What makes a strong brand?

Brands survive due to several reasons, such as commitment to quality, fostering loyalty, and everyone's favourite, brand awareness.

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chris
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What makes a strong brand?

Introduction

"I'm not a businessman. I am a business, man." Jay-Z

American entrepreneur and rapper Shawn Corey Carter (Jay-Z) is a business, man. He and everything he does as a person is conducive to strengthening his brand.

If Jay-Z (or another high-profile rap artist, for that matter) opened a hotel, we could all imagine how that might look and feel. What might a hotel look and feel like if "The Warehouse" or perhaps "Harley Davidson" opened one? Or even your local yoga studio?

What would a hotel look like and feel like if your brand opened a hotel? Would it be confusing every day when people you weren't expecting were checking in? Or would it be your loyal customers?

Take this a step further, and consider how your strongest competitor's hotel might look. Would your ideal customers be checking into their hotel or yours?

Of course, we are not all super-star rappers, but that's not the point. As much as Shawn Carter is "the business", so is the entity that is your business. It might be that you are a limited liability company, a startup sole-trader or maybe a freelancer; regardless, everything that entity does should be conducive to building a stronger brand.

What is a strong brand?

The strength of a brand, or how much value it holds, is measured as brand equity. That makes sense, right? The more equity something holds, the more valuable it is. So what is brand equity, I hear you ask? Brand equity is a list of brand assets (and liabilities) linked to a brand and its logo that adds to the value of the stuff you're selling. The higher the value, the more money customers are prepared to cough up.

What are brand assets?

Many people throw around the term "brand awareness" like handfuls of lollies at a lolly scramble, but brand awareness is just one of the assets that make up a brand. If you're trying to generate more money, the real kicker is that brand awareness is the least important one! Here are the others (in order of what you should probably be worried about):

  • Perceived quality
  • Brand loyalty
  • Brand awareness
  • Brand associations
  • Other proprietary brand assets for competitive advantage.

I have struck the last two off because I'm not going to cover them in this article, but be aware that they exist.

Like you manage financial assets, brand assets require management and investment to generate value or become liabilities. Let's touch on each of the brand assets to give you an idea of where you might need to put some resources.

Perceived Quality

There are various reasons why perceived quality is at the top of the list; however, only perceived quality has been shown to drive financial performance among the numerous brand associations. Perceived quality is often the major (if not the principal) guiding strategy for large businesses.

It isn't easy to demonstrate that perceived quality drives financial performance, but three significant studies have done it Jacobson & Aaker (1987), Anderson et al. (1994, and Aaker & Jacobson (1994).

When perceived quality improves, so do other elements of customers' brand perception.

Changing Perceptions of Quality

Trying to achieve perceptions of a high-quality product or service is usually impossible unless what you're claiming has natural substance. Each of your customer segments will have different measures of what quality is, and it's on you as the business owner to make sure you have a quality improvement process that can enable you to deliver higher quality.

Actual quality and what a customer perceives can be completely different. Perhaps a customer is heavily influenced by a previous poor quality experience. They might not believe it when you say your stuff is of high quality, even if it's true, and what makes this even harder to deal with is that they probably don't care to verify what you're trying to say. It's easier for them to dismiss you and consider an alternative.

It is long-term mission-critical to protect your brand from gaining a reputation for delivering stuff of poor quality. Recovering from that is extremely difficult.

Interestingly, customers can rarely source all the information to make an objective judgement on quality, nor can they probably be bothered. As a result, they often rely on one or two primary cues that they associate with quality. The key to influencing people's perceived quality of your product/service is understanding and managing those cues in your favour. It's essential to understand the little things that consumers use as the basis for making a judgement call on quality.

"If consumers kick a car's tires to judge its sturdiness, then the tires had better be sturdy." (Aaker, 2018)

Lastly, customers might not know how best to judge a product/service's quality. They might be looking at the wrong cues (tires on a car, for example). Be prepared to educate your new customers about how quality is reflected in your products/services. For example, as part of developing websites, we often need to educate our customers that high-quality websites must look great and be mobile-friendly and perform well on slower, lower-end mobile phones.

A jewellery store needs to educate first-time diamond ring buyers that quality is not necessarily reflected in the price or carat claims.

Brand Loyalty

Many businesses neglect brand loyalty as an asset to their brand, the reasons are numerous, but there are a couple of really valid reasons why you should consider it essential.

Firstly, a brand's value to a business is primarily created by customer loyalty. Secondly, considering customer loyalty as an asset justifies loyalty programs that help enhance brand equity.

A business that has a highly loyal customer base can expect to generate a very predictable sales stream; inversely, a brand without a loyal customer base usually is vulnerable but has the potential to create loyal customers.

It's often much cheaper to retain customers than attract new ones. Don't make the mistake of seeking growth by enticing new customers to your brand while neglecting your existing ones.

