Too many companies think that their brand building work is done when they have established a brand’s name and logo. True, they have developed the beginning of their brand’s identity. Their brand will have an identity on the shelves of the supermarket. Anyone going through a supermarket will see thousands of brand identities. And within any category, such as beers, one will see many identities. But they won’t mean much to customers who are uninformed.
A company should not start by setting the brand’s identity. The company should start by setting the brand’s purpose. Brand purpose answers the question of what job is the brand promising to accomplish for the buyer?
All cars will promise to get you from A to B. There is no differentiation in that claim. However, if Volvo’s promise is the get you from A to B with maximum safety, its car has established a category and an identify in that category. Volvo has positioned itself as a safe car. But what if another car manufacturer positions its new car as a safe car? Volvo and its new competitor will need to move to the next step, that of differentiation. If the competitor sets a much lower price on its car, it has established a differentiator. The competitor is offering a less expensive safe car. But it must think twice about doing this. Will a buyer who wants a safe car believe that the lower price safe car is as safe as the more expensive safe car?
Or the new competitor may decide to offer a free two hour training in safe driving. This competitor sees its job as not only providing a safe car but also creating a safe driver. Volvo might respond by designing its car to have an automatic braking system so that a Volvo car will stop or slow down as it gets too close to another car and thereby be safer.
We can see that building a brand is about initially setting out to develop a brand’s purpose. Who is the car for and what job will it do for that customer? The company needs to use positioning and differentiation to communicate the brand’s purpose and ultimately enrich the brand’s identity.
David Aaker, an expert in brand building, has suggested that a brand should not only define its functional purpose, the job that it is going to do, but also to express the brand’s higher purpose. The higher purpose suggests emotional and social benefits coming from choosing that brand. Coca Cola’s functional purpose is to “relieve thirst with a good taste.” Its higher purpose is to “deliver happiness.” If that is the space in which Coca Cola wants to operate, it can go further than just delivering happiness by drinking Coke. Coca Cola could move into creating entertainments and theme parks that deliver happiness and Coca Cola will end up competing with Disney.
We use the following 6-step conceptual model to guide our thinking.
Note that we added a fifth and sixth step to bring two additional considerations into shaping a viable, attractive and sustainable brand. A brand needs brand trust so that customers will believe that the brand will deliver what it claims. Apple customers trust that their Apple phones and Apple watches will deliver what the company claims.
The final consideration is whether the brand delivers brand beneficence. Does the brand serve well the person and the society? Marlboro was the most popular brand of cigarettes. It delivered taste and high satisfaction. But it also could deliver a heart attack, liver damage and “bads” to others in the smoke vicinity. A Gulfstream plane can deliver a great and comfortable trip for one CEO but it generates much more pollution and climate damage per person than a full passenger flight in a Boeing airplane. Companies in a free society can freely decide what they want to make and sell but they should consider whether the brand has a beneficience problem and whether this will ultimately hurt the brand. Consider that our food industry makes heavy use of sugar, fat, and salt, all leading to obesity and certain illnesses. As more consumers become conscious of these ill-effects, they may retreat from using the product or brand. A socially responsible company needs to shape its offerings to minimize personal or societal ill-effects of their brand offering.
Marketers need to target not only the minds of the customers but also their hearts and well being. The concept of emotional marketing has been described in several books including Experiential Marketing by Bernd Schmitt, Emotional Branding by Marc Gobe, and Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts. Great examples of emotional marketing were achieved by marketers such as Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Richard Branson of Virgin, and Steve Jobs of Apple. Starbucks’ concept of “third place for drinking coffee,” Virgin’s “unconventional marketing,” and Apple’s “creative imagination” are the implementations of emotionally relevant marketing. These brands occupy a deep place in our emotional hearts.
This conceptual model is very relevant for marketing in this age of growing digital and social media. We live in the era of consumer empowerment led by abundant information and networked communities. A brand must have a clear and consonant brand-positioning-differentiation-integrity standing. Inauthentic brands won’t survive when word-of-mouth becomes the new advertising medium and consumers rely more on acquaintances in their network community more than on what companies say and advertise.
Do not enforce too much control over the community of consumers and let them do the marketing for you. Just be true to your brand’s purpose. We live in the era of horizontal communication where vertical control is less effective.
Only honesty, originality, and authenticity will work.
Philip Kotler is the “father of modern marketing.” He is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was voted the first Leader in Marketing Thought by the American Marketing Association and named The Founder of Modern Marketing Management in the Handbook of Management Thinking. Professor Kotler holds major awards including the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Distinguished Marketing Educator Award and Distinguished Educator Award from The Academy of Marketing Science. The Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) named him Marketer of the Year and the American Marketing Association described him as “the most influential marketer of all time.” He is in the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame, and is featured as a “guru” in the Economist.