The concept of brand equity and the science and
practice of building and managing brands
strategically have been with us for more than a
quarter century. Taking stock, what are the most
powerful and impactful ideas that have emerged
during that time?
The answer is an overview of what has emerged during
the brand era that has allowed strong brands to
win in tough marketplaces. Of these ideas, here
are the home runs that have changed, if not
transformed, marketing:
In the late 1980s, the idea that a brand was an
asset with equity began to get traction. That
concept has since transformed marketing, which
had been dominated for a half century by the
tactical view of marketing developed in the halls
of Procter & Gamble. Starting in the
’80s, marketing was managed by a CMO who had
a seat at the executive table. Marketing was now
intimately involved in—if not a driver of—business
strategy, and was no longer relegated to being a
tactical arm. Marketing was now measured by
brand equity in addition to short-term sales, and
marketing resources were allocated to
strategic brands and programs rather than to the
big silos rich with funds and political power.
We have seen mass marketing, segmentation
and globalization as transformational ideas
in marketing. Considering brands as assets with
equity should be in that set.
There was a time when markets were stable,
segmentation was simple, and a brand just
needed a unique selling proposition that could be
captured in a three word phrase and
worked everywhere. No more. A brand vision for
today should be multidimensional and allow the
brand to express itself. Some brands will aspire
to have a personality that adds interest
and energy as well as communicates attributes.
Some may feature organizational values
that provide a point of differentiation. Some will
deliver social or self-expressive and functional
benefits. What will differentiate and resonate will
depend on the brand context and the brand
strategy going forward. The brand vision thus
cannot be constrained by a “fill in the box”
model with pre-specified dimensions and
no sense of priorities.
A brand vision should be strategic. It should
reflect not only the existing offering, but also the
role that the brand will play in future offerings
and in supporting other brands. The brand vision
also should be flexible, as the goal should be to
have strong brands in every product category or
country. The adjustment can be made by
interpreting a vision dimension differently, by
changing the priority within the vision or by
augmenting the vision in some contexts, and it
may change as the market and strategy changes.
Growth, with some exceptions, only occurs by
engaging in transformational or
substantial innovation that creates “must haves”
that define new subcategories. Brand teams thus
need to nurture “big” innovations in offerings,
services or programs. One implication is that the
competition in dynamic categories is shifting
from “my brand is better than your
brand” marketing to the creation of
subcategories, and to managing their defining
image so that the right subcategory wins, and so
that your brand is the most—or the only—relevant
Another implication is that subcategories have to
be protected or the advantage of the innovator
can be short-lived. One way to protect a
subcategory is to brand the innovation,
thereby creating a branded differentiator that
can not only help communicate the “must have,”
but also provide a way to own it. Competitors
can copy the innovation but not the brand.
The driving logic is that customers will seek out,
discuss and be engaged in what they are
interested in, and, with rare exceptions, offerings
or firms do not qualify. The alternative is to
become an active participant using a shared
interest program around a customer’s “sweet
spot.” For example, Pampers went beyond diapers
by “owning” a “go-to” website for baby care.
A sweet spot reflects customers’ “thinking and
doing” time, beliefs and values, activities and
passions or possessions. Ideally, it would be a
part of, if not central to, their self-identity
and lifestyle, and reflect a higher-order
value proposition much beyond the
benefits provided by the offering. Connecting with
a shared interest area provides avenues to a
relationship much richer than that of an offering
based relationship. The positive
feelings associated with the shared-interest
area can lead to positive feelings about
the brand. Further, people attribute all sorts of
good characteristics to brands that they like, and
with which they share values and interests. And a
shared interest program should stimulate a
social network because people talk about
what they are interested in.
Naming a new product on an ad hoc basis
potentially leads to brand confusion, brand
damage and the loss of an opportunity to
build brand platforms to support future strategies.
Instead, a new product should have a brand that
will support the new offering, will enhance the
brand and will be effective in needed roles when
additional products make their
appearance. Branding new products
strategically involves working with the
brand relationship spectrum where
descriptors, sub-brands, endorsed brands and
shadow endorsers are employed to control
the distance from the master brand. A sub-brand
will allow some distance from a master brand, an
endorsed brand more, a shadow endorser even
more and a new brand the most.
Vertical extensions are risky but sometimes
necessary when business realities dictate a
vertical move. When moving into a value market,
a brand may be put at risk, and even a strong
brand may lack the prestige and credibility
to support a super-premium offering. The use of a
sub-brand or endorsed brand can reduce such risk
when creating a new brand simply is not feasible.
Here are the next three big ideas:
Neutralize the silos: Breaking down the product,
country and functional silos to create synergistic
and resourced brand-building is becoming
an imperative. Often, the best path to that goal is
not to centralize and standardize, but to replace
competition and isolation with cooperation and
Energize the brand: Brands with energy have the
visibility to be relevant and avoid the loss of
equity suffered by brands that lack energy. A
brand can gain energy by energizing the product
or the marketing effort. Another route is to create
or attach to branded energizers.
Embrace a higher purpose: In part because of the
value of inspiring employees and creating a
relationship with customers that goes beyond
functional benefits, a high percentage of brands
have taken on a higher purpose, sometimes
around the environment or a social program but
often around the offering itself, as in creating
“insanely great products” or “delivering food that
is natural and organic.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2014
issue of Marketing News.