Thursday, September 15, 2005

Branding on a tight budget

As a marketing professional, I want to clear the myth that effective branding needs big budgets. While it is true that the most valuable brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Intel etc, have built their brands through a high profile campaigns. Their deep pockets enabled them to bankroll multi-million dollar advertising, marketing and promotional campaigns which were well executed for several decades. These companies have essentially bought their way to customer's hearts and minds. Apart from the dollars, these companies had brilliant marketing people, solid products and services which fulfilled the brand's promise to customers. Fortunately for rest of us, it is good to know that money alone is not enough to build a good brand.

I believe that there are several value add components - both tangible & intangible, that can build memoriable - lasting brands.

For those who do not have the dollars to build a marque brand, there are few "sweat" steps to build a lasting brand value.

Step-1: Brand Discovery

Start with the questions: Who are we? and what do we stand for? Why did we start this business in the first place? What is that we can provide to customers that our competitors cannot? Why do our customers buy from us? Does our customer's enjoy doing business with us?

Answers to these questions help the firm position itself internally. Every employee of the firm should have a clear idea of the firm's market positioning statement. (see my earlier blog "Position before you communicate") This exercise will result in capturing the "Brand Essence" that contains key elements such as target markets and the respective value proposition, an official company description, statements which convey the brand promise in a few memoriable words, and the visual elements which serve as brand identity.

Step-2: Run a reality check

The brand self discovery in step one must be verified. Hold meetings with customers, prospects, partners (and competitors if possible). In particular check the following:
  • Do customers agree with your assessment of the unique value you provide to them?
  • Are you stepping on any other brand toes?
  • Do you have a truly distinctive and memorable brand concept here?

Run the brand essence past a few insightful members of your "kitchen cabinet" (top management, mentors, consultants etc) to help ensure quality of the brand essence.

Step-3: Brand Expression

In this step, you should be able to define the look and feel of the brand message you want to convey.

To distill the "look" of your brand and its visual identity you probably have to work with qualified creative professionals in corporate image/graphic design. To save time and money, pull together visual samples from competitors and any other companies whose branding you like or admire. Having some parameters in mind is preferable to starting with a blank piece of paper—and much more cost-effective.

Typical deliverables in this step are:

  • Trademark search and filing
  • A company logo
  • Official tag line and business identity system
  • A firm sense of company reputation
  • Any indicated revisions for strengthening the brand concept.

Do a reality check before the final implementation.

  • Do you have a truly distinctive and memorable brand concept here?
  • Does it convey our company’s personality?
  • Are we stepping on any other brand toes? (Avoid any brand infringement)

Again get feedback from few insightful members of your "kitchen cabinet". Use caution, however, in managing the feedback during the approval loop to avoid "death by review"

Step-4: Brand Execution

In this step you have the task of bringing the brand image to your customers.

In steps 1-3, You’ve got the look for the brand, but the "feel" is something you and your organization must create on your own. It’s the total experience of your company:

  • The way the phone is answered,
  • How products or services are delivered,
  • Your quality/service philosophies, your approach to the sales process,
  • The style of communication, the value placed on people.

All these "expressions of your brand" are extension of the work you do in steps 1 and 2, and they are just as vital, if not more so, than your brand’s graphic packaging. Also important is ensuring "brand discipline" for advertising, marketing, Web site and other media/channels.

During this step, brand elements extended consistently to signage, Web site, print collateral, trade show display, product packaging, etc. Detailed plans for communicating the brand to employees, customers and other stakeholders are developed and implemented.

Step-5: Brand Forward

If you and your team devote quality time and rigorous attention to solidifying this "framework," you will have built your brand to a level that some firms spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach. You can employ a scalable, just-in-time approach to developing the communications and collateral materials that will carry your brand proudly into the marketplace.

The caveats here are clarity, conviction and compelling execution. Also, try to avoid "branding-by-committee," which may be potentially more problematic than no branding at all.

Step-6: Brand Investment

Are there times when you should spend big bucks on branding? Absolutely—particularly when there is a strategic case to be made for capturing dominant market share or dramatically increasing market capitalization.

Yet, branding at any price is not a silver bullet for overcoming market challenges and achieving success. It’s got to be built on technologies, products and services that provide outstanding value to customers over the long haul.

As much as anything, branding is a discipline applied to every aspect of your business. Here’s what I tell: To change the way people think about your company, first change the way your company thinks about itself.


BSPblogger said...

Top Google Position was actually the information I was looking for when I found your blog. Branding on a tight budget is certainly a great topic Arun Kottolli... Are you interested in trading links between our sites?

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