Tag Archives: branding strategy

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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Genuine Luxury vs Accessible Luxury: Two Distinct Yet Opposing Categories

By James D. Roumeliotis

Mass - Masstige - Prestige

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“Masstige” (a combination of two words: “mass” and “prestige” – aka mass with class) is a contemporary marketing term which denotes prestige for products perceived as luxurious and targeted to a wide range of customers known as the “mass affluent.” As per Wikipedia, the mass affluent are the high end of the mass market, or individuals with US$100,000 to US$1,000,000 of liquid financial assets, or consumers with an annual household income over US$75,000. These upper middle class individuals can afford to splurge on some of the finer (and affordable) things in life which include fashion merchandise, sporting goods, cosmetics, various accessories (silk ties, scarfs, small leather goods, perfumes etc.), high-end consumer electronics/gadgets, as well as culinary food and spirits. Brands in those categories depend on the “masstige” crowd for a majority of their sales, despite a few which also happen to be purveyors of inaccessibly priced products catered to the HNWI/UHNWI (aka the very wealthy or the 1% respectively).

This is purely an oxymoron and paradoxical since in the authentic luxury domain, “mass prestige” is an artificial term for “luxury” as it is not generally geared for the mass but rather the well heeled. Sadly, the true meaning of “luxury” has been bastardized by many brands who are falsely in the “luxury” business (in the true sense of the word and definition). ​However, there are luxury brands which have chosen to offer lowered priced products in a bid to join the “accessible luxury.” Think Coach with its leather bags and accessories or Chanel with its perfumes and cosmetics.

Defining the true meaning of the term “luxury”

Definitions of “luxury” vary significantly and depend on with whom you discuss the topic and in what context. The term “luxury” is not the easiest to define. It is relative, mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria in the mind, which creates a mood and what is generally referred to today as lifestyle.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:

A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Authentic luxury brands compete on the basis of their ability to invoke exclusivity, prestige and hedonism to their appropriate market segments not the masses. There is a classic litmus test as follows:

  • Is the product manufactured in artificially limited quantities? (i.e. the rarity factor)
  • Does the firm have a story to tell? (i.e. history & pedigree)
  • Is the firm portraying a unique lifestyle? (i.e. the product or service will enhance one’s experience through an exceptional appeal)
  • Is craftsmanship the hallmark, which delivers products that only High Net Worth individuals (HNWI/UHNWI) can purchase without question?
  • Does the brand offer authenticity?

Genuine luxury purveyors remain relatively small and select in their category. Ultra wealthy (UHNWI) consumers purchase rare luxury products because they seek to distance themselves from the mass through the emotional value of acquiring flawless and rare objects of desire.

“Aspirational” luxury, on the other hand, is another fancy marketing parlance which is generally defined as a brand that most want but only a fraction of them can actually afford it. Most cannot afford a $2000 bottle of vintage wine but may be able to occasionally splurge on a $200 bottle of one of the finest single malt Whiskey.

Identifying luxury sectors

Genuine Luxury is classically defined in three key segments:

1) Luxury Goods: Fashion & Accessories, Watches & Jewelry, Well-being & Beauty products.

2) Lifestyle Purchases: Automotive, Experiential Travel, Home & Interiors, Exclusive Alcoholic beverages (exceptional wines, champagne & spirits)

3) Private/Executive Jets and Yachts: An absolute category in their own right.

Brands which fittingly claim authentic luxury status

Few brands can really claim the trademark of luxury. It is those which combine allure with pedigree and quality attributes. Discounting is not part of their strategy and their entire raison d’être is geared to the UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth). Many of their products actually increase in value over time since they are either discontinued or necessitate a long waiting list/time.

Most notable authentic luxury brands are in the haute merchandise category:

Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, Rolex and Cartier.

Other players to this core list include: Bentley, Rolls Royce, Gucci, E. Goyard, Charvet, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Bulgari.

Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions. The four key players in this category include: Abercrombie & Kent, Kuoni, Orient-Express and Cunard Line.

Broadening our view of luxury services, certain firms offer services and privileges to a rare percentile. Such services include credit cards with no limits, jet ownership, private plan charters, global concierge services and the like. Think NetJets and Amex.

