It is necessary, at first, to comprehend what brands are within this new concept to be able to understand how branding works. Luc Speisser, from Landor — one of the most prominent branding consultants in the world —, defines brand as “what a company, an institution or a group of products and services represents in the hearts and minds of people”, making it clear the intangibility of the concept. It is not products, logotypes or names, but associations, perceptions and generated expectations. (…)
But, how does one make a brand that an audience desires to relate to?
Branding emerges as the process that will make that the brand’s purpose and the competitive advantages, such as positioning, gets noticed as memorable and unique. With that in mind, it becomes easy to realize how the brands are the determinant criteria in the buying process. With little time and various options to choose from, it is through emotional connection that people find clarity, simplicity, that people feel safe and acknowledge the consistency of a brand and that helps them guide their buying choices.
The brand represents the identity of an enterprise. You can’t create an identity, you can only reveal it. That is how the process begins: understanding the environment of a company, its values and how their leaders think. By crossing these pieces of information with thorough researches (such as market, trends, customers, stakeholders, competitors, etc.) the brand’s authenticity is communicated strategically.
The brand presents itself in the shape of a promise — a truthful promise that must be effectively delivered. It needs to be believable and relevant to all: both to its partners and collaborators. This way, they’ll know that what they do is authentic and genuine to its audience. They can feel safe and become more than faithful customers, but also true brand ambassadors. Thus, branding creates a strategic planning that connects operational processes and strengthens the brand’s image to deliver on this promise.
Within its whole concept, branding is a highly flexible subject that fits a number of contexts and situations, such as:
» Creation of new businesses;
» Repositioning of brands that are already in the market;
» Identification and creation of new opportunities;
» Creation and launch of products or services;
» Market share increase;
» Internal culture alignment;
» Buy, sale or merger of companies.
It is important to understand that branding is not marketing, public relations or design alone. Branding comes before it all and its strategies guide these areas, so that the entire company speaks one language and the customer hears a single and consistent message. They will understand “who” that brand is and will put their faith in it. In an excellent analogy, Eduardo Tomiya — director of Kantar Consulting — talks about brand management as an iceberg. He explains that the part that is outside the water represents communication actions, logotypes, packages, names and whatever else is “visible”, but that the largest part of this iceberg is underwater, representing all internal processes. And that is the part that will hold the brand promise.
Positioning a brand is to strategically create a space for it in people’s minds. You may be the fastest, the most delicious, the best (or even second best), etc. Regardless, you must always keep in mind that it’s not just a promise that will differentiate your brand among its competitors, but also, its concrete deliverance. It is mandatory that the differential is absolutely clear, that it qualifies the brand as unique and makes people understand why they should choose your product or service instead of the competitor’s. (…)
Branding will function by balancing the emotion and the rational aspects of it’s perfect brands to better position them. The emotional aspect is about what the audience desires and its expectations towards that company, on the other hand, the rational aspect relates to corporate goals and audiences, besides the functional attributes. This is an extremely important discipline of branding: it must be applied both to new brands, that aim to enter the market as a novelty to their audience, and also for the repositioning of brands that are already in the market and desire to redefine their competitivity.
The concept of positioning was introduced and popularized by Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors of the book “Positioning: the battle for your mind”. According to them, the process of positioning a brand might start with a product, a service, a company or even a person, but we must bare in mind that the brand will actually be positioned in the mind of the public. And, if one takes into consideration the enormous amount of information that people are receiving on a daily basis nowadays, it is wise to try to position your brand with a simple and assertive message, one that is clear and effective. It should answer the following questions:
Credibility: Will people believe in the promise of the brand?
Relevance: Do people care about the promise?
Duration: Will this last?
Inspiration: Does the promise touch people emotionally?
Differentiation: Can only a few actually fulfill such a promise?
Relevant and clear positionings of well-known brands belong with that parcel of information that people do not discard; that remain on their mind and are easily remembered, like for instance: Volvo sells the most secure cars; Hertz is the most important player in the rent-a-car business; and Avis, in a humble yet clever way, recognized Hertz’s leadership with the following positioning: “We are number 2. We try harder.”.
As opposed to the essence that is unchangeable and intangible, positioning is characterized by its practical nature. It may change accordingly to moment or context. This, however, doesn’t make it any less important, on the contrary, it is the positioning that defines the brand promise. As well put by Lissa Reidel, from FolioOne Ltd: “Positioning overcomes barriers of saturated markets to create new opportunities.”
