Category Archives: brand equity

The Authentic Brand: A Precious Asset Developed Through Transparency, Customer Experience and Ultimately, Loyalty

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Honest by ad. A pioneering company launched in January 2012. The company is unique in communicating about the supply chain of its products and pricing.

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Trust is a hard thing to come by these days whether between people or between people and brands. When the founders of a start-up build a brand from the ground-up or the executives of an established one are in modus operandi mode, taking a cautious approach to their brand image, in both scenarios, ought to be part of growing and preserving the business with a constant eye on the future.

Sadly, nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is advertising, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. With some brands, it is the tiny print in disclosure statements which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. The majority of consumers do not read small footnotes. Think of the worst offenders of this practice: the cellular phone/telecommunication providers, insurance companies, credit card providers, as well as the automobile manufacturer promotional offers and pharmaceutical advertisements – to name a few.

Deception concealed as sincerity: How to chip away at your brand

The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster.

In the 2015 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient®, published the reputations of the 100 most visible companies among the U.S. general public. What appears on the top five, among other notable brands as consumers perceive them, are Wegmans Food Markets, Amazon, Samsung, Costco and Johnson & Johnson respectively.

Consumers have high and explicit expectations from brands, thus anticipate what the brand promises via its marketing material and/or what is stated on the product packaging. What a brand actually delivers and how it behaves in the process is what consumers get to feel.

A brand which utilizes short-term sales and marketing tactics for quick short-term gain fails financially in the long-term by acting in an ethical way. As marketing maven Seth Godin rightfully proclaims, “In virtually every industry, the most trusted brand is the most profitable.” As with our personal lives, trust with branding is based on what one does, not what one says.

Boosting sales and market share via misleading and deceptive tactics

According to a 2013 Harris Poll, regarding the most and least trusted industries, the advertising industry was near the bottom of the list when rated up against many other business sectors. Seemingly, truth in advertising is a misnomer. Misleading and deceptive advertising by many marketing and branding executives, give the entire industry a negative perception.

The food processing domain is no more honest with labels that claim to be healthy but without support with any concrete scientific facts. Food companies tout their devious label claims of organic, nutritious etc. – although an absurd amount of sugar and/or sodium is present in the ingredients along with unnatural artificial ingredients). Kelloggs even went as far as having to be ordered, by the courts, to discontinue all Rice Krispies dubious advertising which claimed to boost a child’s immunity system.

Then there is the “premium” orange juice from popular brands such as Tropicana, Simply Orange and others which are highly processed, and usually stored for several months before reaching consumers at the supermarket fridge aisles. This processing method is used to retain the juice from spoiling. However, during that process, it also strips the flavour which is injected back into the product, once it finally gets packaged, to give the juice its original orange flavour. Not surprisingly, the orange juice producers do not make any reference to this anywhere.

Informative and authentic eye-opener documentaries such as Food Inc. and Tapped have upped the ante in terms of the exposure shared with the public to what is wrong with the food processing/food chain and water bottling sectors respectively. Moreover, the GMO debate with the exceptionally well-connected and deep pocketed Monsanto (the St. Louis-based biotech giant and world’s biggest seed seller) will not be going away any time soon.

Other industries notorious for deceit are banks and cellphone/telecommunication companies with their hidden fees. These blatant revenue generators are sales at any cost – short-term gains, of course. These companies guilty of gouging seem to be testing the limits with consumers – as if the latter are ignorant. Those absurd fees evidently enrage the culprits’ customers.

Employees reflect the brand

First and foremost, trust begins with company employees. If they are well trained and treated with respect and transparency, the employees will trust their employer and radiate their enthusiasm, as well as loyalty to their customers by going the extra mile.

Along with a brand being a valuable asset for any business, people also fit into the equation as an important asset. This is where hiring the right people, on-boarding them, training them adequately and empowering them all create a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Many brands are myopic to the point that they unintentionally and unknowingly allow their dissatisfied customers to go away without a thought. Front-line staff is either not trained properly and/or lacks the proper attitude to handle clientele appropriately.