“Accessible” luxury is a marketing notion, not a merchandise category

The concept of making luxury available to the masses goes against what true luxury is as
there is no such thing as accessible luxury ─ it is either luxury or it is not as “accessible” luxury is a marketing notion and not any product category. Think Michael Kors, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Godiva and Apple among others. Top luxury brands such as Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have accessible luxury with perfumes and cosmetics, sunglasses, as well as accessories (leather, silk scarfs etc.).

In marketing parlance, being coined as an “accessible” luxury good can be deceiving when the quality of materials is not quite at par as one would normally find in a “genuine” luxury product. For such companies, becoming too commonplace is a risk for such brands as they lose their cache due to a lesser price line, as well as risk their reputation for the sake of increasing their revenues. Then there are some non-luxury brands which use the codes of luxury strategy to grow their sales. Needless to say, many consumers will eventually catch-on that such products are merely a gimmick thus on their way to lose their luster.

Masstige - My other bag is a Birkin

“Premium” and “prestige” categories defined

If luxury brands are related to scarcity, quality and storytelling then premium goods, on the other hand, are expensive variants of commodities in general: i.e. pay more, get more.

These brands are less ostentatious, more rational, accessible, modern, best in class, sleek design, and manufactured with precision. Beats headphones and TAG Heuer watches are a case in point and so is Audi and Lexus in automobiles.

“Luxury” and “prestige” brands respectively both have a similar status. Although some may disagree, in some cases, brands such as Mercedes-Benz automobiles, are considered to be both “luxury” and “prestige.” There are also brands which are either labelled one or the other. It depends how they are identified in the eyes of consumers.

Prestige brands offer a high level of innovation, craftsmanship ─ and with some categories, the finest ingredients or raw materials. Due to their well-established names, status and pedigree, they boast quite a loyal following. As a result, they can command premium prices which their clients do not mind paying for since they are made to feel special. Examples of some prestige brands include Breitling watches, Lancome cosmetics and Aston Martin automobiles.

The distinction between a prestige brand and premium brand is simply one of perception. In automobiles it is Cadillac and Lexus vs their German counterpart of BMW and Audi. In watches, it is perhaps a Rolex versus a Breguet and a Cartier.

On a final note

When it comes to lower priced supposed “luxury” products for the affluent masses, they are essentially “premium” products ─ otherwise known as “masstige.” The brands succeed at creating fancy designs and utilize expensive looking material to make their products appear very expensive which are then sold at a fraction of the price compared to genuine luxury brands in the same product category. Add clever window dressing and marketing and the result is that those products become affordable objects of desire. Unlike authentic luxury brands which are manufactured at their country of origin (mainly Italy, France or the U.K.), they are outsourced to low labour cost factories in Asia or Turkey. Despite this, they are given a premium markup which is intentionally done to create an aura of high value.

As long as there is a big demand for massitige products that its target market can afford and make them part of their social status and lifestyle, the category will be around indefinitely.

As a final point worth mentioning, at this day and age, there are luxury branding experts who claim that there are actually four categories of luxury: Old, New, Eco and Indie as exhibited in the following table (credit: David Sherwin). This translates into additional choices ─ categories to satisfy most desires.

Four Types of Luxury Chart

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Filed under brand positioning, Branding, Business, country of origin, Luxury, Marketing, mass affluent, masstige, selling luxury, what is luxury, what is premium

Sex and Sensuality in Advertising: Why it is effective and how to refine it

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Tom Ford Ad

Does sex really sell? It seems to sell but commercially, not morally. Sex in the media has been around as long as media itself ‒ though these days at more extreme levels (from subtle to overt).

They’re not quite selling a product but rather an expression of desire – a lifestyle that can be envisioned with the product or service. It attracts the male audience much more than the female as women are objects of sensual desire for men. It’s no wonder that most sultry ads portray bodacious females.

Marketing and branding via sultry imagery and insinuation

Sex is a primitive instinct which qualifies it as an attention-grabbing technique in the media domain. It’s no wonder a weapon of choice for marketers. Sex also transcends product categories ‒ whether it’s a consumer product such as Axe antiperspirant, a recreational pharmaceutical drug like Viagra or an exotic sports car.

