A company’s most valued asset are said to be its employees, according to Anne M. Mulcahy. They provide a company with a competitive edge in defining their organizational culture. This ultimately defines the company’s brand. In essence, therefore, it means that the brand forms a company’s core. Any business serious about creating sustained market dominance would invest heavily in defining their brand and increasing awareness among its target audience.
Take for instance Apple, the world’s most valued brand. The business has invested heavily to create products that resonate with convenience and simplicity. The euphoria that follows the release of their gadgets enables them to capture the moment and hence, evokes prestige among Apple users. This explains why any Apple product user would openly flaunt the bitten apple for all to see! Through heavy investment in research and analyzing client feedback, Apple has been able to capture the imagination of its potential and existing users.
How then can a company brand elements so as to have sustained brand experience among our users? The most essential thing to put in mind is to understand the times – we are in the information age, the digital age. It is characterized by heavy influence of digital media on human behaviour and connections. But then, as times change, as surely as they do, how best can one keep up with the dynamics?
Nevertheless, there are some fundamental realities that an enterprise needs to put into consideration as it undertakes implementation of a branding strategy.
First, they need to appreciate that consumers are endowed with information. Clients and potential clients continually research and try to get information about companies and their associated entities. They are always in search of perspectives, assessments and opinions on products before and after the purchase process. Characteristic of the contemporary times, social connections have become the focal point of decision making. The bulk of these fact finding processes and information sourcing occur on digital platforms. This requires brands to forge a way of converging with consumer interests on these platforms rather than seeking them out. Enhanced interactivity and engagement between a brand and its audience on social media is just a must in this age!
Secondly, it must be acknowledged that the traditional channels of corporate authority have lost a considerable level of confidence in the eyes of the public. This is the reason why the public believes more what a blogger posts than the official account from a company. It is worthy to note that employees have become more trustworthy than their seniors as information sources. To compound this, these peripheral voices of opinion have the potential to reach a wider audience than the traditional structured channels of company communication. For that reason, it would be indispensable for companies to leverage their employees and these fora to disseminate information about their brands.
It is interesting to note that business firms are losing grasp on monopoly of information. Through widespread information sharing on digital platforms, the public can get wind of facts about a product or a company without the involvement of the official communication structure of a company. And this is where Public Relations come in, to attempt to correct any defective image whenever destructive information leaks. Third party sources e.g. websites, social media channels, and other channels that exist outside of the structured communication channels must be considered when crafting a brand strategy in this age. This is the main reason why pundits argue that a company that lacks a social media presence commits suicide.
Nevertheless, the most basic fact that a company should consider is the fact that human needs, as much as they are varied, remain the same over time. Necessities, desires and their stimulation have remained the same from time immemorial. For instance, a good taste and appeal of water would always make one who has not taken any for some time, thirsty. What changes, nonetheless, is human mannerisms. A firm would therefore need to study demographic changes to keep abreast with the dynamics of the society. If they fail to adjust accordingly, they become be less marketable. Consider Kodak, the once hailed camera manufacturer. In 1975, it invented the digital camera. Instead of marketing the new invention, it held back in fear of disrupting its market. Sony and Canon saw the opportunity and went full throttle, and took over the market by storm. It is said that dinosaurs did not get extinct because they were weak, but die to their inflexibility to ecological changes. What are you doing as a brand to keep abreast with dynamics in the market?
The digital age, too, has enhanced transparency as far as sharing information is concerned. A visit to any digital platform would reveal plenty of reviews for companies and products. Any individual can review a product and broadcast the information to millions who have accessed to their platform. This therefore forces companies to be transparent as the only way to survive.
How then can a company effectively brand in these dynamic times? Several means exist but depend on the target audience and the available resources. However, it is imperative to note that there are specific essential concerns a firm must address to ensure prosper and effective communication of a brand identity and experience.
The basic requirement is the brand should have a story. I usually refer to it as the “why” of the firm. What is the motivation behind your product development, for example? For Apple, it is simplicity and convenience. Because of this, clients buy their products to be seen. Apple therefore sells prestige by availing convenience and simplicity! Your story has to be consistent, easy to relate to and provide a sense of direction. Through this, you ensure you have firm control of your brand or some other business will, like Kodak’s case!
Another way to build your brand effectively is utilize your employees. It has been observed that the public has waning confidence in formal company communication structures but tend to believe third party sources. As a brand keen on building your brand, leverage on your employees. For example, it pays to portray the unique abilities of your employees on public media as a way of showing confidence in the talent you have in delivery of value to consumers. Give motivation to employees to think and act as experts to make the brand values come alive in their interaction with stakeholders. Employees are better brand advocates since they have a wider scope of effect.
Another worthy factor to consider is to resolve to build your brand on ideas worth sharing. For instance, what values does your brand stand for? Do your brand elements (identity, experience, etc.) only serve as channels of product promotion or do they stand for something? A brand that is built on values can utilize these as the foundation of spreading influence among its target audience. It carries the possibility of creating a culture upon which branding content is created and built for a sustained market presence. Coca cola has used this tactic to last through generations with their emotive brand. This explains why, whenever one sights the Coke logo, they instantly feel thirsty. The brand is also associated with family times during Christmas celebrations (Coke Caravan idea). It therefore is synonymous with family values.
Furthermore, one should always think of the ultimate customer experience beforehand. Channels should be integrated their product delivery. Before the digital age, the sales pipeline was heavily used to facilitate the purchase process. It was wearisome and lacked the human touch. In the digital age, tangible aspects of a brand are integrated with digital channels to impact the target audience. Therefore, before a purchase is made, the client would involve themselves with fact finding about the product or company. After purchase, the buyer experiences that brand. This interaction would determine if the buyer would place a positive word of mouth through their associations or not. It also influences repeat purchases. Hence, a firm should create a mechanism of integrating physical aspects of branding (product, visuals, etc.) with leverage their digital aspects for effective branding strategy (social media influence, reviews, etc.).
Lastly, most businesses anchor their brand experience on technology. Have you ever noticed that many banks have ticketing systems yet clients still complain about long queues? This is an indication of over reliance on systems. It would be imperative for firms to marry systems with the brand story to have an influential brand experience. Having a strong technological system without a story results into a mechanical, out of touch shell of a brand. It evokes no feeling. In as much as technology is a must have, it should serve as a brand enabler of the main brand infrastructure – the brand story. To have a firm brand experience, technology should complement the brand story.
Building a brand in this day and age would require effort, diligence and heavy investment of time resources. All dominant brands have their ear on the ground to monitor any changes on the ground and shift their strategy accordingly. With digitization of the world, the dynamics are even more fluid than ever before and hence the need for brands to be versatile in keeping with these changes.
Otherwise, like the dinosaurs of old, they risk extinction and their places being taken over by more adaptive and flexible ones! If you do not take care of your brand, some other entity will surely come and take it over!