According to the Houaiss dictionary, the definition of essence is “the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person”. Every brand has an essence — even if it is still unknown — and it is through branding that the essence is rescued in order to be properly incorporated to the company’s culture. According to Ricardo Guimarães — CEO of Thymus — “a good brand essence is an inspiring thought that is capable of attracting and mobilizing people no matter what kind of relationship they have with a company”. (…)
While positioning emphasizes the comparative and tangible differences among competitor products (that may and should be altered accordingly to the market), the essence is not tangible, it is unchangeable and reinforces the central brand’s central values. For instance, it is hard — almost impossible, actually — to find a Harley Davidson or Apple enthusiast buying a competitor product. That happens due to the strong emotional connection that these people have with the brands, their aspirations and the lifestyle they are associated with.
The essence is an extension of the philosophy and the values of the founders of the brand. This essence must be diffused throughout the entire company and absorbed by all audiences, regardless of the relation with the brand, so that the brand’s authenticity may be consistently perceived in all touch points.
Essence creates emotional connections and these connections will guide people’s choices. To rescue the essence, it is necessary to think of the values that guided the company founders together with the concepts and ideas that motivate the consumers to buy a specific brand.
It may be something as simple as “fun family entertainment”, for Disney or more poetic like “rewarding everyday moments”, for Starbucks or even more descriptive like “authentic athletic performance” as we have seen for Nike, as long as it travels through the brand’s history: past, present and future. Guimarães finishes saying that “the essence is not a market strategy, it is a way of looking at the business and acting in the market”.
Many authors list some considerations that must be observed and be a part of this important branding tool:
1 Focus: the essence must be based on one brand aspect only and a very pertinent one so it does not lose its focus;
2 Unique: it must communicate the brand’s differentials in cultural and emotional aspects; how it stands out from the competitors;
3 Experience: it must portray the emotion that consumers feel when in contact with the brand;
4 Relevance: must be relevant to the consumer. It should be what really matters to them, not what one may consider or say matters;
5 Consistency: it must be lived and experienced consistently by the audience — consumers, stockholders and partners;
6 Authenticity: it must always speak truthfully, never something made up to what the consumer probably wants. The audience likes honesty and expects that from brands.
7 Durability: the essence is eternal, it doesn’t change. Ever.
The essence must be aligned to the nature of the business, to the needs of the market and the audience. The brand’s attitude will be a major differential in front of competitors. When a company cares about its essence it shows that its purpose goes beyond mere commercial relations and that it truly wishes to be a part of those that live with the brand.
A ethnographic research applied to consumption means to be immersed in the reality of the audience, looking to understand their daily lives, ways of acting and reasoning about life and learning what the logic and the mechanisms behind each culture and behavior is.
Through empathy, observation and analysis, considering a branding strategy ethnography is a way of transforming insights generated by research into ideas and ideas into innovative products and services that truly dialogue with the audience. IDEO, a company recognized worldwide for making Design Thinking known (a human-centered methodology focused on innovative products and services), uses ethnography in the immersion phase (beginning of the process). Using in-depth interviews, photographs, field daily records (everything that is seen, heard and felt), among other tools, ethnography research is made of real participation of the researcher in people’s daily lives, so that it can capture how the consumer interacts, uses or thinks about a particular type of service or product. (…)
A great example of the use of ethnography can be seen in a General Eletrics case. Doug Dietz, a GE medical equipment designer, was at a hospital when he saw a child crying because the equipment was scary. Doug decided to redesign the experience, turning the examination rooms into fantastic and entertaining scenery such as the bottom of the sea, a ride with pirates and a jungle. By stepping into children shoes and making a funner and less stressful exam, the solution helped to reduce from 80% to 10% of the use of sedatives in children, and consequently reduced hospital costs, increasing the number of tests and most important, the wellbeing of patients.
Ethnography is also useful to understand the relationship between consumption and our own identity. According to Genevieve Bell, anthropologist and vice president of Intel’s Corporate Strategy, we use certain types of products or services to say who we are to ourselves and to others: the cars we drive, the technological objects we use, the apps we download. It all says something about us or who we want to be. According to Box1824, consumption nowadays has the tendency of being less and less compulsive, meaning consumers are beginning to associate status to what they buy and not the act of purchasing. When people start to think more about what they’re buying, they start to choose brands’ speeches carefully − looking for the reasons behind their ethical and moral values. A good example of appropriation of this trend is The One for One, a Tom’s shoes initiative: every time a pair is purchased, another one is donated to someone in need. Consumption in this case equates to a political and a social act.