Having loyal customers is a great way to fortify defences against competitors. Enticing customers to change from one brand to another if loyalty is high can easily be prohibitively expensive for a competitor.

It would be best if you took the time to estimate the value of existing customers. If you're selling big-ticket items, even small percentages of defecting customers can have a massive impact on annual revenue. Additionally, small increases in customer retention can have a much higher percentage growth in profits.

Loyalty Segmentation

Consider the following loyalty segments:

  1. Noncustomers (customers not buying your stuff)
  2. Price switchers (those who are price-sensitive)
  3. The passively loyal (customers that buy out of habit rather than reason)
  4. Fence-sitters (those who are indifferent about who they buy stuff from)
  5. Committed (speaks for itself).

Now you have some opportunities:

  1. Increase the number of customers who are not price switchers
  2. Strengthen the fence-sitters
  3. Increase the number of who would pay more to use your brand

Don't neglect or take your passively loyal or committed customers for granted. Neglecting them makes them vulnerable to being won by your competitors. They are either easily convinced to switch brands or are worth investing in to try and take from you.

You might be surprised at the number of brands to which you are subscribed. Frequent buyer programs and custom clubs are among the most effective ways to build loyalty over an increasing number of products and services.

Of course, once you have your customer loyalty taken care of, now you can tackle the noncustomers, heck, go and steal some loyal customers from your competitors.

Brand Awareness

If customers' minds were full of mental billboards, and each one was a single brand, then the size of the billboard would reflect brand awareness. Awareness is measured according to the ways people remember a brand:

  • Recognition - Have they been exposed to this brand before?
  • Recall - What brands of a products/service class do they recall?
  • Top of mind - What's the first brand they recall?
  • Dominant - The only brand they recall.

Brand Recognition & Recall

Recognition alone can result in more positive feelings toward nearly anything, whether music, words, or brands. Consumers instinctively prefer an item that has previously been seen over one new to them. Anything from soap or advertising agencies, the familiar brand will always have the edge.

Economists say that consumer affinity for a familiar brand is not just an automatic response. When consumers see a brand and remember that they have seen it before, they realise that the company is spending money to support the brand. Since it is generally believed that companies will not spend money on dumb products, consumers take their recognition as a "signal" that the brand is good.

If you are a small business and compete with brands with more extensive visibility, awareness-building may be necessary. Historically competing with more prominent brands on recognition could be very difficult; it's a more even fight now with social media. You still need to compete with advertising budgets, but increasing visibility organically is entirely doable.

Brand recall is If your brand comes to a customer's mind when its product/service/industry is mentioned. It's necessary if you want to make it onto people's shopping lists or be remembered when requests for quotes are going out. Remember, there's a difference between recall and recognition. You don't want to end up in a "recognition graveyard" where customers recognise your brand but don't recall when the time is right to make a purchase decision.

Top of Mind & Dominance

The peak of brand awareness is top of mind or brand dominant in a recall test. This is reserved for those brands that are doing well or are super niche. However, it can be undone if their brand name becomes a household name that it becomes impossible to protect. Think Aspirin, Escalator, Windsurfer, Yoyo, Frisbee; all became so generic they can't protect their trademark anymore. Not a bad problem to have, though.

Positioning your brand in the recall/recognition matrix is complicated and requires a lot of research for your product/service class, usually reserved for more prominent brands. Just know that each is as important as the other. Overall, brand awareness is inherently difficult to measure, and digital tools that might claim to offer brand awareness metrics are usually in the early days of playing with machine learning to try and work it out and aren't there yet.

Summary

In summary, brand strength is measured in terms of brand equity. Brands survive due to several reasons, such as commitment to quality, fostering loyalty, and everyone's favourite, brand awareness.

Building strong brands is challenging but completely doable, as proven by all the brands that have already done it. As you can tell from this post, building a solid brand is no small task requiring time and a lot of energy.

If you haven't already subscribed, you should because we'll update you about our next post, which will be about the key to successful brand building - brand Identity - to know what the brand stands for and express that identity effectively.

Questions to Consider

  1. Evaluate the perceived value of your brands' products/services and those of your leading competitors. Are you satisfied with how that looks?
  2. How could brand loyalty levels be enhanced for your customers?
  3. What is the desired image of your brand?
  4. Is the communication effort consistent with your desired image for your brand?

References

Aaker, D. A. (2018). Building Strong Brands. MTM.

Jacobson, R., & Aaker, D. A. (1987). The strategic role of product quality. Journal of Marketing, 51(4), 31-44.

Anderson, E. W., Fornell, C., & Lehmann, D. R. (1994). Customer satisfaction, market share, and profitability: Findings from Sweden. Journal of Marketing, 58(3), 53-66.

Aaker, D. A., & Jacobson, R. (1994). The financial information content of perceived quality. Journal of marketing research, 31(2), 191-201.

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chris

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