The American Marketing Association (1960, pp. 9-10), stated one of the first definitions of a brand. They stated that a brand was “a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors” (AMA, 1960, pp. 9-10).
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Unfortunately, due to this definition being very product-orientated with a lack of definition for visual features, it was heavily criticised by a various amount of academics (Arnold, 1992; Crainer, 1995). Since then, the definition of ‘brand’ has been adapted to a more modern form. Many research academics offer a variant of the definition (Aaker, 1991; Doyle, 1994; Kotler, et al., 1996; Stanton, et al., 1991), with most of these using the revised version provided by Bennett (1988, p. 18) “a brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”
There have been a vast variety of other brand definitions, with some being more customer-orientated and others being more product orientated, but Bennett provides a simple and sophisticated definition on what a brand is.
A strong brand can offer a variety of benefits for a company as it can be used to differentiate between competitive offerings. This can allow a brand to become a critical factor for the success of a company. The majority of companies will seek to maintain an incredibly strong and positive brand that can identify with customers on a personal level.
This report will conduct an in-depth exploration into the various factors that constitute a successful brand, and how a company can build a strong brand. With brand image being such an integral force on a company’s success, it is imperative that they successfully create and manage their brand. A variety of factors that can impact on the creation and maintenance of a brand will be explored, included brand identity, brand image, brand equity, brand congruence, co-branding and the evaluation of brand performance.
A company should be have a clear, defined strategy on what their brand identity is meant to be. Kapferer (2012, p. 156) provides an excellent framework that allows a company to measure and decide on their brand identity. It measures brand identity on six levels, these are;
A company may seek to favour some of these factors more than others, or they will attempt to balance their brand identity amongst all of the factors. This is largely dependent on the industry in which the company operates. A company like Apple may focus on self-image, relationships and personality, whereas Marks & Spencer’s would be more concerned with self-image, relationship and culture.
Furthermore, Aaker (1997) conducted a detailed study to define five brand characteristics that can help develop a company’s brand identity or personality. The definition of brand personality is “the set of human characteristics associated with a brand” (Aaker, 1997, p. 347). The use of brand personalities has become more common because consumers often associate brands with human personality traits. Aaker (1997) defined the five brand characteristics as;
- Sincerity: Down-to-earth, honest, wholesome and cheerful.
- Excitement: Daring, spirited imaginative and up-to-date.
- Competence: Reliable, intelligent and successful.
- Sophistication: Upper class and charming
- Ruggedness: Outdoorsy and tough.
Brand characteristics can be used “to compare personalities of brands across product categories, thereby enabling researchers to identify benchmark personality brands” (Aaker, 1997, p. 354).
A company’s brand image can be measured through a variety of channels. One of these channels is in a literal sense, and is through the use of a logo. The American Marketing Association defines a logo as (AMA, 2015) “a graphic design that is used as a continuing symbol for a company, organization, or brand. It is often in the form of an adaptation of the company name or brand name or used in conjunction with the name”. Furthermore, Budelmann, et al., (2010, p. 7) define a logo as “a graphic representation of a brand…a logo is a picture that represents the collection of experiences that forms a perception in the mind of those who encounter an organization”. A logo can be used to portray a brands identity through the use of imagery, and allow a company to spread their brand awareness via a constant icon.
However, brand image is not only related to a company logo. It is also how consumers perceive a product or service that a company has to offer (Levy, 1978). This is strongly related to the brand identity or personality traits that a company attempts to adopts. However, the brand identity will be what the company is trying to achieve, whereas brand image is generally in regards to the consumers perception of a brand (Dobni & Zinkhan, 1990).
A company’s brand equity can be measured through a variety of methods. Feldwick (1996) identifies three main factors on how a company can measure their brand equity. These are; stating the total brand as a separable asset on the balance sheet, the level of strength of a consumer’s attachment to a brand and a description of the beliefs the consumer has about a brand. Different companies will measure their brand equity in different ways. Activision Blizzard value the goodwill of their company at approximately £7bn (Blizzard, 2014, p. 93), which will include how much they believe their brand equity to be.
Keller (1993) takes a more consumer-based approach to brand equity, suggesting that brand equity represents a condition where the customer is familiar with the brand, and recalls a favourable, strong brand association. This approach would be more concerning to a brand manager, as they would have to build a brand that is attractive to the target audience of the company. Furthermore, it would also mean that the company should be offered positive service quality, as brand equity can be heavily dependent on a consumers’ past experience with a company. This attitude allows brand equity to be very subjective and personal, meaning it is hard to measure or manage by a brand manager.
