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The Global Brand
How to Create and Develop Lasting Brand Value in the World Market
By Nigel Hollis, Millward Brown
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2008 Millward Brown
All rights reserved.
What Is a Brand?
Judging by their actions, few people in business really understand what a brand is. Yes, people have all read the definitions in a myriad of business books, but have they really absorbed the true implications of those definitions? A brand is not the same as a business. A brand is not the same as a trademark or corporate identity. A brand is not a veneer to be applied to a business or something to be ignored when it does not suit or budgets are tight. In this chapter I review the latest understanding of what a brand is and outline some of the implications resulting from that understanding.
So What Is a Brand?
The U.K. brand planning guru Paul Feldwick defined a brand this way: "A brand is simply a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer."
That definition is fine, as far as it goes. The core idea contained in the definition, that a brand exists in the mind of a consumer, is used repeatedly in discussions of branding. But why would you invest millions on brand identity and marketing to build nothing more than a collection of perceptions?
What's missing from Feldwick's definition is the idea that this collection of perceptions must somehow make the associated product or service more salient, more interesting, or more compelling than it would be otherwise. These mental associations must make the branded product valuable to potential buyers, valuable enough to inspire them to choose it over alternatives. The associations people have with a brand must make them want to buy it.
Associations Can Be Many and Varied
In research and development work conducted by Millward Brown in Mexico and the United Kingdom, we asked two open-ended questions of people who had expressed a preference for a brand. The questions were:
1. When you think of (brand), what memories and associations come to mind? You might want to consider images, pictures, feelings, sensations, words, people, places or occasions.
2. What do you know about (brand)? You might want to consider things like the product itself, its packaging and how much it costs.
On average, for each brand, people offered eight associations. These associations differed markedly across brands, even among those in the same product category. They included such things as product attributes, rational and emotional benefits, places and events where the brand was used, the brand's price, its perceived value, and the type of people who use it. Marketing activities were also mentioned, giving us a useful indication of their relative importance to different types of brands and confirming that impulse brands are more likely to be defined by their communications than products or services involving more complex selection processes. In Mexico, 19 percent of our sample mentioned marketing—primarily TV advertising—in relation to a soft drink brand, while only 1 percent mentioned any form of marketing in relation to a hotel chain.
The origins of brand associations are legion. They may be rooted in nostalgic memories from childhood or shaped by messages from the brand's advertising. They may be based on direct experience with a brand or on observations of a brand in use. Positive associations make people more inclined to buy the brand and, importantly, to do so repeatedly in the future. Positive brand associations create loyal customers.
The latest findings from neuroscience (see the box) confirm that the stronger and more positive these associations are, the more likely it is that the brand will stand out and be purchased. The same research also suggests that the strength of a brand is related to the degree to which a brand's associations are balanced across three important areas: the brand's physical cues, its functional benefits, and its emotional connotations. However these associations were formed, the marketer's job is to understand which ones strengthen the brand and then to reinforce those beneficial associations through marketing.
Brand Associations Must Be Shared
Jeremy Bullmore, a well-known author on brands and branding, and a board member at WPP and the Guardian Media Group plc, says this about brand perceptions: "The image of a brand is a subjective thing. No two people, however similar, hold precisely the same view of the same brand."
That's true enough—a brand is experienced in a unique and personal way. But without some collective understanding among individuals, can brands have any value at all?
Imagine we are having a conversation, and I mention the name "Bombril." Does that name mean anything to you? If it doesn't, your brain will either "bleep over" the name or deliver vague impressions related to what the name sounds like ... a drum beat, a reference to Tom Bombadil from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, or the name of a patent medicine. Without a common understanding of what it means, the name can add no value to the conversation. Rather than being a shortcut to a relevant idea, the name Bombril becomes something I need to explain.
With this idea in mind, Faris Yakob, a strategist at Naked Communications, reformulated Paul Feldwick's brand definition in this way: "A brand is a collective perception in the minds of consumers." Yakob compares brands to money, which has value only because we agree it does. The cash in your pocket is just paper, with little intrinsic value, but others will happily exchange goods and services for it. Yakob concludes that "a brand is a form of socially constructed reality that has attained an objective reality, which is why it can have a cash value that is dependent on the totality of perceptions held about it."
