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Banking on a single brand name.

A brand can't be all things to all people. Here is an approach to developing a single brand-name identity strategy.

The proliferation of names for products and services is a long accepted fact of everyday life. We are all accustomed to buying products with both a brand name and a sub-brand name or product description.

We don't buy a Nabisco cracker. We buy a Ritz cracker from Nabisco. We don't buy a razor from Gillette. We buy a Gillette Sensor. It is the same with services. We no longer have just a plain old checking account. We have a Citibank CitiOne account. And where our phone service used to be with AT&T, now we use AT&T USA Direct Service.

We, as consumers, think nothing of it. But we, as creators of brand identities, must determine the most effective use of a brand name.

The fact is, no brand names, except those for single, stand-alone products, are used in isolation. Like Nabisco and Gillette, the Citibank and AT&T brands, as valuable as they are, need the added value of a sub-brand or product name to be truly competitive. Yet they are all examples of a single brand-name identity strategy. Why? Because, in each case, significant added value comes from the primary brand name, and in many cases, without that value, the sub-brand or product name would find it difficult to exist.

Associating a single brand name with a broad range of products and services offers benefits for both the branded products and services, as well as for the brand itself. How do we go about developing a single brandname identity strategy that will maximize those benefits?

The relationship between a brand and its products (products refers to both products and services) is a two-way street. Added value flows both ways.

For the product, the brand creates immediate credibility. The positive qualities associated with the brand are associated with the product. The company behind the product provides quality and service assurance. For a new product in search of buyers, this transfer of value can mean the difference between success and failure.

Take Ford Taurus. We all know that at Ford, "Quality is Job One." Ford transferred the equity of its name to the Taurus. And Taurus gained the added value of this quality imagery. For the brand, the association with a successful new product can mean added brand stature. The more successful the products associated with the brand, the greater the brand's exposure and value. As the Eurostyle design of the Taurus appealed to consumers, it transferred value back to the Ford brand by expanding perceptions of Ford's competencies. Now the best-selling car in America after only six years, Taurus has helped position Ford as an innovative, forward-looking company.

Obviously, association with an unsuccessful new product can have just the opposite results.

When a new product is outside the category normally associated with the brand, it can add value by expanding the perceived area of competence of the brand. Consider AT&T's entry into the credit card business. AT&T successfully launched MasterCard and Visa Card products in 1990, using the name AT&T Universal Card.

Before the AT&T Universal Card, leading banks were the MasterCard and Visa card issuers with the largest market shares. Universal Card offered attractive pricing and the unique convenience of combining long-distance calling card and credit card capabilities. But this alone didn't account for its overwhelming acceptance. AT&T took advantage of the high level of trust consumers have in the AT&T brand and leveraged the core values and attributes of the brand.

The value of the AT&T brand clearly had a lot to do with the new product's success. Added value flowed from the product to the brand. With the success of the AT&T Universal Card, equities were transferred from the product to the brand as well. And the area of competency associated with the AT&T brand was stretched to include yet another valued consumer service.

Brand Stretching

There are limits, however, to how far a brand can be stretched. The limits depend on many factors, including the brand's current image, its owner's business strategy, pricing, competition, manufacturing, distribution and service capabilities, and other marketplace issues. Overstretching a brand can be as harmful to the brand as it is to the product to which it's applied.

When the Cadillac brand was stretched to include a small, relatively low-priced model named the Cimmaron, it dragged down the entire Cadillac brand. Now, there was nothing particularly wrong with Cadillac producing a small car. But there was a lot wrong with branding this particular product. Ultimately, there was nothing truly Cadillac-like about the Cimmaron. Cimmaron shared a body style used by Chevrolet and most consumers put it in that league. Worse, to traditional Cadillac buyers, Cimmaron was a sign that Cadillac was lowering its standards.

In trying to stretch its brand to capture a broader market segment, Cadillac forgot a basic truth of branding: that a brand is a promise. It is a promise of certain attributes and values from the supplier; a promise of performance and a promise of a level of service.

A brand is the primary means by which a customer distinguishes one product, or family of products, within a category from another. The better customers understand a brand's promise, the more effectively the brand is distinguished from its competitors.

Meeting the Promise

Thinking of a brand as a promise is an increasingly important perspective as companies grow their brands and broaden their product lines. Thinking this way helps management define what the brand stands for. This, in turn, provides a basis for determining where the brand name should be used. It ensures that a brand isn't put on something that doesn't meet the brand promise.

Brand promise is especially important for companies to keep in mind when they license the use of their brands or enter into joint-venture marketing relationships that involve the use of their brand names. Over time, such situations can lead to a deterioration, rather than an increase, of brand value. To ensure fidelity to the brand promise, it must be fully appreciated and adequate controls and agreements must be developed and maintained.

