The importance of defining your brand
We are getting much more involved in brand conversations with our clients. Within the asset management industry, it is very difficult to differentiate on a number of fronts: not many can set themselves apart on price, due to margin pressures in the industry; much of the technology that sits behind the service and interaction is white-labelled, and we all have relatively similar product ranges.
The main reason that brand has become so topical, is because it is the core way in which businesses are now thinking about creating marginal advantage and really focusing on the best way to articulate their story and their purpose.
Many brands have not been able to use marketing in the way that they normally would. With the current state of affairs – given the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, as two examples – brands are struggling with what they should legitimately or authentically be doing.
The ones that are struggling, are the brands that don’t have their vision, mission, purpose and promise in place. If you know what your brand is all about it, it is much easier to understand how you can react or not react.
Where does brand come from?
The concept of brand has been around for a long time, but has not always been called branding. Historically it was about identifying alliances or giving information about belonging, like a national flag or a coin.
The term ‘brand’ originates from cattle branding, where you use a symbol that represents certain information. From this symbol, it is understood which farmer that cattle belongs to. It is coded information and a learned way of communicating. Just like the way
we recognise that we need to stop when a traffic light is red – we know what something means when we see it without it explicitly saying it.
This principle is very important in branding. We need to infuse meaning into brand.
So, what is brand?
There are plenty of definitions of brand and several different views on what brand is. As a reference, the business dictionary describes brand as:
“a unique combination of designs, signs, symbols, words, etc. employed in creating an image that identifies a product or service and differentiates it from its competitors. Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality and satisfaction in the consumer’s mind, standing for certain benefits and values.”
So, we can understand that a brand represents something, and sends out that message. In receiving that information, the recipient creates an image in their mind, and forms an opinion about what that brand is saying. Another crucial element of this is that it happens over time. It involves building a relationship – creating an image that you have thought through strategically, while building trust and loyalty.
A brand is not just the logo and it’s not just a name, it consists of many different touch points. Where is your office? How do you answer the phone? Every element of the brand is a touchpoint. And it has an impact on how the consumer perceives you.
In 1988 Nestlé bought Rowntree for £2.6 billion. Rowntree’s book value at the time was £300 million. There was a gap between what it was factually worth and what Nestlé thought it was worth. This highlights the perceived value that can be tied to a brand and that can give a company added value and brand equity within an industry. Intangible assets can be knowledge, know-how or goodwill – or in this case the extremely loyal and vast customer base added huge value to the brand.
Defining your brand
It is incredibly important to define and articulate your brand and there are various frameworks that we can use to help do this. Brand frameworks and terminology differ from company to company and even within a company – and this is fine. As long as everyone within a company is aligned in what the brand meaning is, the framework and terminology doesn’t matter.
Frameworks can be triangles, keys, bullseyes or a brand house. It’s more the content that’s within it and ensuring that everyone is aligned to what it means and why it’s there – those are the important elements.
Within these frameworks and in the articulation of brands various common terms are used:
Brand vision and brand mission
These are critical parts of defining a brand and building brand equity:
- Brand vision is generally accepted to be the blue-sky thinking, where the brand wishes to be. It would normally be something that would stay consistent for at least five years, when you may want to revisit it to ensure it is still relevant.
- The brand mission is about how you achieve the vision. It is often internal, as well as external, where companies will relate to their people and workforce. The mission tends to be a list of things, whereas a vision tends to be a carefully crafted statement.
The brand purpose
This is similar to a vision, but it’s more consumer-facing. Some brands will have a vision and a mission and won’t have a purpose. Some brands will have a purpose and they will not have a vision and a mission. And again, that can be okay, as long as everyone’s clear what the terminology is and what’s being defined.
This is the space you want to occupy. In terms of your consumers and clients’ minds within your competitive set, this one’s really critical and is a foundation of branding. This is where you want to be considered to have leadership credentials in the sector versus your competitors. It is really challenging in sectors such as asset management where there are lots players with similar offerings and products or services.
Brand value statements
These tell consumers why they should choose you and not others.
Ensuring you have a clear idea of your target audience, is crucial. Some brands may have the target audience of everyone, whereas others may be much more niche. This will really alter how you execute and deliver.
Reasons to believe
These are important because you can do be fantastic at what you do, but it could fall down because there’s nothing to substantiate it. You need to be clear as to why your positioning is believable. If you have strong client relationships, a good exercise is to get their perspective on who they see as your competitors. Sometimes the internal and external view is different.
A large part of why it is important to consider all of the above factors is to understand how you execute as a brand. What is your brand personality? What is your tone of voice? What you look like, what you are brand colours are. And how do all of these elements fit with the brand that you are trying to build and the vision that you’re trying to achieve? Ensuring that your messaging is clear and concise is key to a strong brand.
So, if we think back to the initial message around cattle branding, the core concept remains. Brands are really powerful tools to create value and identity. It allows you to engage with customers and amplify your message through all the noise that is out there. It is an abstract concept and it can be managed in various ways. So, there’s no single approach or one-size-fits-all. Create a way that works for your business. Our world is constantly changing, so it is critical to stay relevant and up to date by adjusting strategies and tools.