How Strong Is Your Brand?

Today’s tough economic climate may cause you to be leery about the prospects of your brand in the coming year. Reduced budgets and shrinking staffs may indeed limit the marketing activity you can plan, but in order for your brand not only to survive but thrive in this economy, you must take action and ensure it remains strong.

A weak brand is susceptible to scrutiny by critics, encroachment from competitors and increased pressure from channel partners. In this economy, a weak brand has little to draw from besides price reductions and desperate promotions to generate interest.

In contrast, a strong brand counteracts the downward pull of a tough market by sustaining price premiums and higher margins because differentiation clears perception and results in its offerings are perceived to be differentiated and of higher value. A strong brand also staves off competitive threats because it is not as easily copied.

The benefits of a strong brand include increased market value of the business to investors due to stronger customer equity, more efficient operations and intangibles/“goodwill,” as well as more negotiation power with suppliers, channels and M&A prospects. The stronger your brand, the more efficient and effective your organization becomes, because employees are aligned and focused.

So what makes a strong brand strong? A strong brand distinguishes itself by being:

• Meaningful: a strong brand is relevant and compelling to its target customers. Some brands create desire; others meet existing demand—either way, the customers you care about have to, in turn, care about what the brand delivers.

• Differentiating: a strong brand gives the business a distinct advantage over competitors. Moreover, the difference must make a difference—your target customers should perceive the difference and think it is important.

• Believable: a strong brand doesn’t stretch too far or overpromise. These days people are savvy and naturally skeptical—they know if something sounds too good to be true, it is. So the way you communicate about your brand should be authentic.

• Transcendent: a strong brand conveys value beyond a specific offering. The reality is, great products come and go. A strong brand adds value to a great product when it has one, and still gives people a reason to buy when it doesn’t.

• Consistently experienced: a strong brand is expressed and delivered consistently across all touchpoints—not just in advertising and marketing communications, but in everything the company does.

A brand’s strength, however, is measured by more than the way people who are buying or using the brand perceive it—that is, the external perspective. Internal perceptions—those of the people responsible for developing and delivering the brand—also play a role. The internal perspective on brand strength includes whether the brand is:

• Sustainable: a strong brand enables the business to compete now and in the future. Not a fad-dependent or short-lived idea, a brand should be an enduring proposition that drives continuous improvement and innovation for the organization.

• Adding business value: a strong brand makes business sense. You should be able to show, measure and manage the causal relationship between brand expenditures and increased revenue. Usually it goes something like: brand spend → image equity → customer preference → customer purchase/repurchase → revenue increase.

• Clearly articulated: a strong brand is clearly defined and described to all stakeholders. A “stakeholder” is a person or group that has an investment, share or interest in something. In this case, that “something” is your brand, so your stakeholders are employees, business partners like vendors and distributors, agencies, and investors or shareholders. Alignment in brand execution begins with common understanding.

• Used as a tool: a strong brand inspires, informs and instructs all stakeholders so that they interpret and reinforce it in their daily decision-making and actions. The brand should drive the organization, guiding every single business task.

• Operationalized: a strong brand must be more than a vision a company expresses in advertising—it must be what it does and what it delivers. Operationalizing the brand involves the deliberate and systematic management of the business around the brand—identifying, prioritizing, and implementing programs and initiatives to deliver brand values and attributes through the core organizational operating system.

by Denise Lee Yohn