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Understanding and Managing the Brand Space
Globalization, liberalization, market dispersion and other environmental factors have made it expedient for organizations to create brands that reflect these changes. That is why Shocker, Srivastava and Ruekert (1994) insist that Marketers must have to constantly adapt to and instigate changes in order to create competitive advantage.
Although the fundamental essence of branding, that is, customer perceived value remain the same, responses to such changes have increased the difficulty of organizational management of brands. This is because the increasing complexity and necessity for brand stability necessitates an expansion extending beyond customer-seller relationship to a redefined relationship that includes employees, the investment community, the media, suppliers, governments and sometimes competitors. Such construct expresses the meaning of a brand favouring the adoption of Multilogue instead of Dialogue, (Berthon et al, 2003) where all partners collectively affect, define and redefine the relationship (Hinde 1979).
Consequently, the understanding of brands and the import of brand dynamics become even more imperative for marketing managers. This is because inadequate understanding of the nature and evolution of brands could inadvertently lead to failure in brand extension and/or brand management in general.
Such mistakes arising from improper negotiation of brand transition with relevant stakeholder are ubiquitous. For instance Ford Motors Co. and Firestone have experienced disasters arising from improper management of brand identity; similarly, coca-cola have had similar experience even though they quickly responded in a way that restored the brand identity by leveraging the strength of their heritage.
Morden complexity of brand management makes it expedient to employ new approaches and models that employ both appropriate tools and deep understanding of the customer and other stakeholders, noting that availability of information is increasingly weakening marketers' control over their brands.
The Brand Space
The relevance of understanding and properly managing brand led Berthon, Holbrook, and Hulbert to developed a theoretical framework by which organizations may effectively manage their brands. Their proposal of a “brand space” concept, having two dimensional matrix viz: the degree of abstraction (a measure of brand independence from its associated product) and the degree of enactment (a measure of brand focus on the meaning or functionality of product) comes in handy.
By their theoretical framework, brands move in the first dimension from low abstraction, evolving through product specificity, group, product theme to embody an idea, concept or image at a high abstraction level; or evolve in the second dimension from low enactment where the brand evolves from purely functional, generic, differentiated product to high enactment. Thus, this theoretical framework favours the view that in modern market dynamics, a brand should symbolize relationships and experiences, (Berthon, Hulbert and Pitt, 1999) and not only product in order to present substantive value.
To better expatiate the meaning and context of the brand space in a way that would be better appreciated by organizations, the author isolates four archetypal positions in the space, which includes:
The Reified-Functional Brand: Although this is the starting point of brand abstraction and in a quadrant generally easy to understand, many organizations still make mistakes in the way brands are managed in this quadrant. Again technological advancement such as web recommendation systems makes the substitution of highly functional brands with alternative products easy.
The Reified-Enacted Brand: this premium quadrant allows brand owners to exercise relatively strong control, while racking in extra money above the functional value of products. A typical example is Rolex, Bang and Olufsen, etc.
The Abstract-Enacted Brand: this quadrant hold brands that have moved beyond reified brand. The best way to avoid mistakes that may spell doom for companies wanting to move their brands into this quadrant is by implementing and encompassing brand architecture expressing clear relationships within a family of products. The major disadvantage of this quadrant is the effect a poor quality product can have on the entire brand identity.
The Abstract-Functional Brand: this is the position of choice despite the fact that consumers exercise considerable authority over products in this category. Coca-cola, Sony and IBM are in this quadrant.
The management of brands is very important to companies. However, the continuous evolution of the market place by virtue of societal, demographic and technological changes makes continuous adaptation and on time response imperative. However, many organizations strive for an Abstract-Enacted brand which enables them to weather any storms that may accompany market changes, product changes or extension and general brand evolution.
The discipline of brand management is as important today as when it was started in Procter & Gamble due to a memo by Neil H. McElroy, (Aaker, D. A. and Joachimsthaler, E., 2000) that noted that a good brand should be protected (or at least protectable), easy to pronounce, easy to remember, recognize, translate, and should be able to attract attention, suggest product benefits, company, distinguish product's position and stand out.
To achieve these characteristics and strategically position a company's brand for the future, identifying and adequately managing a company's location in the brand space becomes indispensable because it gives a clear perspective of where they intend the brand to be, thus strategically positioning the company in the face of hypercompetition and continuously changing marketplace. Even with ever changing organizational forms, brand management will adapt and thrive if managers accept necessary brand challenges that will improve competitive ability, (Low and Fullerton 1994).
By understanding the various dynamics of the brand space, companies can make wiser branding decisions, particularly as they confront escalating competition and rapidly changing markets. The theory also helps marketers to better appreciate the “inextricable character of brand and category meanings, suggesting that once a significant relationship is established the meaning of the brand becomes inseparable from the value of the product class per se” (Fournier, 1998).
Aaker, D. A. and Joachimsthaler, E (2000). Brand Leadership. New York: The Free Press. pp. 1-6.
Berthon, P., Holbrook, M. B., & Hulbert, J. M. (2003) “Understanding and managing the brand space”, MIT Sloan Management Review, 44 (2), pp. 49-54.
Berthon, P.R., Hulbert, J.M and Pitt, L.F. (1999) “Brand Management Prognostications,” Sloan Management Review (winter): 53-65.
Fournier, S. (1998) “Consumers and Their brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer research” Journal of Consumer Research, Inc., 24(March), pp. 343-373
Hinde, R. A. (1979), Towards Understanding Relationships, London: Academic Press
Low, G. S. and Fullerton R. A. (1994), “Brands, Brand Management and the Brand Manager System: A Critical-Histor- ical Evaluation,” Journal of Marketing Research, 31 (May), 173-190.
Shocker, A. D., Srivastava, R. K., Ruekert, R. W. (1994) “Challenges and Opportunities Facing Brand Management: An Introduction to the Special Issue”, Journal of Marketing Research, 31(2), Special Issue on Brand Management (May), pp. 149-158.