A high equity brand gives its owner many advantages. In addition to the obvious benefit of driving market share, a strong brand can command a price premium, augment customer relationships, ensure successful line extensions, help an organization attract talent, and boost stock prices. There are many facets to defining a strong brand, so it is important to examine all of these in the framework of a Brand Development Model. Such a model categorizes the stages of development for a brand, identifies how to measure progress in each stage, and prescribes the marketing priorities for moving a brand to a higher stage of development.
The origins of the Rockbridge Brand Development Model go back to an engagement where we were charged with developing a comprehensive brand equity measurement process for a client interested in potential brand alliances. It was important to properly define what constituted a strong brand because of the large number of alliances under consideration and the fact that the measurements would be used to negotiate with potential partners. We started the process by convening a “summit” with several marketing directors in the organization and brainstorming on what constituted a desirable brand partner, that is, one with a high degree of equity that would compliment our client’s brand name. After compiling a list of brand equity components, we reviewed several public and private brand equity studies to identify best practice metrics that could be applied to each of the areas identified by the stakeholders. Ultimately, we incorporated the best metrics in a multi-brand study that scored all potential brand alliances.
A Brand Development Model is a diagnostic tool that integrates many proven metrics into a framework that guides strategy. Marketers need to consider six stages of development for a brand, each equating to a different marketing priority, starting with creating basic awareness and concluding with building customer loyalty. The following identifies these stages, recommended metrics, and strategy implications for brand management.
Stage 1: A Brand should be Recognizable – half the battle in building trust is for buyers to recognize the brand, or say “Yah, I’ve heard of them”. The standard measure for this stage is aided awareness. A weakness in this stage implies a need to get the name out, and can be addressed through advertising and publicity to boost name recognition. It may be hard to imagine a large company like a Fortune 500 with such an issue, but some of Rockbridge’s clients operate in niche markets that are defined by lifecycle, such as higher education services or mortgages, and have low name recognition among first time buyers.
Stage 2: A Brand should be Memorable – once a brand has recognition, the next logical step is to become salient or “top of mind”, so that buyers may consider it as part of their evoked set of purchase options. The best measures for this stage include unaided awareness and top-of-mind awareness (mentioned first) within a product or service category, and perceived level of familiarity. The implication for brands with weakness in this stage is to educate the market about the brand, such as the type of products or services the brand offers.
Stage 3: A Brand should be Viewed with Favor – in addition to awareness, a brand should be viewed as meeting the needs of potential buyers and be respected by influencers. This includes a basic trust of the brand as well as belief in its value proposition. A classic measure for gauging this stage of development is an excellence rating (e.g., a scale ranging from poor to outstanding), but the inclusion of “best in class” status and brand momentum metrics provides additional context and variation for tracking. Brands lacking in this area are advised to build trust and respect in messaging. The message may be tangentially related to the value proposition, emphasizing features such as community involvement or concern for the environment, or it may directly establish credibility for the brand in its ability to meet needs, such as stressing its track record or reliability.
Stage 4: A Brand should be Distinctive – when prospective buyers are ready to act, they will choose a brand that fulfills a promise they desire, but this credibility is not sufficient alone to drive choice. The brand promise must be distinctive and unique, or the brand identity will be vague and the brand will become commoditized. Consumers perceive brands at a functional and emotional level. The functional has to do with various promises, such as offering value, having high quality, or being relevant to like minded customers. The emotional delves into aspects of brand personality, such as being edgy, playful, masculine or serious, attributes that can be developed from projective qualitative techniques (e.g., if this brand were a person, what kind of car would they drive?). A solid and tested approach to measurement in these areas is to quantify image by rating the brand and its competitors on a series of carefully selected image attributes. A chief goal for marketers is to position their brand through communications that stresses attributes that drive purchase intent and are unique to the brand. Working with perceptual maps that provide a visual “war map” and with quadrant maps that reveal strengths and weaknesses, marketers can craft and test a message strategy. Over time, the progress in execution of the strategy can be assessed by tracking changes in the image dimensions that are core to strategy.
Stage 5: A Brand should be Preferred – deep awareness and a clear and distinct value proposition should translate into preference among prospective buyers. Many solid metrics can be used, but two key ones are preference from a set of choices and a measure of behavioral intent qualified with a time frame or context (if you were to buy one today…). If preference is low even if consumers believe in a unique value proposition, the logical strategy is to encourage trial in order to shift purchase inclinations. Many products and services involve habitual buying patterns – for example, a traveler may like one hotel brand but routinely book a competitor, so a special promotion may disrupt the pattern and change preference.
Stage 6: The Market should be Consuming the Brand and be Satisfied – it should be obvious that the best communications strategy can not overcome the fact that a product is inferior or service is poor, while an excellent product may build its own momentum through referrals. The short term outcome of low satisfaction is that repeat purchasing will drop and the brand will have detractors. The long term impact of satisfaction is that the reality of the product or service will drive the perception. Thus, brand equity measurement is not complete without questions about consumption, satisfaction, and willingness to recommend. If the brand suffers in this area, don’t blame the agency. Work needs to be done to improve product or service quality.
To sum it up, there are many facets to brand equity, including awareness, attitude, image, preference and satisfaction. All of these areas need to be considered in order to craft the appropriate marketing strategy for developing a brand. Some brands may merely need to raise awareness of their name, others may need to work on building confidence, while still others may need to work on differentiating themselves from competition.
A solid system for measuring and diagnosing brand equity includes a wide range of measures, including usage and satisfaction. Experienced researchers know what measures to use and how to weave them into a survey to minimize bias. Working with such information, savvy marketers know how to craft a message strategy and direct resources to develop a brand over time.