By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Understand the importance of customer-focused branding
- Explain the steps in defining and developing a brand
- Describe the benefits of brand advocacy
In a business context, the word brand has multiple meanings. First, a brand name is the name of a product or service offered by a company. For example, Coca-Cola and Goodyear are brand names. But the brand also means the image a company promotes and the connotations it fosters of itself and its products. For example, the Coca-Cola brand might be seen as refreshing, youthful, and quintessentially American. The Goodyear tire brand might be seen as performance-driven, affordable, and reliable. A logo, advertising messages, public perception, celebrity endorsements, promotional strategies, and other factors all play a part in promoting a company’s particular brand.
Branding is often less about a product’s actual benefits or value, and more about how it positions itself within its target market and connects with its loyal customers. Establishing a brand at a company’s inception is more challenging than managing a brand that has been present for many years. In the case of a start-up, the initiatives undertaken must be customer centric and should speak directly to the heart of the consumer. These must have a trustworthy and emotional appeal to create a bond with the customer. Let’s delve deeper into this.
The image a company conveys to its customers is managed through what is called brand strategy, which can include advertising, public relations, customer service, and sales promotions.
One common branding strategy is the use of taglines, which are short and catchy positioning statements that quickly communicate some core aspect of the brand to the consumer. Taglines can be a powerful tool, and in some cases can become as recognizable as the brand names themselves. Consider the list of taglines from recent start-ups in Table 8.6. Do they do a good job of communicating the key attributes or benefits of the brand name they are linked to?
|Hello Fresh||Simply Delicious Meals|
|BirchBox||Open to Beautiful|
|Snapchat||Life Is More Fun When You Live in the Moment|
|LuminAID||Makers of Brilliant Things|
|Uptown Cheapskate||Buy. Sell. Trade.|
Consider the taglines shown in Table 8.7. They have been around for a long time, and most customers are familiar with them. Why do you think these taglines have endured over time?
|Mature Companies||Taglines That Have Endured Time|
|Nike||Just Do It|
|Walmart||Save Money, Live Better|
|State Farm||Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There|
|Master Card||There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there is Mastercard.|
|Maybelline||Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Maybelline.|
|Red Bull||Red Bull Gives You Wings|
|General Electric||Imagination at Work|
Consider, also, how jingles can have a powerful effect on people’s recollection of a message. A jingle is a very short song or sound that brands a product or company and helps promote it. These tunes are very easy to remember, bold, and fun. Jingles are similar to taglines in that they feature a sound that is catchy and easy to understand by the recipient. Which jingle do you remember off the top of your head?
Other components in a brand include the website, social media, customer service, and packaging. These are important components of a branding strategy that use technology to convey the message. A website allows a company to create an image of its business pages that are linked to each other. These pages convey branding information about a company that sends a message to the consumer through the use of the business logo, colors, copy, ease of use, product information, and e-commerce capabilities. The LuminAID website conveys an image and at the same time has important calls to action and serves as an example of successful branding. This site uses colors, images, and fonts that create a specific image of modern lighting that entices customers to purchase the products and other stakeholders to give light to people who need it.
In addition to the ability of a business’s website to convey the company’s story, social media platforms reinforce the connection to the consumer. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube allow companies to invite customers to join the conversation by posting pictures of their use of products, making recommendations, participating in contests and giveaways, and obtaining coupons and other perks. Entrepreneurs have these tools at their disposal to continue creating the image of the business that perhaps got started as a brick-and-mortar business. Today, tools such as Wix, an easy, online website builder, can be used to develop this branding. Entrepreneurs with larger budgets can hire a website designer to create and help promote the site.
Customer service is another tool that can create a strong company image. Training salespeople and cashiers to be courteous, resourceful, and knowledgeable creates an image in the customer’s mind about the product and the business. Wearing uniforms can also create a positive image. Customer service is particularly helpful when dealing with services because it gives some tangibility to the product that the customer cannot see. For example, a hairstylist cannot provide a tangible depiction of how a haircut might look on a customer, but the stylist's demeanor, attire, and hair can give the customer clues as to what treatment and results to expect. Packaging is an important component of branding. The design of the package, the color, the information that is conveyed on the package, and the practicality of the package all create an image of what is to be expected from the product.
Method, an environmentally conscious and customer-focused brand of cleaning products, is an example of a company that distinguished itself from the competition by employing effective branding strategies. By using recycled, environmentally friendly packaging and promoting their commitment to using plant-based, nontoxic chemicals, the company was able to attract the attention of, and eventually place their products in, Target stores nationwide.
