focus on efficient and hassle-free service and refrain from deceiving customers.
Unfortunately, these days we witness many companies, most are public, whose short-sighted strategies to spruce up profits, increase market share and maintain shareholder value, made the executives complicit in creating circumstances which resulted in cheating their customers ─ albeit discreetly. Nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is about their advertisement, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. Other brands take it further with their tiny print in disclosure statements – which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. Alas, the majority of consumers do not read small footnotes.
The following are a few examples depicting such cases.
Chobani, renowned producer in the U.S. of Greek style yogurt with a significant share in its category was recently taken to court by a group of consumers for its false advertising. The plaintiffs claim that Chobani’s nutritional declarations on its product packaging are deceptive and confusing. Instead of reacting cautiously, Chobani officials were condescending. In court, they blamed consumers for being naïve and unable to apply common sense when going grocery shopping. They went further urging the judge to throw out the case.
Canadian based large dairy and cheese producer Saputo thought it was a good idea to shrink the size of their milk bags rather than raise prices. After all, consumers would not take notice, was their thinking. However, what Saputo failed to realize is that consumers these days are savvier as they take the time to research online and elsewhere. They are also prudent where and how they spend their money – seeking the best value. Furthermore, people seek transparency with brands, let alone the ones they are loyal too. Consumers certainly do not appreciate deception.
Now Saputo is scrambling to win back customer trust and loyalty by investing millions in doing so.
British Airways, once the pride of the British as “The World’s favorite airline”, decided (their number crunchers take all the credit) without any advance notice to its passengers/customers, to eliminate long haul meals to Economy passengers for flights under eight-and-a half hours. Instead of the usual offer of a sandwich snack, the crew has been instructed to offer only one fun-sized chocolate six hours after their first meal. This frugal attempt has naturally infuriated customers.
General Mills, the food giant known for its breakfast cereals was not immune from a lawsuit claiming it misled consumers by marketing Cheerios Protein cereal as a high-protein alternative to regular Cheerios. However, the main difference was that the former new version contained 17 times more sugar per serving than the latter regular version.
The above brands have done nothing more than exploit their once devoted customers and having to reluctantly and awkwardly apologize in the end. They subtly make changes for their internal benefits while shortchanging consumers ─ and believing (more like hoping) they will not take note. Those type of moves certainly impact the brand and image.
In the end: building the value of the brand diligently
When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become loyalists and advocates – buying into it more often and recommending the brand to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation which in turn increases brand equity.
Transparency builds trust and loyalty – it’s what makes your audience believe you. The days when anything that was stated on ads was considered believable is no longer effective today. Social media is proving a fertile ground for breeding brand loyalty or where consumers can voice their frustration and dissatisfaction. George Orwell said something clever with his quote,” In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
A Sloan Review article makes an excellent point by stating that “brand is a “customer centric” concept that focuses on what a product, service or company has promised to its customers and what that commitment means to them. Reputation is a “company centric” concept that focuses on the credibility and respect that an organization has among a broad set of constituencies, including employees, investors, regulators, journalists and local communities — as well as customers.
Brand equity caters to customers and prospective customers alike as it measures marketing success in building and maintaining customer relationships. Alternatively, corporate reputation relates to who can help or hamper a company’s capability to achieve its strategic goals.
Measuring brand equity consists of brand audits, brand evaluation and brand tracking all three conducted by brand experts trained in this specific area. Interbrand is a consultancy firm which does this and publishes its annual most valuable global brands listing.
Managing brand equity requires brand reinforcement (through brand awareness and brand image), brand revitalization (increase product use, entering new markets, adding brand extensions and line extensions, re-positioning and seeking new markets) along with a brand management crisis plan for timely implementation (as in acting swiftly to savage reputation, recover lost sales along with consumer trust).
