Brand power: Using Smarter Research to Empower Brands

Stronger brands are easier brands to choose and buy because customers take their quality for granted. So strong brands retain these customers longer, and attract new customers sooner.

Chris Martin Murphy looks at what you can do to make your brand stronger.

 Brands without power have insufficient brand stature or brand strength. Brand stature is the reputation and esteem a brand enjoys as a result of the familiarity consumers have with a brand and the image they have of that brand. Brand strength is the relevance and point of differentiation of the brand in the perception of its users.

To empower a brand or re-empower a brand it is necessary to understand the attitudes, issues and dynamics underpinning the brand’s present stature and strength. It is also necessary to understand the brand attributes which make up the perceived values (positive and negative) of the brand.

Through the use of the Interface Brand Business BuilderÔ  (IBBB), a research-based system designed to re-empower brands, a business environment can be evaluated and determined and then a business direction can be set. The IBBB analyses and researches the brand environment in order to develop and recommend the brand communications platform or strategy. Brand owners then gain clarity and focus; through the right brand strategies; and by communicating the right brand image, reputation, proposition, values, personality and symbol.

Why bother to empower your brand? Stronger, ‘power’ brands last longer. They enjoy greater consumer familiarity, retain loyal customers longer, and enjoy better end-user demand. Consequently, they can command higher prices, better margins and greater profits. They are more resistant to competitive pricing or promotions, and better survive crises.

Stronger brands simplify the selling process and the buying process. They sell more volume with less effort. They are easier brands to choose and buy, because we take their quality for granted. They are harder to copy, and take the higher image ground in close-substitute categories. They cost less to grow.

The Interface Brand Business Builder begins by analysing the business environment in terms of market size and sectors; market trends and drivers; the competitive frame; and the relevant customer segments. A business SWOT analysis then follows, prior to the setting of the business direction. This recommends on services and pricing; distribution and staffing; customer segments for marketing; and marketing communications expenditure.

Next the system analyses the brand environment. Unless recent research exists, this section often requires new research. This could be quantitative research (usually a telephone survey with a sample of several hundred respondents) into awareness, usage and attributes of your brand and its competitors.

Qualitative research (usually focus group discussions) will be required to establish the image and reputation of your brand and its competitors. As David Aaker says, “The challenge for all brands is that they have a distinct, clear image that matters to customers and truly differentiates them…a broad brand identity…something greater than a set of attributes that can be imitated or surpassed”:

What are the attitudes, issues and beliefs surrounding the image and reputation of your brand and its competitors? What do you need to change about your brand to improve its reputation? Use research to find out. Qualitative research is also required to determine the perceived brand propositions or offers in the category, and how well each brand’s proposition encapsulates the positive brand values of that brand. For example, “Coke adds life”, “I feel like a Toohey’s” and “Go well, go Shell” are some of the better brand propositions. They also integrate the brand name within the claim, and therefore have enjoyed better brand recall or memory.

How appealing is the main proposition of each brand? How relevant is it? How competitive is it? Underpinning the brand proposition should be the recognised positive brand values. We say recognised because we do not mean the brand values attributed by the marketing department or by the advertising agency, but the brand values attributed (in research) by the brand’s users and non-users. How important are the brand’s particular values to users? (One of our client’s brands rates brilliantly on an attribute that we have discovered ranks only 18th in category importance!)

Qualitative research should also analyse perceived brand personalities and the brand symbols, if they exist. A brand without a personality lacks friends and is easily rejected. A brand which has an appealing personality will be trusted by its users, just as they would trust a reliable, enjoyable friend. They can identify with that brand. Very few brands have a strong symbol, which is at best a vivid visual metaphor for the brand proposition and personality (e.g. the Legal & General Umbrella says ‘protection’; the Merrill Lynch Bull says ‘investor success’ in a bullish market).

Once all the above attributes of the brand and its competitors have been analysed, the brand opportunities should be documented. What are the best opportunities for the brand in its competitive frame? What brand proposition and values can best enhance the brand’s image? What should the brand personality and symbol be?

The recommended brand communications platform can then be written.  This includes the intended brand image; the desired brand reputation; the brand proposition; the desirable brand values; the brand personality; and the brand symbol. The use of qualitative research is recommended to evaluate alternative versions of these communications elements, usually in the form of advertising concepts, which can be TV storyboards or press layouts with copy.

In this way research is used to define the brand proposition, values, personality and symbol capable, with the right marketing and communications support, of rebuilding the brand to a position of power, a position from which its owner can continue to profit. The brand’s equity is enhanced. The brand’s immunity to competition is increased. The brand is further empowered.