What is a brand? Why do companies and organisations place so much value on company branding? What makes it so important? A brand is defined simply as a particular identity or image regarded as an asset. So what does that entail? In the late 20th century, marketers of products realized that there was more to the way different products and services were perceived than their names. David Ogilvy, nicknamed “The father of advertising” called this perception “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” Marketers discovered that they could create perceptions about the qualities and attributes of non-generic products in the minds of their customers. This perception is called the “brand”. Your brand is what people think about when they hear your brand name, it’s everything people think they know about your brand name – both the factual, like how it looks and how it’s packaged and the emotional, like how it makes them feel. Your brand exists in people’s minds alone.
One illustration of just how powerful company branding is can be found with the beverage company Coca-cola. Coca-cola is arguably the most popular product in the world, but the drink Coca-cola is overshadowed by the brand Coca-cola. The effect of Coca-cola’s company branding is summed up by the quote “If Coca-cola was to lose all its production-related assets in a disaster, the company would survive. By contrast, if all Coca-cola customers were to have a sudden lapse of memory and forget everything related to coca cola, the company would go out of business” – Coca-cola executive. So how did Coca-cola achieve this? How did such a powerful reputation come to be owned by an ordinary soda manufacturer? What kind of company branding achieved that kind of brand status for the product? The secret to its effective company branding is in the brand strategy of the company.
By definition, brand strategy is a plan used to create an image of something in the minds of current and potential consumers. How, when and to whom you plan to communicate your brand messages, including what you communicate visually and verbally are all part of your brand strategy. When a company involved in company branding has created and executed a successful brand strategy, you know without being told who they are and what they do. For Coca-cola, part of its company branding strategy is that it’s the original cola drink, it’s recipe is secret and unbeaten, that it’s available worldwide and that it stands for youth, freshness, energy etc. The visual aspect of the product also adds to its appeal – the contour of the bottle, the custom font for the name on the bottles and the trademark red and white colors. This kind of consistent, strategic company branding leads to a strong brand equity. Brand equity is the added value brought to a company’s products and services that allow its manufacturers to charge more for their products than other identical, but unbranded products, or other products without a brand as powerful as their own.
This kind of company branding is practiced very well by beats electronics, makers of audio products and the famous beats by Dr.Dre headphones. Founded by Dr. Dre – American music producer and rapper, beats by dre headphones are the popular favorites when choosing headphones to buy. The company branding has been so successful that despite their very high prices and relatively unimpressive audio quality, beats are still the clear leader in the headphone industry. This is achieved by a brand strategy that involves the most aggressive marketing and company branding strategies ever done by an audio headphone manufacturer. Beats pays a lot of money to put their products on several music and sports celebrities – LeBron James, Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber to name a few. Their headphones are showcased by these celebrities at events, in music videos and even to the extent of having some of the musicians’ names on different brands of the headphones.
Beats are company branding gurus who have perfected the art of making their products appear next to people’s favourite celebrities. And so, just like the kid who buys the same sneakers his basketball idol is wearing, the fans of these celebrities – most of whom already have a cult followership – patronise beats when they are selecting headphones to buy. This is a classic example of brand equity that comes in form of perceived value or emotional attachment. People buy beats more than every other kind of headphones because their company branding makes them transfer their love for the celebrities to the product, Beats headphones are not sold by the sound quality, but by this perceived value. That, combined with the best packaging and unboxing experience for any pair of headphones puts beats on top. This is why it’s very important to be aware of your brand experience and have a plan to make it into what you want when doing company branding – what will SELL.
A 2007 survey of the value of global brands by Interbrand – a company branding agency, valued the brand equity of Coca-cola at USD 65.3bn – about half of the company’s true market value. Beats by Dr. Dre headphones were found to have about 64% of the headphones in the premium price range ($300 and above). The world has since passed the age where its biggest obstacle to sales was production, because demand exceeded production. It was at such a time that companies could make their products almost totally independent of customer preference and any form of company branding. At that time, Henry Ford, founder of the ford motor company could say “Any customer can have any car painted in any color he wants, as long as it is black.” and get away with it – company branding was next to zero. Not any more. When production caught up with demand, and customers began to have choices, it was essential to differentiate products from one another by name, and eventually, by brand.
Coca cola no longer has the most valuable brand in the world. That title now belongs to Apple whose brand is valued, at almost twice as much as the second-placed brand Google, and more valuable than the second and third brands put together – Google and Microsoft. Apple has held the first position consistently for the past six years through its company branding methods. While this domination by tech brands reflects a shift in world interest towards technological innovation, it’s also important to determine the causes of these companies’ successes in company branding. Apple has transformed from a simple manufacturer of tech products – computers, phones, ipods and tablets to being a media giant. “The chance to make a memory is the essence of brand marketing,” said Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. And this memory has been made by the company branding strategy of connecting with its customers through its music service, phones and the second largest app store of a mobile OS. Google’s search engine is so much a part of people’s lives that barely anyone bothers to use Bing – even though they provide almost the same search results. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said “We started with a vision of a computer on every desk and in every home…every day, we’re finding new ways for technology to enhance and enrich people’s lives. We’re really only just getting started.” Another brand that’s looking to make a huge impact is ZeeSaa online market. With its new approach to e-commerce in Nigeria, ZeeSaa is looking to revolutionize the way people buy and sell.
While it’s impossible to have absolute control of a brand, because of influences outside your control, intelligent design, marketing and culture can all generate perceptions in people’s minds that will benefit your organisation. Customers, competitors and other aspects of company branding may differ by industry, but the basic principles of company branding like being clear about what you stand for always apply. Knowledge of how branding works can be invaluable when involved in company branding for your product or company’s image. Knowing how the most powerful brands were created, that perceptions and emotional attachments play a huge role in the valuation of a brand, and by extension the brand equity will guide you when you are involved in company branding. If you can create a product with good enough quality, and get your customers to be emotionally attached to that product, because of the people it’s associated with and who promote it. If you can make the product seem exclusive enough, that only the elite can afford, the same way Rolls Royce does, then you’re well on your way to creating a powerful brand indeed.