Let us consider the mind set of an entrepreneur in order to
begin the ABC of branding.
All entrepreneurs who start something significant begin with
an idea, a concept vision or dream. This, in my view, is the starting point of
a brand. Often the personality, attitude, name and even reputation of the
entrepreneur are associated with the entrepreneurs vision.
However, for the concept to attract financial and other
support the entrepreneur must develop and refine the concept into an offer he
or she believes will satisfy a fundamental human need and be wanted or sought
by enough people able and willing to pay for the envisioned product or service.
Through a process of firming-up the value proposition
implicit on the product or service, and by clearly defining a potential set of buyers,
changes and additions are made through an ongoing research and development cycle.
This ongoing transformation is about adding individual identity as
entrepreneurs know that consumers have choices and therefore search for points
of meaningful difference.
They seek products and services that will add, in their
perception, more value than alternative offerings.
The A-Z of branding, therefore, is all about ways of
creating and adding as many layers of desired value as possible. It begins with
the conceptualising of the product or, in the case of Google, a service.
Embedded in the initial concept and prototypes will be the
vision, value set and competitive intent of the entrepreneur or founder. It is
the originator who implicitly assumes a role of both leadership and management
until other resources can be afforded to enable the delegation of brand
Certainly the value offer and identified market needs to be
presented in a business model by which market take-up against the costs of
purchasing, manufacturing, and selling the product is forecast.
In my experience, entrepreneurs who succeed have a
persistent enthusiasm for their vision that becomes a magnet for attracting
start-up capital and professional support. Branding is not what you append to
the product or service. It contains that which is embedded within the tangible
offering. We can then add many layers of value to increase the brand
Products, services and the organisations behind them can be
complex so the challenge is to design an easily recognisable symbolic
representation of the brands ID. This is achieved by design; the giving of a
name, selection of a typeface, a colour or palette of colours, and a logo.
An icon like the swoosh of Nike or crocodile of Lacoste. It
can also include package design that can add significant tangible, as well as a
perceived aesthetic value, as we see in the packaging of cosmetics.
To gain traction in the market the various intrinsic and
extrinsic elements of a brand must align and work together so the offer is
ultimately perceived as being desirably different from competitive brands. We
call this the formulation of a brand identity or how the entrepreneur wants the
brand to be experienced.
This takes us to other aspects of the A-Z of the brand
process. We now have to communicate the offer to a market in a way that is appropriate
to the brands identity.
This communication therefore requires relevant creative
concepts and the selection of appropriate media. As always the challenge for
this aspect of the process is to ensure that the communication devices are
integrated and remain true to the brands unique character, but there is more
to the brand alphabet.
Perhaps the greatest challenge now is the consistent and
ongoing quality and delivery of the product or service. This necessitates an
effectively designed, led and efficiently managed business model. Value adding must be sought and found wherever possible
within the entire value chain of business, from inbound to outbound logistics.
Therefore collaborative networks of suppliers,
distributors and even competitors need to be created. Competition today is not
simply between direct rivals but between the respective networks of brand
business success the challenge, increasingly, is for brands to remain strong
internally. Research underscores the imperative for all staff to be brand supporters.
To sustain this brand loyalty requires ongoing organisation development, change
management and skilled, cross-functional brand management. A brand weak inside
will unravel through uneven delivery and service outside. Yet if one analyses
budget disbursements, very little resources are given to impactful internal
To sustain the additional resources required by growth, new
brands may need to be offered or new products and/or services must be added to
the initial brand. This takes us into brand extensions and portfolio management
that must result in architecture that makes sense to consumers and the market.
This is a large part of modern branding and affords many strategic
However, if done incorrectly, it can weaken the original
brand. It is at this stage when decisions such as building a House of Brands, like
Proctor & Gamble or a Branded House, like Colgate have to be taken. There
is often a temptation to make one brand mean too many things, to extend or
stretch it so far that it loses its shape and unique identity.
The XYZ of modern branding is about how to keep the brand
fresh and of continued interest to existing customers, but also to become
attractive to new customers.
The size of most markets creates the challenge to ensure continuous shared
meaning between the brand promise and the needs and wants of increasingly
This requires brand thinkers to continuously add
value, but often this becomes incremental and insignificant if we focus only on
the product or service. Modern consumers also want more meaningful value to be
added to their communities, societies and environment.
This should be anchored to the original values
and vision of the founder or entrepreneur and this can be executed through
sponsorship, good labour practice, internal behaviour and what has become known
as corporate social investment.
Good brands and businesses are good because they
offer decent products and services which are then communicated in an honest, albeit
The Zen of branding for the 21st
century, in my opinion, needs to be the creation and addition of meaningful
social and economic value. It is not simply about profit. Profit is an
indication that a brand can be sustained year on year. It is because of the
social and economic value that reputations are won and lost. A positive, long-lasting
reputation is perhaps the zenith of branding.
We are developing better reputation and equity
measures to assess the asset value of brands. We do need to get these measures
right because increasing social activism led by no logo thinkers such as
Naomi Klein question the very existence of brands.
This school of thought often misunderstands the
holistic A to Z process of brand development, and simply focuses on the mass
communication devices which stimulate demand and can indeed have the effect of
This is an important argument as it encourages
us to get back to the authentic substance of brands. Surely, brands must at least
not cause harm and, at best, provide genuine value to society.
From concept to market, from growth to
reinvention, the A to Z of branding is a process that can never be fully done.
It is cyclical, forever seeking differentiation and cohesion that will deliver
to all stakeholders while the game of competition is to neutralise any gained
Gordon Cook is National School Navigator for Vega The Brand
Communications School, which he co-founded together with the Imagination Lab
initiative In addition to lecturing to
full time and part time students, Gordon also does corporate training for Vega.
He has lectured Strategic Marketing Planning and Strategic
Execution on two MBA programmes and is a regular lecturer on executive and
professional management programmes at The Graduate School of Business in Cape
Gordon has also lectured and examined on the RAU Masters
programme in Communications. He is an executive member of The Think Council,
part of South Africas Design Council. He is involved on various judging panels
such as the Business Day/BASA Business & Arts South Africa Awards.
Gordon is contactable at Vega The Brand
Communications School on +2711 883 0130 or Gordon@vegaschool.com
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