What is Branding and Brand Strategy?

What is Branding?

When people thing about branding they typically consider logo, color pallets, packaging, and other marketing elements. It’s a critical piece of marketing strategy, but it’s much bigger than visual aesthetic. A brand is a company’s promise to deliver a specific set of features, benefits, services and experiences consistently to buyers. It can be understood as a set of perceptions a consumer has about the products of a particular organization. All branding decisions focus on the consumer, and these decision comprise an organization’s brand strategy. There are four pillars of brand strategy that brand decisions fall under, and these include brand positioning, brand name selection, brand sponsorship, and brand development.

Brand Strategy: Positioning

A brand must be positioned clearly within the minds of the target audience. Brand positioning can be accomplished through

  • product or service attributes (functionality, reliability)

  • benefits of that product or service (lifestyle etc)

  • beliefs and values of the organization (personal connection with target audience)

At the lowest level, marketers can position a brand on product attributes. Marketing for a car brand may focus on attributes such as large engines and increased horsepower, lush interiors, or a sporty design. Attributes are generally considered the least desirable level for brand positioning. Competitors can easily copy these attributes, taking away the uniqueness of the brand. Also, customers are not necessarily interested in attributes alone, but rather, what these attributes will do for them. That leads us to the next level: Benefits.

A brand can be better positioned on basis of a desirable benefit. The car brand could go beyond the technical product attributes and promote the resulting benefits for the customer: fast, beautiful cars are a lifestyle statement and having one may attract or reinforce the benefits of that lifestyle.

Yet, the strongest brands go beyond product attributes and benefits. They are positioned on beliefs and values. Successful brands engage customers on a deep, emotional level. Keeping with car brands, consider Mini or Aston Martin. These brands rely less on products’ tangible attributes, but more on creating passion, surprise and excitement surrounding the brand. They elicit emotion and brand loyalty.

Brand positioning lays the foundation for the three other branding decisions. What are you about? How do you want to be positioned? Establish a mission for the brand and a vision of what the brand should be and do. The brand’s promise must be simple, honest, and capable of delivering consistent features, benefits, services, and products.

Brand Strategy: Name Selection

When talking about branding, brand name selection may be the most obvious component. The name of the brand is often what you think of first when imagining a brand – it is the base of the brand. While it may be an obvious requirement of branding, it can also be one of the more difficult tasks to accomplish.

Carefully review the product and its benefits, the target market and proposed marketing strategies. Having that in mind, we have to find a brand name matching these things. Naming a brand is part science, part art, and certainly a measure of instinct.

Although finding the right name for a brand can be a challenging task, there are some guidelines to make it easier. Desirable qualities for a brand name:

  • Suggestive of a product’s benefits and qualities. But don’t get wrapped up in this one. Amazon, Apple, Google don’t describe their product, benefits, or qualities in their brand name and they’re the most recognized brands in the world. MotoDoll was a vehicle for me to reintegrate into communities that I lost when a combat injury cost me the use of my right arm. Now it helps others get their brand in gear. Applicable? Sure. Immediately obvious or suggestive? Not exactly. But it represents a lot to both me and my target audience. It’s also…

  • Easy to pronounce, recognize, and remember. iPod and Nike are certainly better than “Troglodyte Homonculus” – a real clothing brand.

  • The brand name should be distinctive, so that consumers don’t confuse it with other brands. Rolex and Bugatti are good examples.

  • It should also be extendable. Think of Amazon.com, which began as an online bookseller but chose a name that would allow expansion into other categories. If Amazon.com had chosen a different name, such as books.com, it could not have extended its business that easily.

  • The brand name should translate easily into foreign languages. The Ford Pinto line had some struggles in Brazil, seeing as it translated into “tiny male genitals”. Or the Mitsubishi Pajero, which means in Spanish “man who plays with himself and enjoys it a bit too much”. More famous: Coca-Cola reads in Chinese as “female horse stuffed with wax”. Then again, Coke is doing just fine in that market.

  • It should be capable of registration and legal protection. In other words, it must not infringe on existing brand names.