- Increased revenues and market share
- Increased stock price, shareholder value and sale value
- Increased awareness
- Increased customer loyalty
- Increased ability to attract and retain talented employees
- Increased employee job satisfaction
- Increased clarity of vision
- Increased profitability
- Decreased price sensitivity
- Increased ability to mobilize an organization’s people and focus its activities
- Increased ability to expand into new product and service categories
- Additional leverage with vendors and retailers (for manufacturers)
- Increased ability to organize effective disaster response and relief”
As for companies which place profits before their customers, an ideal illustration is the infamous pharmaceutical brand Mylan whose callous CEO, Heather Bresch, along with her executive accomplices sharply increased the price on their severe allergy EpiPen from about $100, when Mylan acquired the product in 2007, to approximately $600 which comes in a pack of two. This naturally caused a national controversy and public outcry. Following this development, Ms. Bresch hastily decided to reduce the out-of-pocket cost to patients but retained the skyrocketed list price. Shortly thereafter, the drug maker began to offer a generic version of EpiPen for half the list price of the brand-name remedy.
Due to its greed and short-sighted decision to increase pricing dramatically ─ most notably with a vital product it dominates, and whose principal acted in a condescending manner, the brand will suffer long-term trust and be scorned. Consequently, this may dilute the brand’s equity for some time. Incidentally, Ms. Heather Bresch heads the generic-drugs lobby and is the daughter of an American senator.
“Masstige” (a combination of two words: “mass” and “prestige” – aka mass with class) is a contemporary marketing term which denotes prestige for products perceived as luxurious and targeted to a wide range of customers known as the “mass affluent.” As per Wikipedia, the mass affluent are the high end of the mass market, or individuals with US$100,000 to US$1,000,000 of liquid financial assets, or consumers with an annual household income over US$75,000. These upper middle class individuals can afford to splurge on some of the finer (and affordable) things in life which include fashion merchandise, sporting goods, cosmetics, various accessories (silk ties, scarfs, small leather goods, perfumes etc.), high-end consumer electronics/gadgets, as well as culinary food and spirits. Brands in those categories depend on the “masstige” crowd for a majority of their sales, despite a few which also happen to be purveyors of inaccessibly priced products catered to the HNWI/UHNWI (aka the very wealthy or the 1% respectively).
This is purely an oxymoron and paradoxical since in the authentic luxury domain, “mass prestige” is an artificial term for “luxury” as it is not generally geared for the mass but rather the well heeled. Sadly, the true meaning of “luxury” has been bastardized by many brands who are falsely in the “luxury” business (in the true sense of the word and definition). However, there are luxury brands which have chosen to offer lowered priced products in a bid to join the “accessible luxury.” Think Coach with its leather bags and accessories or Chanel with its perfumes and cosmetics.
Defining the true meaning of the term “luxury”
Definitions of “luxury” vary significantly and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “luxury” is not the easiest to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.
Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:
“A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”
Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test as follows:
- Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
- Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
- Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle? (i.e. the product or service will enhance one’s experience through an exceptional appeal)
- Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?
- Does the brand offer authenticity?
Genuine luxury purveyors remain relatively small and select in their category. Ultra wealthy (UHNWI) consumers purchase rare luxury products because they seek to distance themselves from the mass through the emotional value of acquiring flawless and rare objects of desire.
“Aspirational” luxury, on the other hand, is another fancy marketing parlance which is generally defined as a brand that most want but only a fraction of them can actually afford it. Most cannot afford a $2000 bottle of vintage wine but may be able to occasionally splurge on a $200 bottle of one of the finest single malt Whiskey.
Identifying luxury sectors
Genuine Luxury is classically defined in three key segments:
1) Luxury Goods: Fashion & Accessories, Watches & Jewelry, Well-being & Beauty products.
2) Lifestyle Purchases: Automotive, Experiential Travel, Home & Interiors, Exclusive Alcoholic beverages (exceptional wines, champagne & spirits)
3) Private/Executive Jets and Yachts: An absolute category in their own right.
Brands which fittingly claim authentic luxury status
Few brands can really claim the trademark of luxury. It is those which combine allure with pedigree and quality attributes. Discounting is not part of their strategy and their entire raison d’être is geared to the UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth). Many of their products actually increase in value over time since they are either discontinued or necessitate a long waiting list/time.
