Brands that carry with them a true persona, and the beliefs and experiences similar to a personality make a brand rise to a new level. After all, it's hard not to like someone with a good personality. In matters of branding, a personality helps to humanize an otherwise inanimate object or service so that a prospect's defenses are lowered. An attractive brand personality can pre-sell the prospect before the purchase, reinforce the purchase decision, and help forge an emotional link that binds the buyer to the brand for years to come. In such cases, "you are more willing to overlook flaws and search for strengths," writes Upshaw.
According to Kosgrove, small-company brands usually take on the personality of the entrepreneur who owns them. It's hard, he says, for an entrepreneur to create a brand that is a 180-degree turn against what the founder is like. Therefore, if the founder is a high adventure sports enthusiast, the brand will probably not be the favorite of a conservative investment banker. "A brand is everything that your customers know about you," says Kosgrove. Every contact they have with you helps to build that brand, good or bad. An entrepreneur or founder, to a large extent, is the brand because the personality and the interest of the founder is going to have a lot to do with the way that the company is perceived by others."
One entrepreneur whose personality permeates every aspect of his brand is Nicholas Graham, founder of Joe Boxer. The off-beat, humorous line of boxer shorts and loungewear that the company produces bears the distinctive image of the zany Graham himself, who is best known for unorthodox marketing antics like shooting an underwear-laden rocket into space and holding an undergarments "fashion show" on a transatlantic flight on Virgin Airways.
A brand's personality can offer the single most important reason why one brand will be chosen over another, particularly when there are few product or service features that are different between competing brands. The personality gives the consumer something to relate to that can be more vivid than the perceived positioning of the brand.
The personality, in some ways, is much more real than the other aspects of the brand because it is the outstretched hand that touches the customer as an individual.
Although a strong identifiable personality is not imperative, it can make it easier for customers and prospects alike to understand what the marketer has to offer. Even more important, a brand with a distinctive personality presents the would-be buyer with something he or she can relate to as an individual, a practical prerequisite for success in an increasingly individual-driven marketplace. Personality is usually shown in three ways.
Strengthening Your Core Brand
Although it has become somewhat of a fad amongst companies, co-branding is a way for businesses to extend their brand's identity and cut expenses by partnering with compatible products and services. For instance, Tropicana and Chiquita have made numerous fruit juice concoctions by blending their respective specialty flavors. And Betty Crocker uses real Hershey's chocolate in their brownie mix. And financial companies have even jumped on the bandwagon. A slew of credit card companies has-been teaming up with retailers to offer co-branded items such as the L.L. Bean credit card.
On the Web, co-branding, or what is better known as strategic relationships, are rampant. Besides content swaps, companies invite branded products and services to be sold from their sites in what are known as affiliate programs.
Co-branding works because it creates new excitement for the brands involved. One brand teams with another to offer a product with an enhanced (or seemingly so) benefit. However, before you jump into a co-branded relationship, ask yourself if the excitement that the deal will bring will build the brand or sabotage it. Sometimes a co-branding strategy isn't as advantageous as it may seem, particularly for small companies that oftentimes get overshadowed by larger partners. The larger company receives the added benefits from the smaller company's product, but the smaller company's brand doesn't really receive much attention.
Check that your potential partner is not only compatible with your product but also that it won't eclipse your own brand. For instance, Intel's Pentium Processor campaign has-been so successful that many computer buyers don't care whether they have an IBM or Hewlett-Packard or Dell computer. Instead, their question is, "Does it have Intel inside?" In fact, Intel has been so successful at marketing their brand that the industry now benchmarks the performance of other semiconductor chips based on Pentium by calling them Pentium-like Processors.
No two brands have exactly the same impact on the consumer. Therefore, one partner in every co-branding partnership will receive more attention than its counterpart. If that risk is accurately assessed and accepted by the junior partner and it's still a net gain for its brand identity, then the partnership is sound.
Identity contact is the sum total of all information and experiences that a customer or prospect has with a brand. As you can imagine, there are many different ways that a customer can have contact with a brand in such a way that it communicates his or her identity.
"It's the marketing team's job to prioritize identity contacts and to judge how they might contribute to the brand's identity, and in what way they are relevant to the realities of the consumer's everyday life," writes Upshaw.
For example, if a software company comes up with a new version of one of its programs, more can be done than just change a copy strategy and run new advertising; nearly all of the brand identity contacts can be manipulated to increase emphasis on the new functions of the software. For example:
- The product's packaging can be reprinted so that bursts highlighting a "New" or "Improved" version of the program.