During the industrial era, consumers would simply purchase what was produced, shopping where that product was available and paying the price the retailer demanded. In essence, the manufacturer and the store were in position of strength. As products and consumers have changed over the years, the concept of ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘consumer insight’ came about. As we progressed into the new millennium, the transparency and unrestricted information available on the internet has changed all of that. Today consumers are not only better informed but they are also in control. They can make or break a brand through their actions. So what does this say about listening – and acting?

Consumers will no longer refrain from informing companies on what may have gone wrong ─ whether it’s a particular brand or a competitor’s. With the numerous platforms for consumers to make their voices heard online, brands have to be very reactive and not allow anything to chance. In an age when the consumer’s outcries and influences spread quickly, the results can signify lost sales and a deterioration of brand loyalty.

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When all is said and done

Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

A “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

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Brand Equity: Building and Maintaining It Through Competencies, Integrity and Loyalty

By James D. Roumeliotis

Brand Equity image - Coke bottle

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Those in business should know the meaning of a “brand” (source: Investopedia”/ a distinguishing symbol, mark, logo, name, word, sentence or a combination of these items that companies use to distinguish their product from others in the market.). Taking it further, a “brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

A brand is an intangible asset which may increase in value if the business is positively impactful. We refer to this as “brand equity” which is comprised of brand awareness (the level of familiarity with the uniqueness of a company’s products and/or services), brand attributes (are the practical and emotional links which are allotted to a brand by its clients and potential customers), perceived quality (the customer’s perception of the quality of a product and/or service of a particular brand), and brand loyalty (when customers turn into advocates and loyalists due to their favorable series of experiences).

To get an idea of the value of global brands, one only needs to consult the annual list of the most valuable brands compiled by Interbrand ─ a global brand consultancy firm.

Consumer trust is the company’s most valuable asset; thus it must be protected.

Brand building: the importance of transparency

The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster. Along with ethics, transparency affords many benefits to the organization such as higher business valuations when seeking investor capital, improved attraction and retention of high caliber employees, and scores of loyal clients. Companies which are forefront with their mistakes will be heavily rewarded. This is a trend called “flawsome.”

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

Brand Equity Matrix

Faux pas or deceit?

Reputations and trust affect brand equity. They are more difficult to win back than to lose. To become a desirable brand, be easy to do business with, focus on efficient and hassle-free service and refrain from deceiving customers.

Unfortunately, these days we witness many companies, most are public, whose short-sighted strategies to spruce up profits, increase market share and maintain shareholder value, made the executives complicit in creating circumstances which resulted in cheating their customers ─ albeit discreetly. Nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is about their advertisement, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. Other brands take it further with their tiny print in disclosure statements – which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. Alas, the majority of consumers do not read small footnotes.

The following are a few examples depicting such cases.

Chobani, renowned producer in the U.S. of Greek style yogurt with a significant share in its category was recently taken to court by a group of consumers for its false advertising. The plaintiffs claim that Chobani’s nutritional declarations on its product packaging are deceptive and confusing. Instead of reacting cautiously, Chobani officials were condescending. In court, they blamed consumers for being naïve and unable to apply common sense when going grocery shopping. They went further urging the judge to throw out the case.

Canadian based large dairy and cheese producer Saputo thought it was a good idea to shrink the size of their milk bags rather than raise prices. After all, consumers would not take notice, was their thinking. However, what Saputo failed to realize is that consumers these days are savvier as they take the time to research online and elsewhere. They are also prudent where and how they spend their money – seeking the best value. Furthermore, people seek transparency with brands, let alone the ones they are loyal too. Consumers certainly do not appreciate deception.

Now Saputo is scrambling to win back customer trust and loyalty by investing millions in doing so.