Most notable authentic luxury brands are in the haute merchandise category:
Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Rolex and Cartier.
Other players to this core list include: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Gucci, E. Goyard, Charvet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bulgari.
Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Orient-Express and Cunard Line.
Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include credit cards with no limits, jet ownership, private plan charters, global concierge services and the like. Think NetJets and Amex.
“Accessible” luxury is a marketing notion, not a merchandise category
The concept of making luxury available to the masses goes against what true luxury is as
there is no such thing as accessible luxury ─ it is either luxury or it is not as “accessible” luxury is a marketing notion and not any product category. Think Michael Kors, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Godiva and Apple among others. Top luxury brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have accessible luxury with perfumes and cosmetics, sunglasses, as well as accessories (leather, silk scarfs etc.).
In marketing parlance, being coined as an “accessible” luxury good can be deceiving when the quality of materials is not quite at par as one would normally find in a “genuine” luxury product. For such companies, becoming too commonplace is a risk for such brands as they lose their cache due to a lesser price line, as well as risk their reputation for the sake of increasing their revenues. Then there are some non-luxury brands which use the codes of luxury strategy to grow their sales. Needless to say, many consumers will eventually catch-on that such products are merely a gimmick thus on their way to lose their luster.
“Premium” and “prestige” categories defined
If luxury brands are related to scarcity, quality and storytelling then premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodities in general: i.e. pay more, get more.
These brands are less ostentatious, more rational, accessible, modern, best in class, sleek design, and manufactured with precision. Beats headphones and TAG Heuer watches are a case in point and so is Audi and Lexus in automobiles.
“Luxury” and “prestige” brands respectively both have a similar status. Although some may disagree, in some cases, brands such as Mercedes-Benz automobiles, are considered to be both “luxury” and “prestige.” There are also brands which are either labelled one or the other. It depends how they are identified in the eyes of consumers.
Prestige brands offer a high level of innovation, craftsmanship ─ and with some categories, the finest ingredients or raw materials. Due to their well-established names, status and pedigree, they boast quite a loyal following. As a result, they can command premium prices which their clients do not mind paying for since they are made to feel special. Examples of some prestige brands include Breitling watches, Lancome cosmetics and Aston Martin automobiles.
The distinction between a prestige brand and premium brand is simply one of perception. In automobiles it is Cadillac and Lexus vs their German counterpart of BMW and Audi. In watches, it is perhaps a Rolex versus a Breguet and a Cartier.
On a final note
When it comes to lower priced supposed “luxury” products for the affluent masses, they are essentially “premium” products ─ otherwise known as “masstige.” The brands succeed at creating fancy designs and utilize expensive looking material to make their products appear very expensive which are then sold at a fraction of the price compared to genuine luxury brands in the same product category. Add clever window dressing and marketing and the result is that those products become affordable objects of desire. Unlike authentic luxury brands which are manufactured at their country of origin (mainly Italy, France or the U.K.), they are outsourced to low labour cost factories in Asia or Turkey. Despite this, they are given a premium markup which is intentionally done to create an aura of high value.
As long as there is a big demand for massitige products that its target market can afford and make them part of their social status and lifestyle, the category will be around indefinitely.
As a final point worth mentioning, at this day and age, there are luxury branding experts who claim that there are actually four categories of luxury: Old, New, Eco and Indie as exhibited in the following table (credit: David Sherwin). This translates into additional choices ─ categories to satisfy most desires.
When we think of brands, we mainly think of companies. It is not often that we think of educational institutions. However, with competition amongst them, whether in the private or public sector, many have begun considering its importance and value. As a result, they are developing and implementing branding strategies so as to distinguish themselves. Branding is a powerful differentiator and creates top of mind with prospective students who are considering where to apply for college, university or a vocational/trade school/polytechnic institute. Private elementary schools and high schools also play into the equation but with the parents of the students primarily targeted.
