by Jeff Bartlett

A brand is not a logo!

Originally, a brand was a symbol that was burned onto the hides of cattle to show who the owner of each particular animal was. When those animals came to market, it was also an indication of the quality of the animal, based upon previous knowledge of the owner’s stock. The art and science of branding has come a long way since then!

Nowadays, a brand is a symbolic embodiment of all the information and attributes connected with an organisation or product. It’s a kind of mental shorthand that gives you a picture and an understanding of what an organisation or product is and stands for.

It typically includes a name, logo and other visual elements, such as images, fonts, colour schemes and symbols. It might also include a strapline, such as ‘the world’s favourite airline’. All of this is designed to make ‘our’ brand stand out from the crowd.

Think about Tesco.

  • What picture does it create in your mind?
  • How far has it moved from its ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ roots?
  • Do you trust it to give you what you want in a retailer?
  • What about its own brand products?
  • If you are short of money would you consider buying its ‘basic’ branded products?
  • For everyday purchases would you consider Tesco’s normal own brand products?
  • For a treat, would you buy ‘Tesco finest’ products?
  • And what about Tesco insurance, mobile phones, loans, credit cards and so on?

Tesco have successfully managed to stretch their brand into a whole host of non-grocery markets – with emphasis on the word ‘managed’; it hasn’t happened by accident!

Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing.

John D Rockefeller

How do you create, or damage, a brand?

A brand can be created both by accident or design, but to sustain one requires considerable planning, management and investment.

Think of Marks & Spencer, Woolworths, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s, Morgan, Ford, Rolls Royce, Morris, Ratner’s, Versace, Chanel or Heinz. What they all have in common is that they are the names of the founders of their respective businesses – the simplest basis for a brand. All achieved a scale and prominence that their founding fathers probably never imagined, but over time grew into a mental statement of their business and the products they offer. Some have prospered and others foundered. Why?

Those that succeeded did so because at some stage in their development the owners or managers of the business took a conscious decision that their business stood for something. They had principles which guided the business, and which people in the organisation consistently strove to achieve. The result of all this effort – and accompanying financial investment – was a distinctive brand image.

And what about those that have not been so successful?

Not so long ago, Sainsbury’s was the leader in grocery retailing, but due to complacency and management taking their eye off the competitive ball, the company has been beaten by both Tesco and Asda.

Tesco has been particularly successful because the marketing department researched their customers in detail, really understood what the consumer wanted from a retailer, and then single-mindedly and over many years pursued a consistent yet flexible strategy to deliver it. Result? Number one!

Ratner’s was effectively destroyed by an ill-judged publicly-made remark by Gerald Ratner, denigrating the quality of the products they sold and by implication the intelligence of Ratner’s customers. This in turn led to mass defections by their customers and the eventual demise of the business.

Why is the brand image important?

A strong brand is able to command a price and a presence above that of weaker brands. Both of these lead to higher profitability and greater protection from competitive attack.

Organisations are increasingly valuing their brands financially and including those valuations as assets in their balance sheets.

Similarly, successful organisations have learned that they must protect both the financial and perceptual values of their brands. They see all their marketing activities combined as a major corporate investment, in a similar vein to their investments in new physical assets.