Branding rests on a combination of marketing activities that build a personality or reputation. A branded company may desire separate identities for the products and services it markets, but one can see there may be significant overlap and alignment between the three.
Leading from there, the difference between intended branding and actual branding (or existing branding) is at the crux of the matter.
What is intended branding?
Let’s look at a real-time example that highlights the key considerations of intended branding and spreading it out to consistently embrace the company, its products, and services.
Daimler (the company) has successfully conveyed itself as a manufacturer and distributor of high-end vehicles, riding on precision German engineering coattails. Their signature brand (i.e., Mercedes Benz) is the company’s foundation stone — probably even better-known than the Daimler identity.
The Benz motto, “The best or nothing,” intimates that the Mercedes logo (three prongs in a circle) and name (around for generations) represent:
- The pinnacle of everything Germany, with its stellar reputation for machine-excellence, has to offer.
- The Daimler corporation leveraging an undisputed national reputation for cutting-edge auto technologies to catapult its own.
Narrowing down to individual product branding, Mercedes (the product range brand) offers the public:
- Luxury SUVs, sedans, and sports models
- Smart cars
- Commercial trucks, freightliners, vans, and buses
Let’s recap so that we focus on the fundamentals.
From all appearances, Daimler intends every auto type sold through its network to resonate with the target market as having a German pedigree and is “the best you can buy anywhere.”
Within that theme, the planned branding must drill down to become more precise, and more specific to identify unique customer experiences (CXs) connecting to it. Let’s clarify:
- There’s a difference in the personality built around a Mercedes sports model (competing against a Porche Carrera) and an SUV for the family (competing against Cadillac).
- A business buying a truck for cross-country heavy-goods transportation is the opposite of a casual driver’s mindset navigating busy streets in NYC with a tiny smart car.
- To reiterate, “The best or nothing” applies to all four buying situations. However, each product (i.e., The SUV, sports model, truck, and smart car) must divert their marketing strategies somewhat by developing separate personalities.
From yet another viewpoint, Daimler’s products and services are much the same things — even though the latter is intangible (i.e., not physical in nature). Mostly, they are inseparable (i.e., you can’t market the one without the other).
No matter how compelling the brand image is at any point. Suppose that you cease providing professional support to your customers during the decision process or that you fail to help them use your product seamlessly after selling it to them.
In both instances, the product and service brand images, in unison, can go in the opposite of the intended direction.
Intended branding tools
Businesses have a range of marketing tools in their armory geared to build brands. These include:
- Product design
- Messaging on social media
- Images displayed in visual promotions
- Public relations
- Pitch decks
- The voices in audio promotions
- Your website impression combining much of the above
- Attitudes and demeanor of customer support staff
- And things like logos, color palettes, and fonts
Professional marketers, maximizing these resources, can paint a picture of:
- Masculinity (Harley Davidson)
- Free-spirited athleticism (Nike)
- Femininity ( Neutrogena face creams)
- Digital omnipresence (Amazon)
- Pinpointed audience reach (Google and Facebook)
- Prestige (Rolex, Ferrari, and Sotheby’s)
The branding verticals are endless.
It takes time, patience, trial-and-error, and staying different from your competitors to create a brand image that:
- Sticks with the audience
- Aligns with the expected customer experience
- Connects to the relevant psychographics
- Doesn’t disappoint
- Is not a me-too
- Remains consistent:
- Over time
- Within the overriding company theme
- With sister products and services in the range
The role of market segmentation in effective brand planning
CX (customer experience) is the driving force behind brand success. No matter what you say, do, or try, if the customer can’t translate your brand into a meaningful benefit, it all comes to nothing. For this reason, marketing departments must segment markets in every way possible to understand customer motivation. SoGoSurvey is a specialist CX company with an in-depth menu of market segmentation methods available for this purpose. It includes psychographic, behavioral, firmographic segmentation, and more. The brand specialist must get into customers’ and decision influencers’ thinking and emotions to align the eventual brand image with an ideal CX.
