Interestingly, a few generations ago brand management didn’t exist. The paradox of choice didn’t exist, because people didn’t have a choice. Marketing operations such as Content marketing, advertising and PR are rooted and informed by a higher guiding strategy about what the brand will represent to the target audience. Brand management is the core of any business. I grew up in a post-Soviet union country, where everything was produced and owned by the government. Central monopoly eliminated competition. Even in Western countries, people didn’t experience 100 different varieties of cheese and candies in supermarkets. Supermarkets weren’t that super indeed.
Today your brand doesn’t compete only on a local market, businesses have access to everywhere around the globe. Moreover, people in China have similar buying preferences to people in Belgium. We all like French cheese, Italian pasta brands, McDonald’s, Japanese matcha and Facebook.
When new goods are created they will join a vast sea of existing goods. In the swimming pool of brands, it is an extremely hard job to stand out and deliver your value proposition to the target audience. Businesses success doesn’t depend on just the superiority of the product. The ability to deliver the brand idea to the right audience is an important key element to sustainable business growth.
An idea about the brand… A human brain is a complicated organ, yet it likes to choose the fastest and the simplest answer that comes to mind. We associate brands with a carousel of pictures and emotions, and those stick to our memories for entire forever.
When you think about Tiffany & Co, the Tiffany blue color first comes to your mind. Color is the first and the most commonly used branding element. For example, Starbucks is green and McDonald’s is red.
But brand associations can extend to a whole phrase and an entire idea. “You never actually own a Patek Philippe”. Simple idea, that shows timelessness of each Patek watch. The advertising tells us that as a customer you don’t own a Petek, you look after it for the next generation.
Brand management is not advertising. But brand management starts with the main idea, its’ center, its’ core.
It is extremely hard to make everybody “get the idea”, understand what you see as a business owner. Having the clarity and the confidence to define value in compelling ways is the first step in building a sustainable brand.
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Differentiation is the key to brand building success. It’s not enough to be a good brand, you have to be different by bringing to the most value to a specific segment of customers and not in abundant supply elsewhere. Defining who you are as a business and how you bring benefit to consumers gives you a competitive advantage in your industry.
Knowing your brand’s DNA of the value offered to the marketplace is only part of the problem. The difficulty lies in the process of communication the DNA through various marketing channels and staying consistent. Customer experience with your brand has to be identical. If the brand is strongly associated with traditional, timeless branding, then all actions throughout marketing channels have to correlate.
Brand management is not marketing. Marketing strategies will change with time and reflect the business environment, whereas brand management will always stay at a core of business and serve as a guideline to all marketing schemes. It doesn’t make any sense to raise brand awareness without communicating them the right image they should associate with the brand. Thus, marketing always follows brand strategy.
The four components of a brand
It’s impossible to understand brand management without defining what a brand is.
“You have to stay true to your heritage; that’s what your brand is about.” — Alice Temperley.
A brand is a sum of all experience a customer has with you.
Brand Purpose: Why do you do what you do?
Brand Identity: Who is your brand? Symbols, logos, color, culture, and history of a company. This is the main component of a brand, it is what your brand represents to customers.
Brand Promise: What value your brand promises to customers? Functional, emotional or rational benefits that customers received by purchasing your product or service.
Brand Experience: How do you deliver Brand Promise to your customers? Tangible or intangible experience customers have by consuming your product.
Each component is vital in enduring brand designing. These four component have to come together harmonically align within the mind of the target customer.
What does a brand manager do?
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” — Warren Buffett.
A brand manager is responsible for keeping and improving the overall image of a business. Key job requirements are analyzing marketplace environment (competitive positioning); developing marketing and advertising strategies and managing those budgets; overseeing promotional activities; tracking marketing trends; analyzing pricing and sales and mostly importantly reevaluating how the brand is perceived by target customers.
Brand managers convey a message to a brand’s audience that the brand can be trusted and the promised value will be delivered. Brand managers build customer perceptions about product and service.
A good brand manager helps to build corporate image and all its elements. Tangible corporate elements like websites, logos, graphics, colors, and sales sheets. As well as intangible elements like personality, positioning, emotional connect, customer experience.
Cultural differences in brand management
Western brand management
For western countries, a brand is a sacred concept. At the beginning of the 20th century the theory of “free-standing brands” highly influences brand management. Thus the majority of customers think that they are buying products from different brands, whereas in reality they are all produced by the same corporation. In Western countries, a lot of brands is positioned independently from the central manufacturing company.
Creating a new brand for a Western company is a long-term investment. Although in the first years, it requires huge investments both in production and advertising.
Individual brands are independent product names. A classic example of brand management approach is Unilever. All types of its products have their own names — Rama margarine, Lipton tea, Nivea, etc., and most consumers do not even suspect that such diverse goods belong to one company.
Japanese brand management
In Japan, brand management is completely different. Historically, after active market development in the 50–60s price was the factor of choice. Japanese buyers to this day value high-quality goods and services. (In Asia consumers consider buying goods as a long-term investment. So, high-quality product is preferable, because miser pays twice.) Only big companies could guarantee consistency since they were able to invest big amounts in scientific researches. Japanese companies and advertising agencies abandoned the creation of “free-standing brands” and introduced their own sub-brand system.
Sony and Panasonic are well-known examples of umbrella for sun-brands that share product line. Thus, historically in Japan brands carry much lower meaning for consumers than a company name. This is why Japanese companies are much more likely to place a corporate logo on television commercials and print ads. Even to this day sub-brands are strongly associated with the main company. It is always Sony Playstation, Sony Pictures or Sony Music.
Today Japanese businesses are absorbing western methods and more companies are using “free-standing brand”. For example, Toyota and Lexus, car manufacturers, are positioned separately, but they are both produced by Toyota.
In the USA umbrella concept was used by Procter & Gamble. At the end of the 90s, at the end of the commercials for various products of Procter & Gamble, its golden logo and captions appeared: “P & G Products”.
But the main difference will stay the same. In the West, a brand is a long-term investment, and brands live for decades. In Japan sub-brands only lasts until they have a competitive advantage.
To wrap it all up,
Brand management is a complicated job since market saturation is on a peak. To stay competitive businesses have to define 4 core component of a brand: identity, purpose, promise, and experience. And then craft a unique brand strategy to communicate the right image in the customer segment’s mind. No matter where you are in Japan or in Belgium, differentiation is a key to sustainable business growth. Everything else including content marketing management, PR, social media crisis planning, product distribution comes second.