While I think it is slightly oversimplified, this definition adds a lot to our understanding of why marketers need to imbue brands with clarity. Any symbolic power wielded by brands is rooted in a collective understanding of what they represent. Perceptions of powerful brands, such as Coca-Cola, Apple's iPod, and Harley-Davidson, consist of well-known and widely shared associations, which form a base on which people add their own individual, subjective reactions. The significance of the shared understanding is most apparent when considering "identity" brands, ones that openly indicate something about a person's lifestyle and attitudes. The person who chooses a Rolex signals something different about himself from someone who chooses a Swatch. Buying Patagonia clothing makes a different statement from buying Billabong. And in both developed and developing countries, hosts signal both their own status and their respect for their guests through their choice of food and drink brands.
Because this shared understanding is critical to a brand's meaning, culture is a key factor in determining the success of global brands. Throughout the remainder of the book, I examine the role of local culture, both as a driver to the development of a strong local brand and as a barrier to global brand success.
Amending the Accepted Definition
Based on all the available evidence, I propose the following definition of a brand:
A brand consists of a set of enduring and shared perceptions in the minds of consumers. The stronger, more coherent and motivating those perceptions are, the more likely they will be to influence purchase decisions and add value to a business.
As a market researcher I see the brand from a consumer viewpoint. But a brand does not spring into being in consumers' minds without a marketer who creates a product, identity and positioning to which people then respond. Peter Brabeck, chairman and chief executive officer of Nestlé SA, puts it this way: "A brand is both what it gives to the consumer but also what it gets from the brand owner. You cannot easily separate the two."
In the remainder of this chapter I consider the other side of the equation. What are the implications for marketers trying to build strong brands?
The Implications of This Definition for Marketers
While it is widely accepted that a brand consists of a set of perceptions, the implications of this idea are often misunderstood. Understanding that brands exist only in the minds of consumers, many people now wrongly conclude that brands can no longer be controlled by marketers and suggest that in this age of consumer-generated content, marketers should just "let go" of their brands. In my opinion, that advice is not only dangerous but reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of what marketing is all about. Let me briefly explain why.
In his collection of essays Apples, Insights and Mad Inventors, Jeremy Bullmore refers to an analogy he once made, which became widely quoted: "People build brands as birds build nests, from scraps and straws we chance upon."
As Bullmore admits, this statement is demonstrably untrue: Birds build a wide variety of nests, and they are often very selective in their use of building materials. But you do get the main idea, which is that a mental concept of a brand is a montage of images, impressions, and experiences.
Those unordered impressions are neither consciously chosen nor limited to ideas expressed in the brand's marketing communications. Rather, they are acquired from experience, from scores of seemingly trivial encounters with the brand. Impressions are formed at the point of purchase, during the use or consumption of the product, when encountering the brand's marketing communications, or when other people are heard talking about the brand.
A Unifying Theme
Random and disorganized impressions won't enhance a brand's value. The marketer's job is to provide the unifying theme around which brand associations form, to frame people's experience of the brand so that they focus on the positive aspects of it, not the negative. To return to Bullmore's analogy, marketers need to ensure that when people are building their brand "nests," they have a structure around which to build. The last thing marketers can afford to do is to let brand associations pile up in an untidy heap.
Therefore, marketers must work to shape people's day-to-day encounters with a brand to ensure that the cumulative impression is a desirable one. Of course, some encounters are more powerful than others, and some are easier to control.
Personal experience of the brand itself is the dominant source of impressions—but what constitutes that experience? For a car, it might be the first impressions gained on a test drive or the lasting memories formed by the daily commute. It might simply be the sight of the car on the street. Even a 30-second video ad can create an imagined experience with the power to shape impressions. The marketer must consider how all of these experiences mold perceptions of a brand.
The Brand Promise: A Magnet for Associations
Agencies often refer to a concept called the "brand promise." Sometimes this idea is also referred to as the "brand essence," or "brand idea." Whatever name is used, this outward expression of the brand exists to help provide structure to all brand impressions, controlled or uncontrolled. If it is to do this effectively, the brand promise must be strong enough to pull all impressions together and focus them toward an emotional connection with the brand. An effective brand promise provides a foundation on which marketers can build a deep and compelling impression of a brand. Once a compelling promise is identified, it should not be changed lightly. If it is, all the prior efforts to build and frame people's perceptions will be undermined.
