By Wayne Marks, President, Hansa|GCR
There are a gaggle of ways to look at brand and define what a brand is. We at Hansa like to think of a brand as a gestalt. No matter what elements we put forward as the ingredients of a brand, the whole will be more than the sum of the parts. This fact explains why there are so many different ways of looking at brands – we are implicitly trying to understand this gestalt.
Beyond the gestalt, we also advocate that a brand is much more than a logo, tagline, or the position a company communicates to the market. While these are important, customers and prospects judge the company and its products by far more than that. They don’t experience just the brand communicated in messaging; they experience all ways in which they touch the product and company. They form their thoughts and feelings about the company based on this total experience. The experience is the brand. This total experience shapes the customer mind space occupied by the brand.The mind space occupied by the brand should not be accidental. It needs to be purposeful. This requires the company to be clear about what it wants the brand to stand for. What the brand stands for needs to set the company apart and provide the customer with a reason to buy its products rather than a competitor’s.
The above may seem axiomatic. In practice, however, we find it is far from being consistently understood or executed. To be sure, many a CEO gets the importance of brand and how the company needs to deliver the brand experience with relentless perseverance. Just read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs to get a flavor of how this commitment can reach quite ardent proportions.
But many CEOs don’t get it. Even John Sculley, who had a preeminent career and was hugely successful at the brand infused-culture at Pepsi, missed the boat on the Apple brand and the vital importance of product design coupled with ease of use. This was and is fundamental to the Apple brand, and taking the corporate eye off it almost cost Apple’s existence, per Isaacson’s account of Jobs’ views.
CEO’s need to get it in their gut – they need to know simply and clearly what the brand stands for, what makes it valuable to customers, and how the company’s business strategy aligns with it. This leads us to the Triumvirate of brand development: Alignment of the business strategy, validated customer differentiated value, and clarity on what the company stands for.
By some measures, the Southwest Airlines brand stands for fast, cheap, and fun. United is in evolution. At one time it may have stood for a premium experience, catered to frequent fliers. The business strategies of the two airlines were different as well. United obtained a price premium, focusing on major hubs. SWA focused on secondary airports with lowest fares and “peanuts.” At its core, SWA’s company culture stood for simplicity (no assigned seats) and a maverick attitude in the market, driven by a hard charging founder and a legacy preserved by its heir CEOs.
United went through some serious bumps, with executive suite changes and many other business factors rearing their heads. Where it goes from here in terms of what it stands for as a brand is yet to be seen. Continental, now basically running United, also once stood for something great, in the days of Gordon Bethune. It will be interesting to see how Jeff Smisek brings a commitment to what the airline stands for that can be reflected in the experience customers have. We wish him well on this journey. No matter what, however, we would argue that United should not mirror the SWA brand – I expect to have fun on SWA; I don’t expect it on United. It would be incongruous with who they are.
How does one develop a brand? One approach is to go to the market and ask people what they want and how they see different brands. An “outside-in” approach. Find out what the brand could own as its differentiated position and steer the brand and company toward that.
Another approach is to know in one’s gut what the market wants and will want. An “inside-out” approach. Put another way, to know with conviction what the product or service needs to be and how it needs to be represented and delivered. Steve Jobs shunned asking customers. Instead, he relied on his innate feelings for what customers would want. And, he was probably a genius by this measure.
At Hansa, we advocate not one or the other but both: outside-in and inside-out. This means that brand development needs to leverage the internal knowledge base and the core of what the company stands for. It also, means that the brand must gain traction with customers. Target market feedback can validate or re-direct the company’s internal perspectives on the brand. It can provide an early indication of how the market will respond. All of this needs to be done within the context of the company’s business strategy. Premium brand positioning won’t fly if the company is not able to develop market-leading services or products. Low cost positioning does not work if the company is not geared toward lean process management.
The brand triumvirate-lens for brand development:
Brand needs to rest in a gut-level understanding and commitment throughout the organization, and driven by top management. Inside out. Clarity on what the company is really great at. No top level understanding and commitment? Very simple, the brand will devolve and die -- usually from a thousand tiny cuts. Kodak lost its business strategy, what it stood for, how it added differentiated value in the market. Loss of a once great brand. It’s not just about advertising the Kodak name. It’s not just about having a business strategy that can make profit this quarter to please Wall Street analysts. It’s about standing for something truly great, delivering it with heart-felt conviction, and making sure that it can be delivered.
Customers need to see and value the difference. Outside-in. The market needs to get the brand throughout all touchpoints – how is what the company stands for communicated and delivered in the product or service experience? In the packaging? In advertising? In the sales experience? And, a check on all this – is the business strategy in synch with the brand? It has to be or trouble looms.
Hansa is an Integrated Marketing Communications firm providing research, analytics, digital advertising, and brand strategy through an efficient global delivery model. Linking together targeted marketing functions such as brand strategy, digital marketing, social media, email marketing, and creative design, we propel our clients forward on a clear, concise path to marketing success.
Learn more about us at www.hansamarketing.com or call 1-847-491-6902