Frequent social, economic and behavior inconsistencies have now transformed the consumer, making them even more skeptical and demanding: tired of the repetition of marketing and empowered by social networks, people expect brands to communicate transparently, closely, and to always provide surprising experiences with their products.
It should be noted that today, consumer trends do not necessarily follow the “top down” flow anymore, which means, from the upper to the lower classes: many influences come from the exact opposite direction. Due to the increase of jobs, income and the reduction of social inequality, between the years 2003 and 2014, about 40 million of Brazilians migrated from classes D and E to class C. This niche hitherto neglected, became the the population’s largest share. With no specific knowledge about this audience, some brands have faced great challenges trying to understand their new consumption patterns and the influences brought by this audience.
To provide products, services and experiences better aligned with the behavioral profile of its audience, its representations and perceptions of reality, we must put aside our world view and start seeing through the eyes of others.
According to Lucas Saad, founder and director of the branding and innovation consultancy Saad, the results of this type of research are very important when it comes to a strategic project. “While the essence of the company must remain true to its roots, its promise, products, services and experiences must respond to social evolutions and the way people adapt to them”, explains Saad. (…)
When we talk about consumer trends, two of the most analyzed audiences are the Y and Z generations. According to Nielsen, the Y generation, also known as Millennials, is made of youngsters born from 1977 to 1995. This group has great importance because it’s believed that their buying-power exceeds one trillion dollars. This makes them great influencers to both younger and older generations consumption. Here in Brazil they represent more than 45 million people. Since Millennials grew up in the context of the turn of the century and the global economy, they value concepts such as “collab”, “sustainability” and “social issues”, for example.
The Z generation, however, which is composed of younger individuals born after 1996, is only now entering the labor market, according to the CDL/RS Association. Flexible and adaptable, the Z generation was born in a completely digitized era and feels no need to distinguish between online and offline. For them, words such as “fluid,” “experimentation,” “online activism,” and “horizontal hierarchy” are essential.
According to Andrea, the main function of research and trend analysis is to help fight uncertainties that every innovation process faces. “Crossing trend data with information from market research allows considerable risks reduction,” she says. For Saad, it is really important for a company to understand what consumer expects and how it will change in the short and long term. “Working with this methodology brings us closer to the consumer and allows us to look objectively at every angle of a business, generating insights for our customers and also anticipating how competitors and the market will react to external transformations,” he explains.
Performing assertive trend analysis is a key part of the branding process so that companies can understand how culture works and transforms, building a purposeful future where brands and people really dialogue.
Branding guru, Marty Neumeier, emphasizes the role of design in brand building when he tells us that strong and relevant brands possess, among other things, a substantial aesthetic concern. Design is one of the main factors that allow brands to communicate and talk to people.
Initially, design is a way to solve problems be them of business, products, services, experiences, etc. With its integration in the corporate world, it translates the branding strategy and helps materialize all the assets that make brands become unique and memorable — such as essence, positioning and brand platform. As well put by Ligia Fascioni, PHD in Design Management, design works as a “company’s symbol of identification and as an excellent translator of its personality”. (…)
For proper comprehension of the value that design adds to brands, Thomas Lockwood, former president of Design Management Institute, mentions a few possible applications:
1 Creation of new markets
Design may be used to create markets, establishing a competitive differential hard to be copied. Ex.: iTunes system/iPod, Amazon.
2 Products and services innovation
That is possible by integrating design techniques and processes all throughout the company.
3 Creation of intellectual property (patents and brands)
How much would your company lose if all design contributions were stolen?
4 Enhance of products performance
Good environments and interface designs might reduce stress, enhance tasks performance and make the concern that the company has towards its employees and customers noticeable.
5 Sustainability warranty
Environmental impact of design products may be measured in a variety of ways. Strategically, designers may opt to approach business sustainability around its three vertices: economic, social and environmental.
Managing design in a company goes beyond the aesthetics, it is about materializing the strategy, providing differentiation, unicity and making it stand out among its competition. Allying design to branding is key to communicate the attributes and help build consistent and reliable brands. This equation will contribute in a way that new markets are discovered, products get chosen from the shelves, services are hired through websites and value is added through the perception of the brand, resulting in a brand that has a space in people’s minds and hearts.