SoGoSurvey has a library of surveys and templates designed to accumulate, analyze, and apply customer feedback so that the data can converge on building brand identities that stand out from the crowd. They can work alongside you to build your brand in the right direction.
Actual branding vs. intended branding
I know — you’ve been waiting with bated breath to learn the difference, and the divide can indeed be massive. What a company plans to do and how its targeted audience sees the brand may be two entirely different things. Here are some reliable gauges that indicate whether intentions are disappointing or meeting expectations:
Customer retention — yes, loyal customers. Customers in it for the long haul, buying repeatedly. They’re proud to display the brand on their person or around them, letting everyone in their close or aspirant circle know they like it.
Conversely, customer churn — the opposite of retention. These are people who have bought once and not again or loyal customers are abandoning ship and crossing over to another brand. Be sure, in cases like this, intentions and actuals are parting ways.
CX touchpoint analysis. Every customer journey, from the moment the need enters a prospect’s thoughts to after purchase service, there may be scores of touchpoints. It may be:
- Navigating web pages
- Phoning technical support
- An online chat
- Hearing a friend’s review
- A free trial
- Reading a blog
- Any number of things. As scary as this may sound, it takes a single disastrous touchpoint to collapse a network of constructive ones that previously supported the underlying image.
Examples of intended and actual brand divergence
Suppose that a Michelin-star restaurant has spent years nurturing its brand as a Italian fine-dining establishment, securing famous chef endorsement and reviews in high-end lifestyle mags, publicizing their in-house celebrity sightings, and plugging the star-rating itself at every turn.
Then one day, the health authorities closed it down because they found rat-droppings in the kitchen. Good news travels fast; bad news ten times more quickly — reaching the ears of all the brand loyalists in no time. A colossal collapse of the image would be in the balance with all that coming at it.
A lot depends on management’s response, but there’s no denying that a challenge is on the table because the existing brand impact is far off the original intentions. To reiterate, one touchpoint can kill or severely threaten a brand — from which there’s no coming back.
Planned and existing brand divergences, frequently resulting in destruction, abound. Here are some case study summaries:
Hummer — “Over the years,” said The New York Times, “Hummer shifted from a brawny status symbol…into an automotive pariah.” Its low gas mileage threw it into obsolescence (i.e., 10 miles per gallon). GM did their best to keep it alive by offering it to manufacturer Sichuan Tengzhong. Still, it fell through on environmental grounds as being a pollution risk. That, coming from the Chinese, shows how far the Hummer brand had dropped from the top of the mountain.
The DeLorean — the pioneer auto brand: Its founder, John DeLorean, was a visionary. The brand was struggling, mostly for logistical reasons. The death knell arrived in the same year the FBI arrested John for allegedly smuggling nearly $25 million of street-value cocaine into the USA (supposedly to fund his venture). Ultimately acquitted, the DeLorean name couldn’t survive the adverse publicity — another touchpoint fire-bomb that ended the game.
Polaroid — Its CEO Gary DiCamillo stood by the claim that, “As electronic imaging becomes more prevalent, there remains a basic human need for a permanent visual record.” It was a tremendous judgment error taking the brand to the mat. Millennials respond to everything in the cloud — demanding a paperless, virtual support system in their work and social activities. It’s everything that Polaroid isn’t, reinforcing the power of segmenting one’s market before taking a branding leap.
Successful brand strategists understand that actual perceptions are the litmus test of a company’s marketing strategies. It involves focusing on CX and CJ — ensuring that every touchpoint supports the original intentions. Changes like the recent pandemic that emphasized remote working and online convenience when shopping are in the mix to keep branding experts on their toes. SoGoSurvey is a CX company endorsing the statement that you can’t take anything for granted in a fast-changing, somewhat volatile environment. Marketers, if nothing else, must demonstrate agility, adaptability, and resilience when things go off track. Alertness is an admirable quality in a world where many have their heads in the sand. Let SoGoSurvey lighten the path to better branding and all that it entails.