The Nike swoosh. The McDonald’s “I’m Loving It” jingle. The Budweiser Clydesdales. These are all famous brand elements, but a brand is so much more than an image, tagline, song or character. Well-developed brands build relationships with customers, and that leads to greater loyalty and repeat business. At many major companies, the brand is one of the most valuable assets. According to Interbrand, Apple’s brand is worth $178.1 billion, Google’s is worth $133.2 billion, and Coca-Cola’s is $73.1 billion. You don’t even have to sell products to the general public to have a highly valued brand: SAP, which makes enterprise software, has a brand worth $21.3 billion. Some of these values are larger than GDPs of entire countries.

People entering the business world should be able to:

  • Define what a brand is
  • Know what makes the most famous brands successful
  • Develop or improve a brand for a new or existing company

    What Is a Brand?

    The most basic definition of a brand is that it is an indicator (like a name or symbol) that differentiates one from its competitors. But this narrow definition of branding is inadequate. The best brands go after people's minds, not their wallets. They make an emotional connection while encapsulating the promise made to customers.

    The website Book of Life says: “Essentially a brand is a constellation of qualities,” and “It is a personality in the materials realm.”

    Benefits of Branding

    The benefits of branding are clear. Millennium Integrated Marketing lists five benefits that strong brands provide to their companies:

  • Customer recognition
  • Competitive edge
  • Easy introduction of new products
  • Customer loyalty
  • Enhanced credibility

    As an additional benefit: Strong branding can help your company stand out from the incessant stream of media messages individuals are exposed to every day. A 2014 CBS report says that Americans are exposed to as many as 5,000 ads a day, up from 500 a day in the 1970s.

    A strong brand can also help companies recover from missteps. When Apple introduced the iPhone 4, a design issue caused reception problems. Apple’s initial response was to blame the way owners held their phones. (The incident was nicknamed Antennagate, and the phrase “you’re holding it wrong” is jokingly used in Apple circles any time things don’t work as expected.) Eventually, the company provided free iPhone cases that resolved the problem, and redesigned the antenna so that the issue wasn’t repeated on the following iPhone model. Despite this design flaw, Apple phones continued to sell well, based on the strength and reputation of the Apple brand. Today, Antennagate is long forgotten, and Apple is the world’s No. 1 brand.

    Examining Successful Brands

    The most successful brands tell a story, understand customers’ needs and wants, are consistent across media platforms and reflect the company’s authentic culture. They embrace social media and mobile communication.

    Consider the brand connotations for these companies:

  • Mercedes-Benz: Luxury, prestige, performance
  • BMW: Emphasis on the driving experience
  • Walmart: Saving money helps people enjoy life more
  • Nike: Activity, achievement
  • Dove: Self-confidence
  • Zara: Up-to-date fashion
  • H&M: Affordable style
  • Target: Quality, stylish products at low prices
  • Apple: Design, functionality, ease of use
  • Harley-Davidson: Community, adventure

    What makes these brands effective is that they are not tethered to a particular product or service. People don’t associate the Zara brand with one article of clothing, or the Mercedes-Benz brand with one model of car. These brands are experiential in nature: They reflect what people feel.

    Developing and Improving a Brand

    There’s no shortage of information about building brands: The topic has been the subject of many books and scholarly articles. The following four guidelines will help you develop, manage or redevelop your company’s brand.

  • Define the target audience. Even the biggest brands aren’t targeted toward everyone. It’s important to know exactly who wants and needs to buy the products and services your company is selling, and to tailor the branding efforts to those individuals. It’s important to be as specific as possible. Just trying to reach all men, all women, all car buyers, all parents, all teens, all seniors — and so on — isn’t focused enough.
  • Know your competition. The most basic goal of a brand is to set a company apart from others. Research will help make sure your message is different than theirs. The more comprehensive the research, the better. Look for quantitative metrics, such as how well people can recall your brand and remember what it stands for.
  • Focus on the solution, not the product. The main reason people buy Fitbit fitness trackers isn’t for the style or the features, but because they solve a real need for people — specifically people looking to get real-time feedback to meet their activity goals. Lingering on your product’s features will only go so far with customers. Your brand should elaborate how your company makes lives better, more engaging and more interesting.
  • Don’t wait. In this age of social media, there’s a strong possibility that someone else will define your brand before you do. Customers are doing more research about products and services online than ever before, and bad reviews put your brand at risk. Your brand should help you create a positive reputation that reaches customers and reduces the risk of damage from social media.

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