Sexually explicit ads can be controversial and some offensive. They are also subject to socio-cultural climate. As long as they don’t get carried away to borderline pornography, but rather refined, preferably subliminal and certainly not violent or masochistic, the sultry ads can be considered playful and memorable. Their original intent is to create an emotional effect on the viewer. This way, the viewer develops a closer bond with the brand and consequently, stronger recognition. Some ads intentionally incorporate a humorous element which generates further interest for its intended audience.

Fragrance ads by some fashion designers are intentionally created to sell a sultry elixir in a bottle. To succeed and spark emotional purchase desire, its creators have raised the stakes by provoking the visual (as well as the olfactory) senses and causing the consumer to believe that he or she will feel erogenous and desirable with those he or she cares to attract. However, there are few controversial ads which have been banned as they seemingly pushed pop-culture buttons a notch too far.

The benefits of sex in advertising

Businesses have found that sexy ads are a great method for “word-of-mouth” and viral publicity. Their attention grabbing messages have the ability to cut through the clutter of ads and command considerably more views. The intended viewers, however, are mesmerized even as they are absorbing the ad’s underlying subliminal messages.

A case in point: In 2000, Heineken launched the “It’s All About the Beer” campaign. One spot, called “The Premature Pour,” shows an attractive and alluring woman pouring Heineken into a glass. As a result, a guy across the bar reacts by pouring his own beer but nervously pours it too quickly and spills foam all over the table, as well as on himself. The sexual content is tacit, yet blunt. The insinuation in this, and other spots in the campaign, yielded a successful outcome causing sales to rise 13% in the first two quarters following their airing.

Popular men’s magazines like Maxim and FHM have experimented often with their covers. By placing a spicy, semi-naked woman on the cover, male readership spikes and outstrips an image of any popular male star whom men can readily relate to.

At Montreal’s renowned steakhouse, Queue de Cheval (French for “horse’s tail”), its eccentric owner, Peter Morentzos ‒ who is known for pushing conventional advertising boundaries, came-up with the idea to host a “Food Porn” event for a charity event. The sold-out $250 per person event featured young hard-body waitresses in skimpy outfits along with shrimps hanging on them which resembled human trays. To promote it, he used the photo of a naked woman’s torso deemed too racy for print in the culinary magazine Gourmet.

What sexually overt ads should avoid

For sexually explicit ads to be effective, they should be created in good taste with respect to the following:

  • Provide a meaningful message through the images;
  • Avoid over-reliance on sex due to saturation as it may lose its intended impact;
  • Should not depict violence, aggression and/or masochism;
  • Shouldn’t be doing it with just any product merely to grab attention but with some relevance utilizing sexual ideas only.

If a brand is willing to risk taking a controversial position to gain attention amongst the crowded product landscape, it should not be excessively overt. It ought to target the brand’s specific market along with not offending its fans and best customers.

Marketers at times tend to step out of line ‒ though, today many consumers happen to be savvy and realize when they’re being manipulated by various media messages. The products touted in the ads may contain sensuous interplay but if they don’t stand-up to their promises and hype, those brands will disappoint and won’t be able to hold onto the customers for long. At the end of the day, the truth in advertising signifies the “trust” factor which is inherently crucial in attracting and retaining clients.

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Filed under controversial advertising, sensuality in advertising, sex and media, sex in advertising, sexy advertising

Education Branding: Adding a Distinct Personality to an Institution of Learning

By James D. Roumeliotis

Cleverbox, UK - integrated school branding example

Cleverbox, UK – integrated school branding example

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When we think of brands, we mainly think of companies. It is not often that we think of educational institutions. However, with competition amongst them, whether in the private or public sector, many have begun considering its importance and value. As a result, they are developing and implementing branding strategies so as to distinguish themselves. Branding is a powerful differentiator and creates top of mind with prospective students who are considering where to apply for college, university or a vocational/trade school/polytechnic institute. Private elementary schools and high schools also play into the equation but with the parents of the students primarily targeted.