British Airways, once the pride of the British as “The World’s favorite airline”, decided (their number crunchers take all the credit) without any advance notice to its passengers/customers, to eliminate long haul meals to Economy passengers for flights under eight-and-a half hours. Instead of the usual offer of a sandwich snack, the crew has been instructed to offer only one fun-sized chocolate six hours after their first meal. This frugal attempt has naturally infuriated customers.

General Mills, the food giant known for its breakfast cereals was not immune from a lawsuit claiming it misled consumers by marketing Cheerios Protein cereal as a high-protein alternative to regular Cheerios.  However, the main difference was that the former new version contained 17 times more sugar per serving than the latter regular version.

The above brands have done nothing more than exploit their once devoted customers and having to reluctantly and awkwardly apologize in the end. They subtly make changes for their internal benefits while shortchanging consumers ─ and believing (more like hoping) they will not take note. Those type of moves certainly impact the brand and image.

In the end: building the value of the brand diligently

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become loyalists and advocates – buying into it more often and recommending the brand to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation which in turn increases brand equity.

Transparency builds trust and loyalty – it’s what makes your audience believe you. The days when anything that was stated on ads was considered believable is no longer effective today. Social media is proving a fertile ground for breeding brand loyalty or where consumers can voice their frustration and dissatisfaction. George Orwell said something clever with his quote,” In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

A Sloan Review article makes an excellent point by stating that “brand is a “customer centric” concept that focuses on what a product, service or company has promised to its customers and what that commitment means to them. Reputation is a “company centric” concept that focuses on the credibility and respect that an organization has among a broad set of constituencies, including employees, investors, regulators, journalists and local communities — as well as customers.

Brand equity caters to customers and prospective customers alike as it measures marketing success in building and maintaining customer relationships. Alternatively, corporate reputation relates to who can help or hamper a company’s capability to achieve its strategic goals.

Measuring brand equity consists of brand audits, brand evaluation and brand tracking all three conducted by brand experts trained in this specific area. Interbrand is a consultancy firm which does this and publishes its annual most valuable global brands listing.

Managing brand equity requires brand reinforcement (through brand awareness and brand image), brand revitalization (increase product use, entering new markets, adding brand extensions and line extensions, re-positioning and seeking new markets) along with a brand management crisis plan for timely implementation (as in acting swiftly to savage reputation, recover lost sales along with consumer trust).

The Blake Project, a branding consultancy firm, suggests in one of its articles (Rise of the First Responder Brands) “Of all the benefits strong brands offer it is time to add one more to the list:

  • Increased revenues and market share
  • Increased stock price, shareholder value and sale value
  • Increased awareness
  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Increased ability to attract and retain talented employees
  • Increased employee job satisfaction
  • Increased clarity of vision
  • Increased profitability
  • Decreased price sensitivity
  • Increased ability to mobilize an organization’s people and focus its activities
  • Increased ability to expand into new product and service categories
  • Additional leverage with vendors and retailers (for manufacturers)
  • Increased ability to organize effective disaster response and relief”

As for companies which place profits before their customers, an ideal illustration is the infamous pharmaceutical brand Mylan whose callous CEO, Heather Bresch, along with her executive accomplices sharply increased the price on their severe allergy EpiPen from about $100, when Mylan acquired the product in 2007, to approximately $600 which comes in a pack of two. This naturally caused a national controversy and public outcry. Following this development, Ms. Bresch hastily decided to reduce the out-of-pocket cost to patients but retained the skyrocketed list price. Shortly thereafter, the drug maker began to offer a generic version of EpiPen for half the list price of the brand-name remedy.

Due to its greed and short-sighted decision to increase pricing dramatically ─ most notably with a vital product it dominates, and whose principal acted in a condescending manner, the brand will suffer long-term trust and be scorned. Consequently, this may dilute the brand’s equity for some time. Incidentally, Ms. Heather Bresch heads the generic-drugs lobby and is the daughter of an American senator.

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