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Strategic Brand Management
Many corporations have forgotten why they have brands. A great deal of attention is devoted to the branding process per se, bringing in the participation of designers, graphic artists, and advertising agencies. This activity becomes an end in itself, receiving most of the focus of attention.

Many corporations have forgotten why they have brands. A great deal of attention is devoted to the branding process per se, bringing in the participation of designers, graphic artists, and advertising agencies. This activity becomes an end in itself, receiving most of the focus of attention.

In so doing, we forget that it is only a means to an end. Branding becomes the exclusive prerogative of the marketing and communications staff, thereby undervaluing the importance of other corporate functions to successful brand management.

While branding is an indispensable activity, it is only the last phase in a process that involves the corporation's resources and all of its functions, focusing them on one strategic purpose: creating a difference. Only by mobilizing all of its internal sources of added value can a company set itself apart from its competitors.

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Branding is much more than the naming per se or the creation of an external indication that a product or service has received an organization's imprint or its mark.

A Brand Aims to Segment the Market

Brands are part of a strategy aimed at differentiating supply. Companies seek to better fulfill the expectations of specific groups of customers.

They do so by consistently and repeatedly providing an ideal combination of attributes—both tangible and intangible, practical and symbolic, visible and invisible—under conditions that are economical¬ly viable for the company. The company wants to leave its mark on a given field, and set its imprint on a product. It is no coincidence that the word "brand" also means the actual act of burning a mark into the skin of an animal; of designating ownership in this way.

When we talk of an Atari computer, it is like saying, "There's something Atari in this computer." Indeed, this is the first task in branding: defining just what the brand infuses into the product or service, and how the brand transforms it:

• What attributes are embodied in the product or service?
• What advantages does it incorporate?
• What benefits does it provide?
• What obsessions does it represent?

This underlying meaning of a brand is often forgotten or wilfully neglected. Some distributors are frequently heard to say, "For us, the brand is secondary. No need to stick something on our products." In so doing, they are reducing brands to their most superficial aspect, the label and the trademark on it.

Branding, however, is not based on what goes on, but on what goes in. The result is an augmented product or service which must be indi¬cated in one way or another if it is to be noticed by potential buyers, and if the company is to reap the fruits of its efforts before they are copied by others.

On this point, it is highly significant that a product which has been "debranded" retains a greater value than a generic product. If it were true that a brand was something purely superficial, just like a label, then such a product would lose its value as soon as it lost its signs of brand identification. Instead, it continues to incarnate the brand: the brand's passing presence has transformed the product. This explains the value of Lacoste shirts without the Lacoste label, or Adidas shoes stripped of the Adidas name. They are worth more than counterfeit imitations, because the brand is present even when it cannot be seen. In contrast, though the brand may appear on an imitation, it is actually missing.

Brands are Built Up by Persistent Difference Over the Long Run

It is often pointed out that products bearing different brand names are identical. Some observers conclude that under these circumstances, a brand is nothing but a bluff, a device used to attempt to set a product apart in markets in which it is hard to differentiate among products.

This attitude neglects the time factor and the concept of competition. Brands become known through the products they create and bring on to the market. Whenever a brand innovates, it generates "me-too-ism." Any progress made quickly becomes a standard to which buyers become accustomed. Competing brands must then fol¬low suit if they do not want to fall beneath market expectations. For a short time, the innovative brand will enjoy a monopoly, but it will be a fragile one unless the innovation is patented or patentable. Simply put, the role of the brand name is to protect the innovation—it creates a "mental" patent.

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Take the example of Kellogg's, who created a new cereal that was natural and rich in fiber, two highly valued aspects of modern nutri¬tion. In the light of its success, other manufacturers produced similar products. If Kellogg's had given its cereal a generic name such as "natural fiber cereal," consumers would soon have discovered that manufacturers such as Quaker and distributors such as Marks & Spencer and Aldi also had their own natural fiber cereal.

The chosen name Country Store makes the innovative product specific. Like any proper name, it designates something unique. The product name makes the innovation exclusive and protects it against imitations. This is nothing other than the just reward for innovating, making an effort, and taking risks. And yet, while this corporation innovates by introducing products like Cocopops and Smacks one day and Country Store the next, no capitalization emerges from these efforts alone.

These biscuits do not make their creative inventor famous. It takes something more than specific product names to obtain such capitalization: it takes the establishment of a brand name like Kellogg's. By producing such innovations, Kellogg's develops a capital of consumer trust and an image of a playful, high-quality creator. It can then reap the benefits of innovating repeatedly. The brand is what makes it pos-sible to capitalize on innovation, for both the buyer and the seller.

A snapshot of a given market will often show similar products. A dynamic vision, however, reveals who has innovated and pulled the competition along in the wake of its success. A brand protects the innovator, granting momentary exclusiveness and rewarding its will¬ingness to take risks. The meaning and direction of a brand and its economic purpose is revealed in the accumulation over time of such momentary differences.

