A step-by-step guide for those embarking on their brand journey

Abhishek Saxena, Naaz Gulabi

Each year, WPP-owned Millward Brown publishes ‘BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2015’, a survey of the 100 most valuable brands in the world. Companies are valued and ranked not just on the basis of financial performance (the traditionally accepted way of valuing companies), but also on the basis of feedback from over three million consumers in 50+ markets – adding an interesting, supposedly intangible component to the survey.

Surely, this must skew results for some brands, either inordinately boosting the value of the more ‘popular’ brands or devaluing the more low profile ones? In fact, it is to the contrary. As the numbers suggest, consumers do really have an unexplainable, instinctive way of judging which brands rock and which ones don’t.

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Over a 10-year period (2006-2015), the stock value of companies ranked in the BrandZ survey has grown by 102.6%, outperforming the stock value of companies ranked in the S&P 500 and MSCI World Index (that grew by 63% and 30% respectively) – showing a clear correlation between positive consumer sentiment and stock value. Clearly, the average Joe on the street knows something that the world’s top financial analysts don’t.

To businesses that are just starting their brand journey, there could be no better example of why they should invest significant resources – money, leadership time, strategic direction – into building this most valuable asset of their business.

The message is simple. Brands command a premium. Brands grow faster. Brands stave off competition better. Who wouldn’t want this? Whether you are a multi-billion dollar global enterprise, a start-up or a traditional family business that aspires to grow, building a brand is, basically, indispensable.

The question is – how do you embark on your brand journey?

  1. Define your V-M-V: Regardless of its size, a company’s vision, mission & values (V-M-V) are its foundation. They guide the leadership, associates and external stakeholders on why the organization exists (mission), where it wants to go (vision), and what its guiding principles are (values). Few companies have succeeded on the global stage without putting these statements down on paper. This article lists some great examples of V-M-Vs of leading organizations, and offers tips on creating your own V-M-V
  2. Zero down on your brand essence: Once the foundation of your V-M-V has been laid, move on to defining your brand essence – or how your brand connects emotionally with customers. While V-M-V influences an organization’s strategic planning, the brand essence determines how the organization markets itself to internal and external stakeholders. This phase involves extensive competitor research to find a gap/space that your brand can fill (a good brand essence is essentially a significantly differentiated one). In a brand essence definition exercise that we carried out for Tata Business Support Services, we studied 10 competing organizations in-depth, came up with seven possible essence statements, finally zeroing down on one. Ideally, this phase is also a highly collaborative one, as several departments can step in with invaluable inputs & perspectives that may elude a relatively smaller group
  3. Move on to your brand attributes & personality: Once you have established your brand essence, dig deeper to define your brand attributes – or the characteristics that define your brand. Think of your brand as a human being, and start associating individual traits with it. What human characteristics would one associate with, say, the Tata group? Trustworthiness, high on values, pioneering, and, a good mix of ambition and responsibility. What are the human characteristics your stakeholders associate with your business? The best way do this – ask! Customers are often glad to help, as it gives them an opportunity to share their feedback about your business, and lets them know that you value their opinion. Here are some interesting and fun ways to define your brand’s personality
  4. banner3Choose your brand elements: Every element that you choose for your brand must represent the brand attributes. When these elements are meaningful, memorable and likeable, they register with the customer, and allow him to ‘relate’ to your brand better. The role of colour, for instance, is extremely important and is stated to spike brand recognition by up to 80% (yes, that’s how the yellow ‘M’ reminds us of McDonald’s). Similarly, your logo, over time, can become the primary symbol of an attribute itself (a bitten apple = innovation). The tone of voice used by your brand (such as L’Oreal’s empowering, ‘Because you’re worth it’) is another key brand element. Here’s a nice read on how to create a well-defined brand identity
  5. Set processes: Much more important than any of the steps mentioned earlier, are the processes you define around the management of your brand. For instance, who is the sole brand custodian within your organization? What authority/freedom do associates other than the brand custodian enjoy in terms of using different brand elements? What is the briefing process/format? Who are the approved vendors to undertake brand-related jobs? Without these processes, organizations run the risk of gross (albeit unintentional) misuse of the brand by internal and external stakeholders, and its resultant negative impact on brand value. Here are five simple reasons why you should standardize your brand. Change is inevitable with time (like the new Google logo) but consistency is what best defines brands

Focus on building a brand that is consistently meaningful (how your brand can make customers’ lives better), significantly differentiated (why they should choose and stay loyal to your brand) and believably salient (why they should think of you first in a buying situation) – and experience the power of a great brand to propel your organization forward.

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