As personal branding has become ever popular over the years – most notably for professionals in the job market, as well as practitioners in private practice (consider physicians, attorneys etc.), post-secondary schools in particular are also taking branding earnestly in consideration. To name a few that undertook a branding project at heart, and as a result have become renowned, are Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, which describes itself as “immersed in business, engaged in liberal arts” and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. with its tagline, “Why not change the world?”. The for-profit institution of higher learning University of Phoenix, in Phoenix, Arizona, boasts its innovation in higher education which helped pioneer many of the conveniences that students now enjoy — evening classes, flexible scheduling, a university-wide academic social network, and an immersive online classroom which it has been offering for nearly 20 years.
As one would expect, educational institutions target diverse markets worldwide via their various programs offered. This makes their marketing messages all the more challenging.
Understanding privileges of Ivy Leagues
Pedigree, along with established high standards, unmatched curriculum, elite professors and lecturers and prestige, compel the Ivy Leagues’ inclination to seek only the top students for entry in their programs. Fewer than one out of ten students are usually accepted at Harvard, Stanford and Princeton for example. Prestigious and sought after colleges, trade schools and high schools can also be counted in following similar ranks holding on to their place in the top echelon which are also reflected by their exorbitant tuition fees. Parsons School for Design in New York City, the Career Training Academy in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) and The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville (New Jersey), respectively, have their own stringent criteria so as to retain their stellar reputation and cache. It is hard for the public schools to make such claims. This phenomenon is also driven by the plethora of applications received but with limited available places. It can also be stated that artificially set low admission quotas is vital to retain the brand prestige ‒ akin to authentic luxury brands production limits.
As a side note of interest, Ivy League universities have the most loyal, as well as wealthy alumni which contribute large sums of money as indicated by the universities’ vast endowments. By the end of fiscal year 2013, U.S. News’ three highest-ranked National Universities were Yale, ranked No. 3 with more than $20.7 billion in endowment monies, Harvard University, ranked No. 2, with nearly $32.7 billion, and Princeton, ranked No. 1, had nearly $18.8 billion.
Branding through emotional attachment and the total student experience
As universities and other educational institutions are having to confront challenges such as student enrollment, rising tuition fees, third party school rankings, and disruptive online course offerings such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), their distinction and relevance, amongst their rivalry, is in dire need of a jolt.
For starters, many institutions lack a target segment and a strategy on how they intend to reach it. Education is a knowledge service, thus a school’s campus facilities reflect its identity, whereas its teaching staff, administrative people, board members and alumni are a significant brand asset.
Branding is critical for success in any organization. It begins with the idea of what the organization will be perceived as. What do you want it to represent? What do you want your learning center to stand for? What type of image are you aspiring to portray? What type of students are you seeking to attract?
This brand promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer ‒ in this case it’s the student. The brand should include the Unique Selling Proposition (USP), positioning (What should the brand stand for among its target group?), personality (Traits the brand possesses that consumers/students can relate to) and define the entire organization by touching every aspect of it. Those are crucial factors that will make it truly unique. Successful branding methods and results can also get the organization out of the commodity trap and attract value in terms of higher tuition fees ‒ or at least justify the value of existing fees.
Articulating what the brand stands for and why it is better than the competition, is where a brand communications strategy and execution come into play. Commonly used methods of brand communications include advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management programs and public relations.
When students are delighted with their on-campus experiences, they begin to bond emotionally with the school. They become brand loyalists and advocates – transacting with the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the school’s reputation.
Key points: a university with a well-respected brand has an enormous advantage
An article in The Guardian newspaper’s blog entitled, “What’s in a name? The value of a good university brand”, includes questions such as “In this rapidly changing marketplace, university branding is about much more than logos. But what does this mean for students and the role of branding in higher education in general? These queries formed the basis of a recent Guardian roundtable, held in association with brand communications consultancy Purpose. The debate was conducted under the Chatham House rule, which allows remarks to be reported without attribution to encourage a frank debate. Consequently, the discussion produced recommendations compelling enough that they should not be overlooked.
