Brand Strategy: Do You Know Your Brand?

By Abhinav Arora The brilliant Michael Porter wrote as the first line of his seminal work Competitive Strategy that "formulating competitive strategy is relating a company to its environment." Within this vision, your brand is that component of the competitive strategy for your product which relates it to the buyer. It is the component that makes it identifiable to the buyer and allows it to be differentiated from its competitors. At this point, it may be tempting to reduce a brand down to its advertising campaign or maybe even the colors/logo/design aspects. After all, a well-done, comprehensive marketing campaign can implant a desired image and visual differentiation within a consumer's mind. However, this understanding of brand is tactical in nature. An image planted will not survive the test of time, requiring regular booster shots in the form of campaigns as life support. Developing a sustainable brand for your product requires more triggers than just the campaign and is an exhaustive exercise encompassing product attributes, touchpoints, existing company brands and industry attributes, touchpoints, existing company brands and industry attributes.
  1. Product Attribute
The value of a brand meets its first and perhaps strongest test when the user researches or uses the product itself. If you have been talking about innovation, yet deliver an interface that has nothing substantial about it, customers will recognize the product as run-of-the-mill. If your campaigns talk of your product as a quality leader, but the product is shoddy, consumers will recognize it as inferior and your promise as a lie. With the advent of reviews for everything from electronics to apps to service industry vanguards like restaurants (and even prisons), this is a big test to pass. Your brand must reinforce your product, not contradict it. A good example of this is the Ford Falcon 1960. One of the highest selling Ford cars of all time, the car was a dependable, understated and fuel-economy-centric machine. It was advertised as being the "easiest car in the world to own," a pertinent and accurate messaging.
  1. Touchpoints
Common customer touchpoints such as advertising, sales, support and customer care either build and communicate the brand promise or fulfill that promise. A company's ability to activate the customer relationship in-line with the brand premise and promise at these touchpoints is key to a consistent messaging and a strong relationship. A good example is Amazon's famed customer service/returns process. Amazon has built its company on the back of exceptional customer service and its returns process reflects that. In our social media-centric world where small negative news can often go viral, our traditional definition of touchpoints has increased. While previously an event could be contained locally (with a reduced effect), it now it gets hundreds of thousands of views within minutes. Both Apple and FedEx recently found this out the hard way when local, operational events became tactical nightmares impacting their global brand equity.
  1. Existing Company Brand
A company's brand often rubs off on its products. Apple is known to be an innovative company with exceptional design and most of its products confirm that positioning. BMW is known for its engineering and even before the next generation of BMW cars are released, consumers know what to expect. Sennheiser Headphones are known to have exceptional sonics and any subsequent product has the benefit of inheriting a passionate crowd of followers willing to give it a spin simply from the virtue of belonging to the same company. However this is a double-edged sword. “A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space.” Products, especially unique ones, struggle to differentiate themselves from other product lines within the company. Volvo underwent this struggle when trying to differentiate Volvo S60 as a luxury vehicle when compared to its usual safety first branding.
  1. Industry Attributes
Customers have different expectations of different industries. Branding yourself as innovative in a corn-flake industry may not make sense. Similarly, branding yourself as service-oriented probably wouldn’t make sense for Heinz. New products often have to find a strong, defendable, differentiated nook within the map of possible relevant positions. Some companies break the mold and turn commoditized industries on their head by creating previously unknown differentiated positions. Intel—one of the great success stories of our times—took on the microprocessor industry’s commoditized norm with its "Intel Inside" campaign. In the process it became the clear leader. Think of your brand as a strategic pursuit as opposed to a tactical afterthought. While the weight of each of these factors varies by industry, a comprehensive plan of action is necessary to build, engage and defend your brand's equity. Good Luck! Abhinav Arora has spent the last decade managing digital product-based solutions for some of the largest Fortune 500 firms across North America, Europe and Asia. He has earned his MBA and bachelors in technology and is Pragmatic Institute certified. Additional certifications include Certified SCRUM Product Owner and Certified Supply Chain Professional. His passion for music is only exceeded by his love for building market-centric products through measuring, evaluating and flowing the voice of the customer into products. He can be reached at
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