Developing a strong brand requires a disciplined focus on building awareness, shaping its image, and solidifying loyalty (see A Brand Development Model: How to Define and Measure Brand Equity). A fundamental step in this process is communicating a value proposition that motivates buyers to action. Messaging should make choosing the brand seem to be “logical” and “feel right” at the same time. For example, a person buying an iPad may state a desire for certain functionality and performance, but may also be influenced by the emotional backdrop of the “Mac” persona.
A baseline branding study provides the objective input needed to formulate the value proposition for the brand. It is useful to start with qualitative research such as focus groups or laddering interviews to examine perceptions in the market, including the strengths and weaknesses of brands, as well as their personalities. For example, projective techniques may be used to flesh out the persona of different brands using probes such as “if Brand X were a person, where would they live? What kind of car would they drive?” This exploratory stage does not replace a representative survey, but it ensures that the survey includes the most powerful attributes for formulating the value proposition.
The branding survey should assess imagery at both a functional and emotional level. Functional attributes measure perceptions of positive and negative equities from choosing a brand. Examples for a bank might include: outstanding service, convenient locations, flexible, and friendly staff. Functional attributes may also include negative qualities a brand should not possess, such as: only deals with certain kinds of people, inexperienced, and risky. The scales for measuring perceptions on these dimensions should capture the overall degree to which an attribute describes a brand (a “unipolar” scale), since the “ideal” point for a brand is perfection.
Emotional attributes are more personal, capture the personality of a brand, and are more likely to vary in what is ideal between customers. For example, some business travelers may prefer to stay at a hotel chain they consider “casual and laid back” while others may prefer one that is “formal and serious”. Perhaps one traveler seeks a refuge to alleviate stress when out on the road, while another views the hotel as a headquarters for launching an important mission. These kinds of attributes can be effectively measured in a self-administered survey (i.e., online) using a semantic differential scale that captures the distance between two opposing descriptors such as: playful – serious; approachable – reserved; traditional – modern; proven – experimental. Since the value of emotional attributes depends on the individual, it is useful to capture an ideal point. For example, the business traveler seeking relaxation on the road may prefer a lodging brand that is “playful and approachable,” while a traveler on a mission of conquest may desire a brand that is “serious, reserved (but not too much) and modern.”
How do you craft a value proposition from these attribute ratings? The key is to identify the motivating power of each at attribute in the mix. A comprehensive brand study will usually include reliable indicators of brand strength, such as favorability, preference or purchase intent. With this information, it is possible to determine the motivating power of each attribute by correlating it with a measure of strength. A useful tool for compiling the information is a brand quadrant map that compares motivating power of an attribute with how well the brand is associated with it (see example). The map will generally identify three areas of opportunity for refining the value proposition:
- Strengths – qualities associated with the brand that are important in explaining its overall strength
- These should be reinforced in messaging as credible and powerful purchase motivators
- Improvement Priorities – important qualities the brand is lacking in (or negative qualities the brand possesses)
- Messaging should treat these as objections that need to be overcome, or inaccurate beliefs that must be changed
- Opportunities – positive qualities associated with the brand that are not highly important
- There is an opportunity to emphasize these qualities and bolster their importance to consumers, particularly if these qualities are unique to the brand
The information from a baseline branding study should be used to develop a value proposition that translates into a strategy and drives message development. The quadrant analysis is a critical tool in this process because it hones in on a short list of qualities that are proven to motivate customers. To illustrate, the quadrant example shown here of a communications company would suggest that superior technology and responsive service are core qualities to be stressed, but the company has to overcome issues with perceived value and fairness.
The strategy should also take into account the imagery of competitive brands, with a goal of identifying qualities that are unique as well as motivating. The emotional imagery should be incorporated into the mix, accounting for the motivating power of these attributes within target segments. For example, the primary targets for the communications provider in the example here may be more inclined to buy if they associate the brand with being “edgy,” “fun,” and “thrill-seeking.”
Where do you go from here? The next step is to test the resulting messages to ensure they are on strategy and motivate buyers. Once a campaign is in full swing, measurement should be repeated over time to determine if messaging goals are being achieved. These steps are all part of a disciplined, science-driven approach to building a brand that starts by understanding the customer, uses this information to craft a compelling value proposition, and puts it into action through marketing communications.