- Store salespeople can wear pins alerting customers to ask them about the new software features.
- Support staff can tell current users that there is a new version available when they call for help or service on the older version of the software.
- The company can highlight the new product at trade shows or conventions.
- A press release can be generated about how programs need to keep pace with the demands of the workplace and provide proper functionality.
The following chart details some other popular examples of brand identity contacts:
|Brand ||Example Brand Identity Contract ||Contribution to Brand Identity |
|Pep Boys ||Follow-up phone call after servicing the car. ||Reminder that the auto maintenance shop cares about customer service; method to check up on efficiency/courtesy of service department; opportunity to remind customer of upcoming sales. |
|McDonald's ||Ronald McDonald Houses for the families of seriously ill children. ||In addition to its humanitarian value, RM houses remind parents of McDonalds' commitment to the American family. |
|MCI ||Electronic billboard tabulating how much MCI customers have saved by using its services. ||Brand-name registration in compelling way; reminder of savings positioned; revisable numbers send signal that MCI is on top of what's happening in prices. |
|Nike ||Advertisements with athletes of Olympic or star stature. Close-up of Nike logo on shoes of player in NBA championship or on Tiger Woods in PGA Gold Tours. ||Brand associated with the best athletes in their sport; reinforcement of superior quality or product and prestige of being worn by winners. |
Source: Building Brand Identity: A Strategy for Success in a Hostile Marketplace
Identity contacts are important because they can set a tone for subsequent contacts with the company and the brand. GM's Saturn is one brand that has been able to establish the commitment of the brand before a customer even walks into the showroom." Saturn said, 'We are not going to sell the car; we are going to sell the company's brand,'" says Kosgrove. "They say 'We are a different kind of car company, and we are going to prove it.' They do that by making sure that every point of contact with a customer is going to be completely different. When a customer enters the showroom, they see people in matching polo shirts rather than suits, and the showroom itself is clean and friendly, not slick. And when there is a service problem, they give coffee and doughnuts to the people when they come in, instead of being crabby with them and making them wait."
The result, says Kosgrove, is that the brand is known as just what they said it was — "A Different Kind of Car Company"— even though they are still selling the same products that every other car company is.
Grassroots marketing is a form of branding that has really hit its stride in the last few years. Sponsorships of everything from local baseball teams to non-mainstream musical events have been sought by marketers looking to carry their brands into the customer's backyard.
Vans, a shoe company in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., has led the way in sponsoring events that their younger customers care about. The sneaker company has become synonymous with alternative sports by hosting events in the skateboarding, BMX biking and snow boarding categories. Besides just sporting events, events where shoes are a prerequisite, the company has done well stepping into other areas of their customers' lifestyles. Vans sponsors the very popular alternative Warped Tour, an alternative music festival that combines other types of cutting-edge live entertainment. Last summer's roving tour featured punk and "ska" bands as well as pro demos from skateboarders, in-line skaters, rock climbers and BMX bikers. In past years, the tour has also featured the Mega-Pump Climbing Wall Competition and Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation.
Nantucket Nectars has also garnered fame by using grassroots promotion strategies. The juice company sponsors two Winnebagos to roam the countryside and entice consumers to become "juice guys."
Smaller companies, while they may not have the budget to get involved with paying the gas and living expenses of sending two employees on a cross-country jaunt to spread the word about their brand, can easily sponsor community events. East Providence Cycle, a bike shop in East Providence, R.I., for instance, tune-up students' bicycles on a local college campus to get them ready for the back-and-forth trips from the dorms to classes. The business also sets up makeshift service shops off area bike paths on sunny summer days.
"You want to look at what your customers care about," says Kosgrove. "If you have a retail business in a neighborhood, you may want to focus on a charitable or community organization in your neighborhood and make a commitment to it so people understand that you are committed to the community. Ask yourself: What do my customers care about, and how can I get involved in those things?"
Word of Mouth
Whether it is planned or not, word of mouth is well worth the effort it takes to generate it. "Word of mouth is still considered the most potent marketing communication of all because it's dispensed by the most credible sources of all — ordinary citizens who don't carry a built-in bias of commercial sponsors," writes Upshaw. "When your company is lucky enough to be the beneficiary of word of mouth, your identity problems may be over, and your capacity problems may just be beginning."
Some of the better known beneficiaries of word of mouth phenomena: the Wii, the videogame system sensation of Christmas 2008 that sent parents into shopping frenzies, and Zhu Zhu Pets, the hot toy in 2009.