As personal branding has become ever popular over the years – most notably for professionals in the job market, as well as practitioners in private practice (consider physicians, attorneys etc.), post-secondary schools in particular are also taking branding earnestly in consideration. To name a few that undertook a branding project at heart, and as a result have become renowned, are Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts, which describes itself as “immersed in business, engaged in liberal arts” and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. with its tagline, “Why not change the world?”. The for-profit institution of higher learning University of Phoenix, in Phoenix, Arizona, boasts its innovation in higher education which helped pioneer many of the conveniences that students now enjoy — evening classes, flexible scheduling, a university-wide academic social network, and an immersive online classroom which it has been offering for nearly 20 years.

As one would expect, educational institutions target diverse markets worldwide via their various programs offered. This makes their marketing messages all the more challenging.

Understanding privileges of Ivy Leagues

Pedigree, along with established high standards, unmatched curriculum, elite professors and lecturers and prestige, compel the Ivy Leagues’ inclination to seek only the top students for entry in their programs. Fewer than one out of ten students are usually accepted at Harvard, Stanford and Princeton for example. Prestigious and sought after colleges, trade schools and high schools can also be counted in following similar ranks holding on to their place in the top echelon which are also reflected by their exorbitant tuition fees. Parsons School for Design in New York City, the Career Training Academy in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) and The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville (New Jersey), respectively, have their own stringent criteria so as to retain their stellar reputation and cache. It is hard for the public schools to make such claims. This phenomenon is also driven by the plethora of applications received but with limited available places. It can also be stated that artificially set low admission quotas is vital to retain the brand prestige ‒ akin to authentic luxury brands production limits.

As a side note of interest, Ivy League universities have the most loyal, as well as wealthy alumni which contribute large sums of money as indicated by the universities’ vast endowments. By the end of fiscal year 2013, U.S. News’ three highest-ranked National Universities were Yale, ranked No. 3 with more than $20.7 billion in endowment monies, Harvard University, ranked No. 2, with nearly $32.7 billion, and Princeton, ranked No. 1, had nearly $18.8 ​billion.

Branding through emotional attachment and the total student experience

As universities and other educational institutions are having to confront challenges such as student enrollment, rising tuition fees, third party school rankings, and disruptive online course offerings such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), their distinction and relevance, amongst their rivalry, is in dire need of a jolt.

For starters, many institutions lack a target segment and a strategy on how they intend to reach it. Education is a knowledge service, thus a school’s campus facilities reflect its identity, whereas its teaching staff, administrative people, board members and alumni are a significant brand asset.

Branding is critical for success in any organization. It begins with the idea of what the organization will be perceived as. What do you want it to represent? What do you want your learning center to stand for? What type of image are you aspiring to portray? What type of students are you seeking to attract?

This brand promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer ‒ in this case it’s the student. The brand should include the Unique Selling Proposition (USP), positioning (What should the brand stand for among its target group?), personality (Traits the brand possesses that consumers/students can relate to) and define the entire organization by touching every aspect of it. Those are crucial factors that will make it truly unique. Successful branding methods and results can also get the organization out of the commodity trap and attract value in terms of higher tuition fees ‒ or at least justify the value of existing fees. 

Articulating what the brand stands for and why it is better than the competition, is where a brand communications strategy and execution come into play. Commonly used methods of brand communications include advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management programs and public relations.

When students are delighted with their on-campus experiences, they begin to bond emotionally with the school. They become brand loyalists and advocates – transacting with the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the school’s reputation.

Key points: a university with a well-respected brand has an enormous advantage

An article in The Guardian newspaper’s blog entitled, “What’s in a name? The value of a good university brand”, includes questions such as “In this rapidly changing marketplace, university branding is about much more than logos. But what does this mean for students and the role of branding in higher education in general? These queries formed the basis of a recent Guardian roundtable, held in association with brand communications consultancy Purpose. The debate was conducted under the Chatham House rule, which allows remarks to be reported without attribution to encourage a frank debate. Consequently, the discussion produced recommendations compelling enough that they should not be overlooked.

The roundtable heard that universities looking to brand themselves successfully should:

  • Focus on their core values, such as: academic integrity that links teaching, research and scholarship; business-friendly courses with employability appeal; and the positive student experience on offer.
  • Target communications at parents as well as students.
  • Involve academics as much as possible; their enthusiasm can often bring big dividends.
  • Highlight student testimony in university marketing materials.
  • Make the most of social media’s influence and reach.