Brands cannot be reduced to a symbol on a product or a mere graphic and cosmetic exercise. A brand is the signature on a constantly renewed, creative process which yields product A today, products B and C tomorrow, and so on. Products are introduced, they live and * disappear, but brands endure. The consistency of this creative action is what gives a brand its meaning, its contents, and its character. Creating a brand requires time and an identity.

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A Brand is a Living Memory

The spirit of a brand can only be inferred through its products and its advertising. The content of a brand grows. Out of the cumulative memory of these acts, provided they are governed by a unifying idea or guideline. Kellogg’s, for instance, does not attach its name to any product: Frosties, All Bran, Special K, Rice Krispies all bear the marks of a single intention, marks that display certain values, attributes, and guiding principles. These are original, creative, healthy products for our times, universal products created with great refinement. This is a brand with flair, inventiveness, and a gift for quality.

The importance of memory in comprising a brand explains why its image can vary structurally from generation to generation. People who knew Gillette fifty years ago, when it appeared on the now famous blue blade, necessarily have a different conception of the brand from young fans of the disposable Gillette. The way we are introduced to a brand creates an anchor in our memories that shapes all future perceptions.

This is the problem with two-track brands like Citroen cars: the brand image of those who discovered Citroen through the 2CV is diametrically opposed to that of individuals who first encountered it in the forms of the sleek DS or the XM. Then there are drivers who still remember its Traction Avant model, introduced before the Second World War. The memory factor also helps to explain why individual preferences endure. Within a given generation, people continue to prefer the brands they liked between the ages of seven and eighteen, as much as twenty years later (Guest, 1964; Fry et al, 1973; Jacoby and Chestnut, 1978).

A Brand is a Genetic Program

A brand is both the memory and the future of its products. A genetic analogy provides a key to understanding how brands work. The brand memory that develops contains the program for all future developments, the attributes of later models, the characteristics they will have in common, and their family resemblance as well as their individual personalities. By understanding a brand's program, we can trace its legitimate territory and the area in which it can be extended, beyond the products that created it. The brand's implicit program reveals the meaning and direction of both former and future products.

A Brand Gives Products Their Meaning and Direction

The brand tells why products exist, where they come from, and where they are going. It also sets their guidelines. A brand is not a fact set in stone. It must be able to adapt to the times, to changes in buyers and in technology. Through subtle changes in what it produces, both in its products or services, and symbolically in its communication, this is how it stays up-to-date. A brand is built up from day to day; it is never set down once and for all. Of course its past must not determine its future too narrowly. But when a brand moves out in all directions, it can lose its meaning and become void of content.

The major brands have meanings that describe their content and their sense of direction. In the area of household appliances, for example, Siemens means durability, seriousness, and trust; it con¬jures up an image of careful, meticulous German workmanship. Hot-point stands for practicality, carefree use, and the familiarity of a close friend who has watched the children grow up. Philips has acquired a reputation for innovating for the general public, putting technology at the service of the general population. It becomes apparent that on every market, each major brand has its own meaning.

Brand is a Contract

A brand becomes credible through endurance and repetition. With time, the brand's program becomes a commitment. By creating satisfaction and loyalty, the brand enters into a virtual contract binding it to the market. In exchange, the brand earns an automatically favor¬able opinion of any new products it introduces. This reciprocal commitment explains why brands whose products have momentarily declined do not necessarily disappear. A brand is judged over the long term: there is always a margin for failure. Brand loyalty leaves it a respite for recovery. Without this, Jaguar would have vanished long ago: no other brand could have withstood the way its cars diminished in quality during the 1970s. This is one of the benefits a brand brings to its company, in addition to the image capitalization it makes possible and the "mental patent" effect referred to earlier.

The contract a brand establishes is economic, not legal. Brands difer in this way from other signs of quality, such as quality labels and certification. Quality labels or seals attest officially and legally that a product meets a set of specific characteristics previously laid down by public authorities, producers, and consumers. These characteristics determine a superior level of quality that distinguishes the product from other similar goods. Seals are collective marks held by a certifi¬cation agency which verifies production in accordance with a schedule of specifications.

Certification is therefore never acquired definitively, and it can be withdrawn. In France, the "Label Rouge," a national agricultural quality seal, guarantees an objective level of superior quality. Woolmark is a special type of seal: it, too, is a collective sign, but it is managed and held by a private organization, the Australian wool producers, who are the only ones who may receive the seal. Neither a brand nor a certificate of controlled origin offers legal guarantees of an objective quality level. It is only through its existence over time that a brand progressively becomes a virtual contract.

Source : Strategic Brand Management by Jean-Noel Kapferer.