By: Charlie O’Connor
When I begin to think about branding, a few obvious companies come to mind such as Apple, Google and Coca-Cola. These companies, among the other “blue-chip” companies, are industry giants who have spent years building their brand identities and customer bases. Something that I find fascinating are the brands that define an entire industry. For example, how many times have you gotten the response, “is Pepsi alright” from a server at a restaurant that doesn’t have Coke. Is that question even necessary: asking for a Coke is not only a specific brand but has become the generic term for a cola and yes, Pepsi is just fine. Another example is when you get a cut or a scrape, what do you need? That’s right, a Band-Aide. I don’t know anyone who calls it an adhesive bandage or any other specific brand. It would seem to me that these representative brands have a significant advantage over the competition based on name alone. These are just a couple of examples as there a many others that we use on a daily basis. With that being said, I can’t help but wonder how companies just starting up, with limited funds and manpower, can build their brands into one of these companies with exceptional customer-based brand equity.
Luke Summerfield gives his opinion in an article called, How to Build a Brand That Attracts Die-Hard Followers. He explains that it all begins by understanding what branding is. His definition is, “Branding is the process of forming memories, emotions and a relationship around your brand in the consumer’s brain.” We see a very similar explanation in our readings about memory and the associations we make with a particular brand through the Customer-Based Brand Equity concept. Our book refers to brand knowledge as the key to creating brand equity and marketers must find a way to represent their brand in the minds of the consumer.
Summerfield refers to a set of four strategies to implement in order to build a brand and turn customers into “cult-like brand advocates”. The first strategy is to brand the customer. The idea he has here is to create the thought that the consumer is an exclusive member of something bigger than themselves. This is important because in order to have continued revenue, you must have repeat customers. What better way to ensure someone will continue to purchase a product than to make them think they are a part of the organization?
His second strategy to implement is random acts of kindness. I certainly agree with this concept as I will always remember if a company gives me something unexpected. Again, creating memories is one of the most important parts of this whole idea brand equity. Brand knowledge is said to have two components, brand awareness which is the strength of a brand in one’s memory paired with the ability to identify a brand under different conditions. The other is brand image, which is the consumer’s perception about a brand through associations held in a consumer’s memory.
A quick example about how I experienced this strategy used by Brooks Brothers. A few months ago I got a rip at the elbow in a relatively new dress shirt. I had spent a pretty penny on this shirt so was less than impressed with the situation. I decided to post a picture with a short comment on twitter @BrooksBrothers to express my frustration. Within hours I received a message from someone at Brooks Brothers apologizing for the situation and insisted that I pick out a new shirt and email them the size and product number. A couple days later a brand new shirt came in the mail with a $25 gift card. This was completely unexpected and created a fantastic brand image for me. Brand awareness is comprised of brand recognition and brand recall.
Summerfield’s third strategy is to disconnect from digital. He explains that personal, non-digital interaction with each other will spark the release of a chemical in the brain called oxytocin, which helps spark emotions and memories, the exact things marketers are trying to create. I believe this could be considered going above and beyond and don’t necessarily believe it to be as important as his other strategies. After all, we are living in an almost strictly digital world and I would rather receive and email, such as in the above example, than for someone in customer service to give me a call or have to go to a local retail store to resolve the issue.
The final strategy he explains is personalization. He states that tailoring a brand experience around an individual consumer is what will start building deep branding connections. I agree with this and am very familiar with why it is important to refer to a customer by their name as opposed to ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. This is especially relevant in customer service as many, if not all, companies use client relationship management systems (CRM). While working at TIAA-CREF I saw this first hand as we would often add notes to clients’ profiles in order to give the next consultant something to talk about with the client to build rapport. This is very important because it establishes an emotional connection with a client who would then be more likely to consolidate all of their financials with the one company they know truly cares about them as expressed with this personalizing strategy.
We have learned from the readings that building brand equity has many components that marketers need to touch upon in order to efficiently create favorable associations in the consumer’s mind. I believe it is imperative to put the customer above all other variables of business. After all, making customer satisfaction a priority equals customer retention and in turn equals revenue. Without marketing, a company simply cannot grow.