Case Studies: a vocational education institute and a community college

New Frontier School Board Continuing Education (Montreal, Canada)

New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) Continuing Education, in a suburb in Montreal, Canada, wanted to bolster enrollment and student engagement. Over a period of 12 months, The Watershed Media conducted an extensive communications audit, developed the blueprint for an online and offline marketing plan, and executed an entirely new digital and social media strategy and brand outlook. From their discovery, they knew that the success of the brand hinged on fostering intimacy and dialogue between the school and its students. Whatever they did had to be honest, authentic and true to life.

  • The Watershed injected the brand with a very personal narrative that celebrated the common theme of overcoming adversity and breaking through despite obstacles; a story that so many of their students shared in common. “I Choose Me” and the “Journey begins with you” were conversational brand elements that nurtured the empathetic quality that were the hallmarks of a school that was very student centered.
  • They revitalized the school’s social media presence through staff training and engagement, strategic content direction and social media marketing.
  • The website was built from the ground up and focused on reflecting a modern image that gave its users clear information, helped them make informed decisions about their future, and then act on those decisions through online conversion tools. The Watershed complemented student tools with community resources that would make the NFSB a valued asset to the communities it services. Site analytics are used to help refine content and define user experience in increasingly meaningful ways.
  • Equally important was their work helping NFSB shift the marketing culture at the school and discover their shared capacity to influence change through everyday inter-actions.

AriannePeters_Sample

Ramapo College of New Jersey (Mahwah, NJ, U.S.A.)

The brand strategy conceived and implemented by Words & Pictures Creative Service was to create an image campaign (print and radio, separate from the recruitment campaign) that would feature successful, famous, historical people who “could have been” Ramapo students. Shakespeare, Marie Curie, Andrew Carnegie, and Booker T. Washington were some of the role models who represented different schools in the College. This campaign elevated the College to a place where “some of the greatest minds in history could have started their futures” and where “the great young minds of today could start their futures.”

Results: Ramapo College experienced the following benefits and improvements over four years resulting in part from the image-building ad campaign:

  • Follow-up Eagleton survey conducted four years after original survey revealed overall dramatic increase in public awareness and improved perception.
  • Ranking in S. News & World Report moved to #1 public comprehensive college in the North for these consecutive years.
  • Combined SAT scores rose from 1120 to 1180.
  • HS rankings moved from top 24% to top 17%.
  • Full-time residential undergrads increased from 52% to 60%.
  • Retention rate from first to second year increased from 82.4% to 89.4%.
  • Retention rate from second to third year increased from 68% to 74.8% to 80% currently.
  • Graduation rate increased from 42.75 to 62.3% (well over national average of 50%).
  • Numerous industry and CASE awards recognizing excellence in the advertising image campaign and other collateral materials.
  • First-time donors increased by 35%.

In the final analysis

Educational institutions, whether in the youth sector, college level, vocational sector or in higher education/university ought to brand themselves succinctly to differentiate when communicating with prospective students, and perhaps with parents of students too. Needless to say, in the educational sector, the student is both the product and the customer. The service is the education delivered by its qualified educators. A well-crafted and compelling unique selling proposition (UPS), which the institution will consistently deliver upon, can give it a leg-up over its competitors in the category ‒ as well as build its brand. This is how a school creates well-earned attention, prominence and perceived value. It does this through its meticulous execution of its marketing and operating strategies, by way of a positive total student experience coupled together with its high academic standards. The approach is no different from a company selling apparel, food or hospitality.

Branding is an investment which offers the educational institution a distinction in competitiveness, awareness, a professional image and its reputation whilst adding equity to the organization’s assets. However, it’s a long term resource because it takes time to build a brand.

The practice of education branding building includes positioning. In this day and age change is a necessity not solely reserved for companies but equally important for schools – whether a university, college, vocational center and even in the youth sector (elementary and high school). Some may have require repositioning and re-branding. In the same way as the USP, this necessitates a well-defined (positioning) strategy so that the institution can build a consistent and successful brand in the course of time.