Does this mean that a brand can't or shouldn't be stretched or changed? Of course not. Only that stretching a brand must be done with a great deal of care and respect for what the brand means. What a brand stands for is, after all, the source of a brand's value.

The reality is that, for brands as for human beings, it is very difficult to be all things to all people. The meaning of brands, while often quite static and resistant to change, evolves over time. And their meaning is often a direct result of the changing nature of the products that are associated with them.

Kraft, for example, was originally associated primarily with cheese. It is now used on a wide variety of products. Kraft products appear in nearly every aisle of the supermarket, in nearly every category, from jellies to marshmallows to margarine to salad dressing.

For all its advantages, however, the breadth of Kraft's product line also poses certain problems for the meaning of the brand. Just how much can a brand stand for? How much meaning can a brand convey? What are the limitations? And the consequences?

Even using a brand for a product in a category that the brand is associated with doesn't necessarily add value to the product. Just because Kraft means good food, for example, doesn't mean that the Kraft brand mark is a welcome addition to any food product. You won't find it on the DiGiorno line of pasta products. The reason? Kraft means American, and DiGiorno is intended to mean authentic Italian. By the same logic, Nabisco's line of Ortega products doesn't feature the Nabisco brand.

As Brands Broaden

The DiGiorno and Ortega examples show that even brands that cover a broad range of products can become limited in what they can stand for. As brands broaden, they often come to represent only simple generalities, like good quality food, rather than specific imagery that might be desired for a given product. This is a problem for mega-brands like Nabisco and Kraft in competing with today's specialty or niche brands that are targeted at less broad, more specific market segments.

IBM offers another example of how an otherwise strong brand identity can fail to provide the meaning appropriate to new product lines and the new markets to which they are directed.

IBM's reputation in mainframe computers for use by corporations was not adequate to position it as a winner in the personal computer market. The problem for IBM wasn't technical competence in computer design and manufacturing. IBM was the world leader. Its difficulty had more to do with the perception that IBM was a company whose primary market focus and interest was big business and big organizations, not individuals.

That perception, plus other issues like price and various product and marketing decisions, combined to reflect a lack of understanding of the needs of PC users. This allowed new players like Apple, Dell, Compaq, and others to capture PC market share from Big Blue. In 1991, IBM's PC market share was less than 20%.

If brands can't be all things to all people, how can they be used to take advantage of the opportunities provided by ever changing and increasingly segmented markets? What's a brand to do?

Strengths and Limits

Management needs to understand the strengths and limitations of their brands. It needs to strike the right balance between brand identity and product identity in making brand decisions. And, branding decisions must be made in the context of management's long-term plans and business objectives for the brand.

Brand management needs to know where the brand is, where it's going, and how it's going to get there. Or, in other words -- the current position, the brand vision, and the overall brand strategy.

One critical element in the overall brand strategy is a clearly defined brand identity strategy. It defines how a brand should be identified and with what it should be identified. A brand identity strategy protects the value of the brand over the long term. Without one, brands are often used on products in ways that do more harm than good for both the product and the brand.

To implement a single brand-name identity strategy, there are three different ways that a brand can be used.

The brand can be dominant -- as is the case of United Technologies or US West or BP.

The brand can act as a partner to a secondary or sub-brand -- like Stouffer's Lean Cuisine or 3M's Scotch Brand Tapes, or ITT/Sheraton and ITT/Hartford.

Or, the brand can act as an endorsement to a sub-brand, like Philadelphia Cream Cheese, endorsed by Kraft, or Citicorp Diner's Club, or Courtyard by Marriott.

Many brands use all three approaches for various aspects of their businesses. Companies have to decide which type of branding approach is best for a particular product line and how it is best structured. There are specific steps that can be taken to answer these questions and obtain a brand identity approach that will be most beneficial to both the brand and the branded product:

1. Define the brand vision, and positioning objectives.

2. Define the product, or sub-brand, vision and positioning objectives.

3. Establish a process for determining the proper branding approach for each product in the context of positioning and business objectives.

4. Create a nomenclature system that defines standards and criteria for developing and using brand and product names, as well as for conveying the appropriate relationships between the brand and its products.

5. Create a visual identity system that defines visual standards for the appearance of the brand mark and how it should relate visually to brand descriptors or sub-brands.

6. Develop brand identity standards documentation that spells out branding policy, and nomenclature and visual standards, to ensure continued adherence to the brand identity system and to support the branding strategy.

Defining the Vision

The first and most important step in developing a single brand-name identity system is to define the brand vision. Exactly what does management want this brand to become? Ultimately, this vision serves as the basis for all branding decisions. Only by having a clear sense of what management wants the brand to stand for -- now and in the future -- can good decisions be made about using the brand on new products.

Defining an achievable brand vision requires precise definition of tangible and intangible brand attributes. These include:

* Brand personality characteristics -- The Disney brand suggests fun, entertainment, and family; Apple suggests innovation and creativity.