The roundtable heard that universities looking to brand themselves successfully should:
- Focus on their core values, such as: academic integrity that links teaching, research and scholarship; business-friendly courses with employability appeal; and the positive student experience on offer.
- Target communications at parents as well as students.
- Involve academics as much as possible; their enthusiasm can often bring big dividends.
- Highlight student testimony in university marketing materials.
- Make the most of social media’s influence and reach.
Case Studies: a vocational education institute and a community college
New Frontier School Board Continuing Education (Montreal, Canada)
New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) Continuing Education, in a suburb in Montreal, Canada, wanted to bolster enrollment and student engagement. Over a period of 12 months, The Watershed Media conducted an extensive communications audit, developed the blueprint for an online and offline marketing plan, and executed an entirely new digital and social media strategy and brand outlook. From their discovery, they knew that the success of the brand hinged on fostering intimacy and dialogue between the school and its students. Whatever they did had to be honest, authentic and true to life.
- The Watershed injected the brand with a very personal narrative that celebrated the common theme of overcoming adversity and breaking through despite obstacles; a story that so many of their students shared in common. “I Choose Me” and the “Journey begins with you” were conversational brand elements that nurtured the empathetic quality that were the hallmarks of a school that was very student centered.
- They revitalized the school’s social media presence through staff training and engagement, strategic content direction and social media marketing.
- The website was built from the ground up and focused on reflecting a modern image that gave its users clear information, helped them make informed decisions about their future, and then act on those decisions through online conversion tools. The Watershed complemented student tools with community resources that would make the NFSB a valued asset to the communities it services. Site analytics are used to help refine content and define user experience in increasingly meaningful ways.
- Equally important was their work helping NFSB shift the marketing culture at the school and discover their shared capacity to influence change through everyday inter-actions.
Ramapo College of New Jersey (Mahwah, NJ, U.S.A.)
The brand strategy conceived and implemented by Words & Pictures Creative Service was to create an image campaign (print and radio, separate from the recruitment campaign) that would feature successful, famous, historical people who “could have been” Ramapo students. Shakespeare, Marie Curie, Andrew Carnegie, and Booker T. Washington were some of the role models who represented different schools in the College. This campaign elevated the College to a place where “some of the greatest minds in history could have started their futures” and where “the great young minds of today could start their futures.”
Results: Ramapo College experienced the following benefits and improvements over four years resulting in part from the image-building ad campaign:
- Follow-up Eagleton survey conducted four years after original survey revealed overall dramatic increase in public awareness and improved perception.
- Ranking in S. News & World Report moved to #1 public comprehensive college in the North for these consecutive years.
- Combined SAT scores rose from 1120 to 1180.
- HS rankings moved from top 24% to top 17%.
- Full-time residential undergrads increased from 52% to 60%.
- Retention rate from first to second year increased from 82.4% to 89.4%.
- Retention rate from second to third year increased from 68% to 74.8% to 80% currently.
- Graduation rate increased from 42.75 to 62.3% (well over national average of 50%).
- Numerous industry and CASE awards recognizing excellence in the advertising image campaign and other collateral materials.
- First-time donors increased by 35%.
In the final analysis
Educational institutions, whether in the youth sector, college level, vocational sector or in higher education/university ought to brand themselves succinctly to differentiate when communicating with prospective students, and perhaps with parents of students too. Needless to say, in the educational sector, the student is both the product and the customer. The service is the education delivered by its qualified educators. A well-crafted and compelling unique selling proposition (UPS), which the institution will consistently deliver upon, can give it a leg-up over its competitors in the category ‒ as well as build its brand. This is how a school creates well-earned attention, prominence and perceived value. It does this through its meticulous execution of its marketing and operating strategies, by way of a positive total student experience coupled together with its high academic standards. The approach is no different from a company selling apparel, food or hospitality.
Branding is an investment which offers the educational institution a distinction in competitiveness, awareness, a professional image and its reputation whilst adding equity to the organization’s assets. However, it’s a long term resource because it takes time to build a brand.
