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Branding: A Competitive Advantage

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People often think of a brand as the symbol, name or logo associated with a product. In reality, branding involves far more.

Branding is basically the process of creating a strong identity for an organization, and it applies to both product manufacturers and companies that provide a service. An organization’s brand identity drives the company as a whole by providing a framework through which the members of the organization can establish a memorable, active relationship with consumers. When a company brands itself successfully, people remember that organization and what it stands for, and they come to know exactly what to expect from interacting with its members or using its products.

In recent years, as marketing has shifted and become more about establishing a relationship with customers and less about bombarding them with names and logos, the role of branding has increased in scope and significance. Branding appeals to people’s memory of an experience with an organization. Clear and consistent messages about a company’s products or services, the experience of interacting with that company, and its appeal to the values and self-concept of consumers make for a successful branding campaign. A brand is, in effect, a company’s way of doing business, which develops as a result of its identity and its reputation. It is also the association that consumer’s have with its products or services. Customer service, or the way a company operates in relation to those it serves, is the action by which a brand is established and imprinted in the memory of a targeted market. Another way to say this is that a company’s brand is its way of standing out and separating itself from its competitors.

Though successful branding is often paramount to a company’s success, there are pitfalls and challenges that must be faced. A variety of common problems can stand in the way of a company’s efforts to brand itself effectively. One such barrier is not having a clear set of values with which to identify the brand. Without a clearly defined mission and vision that all employees share, a brand identity cannot be effectively established. An organization’s own members must connect to a brand identity before that identity can be communicated to consumers. Staff must be motivated to work together and act as representatives of the brand outside the walls of the organization. Management must be willing to make the changes necessary to accomplish this. Resources, processes and tools must exist to automate presentation of the brand to the marketplace, and the organization must stay connected to its customers and be willing to make adjustments dictated by feedback from them.

A brand name and logo are simply an association or way to identify the experience of the brand in its entirety, much like a person’s name or photograph evokes everything you know about who that person is, what he or she stands for, and how he or she behaves. Since all names and images carry associations, brand names and logos must be chosen with care. A good name is a positive influence on the way members of the organization identify themselves as well as how consumers view the product or service that carries that name. This is particularly relevant in cyberspace, where domain names need to be memorable on a global scale. Names that resonate across cultures and languages are crucial to branding success.

In addition to having a good name, a successful brand must be well positioned. The brand’s position is the place it has in the minds of those it aims to serve. A brand must be positioned in such a way that it’s uniqueness and value to the consumer is apparent. Since customers must feel connected to a brand, it not enough for the brand or logo to simply be recognized. Companies and consumers form an interactive relationship that involves an exchange between the organization’s offerings and the consumer’s needs and expectations. In this sense, brands are a form of communication, and a brand that communicates well in a way that is consistent with its actions gives consumers a deeper and more meaningful experience with the brand.

Companies can use any one of five strategies for branding, each with its own shortcomings and advantages. First, a company can develop line extensions, which new items are introduced within a product category, such as “all natural” or “organic” versions of a food product. While the brand may be in danger of losing its specific meaning in the minds of consumers, this strategy can also work well to attract new customers. Another strategy is brand extension. In this case, an existing brand name is used for a completely new kind of product. Using this strategy, a well-known apparel manufacturer may launch a line of perfumes or beauty products. As long as the new product is well received and the brand’s reputation is upheld, this strategy can help a company expand into new markets. A third strategy is multi-branding, which occurs when a company creates a variety of brands within a product category, each designed to appeal to a different audience. The danger here is that the brands may each compete with each other for small shares of the market with none of them doing particularly well on its own. Some companies create entirely new brands to launch products in new categories when existing brands and brand names do not fit the new product at all. There is also an emerging practice known as co-branding in which two well-known brands merge to create a new product that boasts both previously accepted brands.

For product manufactures, packaging is another key feature that affects how consumers view the brand. People often identify a brand by its packaging. Several elements are important here, including the “packaging concept,” which defines what the package should accomplish for the product. The package should be carefully designed with attention to size, shape, color, font and logo, as well as the type of material that should be used. Decisions about pricing, marketing and advertising are often dependant upon the type of packaging developed for the product, which may affect how it can be handled, distributed or displayed. The association that consumers make with a particular kind of packaging is as important as other features of the brand. For example, the Planters Lifesavers Company introduced vacuum-packed peanuts in 1992 to capitalize on the association that consumers already made between fresh coffee and vacuum packaging. Growing concerns about the environment make recycled packaging materials attractive to many people, and safety concerns have highlighted the importance of using “tamper-proof” packaging.

Companies that are successful at branding are able to develop a “story” around a product or service that will create an affinity with customers. Since most businesses today are difficult to distinguish from one another, an intermediary is often called upon to help envision a fresh perspective that can be developed into a lucrative branding campaign. An intermediary with experience in branding can leverage a company’s uniqueness and help launch, build, evolve and grow a business. Branding is more than selecting the right language and packaging, and it requires dedicated personnel and budgets, as well as time and expertise. With already overburdened staff members who may lack the experience, skills and resources specific to branding, it often makes sense to hire an intermediary to manage the venture. In some cases, intermediaries can be brought in as temporary consultants to give specialized, expert attention to developing or improving a communications strategy.

Hiring an intermediary to develop brands can benefit two distinct types of client companies. In one case, a firm that has been victimized in the past by legal or linguistic issues can alleviate fears of future mistakes by bringing in an intermediary. In other cases, firms for which branding is more than an afterthought can become truly excited by the expanded possibilities inherent in bringing in experts in the branding arena. Though the two groups overlap, the decision to hire an intermediary often comes down to a combination of uncertainty and hope that exists for most companies considering brand development.

With more than ten years of international business experience, Asim Khan brings dedication and tenacity to his role as Chief Executive Officer of Business Management Group, Inc. Corporate presidents, government officials, and industry associations seek his hard-earned expertise in a wide variety of industriescommodities, energy, electronics, manufacturing, technology, and financial services to name just a few. Mr. Khan also serves on the boards of directors for several corporations and nonprofit organizations.

Branding: A Competitive Advantage
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About Asim Khan
With more than ten years of international business experience, Asim Khan brings dedication and tenacity to his role as Chief Executive Officer of Business Management Group, Inc. Corporate presidents, government officials, and industry associations seek his hard-earned expertise in a wide variety of industriescommodities, energy, electronics, manufacturing, technology, and financial services to name just a few. Mr. Khan also serves on the boards of directors for several corporations and nonprofit organizations. WebProNews Writer
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