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The branding complex

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By Tharaka Kodippli

Branding isn’t a science, a religion, or an art form. However, to many- in its sheer breadth and depth, branding is just that. At its core, branding is the execution of ideas, data, and strategies. 

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a customer experience represented by a collection of images and ideas…” Branding forms a narrative. It crafts a compelling personality. In doing so, it establishes a mental touch-point in the consumer’s sub-conscience worthy of recollection in a matter of milliseconds. (www.ama.org) (http://news.mit.edu/2014/in-the-blink-of-an-eye-0116) 

Branding performs a dual role. It is the advancing foot soldier and the defensive phalanx for a product or service. There are different incarnations and incantations it weaves to gain our trust, loyalty, and patronage. A brand (image) can be iconic and ubiquitous. It can continue to drive conversions (a consumer purchase) through specific CTAs (Call To Action). In marketing, a CTA prompts a user to commit to an actionable outcome.

Product or service “conversions” is the ultimate goal of branding. That is why the annual marketing budgets of industry giants are in the billions of dollars. In 2016, e-commerce giant Amazon poured over $ 5 billion to its marketing and advertising spent. For perspective- that sum was nearly 6% of Sri Lanka’s total GDP (in 2016). At Amazon, that spent remains a show of monetary commitment- yes, but it is also a sign of confidence, in the power of marketing and branding. (http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/world-s-largest-advertisers-2017/311484/) 

With smart use, branding could define a product and spark a renaissance (Apple). However, when product branding goes awry, it may cause immeasurable damage to any product/service and can erode much of the brand’s existing market share (Panasonic, Chevrolet). (https://www.inc.com/ss/geoffrey-james/top-9-brand-blunders-all-time) 

A brand, considered as an entity may be inanimate. Which, it is not.  A brand is a living, breathing, constantly evolving organism powered by humans. It follows a lifecycle. Just like any biological being.

Following are some key attributes in branding that will define a product/service and elevate it to immortality. However, mismanaged, it will only flat line a brand as yet another passing-commodity.    

Identity – Creating a brand identity or a brand image is not just mere conjecture. There is a variety of inputs to consider- market data, research, focus group inputs, initial market performance, and prospective user-behaviour, for example. 

Leveraging these qualitative and quantitative data points, brand management teams then develop a specific identity for a product or service.

Value – Once a product achieves market penetration and a following, it then attains what marketers refer to as a consumer “must have.” With the power of recognition now in tow, consumers promptly connect with the brand at a visceral level. The foundation of brand value is rooted deeply in a brand’s “value proposition.” It describes a brand’s primary function. (Facebook’s value proposition is connecting the world.)

Market position – Once a brand gains awareness, it then positions itself amongst its competition. Over the past decade, Apple and Samsung have carved out a unique position in a $ 500 billion market for their flagship smartphones. However, new market entrants such as China’s Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo are investing billions into R&D and aggressive-branding. Their branding position, in a hyper-competitive smartphone market, is to introduce cheaper, but just as innovative devices. (https://www.livemint.com/Technology/zg3jN0cuDv09ucv5O5OtAJ/How-Huawei-Xiaomi-Oppo-taking-on-Apple-Samsung.html) 

Revenue – Money conquers all. If a product does not generate an income, it will eventually cease to exist. After a brand carves out a market segment, its next goal is to (improve and) scale. Once short and long-term goals and KPIs are mapped out, a product or service will be primed to monetize all groundwork that went into it.

The enemy – What branding should never do is confuse the consumer. Ever. If you harvest lemons, make sure to make lemonade. At worst, make Sprite. Do not try producing Ginger Beer with those lemons. That analogy refers to product confusion. Which, will cause a mass exodus of loyal consumers.

Would any brand be able to follow all aforementioned requirements and continue to tug at our heart-strings day after day? Year after year? Is there a magic pill to service any (brand) ailment as an elixir? Can any brand remain relevant forever? Of course not. For each brand-success story, there are hundreds of failed stories, and millions of dollars lost in botched advertising spent.

The essence of branding is evocative. Such is the power branding possesses, even when it clouds our rational judgment that leads to ill-advised, impulse purchases. Some may label branding as evil. Others may consider it a necessary evil. However, branding remains a symbiotic part of any product/service lifecycle.

Crafting a brand that will proactively adjust to changing times and variables is a must. It is not for the faint of heart.  It requires courage, a can-do attitude, and buy-ins, from almost all internal and external product/service stakeholders.

(The writer is Manager, Sales and Marketing for Extrogene Software. His work experience ranges from consulting, account management and client development in B2B/B2C in the US, to business development, operations, marketing and sales in the technology and startup ecosystem in Sri Lanka. He is also interested in marketing, branding, consumer behaviour, strategy, technology, and current affairs.)

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