From that realization began an evolution that brought the dynamism of contemporary times to brands. We set out not to limit them to their basic, regular and symmetrical shape, but now, to consider several variations to their identity systems — known as flexible or dynamic brands. This evolution has made it possible for brands to become more human-like, more similar to people and less to corporations. If the consumer has and is able to adapt to the fast pace of life, brands must also adapt to its different audiences, platforms, vehicles and touch points. (…)
Design variations are the starting point to dynamic identities. Although not the only way to do it, a dynamic brand accepts changes in other features of its identity, for instance, in its verbal identity. We are talking about logotypes, slogans and even names that vary in color, shape, size, messages, etc. For dynamic identities, the lack of pattern is a “rule”, but it’s important to note that, in these cases, the rule is strategically manipulated in order to provide easy recognition to the brands in any of its versions.
Almost paradoxical, dynamic identities favor the recognition of brands by its consumers, that do not rely solely in one element in order to identify their lovemarks, but instead, can count on several manifestations that represent the brand in a plural, yet cohesive manner.
There are great examples of brands with dynamic identities, such as MTV, AOL and also the brand for the London Olympic Games in 2012, among others. At the branding and innovation consultancy Saad, the concept of dynamic identities was utilized on different branding projects, like RE in which the name (a prefix) is a concept that is adaptable through different phrases or words, depending on the context. On the other hand, on the Oigo project, one can see the colors changing and the waveforms varying on each material, portraying the brand’s drivers.
This is how dynamic brands establish a direct and personalized dialogue to its consumers, building genuine and long lasting relationships. They are, as we say, the “brands that dialogue”.
In a branding project, the name, along with the tone of voice and the slogan, is part of the verbal identity. It can begin the process of branding positioning and it can tell the audience about the brand’s differentials. It is important to realize that the proper creation of a name may determine a brand’s destiny. Thus, the chosen name must be aligned to the company’s values, so that it portrays its history and especially, that it allows the audience to visualize where that brand is going in the future. Just like the essence, the name must not come from and attempt to describe any product or service that the company offers. Instead, it must represent the spirit and the personality of the brand, what really sets it apart from any other competitor because that will create an emotional connection with all who relate to the brand. (…)
To create a successful name, it is also necessary to think differently, to think big, to innovate — going beyond the dictionary and recognize that companies such as Google and Flickr did not abide by any language standards, that Blackberry and Apple were pretty unconventional choices and that all of them are leaders in their sectors. With a lack of good names available, your brand’s differential may stand out in the crowd for being unexpected, unusual, or extraordinary. That is why one may never reject or veto any possibility during the naming process.
Creating a name is not a simple thing to do, it requires lots of researches and specific knowledge, among them, the knowledge of linguistics. According to Alina Wheeler, branding consultant and author of many books in the area, one should consider that a name must be:
» Easy to pronounce, read and write;
» Visually interesting;
» Easy to research on the web;
» Conceptually original (distinctive/unconventional);
» Strategic (must translate the brand’s assets and positioning);
» Generate positive associations;
» Timeless (beyond trends);
» Legally protectable.
The task of creating a name is not simple. It is through research, analysis and attempts (countless attempts) that the right name will separate itself from the others in the market and become unique, authentic and absolutely memorable.
Reaching new markets is one of the co-branding objectives and it works particularly well when it’s a market where the brand has never worked or had any experience. In this case, the proximity to an established brand is the best way to “hitchhike” and shorten the path to this new segment. (…)
Some precautions should be taken so that these partnerships are successful. First, we must point out that the brands have affinity and that the relationship must have a “win-win” nature, ie, beneficial for all parties involved. A simple rule for choosing the partnership is to assess whether the result of co-branding will be greater than the value of brands acting alone. Besides that, checking if the brands are in the same level of importance and recognition in the market is also needed. Or else, one brand may give more than it receives in terms of positive image attributes.
Finally, it is needed to have some alignment between the values, philosophy, business vision and ideology of the brands involved, so that there is no clash of cultures. It is crucial that companies interested in implementing co-branding strategies never forget their purpose. They need to think about cooperation in order to deliver real benefits to the consumers.
Before settling for a co-branding strategy, think: what will my audience gain from it? And start from there.