In re-branding, a new brand platform, including the identity and messaging should be carefully studied and developed.

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Brand Experience, Not Product Branding: Cutting Through the Clutter

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Products in the same class-categories struggle to differentiate themselves. Consumers often take brands for granted. Purchases are not so much conscious brand selection as choice by default. The two following examples highlight this. Going out for coffee in North America usually dictates a visit to Starbucks. When sparkling water is ordered at a restaurant, Perrier appears almost by magic.

The age of the internet has made copying competitors’ products, marketing strategies, and overall business practices to name a few. It’s not enough to merely compete at a product and pricing level which doesn’t take long to be outdone. Anyone can lower prices. What begs the question is where you draw the line before your profit margins are eroded to the point of no return and many ramifications for a business. Savvy marketers look beyond pricing and product features. Instead, they search for sustained ways to market their brand rather than their product.

Brand Not Logo 

“Branding” redefined for the new era

 To begin with, 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.

When consumers are 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.

A branding strategy should consist of:

  • Brand Positioning – Position is a descriptive sentence, slogan or image the brand is known for in the mind of the consumer and which the company delivers on it consistently. This is what sets the product or service apart from competitors.
  • Brand Identity – This is every visual expression of the brand, whether in print, television, digital or the iconic (Pullman) brown color identifying the trucks and delivery staff of the UPS courier company.
  • Brand Experience – Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone.
  • Storytelling – Brands build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands boast their pedigree.
  • Engaging with your target audience – this is conducted through social media and asking for feedback. Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.

Senses in Branding Strategy

The holistic selling proposition

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Developing the customer relationship through customer experiences

The Total Customer Experience is the sum total of the interactions that a customer has with a company’s products, people, and processes. It goes from the moment when customers see an ad to the moment when they accept delivery of a product and beyond.

According to Bain & Company, a leading management consultancy firm, out of 362 leading companies surveyed, 80% believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree.

The experiences customers go through with your business determine the ultimate perception of your brand and image. Customer experiences also spread the word (offline/online) to others (friends, relatives etc.) about your brand/image. That said, each customer contact (“touch points”) should be handled with the utmost care to ensure that the total brand experience a person has is constant. This requires proper training and occasionally evaluating employee performance. Moreover, improvements may be necessary with systems, technology, methods, services, products and even physical premises. Complacency should be replaced with continuous improvement.

Creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market such as BMW, Armani, W Hotels, Louis Vuitton and Rolex ‒ just to name a few. These have given way to consumers to buy products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol. Abercrombie & Fitch has created a lifestyle based on a preppy, young elite lifestyle. Their retail outlets reflect this way of life through their luxurious store ambiance, attractive associates and images portraying young people living the Abercrombie & Fitch way.

 Apple Standsout amongst the others

B2B branding differentiation

Consumers are attracted to brands’ nonsensical benefits such as status, affinity, self-comfort and prestige, whereas, Business-to-Business (B2B) customers make their purchase decisions based on practical rationale including pricing, product performance and specifications, Moreover, brand loyalty in the B2B sector is higher than in consumer goods markets because companies in the commercial and industrial segments seek satisfying and long term relationships since jumping from supplier to supplier can cause havoc and inconsistencies with product quality control. Consequently, developing brand loyalty among enterprise customers can capture a larger share can increase profit margins while protecting them against lower-priced competitors.

The final take

The key to success is to market your brand, not your product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with your customers. Branding positively adds value to your company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value.

A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote a more than a product with key benefits and attributes. Note however that lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life.” It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand.

One way to overcome the ‘price only’ differentiation, which erodes profits and does not generate loyalty, is for a company to consider building a lifelong relationship with each customer. To do so, requires that each customer enjoys a positive and hassle-free transaction with each touch point. The goal is also to reduce or eliminate customer problems altogether, but that begins prior to and during the first contact with the customer. All problems should be documented, reviewed and corrected without much delay. Hiring the right people is vital, so is training them properly, as well as empowering them to deliver a remarkable customer experience.

When promoting brands, consider that earned media trumps paid media and enhances the brand image. With adverts, consumers don’t care what marketers say. According to the 2011 Nielsen Group report, “False” is the term 89% of consumers closely associated with advertising campaigns.