Co-Branding is a relatively recent branding strategy, with its original formation thought to be in the 1990s. One of the first research studies to be conducted on co-branding was by Norris (1992) who investigated brand alliance within the field of brand ingredients.
As competition becomes even stronger within markets, and with the introduction of more and more companies, the use of co-branding is becoming a more prominent strategy for companies to undertake (Washburn, et al., 2004). Co-branding strategies are being implemented through a variety of markets, from Betty Crocker and Hershey’s to Dell and Intel processors.
A co-branding strategy “represents a long-term brand alliance strategy in which one product is branded and identified simultaneously by two brands” (Helmig, et al., 2008, p. 360). Furthermore, there are four fundamental characteristics that compose co-branded products, these are:
- Participating brands should be independent before, during, and after the offering of the co-branded product (Ohlwein & Schiele, 1994).
- The co-branding strategy should be implemented on purpose (Blackett & Russel, 1999).
- Co-operation between two brands should be visible to potential customers (Rao, 1997).
- One product must be combined with two other brands at the same time (Hillyer & Tikoo, 1995).
If all four of these core characteristics are successfully implemented in a co-branding strategy, then it can provide a variety of benefits for all organisations involved. A co-branding strategy helped Kwik Shop stores appeal to all age groups and to “offer a range of healthful to indulgent eating options” (Odesser-Torpey, 2015, p. 1). This is because it teams up and ‘co-brands’ with a variety of restaurants across Iowa. This co-branding strategy helped the company grow its revenues, along with improving their brand image and spreading brand awareness. This would be a great success for any brand manager, however deciding on which companies to co-brand with, and how to successfully implement the strategy can be very difficult.
There has also been a growing interest in the co-branding of corporate brands and social or cause-related brands (Simmons & Becker-Olson, 2006; Dickinson & Barker, 2007). This is because a cause-related brand can bring a corporate brand “a Fair Trade value, a safety and ethical guarantee that they are beyond the level corporate brands can usually offer” (Senechal, et al., 2013, p. 367). Many brand managers will use this strategy to simplify the company’s co-branding strategies, as being associated with fair trade usually offers an instant positive reception and increased brand awareness.
The main purpose for companies to pursue a co-branding strategy is to increase customer awareness and perception of certain products. Prior research has concluded that pre-existing attitudes of one brand can be passed on and related to brands within the co-branding alliance (Simonin & Ruth, 1998). Dickinson & Barker (2007) highlighted that the existence of such a positive transfer between brands is one of the key motives for a company to follow a co-branding strategy.
Evaluation of Brand Performance
Although a brand manager may be able to successfully identify the company’s brand identity, and successfully market this brand image, they must also be able to monitor and evaluate their brand performance. There has been a direct link between brand performance and an increase in market share, premium pricing strategies and an increase in customer loyalty (Chaudhuri & Holbrook, 2001). This highlights the significant impact that branding has on a company’s financial and operational success.
Brand performance is generally measured through two methods, brand profitability performance and brand market performance. Profitability performance tries to relate a brand to revenues, whereas market performance is how the brand has impacted market share or sales volume (Chirani, et al., 2012). However, a company can combine both of these factors by monitoring market share, price and distribution coverage as indices for brand performance. If a brand is performing successfully then a company would expect an increase in market share and profitability.
There is definitely a variety of factors that can be accounted for by brand performance, and all have an intrinsic part to play in a company’s success. It is for this reason that a company will hire a brand manager to construct, maintain and monitor a brand profile, in the hopes of increasing profitability and market share.
There are a variety of frameworks and theories that a brand manager can utilise to successfully create a strong brand for a company. With branding being strongly linked with market and financial performance, it is imperative that a brand manager use these theories to their advantage. Furthermore, they can systemically go through the various theories to build and monitor a strong brand.
The brand identity and personality is the first stage to achieving this, and should be decided by the managers of a company. These traits would be heavily dependent on the products a company make, or the market they operate in. A brand manager will want to ensure that the perceived brand image of a company is in-line with the brand identity that managers were wanting to achieve. As the brand identity should be a reflection of the products that a company produces, this should already partly be met. However, the brand manager should ensure that all marketing activities are also centred on promoting the appropriate brand image to coincide with the desired brand identity.
After a brand manager has devised a successful brand image, they should continue to monitor the brand’s equity and performance. The brand equity can be measured via the balance sheet, but should primarily be valued based on consumer perceptions. As brand equity is heavily tied to customer experience, all employees of a company should ensure they are providing the highest degree of quality possible. Furthermore, a brand manager can also review the performance of a brand through market share and generated revenues. This is because a strong brand has strong ties to customer loyalty, which in turn should generate significant revenues for a company.
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