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Food For Thought

Posted on July 30, 2002 and read 6,785 times

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I was just at a very interesting BCAMA (BC Chapter of the American Marketing Association) event called “Birks: Saved by the Brand”. Some of you might know that in 1993 Birks filed for bankruptcy, after 114 years in business (that’s almost as long as Canada has been around!). Diane Oliver, VP of Marketing, discussed how the tired and troubled retailer used brand equity to leverage its way back to success.

Inspired from Diane’s speech about the importance of branding, it got me thinking about brand basics: what a brand is and how important a role it plays.

Simply put, a brand is the following:

- A collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer,
– A promise to the customer of satisfaction and quality, and
– A set of assets or liabilities.

Key points to think about when defining a brand is that a brand is intangible, it exists in the mind of the consumer, and it influences loyalty.

It is important to remember that brand and name recognition are not the same thing; a name only becomes a brand when people associate it with the company’s services. Let’s take Hot Tomali as an example. People tell us “You’ve got a great name!” (It was created using a combination of my partner Thomas & my names: Tom & Ali.) Okay, so it is catchy and people remember us. Does that make it a brand? No. People may think of spicy food and Mexico. Is that our brand? No. But if people associate “Hot Tomali” with creative, award-winning design work; a fresh, innovative approach; a commitment to giving back to the community; a top-quality boutique agency; and good value for money, then we have built a successful brand.

A brand without equity is not a brand. So how can you increase your equity? By building familiarity and trust. A brand is a mixture of perception, quality and value. It’s a relationship with your customer. It needs personality — which, dare I say, Hot Tomali has — and presence. A powerful brand creates and maintains your relationship with customers.

Here are some examples of imagery that one may use to describe a company. The images that your company invokes help to create your company’s brand (remembering that a brand is a collection of perceptions in a consumer’s mind):

- Innovative
– Older audience
– Top quality
– Ethical
– Conservative
– Service-driven
– Honest
– Cheap
– Reliable

It is difficult for some companies to realize that they can’t cater to everybody. If Joe Blow wants a cheap web site, and you charge more but your mandate is to produce high quality, professional work, you’re never going to please Joe Blow who has $500 to spend. He won’t know the difference between the two products and your quality will have to suffer or else you’ll have to haggle with him over how much your work is worth. Joe Blow should go to the company who is willing to cut corners to fill that niche and you can carry on and do business with customers who appreciate your higher priced, award-winning work and the added value it brings to their company.

Remember that everything you do has an impact on your brand. For example, I personally take the time to respond to every person who submits a résumé to me. Why? It doesn’t exactly help my bottom line, does it? I honestly feel that job seekers deserve a response. They’ve taken interest in my company and taken the time out to write to me and they deserve that respect. However, I also think about how they perceive Hot Tomali. Applicants often tell me Hot Tomali sounds like just the right fit: fun, the company produces good work, it’s full of exciting opportunities, etc. (Our brand strategy is working!) By responding to that job seeker, I am confirming their good feelings about my company and they will hopefully walk away telling their colleagues that Hot Tomali is a professional and courteous agency. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll even get a referral from them one day. Or they’ll think of Hot Tomali when they need such services themselves. You never know. But each time a person contacts me it is an opportunity to touch them with the Hot Tomali brand.

The importance of a brand is huge. Everything you do must be in touch with your desired image; this ranges from human resources to your web presence to print advertising to the way you answer your phone. If one of these means of communication deviates from your brand, your brand can greatly suffer. What frustrates us at Hot Tomali are companies that spend thousands of dollars on print advertising but allocate next to nothing towards their web site budget. The result? A lousy online presence that impacts the company’s established brand, doing nothing but work against the quality image they have built up.

Brand Strategy

Once you’ve thought about what your brand is, the next step is a Brand Strategy. The ultimate goal of the Brand Strategy is to develop strategic positioning for your brand that will provide the foundation, direction and consistency for all related business and marketing communication activities.

Your brand strategy will help you define in simple terms your company. It helps identify and examine various target consumer groups, along with their needs, wants, issues and concerns. It tells you what differentiates your products and services from the competition. It also helps you define what key messages will be effective by finding the rational and emotional motivators that are most relevant for your product or service.

All communications materials that your company develops should follow the same objectives as set forth in your brand strategy.

Think about one of your favourite brands. Maybe it is Sony, Starbucks, Mercedes — or Birks. Think about what the brand means to you. Then think about its success and why it is successful. You’ll find that a major reason the company you picked is successful is that it has developed a brand that is consistent across all mediums. One of my favourite examples is Apple; no matter whether you’re watching a TV spot, surfing their web site, or receiving their email newsletter, you immediately know it is Apple because the look and the message are 100% consistent. This integrated approach is what I aspire to achieve in all my client work.

Food for thought.


Alison Stringham is the co-founder, VP Operations & Writer of Vancouver-based Hot Tomali Communications an integrated marketing agency.






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