Snapple also hit it big when kids started passing the word about the delicious iced tea beverage. The company capitalized on that by highlighting the word of mouth phenomena in its television ads, going out to ask people who wrote to the company if their passion for Snapple was really true. In one memorable ad, the ex-Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, visits a young fan from the Midwest to ask if he really believes that" Snapple is the only good thing to have come out of New York."
For Web-based brands, word of mouth can work extremely well. For instance, the company US Wings, which sells genuine military jackets and gear, has never posted an advertisement online. Instead, the company has relied on word of mouth to promote its brand and Web site during its four-year history. The founder, Sergeant Dave Hack, says that by staying true to its mission, the company has been able to generate positive promotion on the Web. "We are selling something with quality and value. People are going to tell other people," he says. "It snowballs, and you end up with something that is very positive."
While it is difficult to intentionally generate a positive word of mouth branding strategy, it can be done if you have the right product and the right strategy. It also doesn't hurt to have something extremely unique, be it the product or the promotional vehicle.
One word of caution: Brands that are propelled by word of mouth often run out of steam quickly since most tend to be just fads or trends. Competitors are also quick to duplicate the product or service being hyped. Once strong word of mouth is achieved, the company needs to convert the brand into something that will sustain the hype. For instance, after Snapple's success, nearly every beverage company came out with their own line of iced tea — each one with a different gimmick, be it sun-brewed, spring-filtered, ginseng-fortified, or some other herbal concoction. After the onslaught of the copycat brands, the company's earnings slid. Snapple was smart to sell its brand to the Quaker Company in 1994 for $1.7 million.
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Creating an Online Identity
Online companies are putting branding to work with remarkable success. "The Internet helps promote companies' products in a very efficient manner and especially to all audiences in all parts of the world," says Dettore. "Typical advertising media hit only a segmented or regional strategy, so the Internet is one of the most cost effective ways to brand."
Kosgrove says that companies that want to build their brand online may actually have an advantage over brands in the physical world since there is the opportunity to start freehand have new associations. "Any long established brand has had bad experiences, and there are mistakes that have been made in the past," he says. "Whereas if you are fresh and new, you have a clean slate."
In short, e-branding is very important and must be taken into consideration. John Lynch, from Synnetry, an online marketing firm says, "Sites need to be branded so that the consumer can have confidence in the site and is willing to make a purchase there."
Some tactics to build an online brand include:
- Selection and speed -- Online brands don't usually tout themselves as cheap. The main benefit is that they are going to be fast, and they will have a large selection.
That tactic is certainly true with large online stores such as Amazon, "The World's Largest Bookstore." The company can't offer the warm, friendly environment that Borders can, says Kosgrove, but they can promise to ship you the book of your choice practically overnight.
. Customization -- Another way that brands can differentiate themselves is by providing online customized solutions and products for visitors based on information that they plug into registration forms.
The Web allows companies to take on new edge or benefit that a company would not be able to use in the real world. For instance, a pet food brand on the store shelf does not have many choices about the positioning of its product. Online, however, a company can brand itself as more than just a dog food supplier, but rather as an animal nutrition expert, says Lynch. The site can walk visitors through a personalized analysis based on the animal's needs and activity level.
Once the information is entered into the database, answers are compressed, data is cross referenced, and information telling you which formula of food your pet should be consuming is spit out. "Then it isn't just a bag of dog food, but nutritional care for your animal," says Lynch.
There is no way that a pet food company would be able to gain that brand identity in the real world. "What pet store owner is going to carry that message for the ped information telling you which formula of food your pet should be consuming is spit out. "Then it isn't just a bag of dog food, but nutritional care for your animal," says Lynch.
There is no way that a pet food company would be able to gain that brand identity in the real world. "What pet store owner is going to carry that message for the pet food manufacturer to the pet food buyer?" asks Lynch.
"Through the Internet, they are allowed to create a better position for themselves than they could if they were going through regular distribution channels."
For additional reading on this topic, see Personalization Strategies to Attract and Retain Customers.
Using Interactivity -- Creating services that other Web companies don't have will ensure that your brand is stronger than the rest. Luckily, the Web is the perfect place to do just that. Unlike other media, online customers can interact with the brand and its identity in a way that no other medium can offer.