Whether a product or service ‒ is a luxury brand or falls into another category, it is how you stand out from the crowd that distinguishes you. Know your target audience, get inside their heads and understand how they think and feel. What are their fears, emotions and anxieties? Once you’ve understood this quite well, you then manage the brand consistently.

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Defining the Luxury Brand

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Open any quality fashion or lifestyle magazine, and you will see how brands conceptualize and package luxury. The hype is deafening, and in reality can be quite confusing. Everyone wants “luxury” brands, and from a marketing point of view defy sales trends and seem recession proof.

As consumers, we want to be made to feel special. Definitions of “luxury” can vary enormously and depend on who you ask and in what context. The term “Luxury” has never been something easy to define. It is in my view, a mysterious and elusive concept. Studies highlight that no one is immune and when properly executed makes products and services highly desirable by broad market segments.

To put things into perspective, I will discuss the nature of luxury, and how luxury and premium brands differ in the marketplace although both types of products and services can be targeted to similar audiences.

Why Luxury Brands?

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Branding Strategies for a Fundamental Differentiation

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Most businesses have an opinion on what branding constitutes, though how do you go about standing-out apart from similar product or service categories? Let us begin the thought process on this issue by first looking at what the word “Branding” is defined as in the Cambridge English dictionary. “Branding” is “the act of giving a company a particular design or symbol in order to advertise its products and services.” Sounds very simplistic. However, we know that it takes plenty of thought, creativity and flawless execution to truly define a brand which radiates externally to produce notable customer experiences. A brand is essentially an intangible asset which is injected with personality – values that consumers like and can relate to. Moreover, a cleverly created and executed branding strategy develops an intangible association with consumers

Defining the Brand
We start with the idea of what we want the product, service and its respective company to be perceived as. What do you want it to represent? Specifically what category does it belong to that will be in the consumers’ mind? Defining your target market too will help to strengthen the brand’s effectiveness. Explain what your brand stands for and why it is better than the competition. This is where you execute your brand communications. Commonly used methods of brand communications include advertising, events, sponsorships, promotions, direct marketing, customer relationship management programs and public relations. In defining who your brand and your audience is, you create the foundation for all other components to build on. This requires a distinctive brand vision, positioning, personality and affiliation for the product/service. Those are crucial factors that will make it truly unique. Proper branding can also get you out of the commodity trap and attract value in terms of higher pricing.

Customer Experiences
This is what truly creates differentiation from mass and from competing brands. The key objective is to create a relationship of trust. The world’s powerful brands establish trust and friendship with their customers. They develop emotional capital, and gain passion. This is what makes them great. A brand’s image is how consumers perceive it and this may not be the same as how the owner wants it to be seen. It is important to note that without a premium product or service quality, a strong brand image is difficult to create.

Every customer contact (“touch points”) should be handled with the utmost care to ensure that the total brand experience a person has is consistent. This involves properly training and occasionally evaluating employee performance and when necessary, changing strategy, systems, technology, methods, services, products and even physical premises to produce a positive customer experience. Complacency should be replaced with continuous improvement.

Standing-out from the Crowd
Brands can’t stand out by blending in. They need to be distinctive, compelling, create buzz and call for action. Advertising in almost every industry appears to look the same. Visually distinctive brand features enhance customer recall and positively influence intent to purchase. “Advertising” creates attention and promotes an image and the brand. On the other hand, “Marketing” compels someone to buy. Since we’re constantly bombarded with advertising, it’s important to cut through the clutter. You only have one or two seconds to grab the attention of your intended audience. Compared to your competition, take an unusual approach by being first, different and bold in the way you create and deliver your message.
Marketing campaigns should have elements of:
 Imagination
 Mystery
 Memory

Whether a product or service is a luxury brand or falls into another category, it is how you stand out from the crowd that distinguishes you. Know your target audience, get inside their heads and understand how they think and feel. What are their fears, emotions and anxieties? It’s not just about demographics, it’s about neuro-psychology. Once you have this down pat, you then manage the brand consistently.

YOUR COMMENTS/OPINIONS ARE WELCOME.

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