What are the integral elements of the branding process, and how best to deploy these elements in order to engender loyalty that leads to growth?

Phew! That is a mouthful, but that was the topic of a presentation I was asked to give recently. I realized when trying to get it all down to a succinct talk that really, trying to explain it all succinctly is quite similar to herding cats.

But, nonetheless, I managed to muddle through it. And based on the response, apparently hit upon some things that people actually found useful. Therefore, I figured I'd share it with the readers of MarketingProfs. After all, you are not a shy bunch, and if I am off base you will all chime in and let me know! So here goes…

The branding process helps a company realize success in several areas: by creating brand and corporate differentiation, by increasing recognition in the marketplace, by creating customer loyalty and relationships with customers, and by growing share of customer.

Taken together, these areas create a sustainable business segment of the overall customer retention program. But before we can understand them, and implement them, as a whole process, we need to understand each element alone. After all, as they say, the devil is in the details, and never is this truer then when it comes to understanding the branding process.

Differentiation can be defined as the extent to which a company or brand demonstrates superiority over others in the same market space. Differentiation is a sustainable business advantage, and perceived quality is a large driver of the differentiation perception in the marketplace.

IBM is thought of for their commitment to quality, Honda for their commitment to reliability, and L.L. Bean for their product's longevity.

These perceptions are related directly to the opinion and performance of these brands, and the loyalty these brands have from their customer-base. These perceptions are the differentiation that has Honda thought of more highly than Kia, L.L. Bean thought of more highly than REI, and IBM more highly than eMachines. Quality and service are often key attributes in creating differentiation, and also key points in building brand loyalty and longevity with customers.

Increased recognition is why branding is done in the first place. It creates a brand personality that resonates in the marketplace to attract and keep customers that buy for the relational aspects a brand offers; the so-called “halo” effect the customer feels they get from association with the brand. Jaguar suggests class and success, Prada suggests style and luxury, and Apple Computers create a sense of belonging and, at the same time, uniqueness.

All of these brands have increased recognition in the marketplace due to the branding effort. People want to associate with these brands because of what they perceive the brand says about them. But beyond immediate recognition, all of these brands have longevity in the marketplace because of the continuing external and internal branding efforts.

The longevity of brands in the marketplace is directly related to the ability of brands to grow their share of customer. Branding creates fertile ground where significant competitive advantage can be gained.

Via branding, customers are first engaged with a company, and if the brand promise is fulfilled, then it is much easier to engage customers, cultivate the relationship, and make a profound difference on the bottom line.

How? By growing share of customer at a lower cost than new customer acquisition.

Branding creates a relationship that is the basis for the relationship marketing effort, a relationship that can and must be leveraged. The brand-customer relationship that offers value to all parties through meeting and exceeding needs and wants will undoubtedly grow share of customer. Simply put, retaining customers and growing share of customer creates revenue that goes directly to a company's bottom line.

Customer loyalty is created when the brand experience is consistently excellent and meets and exceeds the customer's expectations. When you call a catalog's 800-number to place an order, and the interaction of the call center matches the company's brand image, loyalty is reinforced.

When a customer receives a package in the mail of ordered items that are keeping (in both look and tone) with the overall brand personality and message, loyalty is reinforced. When a customer calls or writes with a legitimate complaint, and the company responds by standing behind their product or service, loyalty is reinforced. When a customer identifies with a product, loyalty has grown and affinity is created.

This loyalty becomes a bulwark against competitors, and the customer is an excellent candidate to enter into a relationship marketing effort. They trust and identify with the brand, and favor the brand over any other, which is the ultimate goal of the branding effort.

In theory many companies agree with the premise of branding, but are not sure how to truly implement a branding effort, one that is both internal and external in scope.

The most important thing to remember is that the branding process is about consistency; that is, branding is an on-going process, it is a constant effort. There are basic steps that must be adhered to in order to have the brand make an impact on customer retention. Branding must:

  • Have at its heart a brand promise, complete with distinct messages and strategies.
  • Grow by creating a unique identity in the marketplace, and by having consistent communications over time and across all customer touch points.
  • Be nurtured over time to be maintained.
  • Must have 360-degree implementation: the entire corporate structure must understand and reinforce the branding effort for success to be realized.

Now, I know that all seems a bit too neat and simplistic. But those ‘rules' are merely guidelines. Each brand has its own unique group of strengths that must be leveraged in order to communicate and grow the brand. Those unique strengths need to be identified by the brand team, and then applied to the guidelines as a launch point for the entire brand process.

So, what are you waiting for….unleash your inner devil, and find those details that will make your branding process divine!

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Kristine Kirby Webster is Principal of The Canterbury Group, a direct-marketing consultancy specializing in branding and relationship marketing. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Direct Marketing at Mercy College in NY. She can be reached at Kristine@canterburygroup.net.