* Area of competence -- This can range from somewhat general, as in the case of Grand Met, to the very specific, as in Perrier.

* Price -- Rolls Royce stands for the most expensive in automobiles, as well as for the best and most expensive in any category. For a quick, inexpensive lunch with the kids, on the other hand, McDonald's is a likely thought.

* Quality -- BMW evokes high quality and performance, whereas Yugo means basic quality and performance.

The sum of these and other specific attributes, when communicated, constitute the brand promise. Together they represent what the brand stands for. Using these attributes, management can articulate the brand vision that will enable them to make critical brand identity decisions.

Creating a Name

For new brands, such decisions include creating a brand name. Healthy Choice is a good example. Here was a concept of a broad-based line of new products with a single brand name. Even though, for a variety of reasons, it hasn't yet contributed to ConAgra's bottom line, the name Healthy Choice, rather than the more limited Healthy Grains or Healthy Dinners, reflects that broad vision.

For existing brands, it is critically important to review brand vision periodically to make sure that brand identity practices support the brand vision and target positioning. This is especially important when the mix of products and services that a brand is associated with goes through a period of change.

Take the Baby Bells. When the seven telephone companies were spun off from the old AT&T in 1984, there was a period of tremendous change. Since divestiture, these companies have expanded both their products and the geographic markets they serve. Originally just regional telephone companies, they now compete in international markets and in service areas outside of traditional telephone services.

As a result, many of these companies are assessing the value of identity systems that include state names and the Bell symbol, a symbol that is well known and trusted, but is also associated with traditional voice telephone services.

In addition, the ownership of the Bell brand is shared by these companies -- as well as with Cincinnati Bell, SNET, and Bellcore. It is therefore not an exclusive and differentiating identity property of any one company.

For new products, as with established brands, it is important to have a clear sense of the intended position and potential as a basis for setting the product's identity standards.

Healthy Choice again is a good example. Since ConAgra had no established brand name appropriate for the "good for you" positioning intended for the line, management created a new, broad-based, stand-alone brand.

By contrast, product management for new products like Kellogg's Mueslix or Hewlett-Packard LaserJet seem to have had much more limited visions for their products. Their identities are product specific, descriptive, and closely linked to the existing brand name.

The Branding Approach

So far we have defined the brand vision. We have defined the product vision. We have a clear sense of their identity-related attributes. Now, how do we determine the branding approach for each product?

Assuming there is an existing brand that can be used, management must make an intelligent decision about whether to use an existing brand identity to launch a new product, or to reposition a product.

To make an intelligent decision, a host of issues must be considered, such as the product's potential benefit to the brand; the compatibility of its category, as well as its competitive and strategic importance; the product's perceived image relative to brand character; and many more. Research among important audiences is often required to clarify these issues.

Defining and achieving the best relationship between the brand and the product is a challenging and sometimes emotional balancing act. It requires a clear understanding of consumer perceptions and the goals for the brand and each product.

As with tangible assets, the equity in brand identity must be managed properly. It must be managed as carefully as the quality of the product itself, if brand value is to be protected and expanded.

To get the most value from branding practices, they must be continually monitored and periodically evaluated. Do they effectively represent the brand promise? Are they supporting the needs of the brand as market conditions change and opportunities evolve? Are identity standards and policies in place that define how brand and product identity relationship issues are resolved?

Only by answering these questions can brand identity practices remain effective.

Today, companies understand the need to manage a brand's identity in a world of constant change. They understand that achieving and maintaining the right identity is critically important for success.

The responsibility for seeing that a company invests in and protects brand identities rests at the highest level of corporate management. Top management must provide leadership in recognizing the value of its brands.

Preserve, Enhance, Leverage

Management has the power and authority to set the standard for building and managing these assets. Its leadership role ensures that others within their organizations -- and those who work with them to expand brand value -- understand and respect the brand's identity. Those responsible will understand and respect the value the identity brings to building, stretching, and extending a brand successfully into new markets, products, and services.

While companies' strategies and goals may differ, their need to maximize brands as significant corporate assets will only increase in the '90s. Fortunately, there are logical, systematic approaches to develop and manage brand identity just like any other significant business asset. Companies that do will find that they can indeed preserve, enhance, and leverage their brand's asset value and be stronger competitively for the years ahead.

Anita K. Hersh is President and Chief Operating Officer of Lister Butler Inc., a New York-based firm specializing in corporate and brand identity. She joined the firm when it was established in 1977 and was named to her current position in 1990. She has extensive experience in directing corporate and brand identity, packaging, and marketing communications programs for U.S. and international services and consumer product companies.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Directors and Boards
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Building Brand Strength
Author:Hersh, Anita K.
Publication:Directors & Boards
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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