Brands of Our Time
The goal of all brands should always be to establish customer experiences that create a relationship between the brand and the customer. The closer the relationship between the customer and a brand, the better.
Fundamental changes have transformed brand development into an overriding strategic question in which the whole organization must always be involved. Customers are now the most important marketing channel because they are exposed to more information about a brand from other people than from those who officially communicate on the brand’s behalf. Brands must work hard to motivate people to talk positively about their brand. All experiences with a brand have a potential impact on building the brand. For that reason, everyone working at a company must understand the brand they represent and act on its behalf in order to deliver the brand experience they envision.
Positioning the Brand in the Mind of the Customer
Going from a static strategy to a dynamic strategy is about why the brand exists and what it will achieve with regards to its social positioning. This is a good starting point for building relationships and building influence. The focus in branding shifts from being most concerned with what the brand is to become more focused on what it wants. An effective and strong brand positioning shows a sense of your brand’s existence. It answers the question, “Why your company exists?”. Brand positioning is a strategy and it contains ambitious goals that you use to differentiate yourself from your competitors. When positioning your brand, you want it to be relevant for your customers, credible in its category, differentiating, and realizable for the brand. Brand designers today need to think broader and be more engaging if the goal is to influence and build strong customer relationships.
Categorizing the Brand in People’s Minds
Thoughts must go through the part of the brain that categorizes things before we can assess them, and that is why it is so vital that we fully understand a brand’s category. We also need to understand the category itself because if we don’t, then the brand has no purpose. Categorization is about seeing something repeatedly that the brain sorts out as something to relate to. It takes time and attention for the brain to establish new categories. However, when the category is established, the brain can effectively sort each incident. Research shows that our brains will not relate things without going through categories. If your brand does not belong to an existing category, it does not exist in people’s minds. Brands that can establish a category in people’s minds before anyone else can then dictate which traits belong to that category. The brand that establishes an independent category can take ownership of the category and determine which properties belong to the category.
Assigning a Role to a Brand
Brands are like people; we have different expectations depending on the situation, relation, and role. Every individual has a basic personality, but we adapt depending on what characterizes our relationship with others and our own personal situations. For brands, three distinct roles are associated with specific norms and expectations: The market leader, the challenger, and the pioneer. A brand’s role within a category is essential because it provides guidance. If the role is not adequately defined as part of positioning the brand, you risk the brand’s identity, personality mirroring and everything people associate with that category. What we want is a brand that is differentiated within a category. A good understanding of the role of the brand is also necessary for creating an exciting and realizable story about the brand that people can recognize.
We prefer some brands over others, and some brands stand out as more apparent alternatives than others within the same category. We need to organize the underlying criteria that make us choose one brand over another. By sorting and prioritizing purchasing criteria, those who communicate, act, and innovate on behalf of the brand get a conscious relationship to which criteria they should choose to emphasize and in what way. Differentiation is thus about several choices and priorities that, in total, best suit the overall positioning. Competitors can copy almost every individual decision you make. Still, a continuous stream of choices across the organization that constantly reinforces the chosen positioning builds a clear differentiation and is virtually impossible to copy. Differentiation is thus a precise positioning both in the physical competition arena for the business and in people’s heads for the brand. These things are connected, but since there is less space in people’s heads, we must focus on fewer criteria to differentiate ourselves and be extra precise.
We can be fascinated by, swear eternal loyalty to, or even hate brands. To provoke these feelings, the brand needs a personality or an identity. Brand identity has three different functions. They are all critical in establishing and strengthening the relationship between the brand and the people who relate to it. Ideally, you want people to be able to identify the brand. It is relatively easy to work with product design or packaging if the brand is a product or a family of products. However, for services, it gets more complicated. Whether it is digital or physical services, the premises, people, or the design of the service must have a recognizable and distinct uniform. Functionality, language, and standards can help enhance recognizability. The brand must stay identical over time between every point of contact. If a brand is consistent, it is easier for people to know what they are getting across product areas and even categories. People also need to be able to identify themselves with the brand. Like personal relationships, the closer the relationship, the more loyal people are. The opposite is also true. If people cannot identify themselves with the brand, it can become utterly irrelevant to people. People not caring is the biggest threat to brands today. Customers have many choices, and if they cannot identify with the brand, they are just as likely to choose a cheaper option or one that is more available at the time of purchase.
Archetypes help businesses build a relationship with their customers. A company must understand what motivates them to purchase their products and services over the competition; for your brand to stand out, it needs to have a personality because it is easier for people to establish and build relationships with characters that they understand. That’s where archetypes come in because everyone understands archetypes. Archetypes represent general driving forces, and because of this, it is easier for people to understand a brand if it is based on an archetype. To serve your customers, you need to know their problems and ways of thinking. An archetype acts as a model of a person’s thinking and behavior. Archetypes effectively define the most critical personality traits for people’s relation to the brand, which is closely related to the main motivations that pull customers towards the brand.
The Identity Prism
Kapferers identity prism is based on a developed model that helps analyze and define the brand. This model considers the context in which the communication takes place. It explains the brand identity using six facets: physical characteristics, personality, relationship, culture, reflection, and self-image. The prism model emphasizes the importance of understanding the brand’s connections and the world they exist in. The identity prism describes the brand as if it were a person and forces us to take a stand on the many facets of brand identity.
A Hierarchy of Company Statements
The “hierarchy of company statements” model is about direction, and the purpose is to make the most critical choices visible and clear to everyone. The model is the cornerstone of all the new plans, sub-goals, strategies, and processes created to keep the values strengthened and alive. It would help if you communicated the strategy clearly to get the entire organization involved in understanding the brand in line with the business strategy. Companies with a hierarchy of their most central formulations make it a tool for the brand and make brand development an integral part of their strategy. It makes sense that an understandable overview of a company’s purpose, goals, and strategy, which is always visible in the organization, is a good management tool.
The ability to influence through telling stories is also a well-known tool for the organization’s future if it is told and lived out as a great story. The task is to use all the central formulations from the company strategy and imagine it played out as a classic tale. We engage employees, customers, users, and partners throughout the story to realize it. The concrete actions and choices made in the brand’s name drive the story forward. When these great stories engage many people, brands become very strong.
The management’s responsibility is to point out the direction and goals for the entire organization. The changes can be dramatic or small and come faster or more gradually. Regardless, the management sets the direction and speed, and everyone must relate to this whether they want to or not. The identity and the strategic script belong to the culture and, thus, belong to everyone. Culture is something that is slowly changing. The culture decides which values and actions are desired and acceptable. It is the heroes and stories of the culture that, in practice, determine what the customers experience in the brand relationship. The sum of the actions defined by the strategy and realized by the culture is what builds the brand. It shapes the stories, attitudes, and relationships of the most important marketing channel – the customer.
Kapferer, Jean-Nöel. The New Strategic Brand Management Advanced insights and strategic thinking. Kogan Page, London, 2012.
Nordhagen & Rogne. Raketter og Rebeller strategi for ledere og andre som vil bygge merkevarer folk bryr seg om. Fagbokforlaget, Bergen, 2017.