Maurice Saatchi, a co-founder of the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi and currently a partner in M&C Saatchi, would have us boil the promise down to one word. Referring to the new world of branding in an infamous 2006 Financial Times article, he states: "In this new business model, companies seek to build one-word equity—to define the one characteristic they most want instantly associated with their brand around the world, and then own it. That is one-word equity."
It is the modern equivalent of the best location on the main street, except the location is in the mind. Speaking at a Millward Brown seminar on global advertising held in London in 2007, Richard Swaab, executive vice chairman at AMV BBDO, expressed a similar point of view but acknowledged the need for that promise to motivate potential buyers. He said: "We try and distill any campaign these days down to a verb because verbs are behaviorally driven."
A brand promise needs to speak to the target audience; it does not need to appeal to everyone. In fact, many branding experts suggest that a more segmenting brand promise will produce a stronger appeal to the brand's real target.
Brand Associations Need Repeating
An enduring brand impression is not formed overnight. Over time, through experience and engaging communication, beneficial associations must be established in people's memories. Shaping impressions must be a continuing process, because memories are malleable and impermanent things.
Consider the fact that when I'm staying in a hotel, I rarely forget my room number. That is a pretty amazing feat, considering that I often stay in as many hotels (and cities) as there are days in the week. What I may not be able to remember is the number of the hotel room I stayed in the night before. And last week? Forget it. Why do I remember the current room number and forget the rest? Because the current one is relevant and important to me, and the others no longer are.
This example points to the fact that humans have good reasons to forget things. If we remembered the number of every single hotel room we had ever stayed in, we would get confused. We need to remember the most relevant one. But that is a problem when it comes to building brands. Few brands are relevant to us all the time. Our need for them comes and goes, and in between those occasions, our memories of what brands stand for starts to shift and fade. Even when we use a brand on a regular basis, we probably do not pay conscious attention to the experience, as we come to accept it and take it for granted. I love driving my Audi TT, but I don't often think about the components of the experience that make it different from driving a BMW Z5. An important function of advertising, then, is to refocus attention on the positive, differentiating aspects of a brand experience.
Building Coherence through 360 Marketing
The brand promise reflects the essence of what the brand stands for and provides the unifying theme for brand associations. However, the brand promise alone is not enough. It must be fleshed out if consumers are to understand all of a brand's physical associations, functional benefits, and emotional connotations. The understanding that this task is too big for any one communication channel has led to the emergence over the past several years of the disciplines known as 360 marketing and touch-point planning.
No one touch point can hope to convey every aspect of a brand. Therefore, each potential brand contact needs to be crafted to work in synergy across the whole brand experience. Personal experience is best for conveying a brand's physical properties while the Internet, print advertising, product demonstrations, and public relations may be better suited to communicate a brand's functional benefits. Video advertising may be ideal for evoking an emotional response. All these channels need to work in concert in order to create a balanced representation of the brand.
The best mix of channels will vary from brand to brand and country to country. To ensure that the most positive and motivating memories come readily to mind when consumers think about buying the brand, marketers need to:
Establish the most motivating brand associations possible prior to purchase and keep them fresh until the purchase is made.
Cue recognition of the brand and its associated memories at the point of purchase.
Over time, constantly refresh the positive impressions held by brand loyalists.
Next I explain how a strong brand impression helps consumers make purchase decisions. Human nature, it seems, is biased in favor of a strong brand.
Shortcuts to Decision Making
According to Procter & Gamble, shoppers make up their minds about a product in three to seven seconds, which is just about the time it takes for a shopper to notice a product on a store shelf. P&G calls this time lapse the "first moment of truth" and considers it to be the brand's most important marketing opportunity.
In such a short period of time, people can't undertake a reasoned analysis of their options. Rather, under these conditions, people rely on shortcuts, called heuristics, to help them make brand choices.
Excerpted from The Global Brand by Nigel Hollis, Millward Brown. Copyright © 2008 Millward Brown. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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