Worthy of note is the fact that brand name preferences are changing continuously. After a decade of choosing quirky, easily identifiable names (such as Yahoo!, Google) or fictional names, today’s style is to build brands around names that carry meaning. For instance, names such as Blackboard, a school software, make sense. Patagonia is about sustainable exploration in clothes meant to withstand worldwide adventure. However, with more and more brand names and trademark applications, available new names can be hard to find.

Choosing a brand name is not enough. It also needs to be protected. Many firms attempt to build a brand name that will eventually become identified with a product category. Examples for these names include Kleenex, Tip-ex and Jeep. However, their success can also quickly threaten the company’s rights to the name. Once a trademark becomes part of the lexicon, it is not protected anymore. For that reason many originally protected brand names, such as Aspirin or Walkman, are not protected anymore.

Brand Strategy: Sponsorship

Brand sponsorship has several options, which we’ll briefly describe here.

First, a product may be launched as a manufacturer’s brand. This is also called national brand. Examples include Kellogg or Sony selling its products under its own brand name (Kellog’s Frosted Flakes or Sony Bravia television).

The manufacturer could also sell to re-sellers, who give the product a private brand. This is also called a store brand. Think Aveeno body wash sells its product to Walmart who then re-brands it as Equate. This is done typically to sell a similar product for a lesser value and offer a cheaper alternative to consumers who are more price-conscious and less brand-conscious. They’re willing to choose private/store brands instead of established (and often more expensive) manufacturer’s brands.

Also, manufacturers can choose licensed brands. Instead of spending millions to create their own brand names, some companies license names or symbols previously created by other manufacturers. This can also involve names of well-known celebrities or characters from popular movies and books. For a fee, they can provide an instant and proven brand name. For example, sellers of children’s products often attach character names to clothing, toys and so on. These licensed character names include Disney, Star Wars, Hello Kitty and many more.

Finally, two companies can join forces and co-brand a product. Co-branding is the practice of using the established brand names of two different companies on the same product. This can offer many advantages, such as the fact that the combined brands create broader consumer appeal and larger brand equity. For instance, Nestlé uses co-branding for its Nespresso coffee machines, which carry the brand names of well-known kitchen equipment manufacturers such as Krups, DeLonghi and Siemens.

Brand Strategy: Development

For developing brands, a company has four choices: line extensions, brand extensions, multi-brands or new brands.

Line extension refers to extending an existing brand name to new forms, sizes, colors, ingredients or flavors of an existing product category. This is a low-cost, low-risk way to introduce new products. However, there are the risks that the brand name becomes overextended and loses its specific meaning. This may confuse consumers. An example for line extension is when Coca-Cola introduces a new flavor, such as diet cola with vanilla, under the existing brand name.

Brand extension also assumes an existing brand name, but combines it with a new product category. Thus, an existing brand name is extended to a new product category. This gives the new product instant recognition and faster acceptance and can save substantial advertising costs for establishing a new brand. However, the risk that the extension may confuse the image of the main brand should be kept in mind. Think Coke Zero vs Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. Not the same. Also, if the extension fails, it may harm consumer attitudes toward other products carrying the same brand name. For this reason, a brand extension such as Heinz pet food cannot survive. But other brand extensions work well. For instance, Kellog’s has extended its Special K healthy breakfast cereal brand into a complete line of cereals plus a line of biscuits, snacks and nutrition bars.

Multi-brands means marketing many different brands in a given product category. P&G (Procter & Gamble) and Unilever are the best examples for this. In the USA, P&G sells six brands of laundry detergent, five brands of shampoo and four brands of dishwashing detergent. Why? Multi-branding offers a way to establish distinct features that appeal to different customer segments and the company can capture a larger market share. However, each brand might obtain only a very small market share and none may be very profitable.

New brands are needed when the power of existing brand names is waning. Also, a new brand name is appropriate when the company enters a new product category for which none of its current brand names are appropriate. Nike used to be Blue Ribbon Sports. Target was Goodfellow’s Dry Goods. Sometimes a brand needs a shakeup, and marketing as a new brand can be just the ticket.

In order to build strong brands, brand positioning, brand name, brand sponsorship and brand development have to be in line with each other. Whether you’re re-imagining an established brand or looking to build something totally new, the four pillars of brand strategy should be determined before launch. And as always, if you need help just give us a shout.