The practice of education branding building includes positioning. In this day and age change is a necessity not solely reserved for companies but equally important for schools – whether a university, college, vocational center and even in the youth sector (elementary and high school). Some may have require repositioning and re-branding. In the same way as the USP, this necessitates a well-defined (positioning) strategy so that the institution can build a consistent and successful brand in the course of time.
In re-branding, a new brand platform, including the identity and messaging should be carefully studied and developed.
Open any quality fashion or lifestyle magazine, and you will see how brands conceptualize and package luxury. The hype is deafening, and in reality can be quite confusing. Everyone wants “luxury” brands, and from a marketing point of view defy sales trends and seem recession proof.
As consumers, we want to be made to feel special. Definitions of “luxury” can vary enormously and depend on who you ask and in what context. The term “Luxury” has never been something easy to define. It is in my view, a mysterious and elusive concept. Studies highlight that no one is immune and when properly executed makes products and services highly desirable by broad market segments.
To put things into perspective, I will discuss the nature of luxury, and how luxury and premium brands differ in the marketplace although both types of products and services can be targeted to similar audiences.
Why Luxury Brands?
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by James D. Roumeliotis
Most businesses have an opinion on what branding constitutes, though how do you go about standing-out apart from similar product or service categories? Let us begin the thought process on this issue by first looking at what the word “Branding” is defined as in the Cambridge English dictionary. “Branding” is “the act of giving a company a particular design or symbol in order to advertise its products and services.” Sounds very simplistic. However, we know that it takes plenty of thought, creativity and flawless execution to truly define a brand which radiates externally to produce notable customer experiences. A brand is essentially an intangible asset which is injected with personality – values that consumers like and can relate to. Moreover, a cleverly created and executed branding strategy develops an intangible association with consumers
Defining the Brand
We start with the idea of what we want the product, service and its respective company to be perceived as. What do you want it to represent? Specifically what category does it belong to that will be in the consumers’ mind? Defining your target market too will help to strengthen the brand’s effectiveness. Explain what your brand stands for and why it is better than the competition. This is where you execute your brand communications. Commonly used methods of brand communications include advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management programs and public relations. In defining who your brand and your audience is, you create the foundation for all other components to build on. This requires a distinctive brand vision, positioning, personality and affiliation for the product/service. Those are crucial factors that will make it truly unique. Proper branding can also get you out of the commodity trap and attract value in terms of higher pricing.
This is what truly creates differentiation from mass and from competing brands. The key objective is to create a relationship of trust. The world’s powerful brands establish trust and friendship with their customers. They develop emotional capital, and gain passion. This is what makes them great. A brand’s image is how consumers perceive it and this may not be the same as how the owner wants it to be seen. It is important to note that without a premium product or service quality, a strong brand image is difficult to create.
Every customer contact (“touch points”) should be handled with the utmost care to ensure that the total brand experience a person has is consistent. This involves properly training and occasionally evaluating employee performance and when necessary, changing strategy, systems, technology, methods, services, products and even physical premises to produce a positive customer experience. Complacency should be replaced with continuous improvement.
Standing-out from the Crowd
Brands can’t stand out by blending in. They need to be distinctive, compelling, create buzz and call for action. Advertising in almost every industry appears to look the same. Visually distinctive brand features enhance customer recall and positively influence intent to purchase. “Advertising” creates attention and promotes an image and the brand. On the other hand, “Marketing” compels someone to buy. Since we’re constantly bombarded with advertising, it’s important to cut through the clutter. You only have one or two seconds to grab the attention of your intended audience. Compared to your competition, take an unusual approach by being first, different and bold in the way you create and deliver your message.
Marketing campaigns should have elements of:
Whether a product or service is a luxury brand or falls into another category, it is how you stand out from the crowd that distinguishes you. Know your target audience, get inside their heads and understand how they think and feel. What are their fears, emotions and anxieties? It’s not just about demographics, it’s about neuro-psychology. Once you have this down pat, you then manage the brand consistently.
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