First, Method convinced Target to use their products to clean their own stores; after a successful test, they convinced the company to carry its line, which includes soaps, detergents, and cleaners (Figure 8.10). Its quirky brand message helped land the account, as Target is a progressive and innovative retailer. The brand message that Method conveyed to them was that everything inside the cleaning bottles was plant-based, and no harsh chemicals were used in creating the product. The products were either as or more effective than leading brands. In this case, the brand message conveyed the mission of the company in all of its products by integrating all the aspects together in a simple manner through the use of clear bottles, quirky fonts, and (nontoxic) colored liquid.
The benefits of developing a good brand are several. A brand is the image of a product or service that conveys to customers who when they purchase from a particular brand, they will receive the value (quality, price, and experience) they expect. The next time they see that brand, they will choose it again because their previous expectations were met, simplifying their buying-decision process. New products must also break through crowded marketplaces and be visible to consumers who already have an attachment to other brands.
Trust in a brand can save the consumer time and may create an emotional connection to the company. However, not all benefits work for all brands and all purchase decisions. When a customer is purchasing low-commitment products and services, like cleaning products, the decision process can be quick and heuristic. When purchasing more expensive items such as electronics, vehicles, or vacations, the brand is just one of many attributes the consumer will consider.
Defining and Developing a Brand
A brand should have a clear purpose derived from the company’s mission. If the purpose is to provide plant-based cleaners that are not harmful to people, pets, or the environment, as in the case of Method, then the brand must communicate this throughout all of its interactions with its consumers. The unique selling proposition, as described in Identifying Entrepreneurial Opportunity, benefits, qualities, and overall image should be conveyed throughout the marketing mix to tell a story. In addition, the brand should have a well-designed logo, the company/product name, merchandise, promotional items, location of the business (that also provides an image or tells a story), and any other tools that communicate with buyers.
Keep in mind that there are differences in branding regarding business size and type. When starting a business, it is likely that you will brand your entire business with one logo, one name, and matching promotional items, business cards, and product packaging. As your number of products grows, you would likely develop different packaging and different images for other product categories.
Figure 8.11 provides a checklist of items that help develop a brand for your venture.
Promotion through Brand Advocacy
One way to promote your brand is to identify loyal customers who are willing to share positive feedback about it. A brand advocate is someone who is a fan of your products and passes on the word to others. Brand advocacy is a potentially inexpensive means of building a brand and one that entrepreneurs should explore. One simple way to motivate brand advocacy is by asking your best customers and fans to refer other customers to you, leave online reviews, and/or to blog or comment about your company and products online. Companies often offer discounts and promotional codes to encourage brand advocates to spread the word.
The key to effective brand advocacy is to know the goal of your advocacy campaign, look for ambassadors (there are many online and in-person events), ask them to perform a task, and reward them for doing so.
An example of advocacy branding is to create a contest to engage consumers who love your product so they can share pictures on social media. IKEA did this in 2016, when it started a contest to win a personalized wardrobe using the hashtag #JoyOfStorage to entice its most loyal fans to share their IKEA products online. The contest asked customers to post pictures of their IKEA products on Facebook (Figure 8.12). This campaign allowed IKEA to engage and reward loyal customers in a fun way, while also using word-of-mouth marketing to expand their marketing reach.
After living in Los Angeles for a few years, South Korean natives Jin Sook and Do Wong Chang decided to open a clothing store. They named it Fashion 21. The store became a success, bringing in over $700,000 in revenue in 1984. Next, they decided to open new stores twice a year while at the same time changing the name of the store from Fashion 21 to Forever 21, expanding their brand globally. While the stores have historically generated over $3 billion in annual sales, the retailer recently filed for bankruptcy, citing struggles to pay vendors and landlords. The filing comes along with the closing of 178 underperforming US stores and allows Forever 21 to “simplify things so we can get back to doing what we do best.”15
Bankruptcy aside, Sook and Chang have remained at the helm of the company and their children are also in management, one working in marketing and the other in branding. Branding helps the company remain relevant to its youth segment by positioning itself as trendy, innovative, and particularly adaptive to ever-changing tastes in fashion. The company uses its logo, retail stores, and website to showcase its trendy image.
Forever 21 has been sued several times for copyright infringement, as the essence of the company is to provide fashion looks inspired by runway designs but offered at a lower price point. Forever 21 has a long history of settling copyright suits, including a case involving H&M. It has been in legal battles with Adidas, Puma, and Gucci as well.
- If you were the branding manager, how would you prevent these suits from happening?
- How would you develop a better image of the company?
- 15Erica Gonzales. “Forever 21 Has Officially Filed for Bankruptcy.” Harpers Bazaar, September 30, 2019. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/trends/a28849065/forever-21-bankruptcy/