Ways to increase contact and keep your brand in front of people include creating:
- Targeted emails
- Message boards
- Advice columns
- Build a community -- Community is the other buzz online. If your brand can stimulate a community around it, then it has a powerful ally. For a community to be successful, you need to have a category that will engage people and spur them to want to talk with one another. For instance, people seem to never tire about the wonders of the Apple computer. The company's brand is the focus of debates and discourses in the computer world. Customers, prospects and critics of the brand have strong opinions about what they like and don't like, which leads to many opportunities for community interaction.
Some other points to keep in mind when building an online community include:
- Members must share common interests and get satisfaction from connecting with others
- Members should be able to participate in something such as a forum, chat group, auction, or join mailing lists or user groups
- Give members something to care about by establishing a clear economic or social benefit; personalize user experience through interactivity with other members and develop opportunities for common leadership/ownership;
- Encourage early and steady contributors.
- Form Strategic Alliances -- Like co-branding, strategic partnerships between Web brands can help strengthen identity, enhance visibility and increase revenues for companies.
"If someone comes to your site and sees you link with other people that they respect, they are going to feel good about being on your site," says Kosgrove. Good alliances on the Web allow traffic to flow between sites that have a common interest.
One way that synergistic sites can partner is by swapping banner ads. "If your site sells ties, it would be good to form a relationship with a store that sells shirts. Anyone who buys a shirt is going to want to buy a tie," says Lynch. "Synergistic sites can swap banner ads usually without any fee being paid."
One of the best ways that an e-commerce site can partner with other sites is to embed themselves within another company's site. For instance, each time you purchase a package from an e-retailer, chances are that you are also giving business to UPS or Federal Express. Both shipping companies invite companies to use their software to calculate shipping weights and secure deliveries to the purchaser's home. Federal Express also allows catalog companies like Lands End to move Federal Express data to their own Web sites so that Lands End customers can track their packages' progress.
Dell Computer Corp. partners with smaller computer dealers online to let customers configure their own computers. It may look as if you are on Joe's Computer Shack Web site, but actually Dell has lent Joe software so customers can customize their PC. "The best sites in the world, in terms of traffic and selling, are the ones that you don't even know that you are going to," says Lynch. "You are not spending all the promotion money, and you are multiplying your promotional money by many times because you have other people who are trying to get people to go to their site who in turn are at your site.
- Building credibility -- Since competition is only a few clicks away, the standard for customer support must be higher for the Web than it is in the off-line world. The most essential aspect of customer support on Web sites is to respond to every request for information with accurate answers or corrective actions within competitive time frames.
"If your other communications look warm and friendly and you brand yourself as service-oriented, but your Web sight is impossible to navigate and doesn't have an email response or is just kind of clunky, people are going to say, 'I thought you were someone else but now I know who you really are'," says Kosgrove.
So be sure you do your homework about what goes into a strong Web site. This is of the utmost importance when you are building a new brand or bringing a new brand to the online arena. Some of the basics that your Web site should have include:
- Personal Domain Name
- Contact Information
- Simple site design and navigation
- Easy to identify prices, if applicable
- Quick server response
- Dedication to Service - Online customers have little opportunity to see your brand's dedication to service. If your customer service skills aren't up to par, however, it's likely that a customer won't come back to interact with your brand or your site.
Despite that logic, market watcher Jupiter Communications found that 42 percent of the top-ranked Web sites either took longer than five days to reply to customer email inquiries, never replied, or were not accessible by email.
"This effort illustrates that many Web sites have been unable or unprepared to respond to the flood of user questions that come in via email from their sites," says Ken Allard, group director of Jupiter's Site Operation Strategies. "Answering thousands of questions per month is an enormous challenge for sites offering complex products and services, especially if they never had a traditional call center. Yet companies that delay responses to user questions instantly lose a significant degree of credibility and user loyalty, and not responding perpetuates the consumer notion that using the Web site is not a reliable method of doing business with that company."
One way to solve the email deluge is to take advantage of "auto-acknowledge" software that responds to all incoming requests stating that the question was received and estimates a time frame for how long it will take to respond to the question.
While email is the primary communication tool, it is not the be-all, end-all of customer service. Companies that want to attach a sense of dedication to their brand should think about having a call center, support staff or other communication tools that will help strengthen the relationship between your brand and customer.
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Al Reis & Laura Ries, "The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding" (Harper Business, 1998)
Lynn B. Upshaw, "Building Brand Identity, A Strategy for Success in a Hostile Marketplace" (John Wiley, 1995)
Greg Helmstetter, "Increasing Hits and Selling More on Your Web Site" (John Wiley, 1997)
The Brand Institute
Web Marketing Today
Lindsay, Stone and Briggs
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