Developing and Measuring a Branding Strategy

A brand is a notoriously intangible concept, which makes tracking the success of your branding efforts difficult. In order to successfully create a brand with the staying power to attract and maintain a loyal customer base, you’ll need to approach it with strategy and analytics in mind.

Distinctiveness vs. Centrality

At Harvard Business Review, Niraj Dawar and Charan K. Bagga state a company’s branding dilemma succinctly: “Marketers have always had to juggle two seemingly contradictory goals: making their brands distinctive and making them central in their category.”

Every executive wants their brand to be the first to come to mind when a potential customer thinks of a particular category. If someone asks you to think of a brand of pickup truck and you say “Ford,” then something about Ford’s branding strategy is working. But there’s a downside to ubiquity — brands that have no distinguishing characteristics become generic, some to the extent of losing their legal trademark status outright. Aspirin, escalator, kerosene, laundromat, trampoline, and videotape are all brands that were central in their category, yet so indistinct that they’re no longer brands at all.

HBR instructs marketers to picture a two-dimensional plot on which you can map your brand — from most to least distinct on one axis and from most to least central on another. This map puts your brand in one of four categories:

  • Aspirational brands are highly differentiated, but still central enough to have broad appeal. Luxury brands like Mercedes and Rolex are perfect examples — distinct enough to stand out from other cars and watches, but with enough mainstream popularity to be juggernauts of their respective sectors.
  • Mainstream brands are central, but not distinct. These tend to be the brands at the front of consumers’ minds when they think of the category — Toyota cars, Starbucks coffee, Levi jeans, and so on. Mainstream brands can’t charge the premium prices of aspirational brands, but they tend to be moneymakers by nature of the sheer volume of customers that buy them.
  • Peripheral brands are neither distinct nor central. They tend to be priced lower than aspirational brands and are unlikely to be the first choice for most consumers.
  • Unconventional brands are distinct, but not central. Brands in this category stand out from traditional products in their industry by departing from the archetype of the category. Tesla, Mini, and Smart cars are classic examples of unconventional brands.

It’s important to note no brand can occupy more than one of these quadrants. Your branding strategy should be built in pursuit of the quadrant you think your strategy fits best.

There are consequences to the quadrant you align your brand with, too. Brands with high centrality also face higher competition and are thus forced to price their products more competitively — the distinction between two brands of coffee or cola isn’t enough to warrant charging a premium for one of them.

More distinctive brands that charge a premium for their products usually have to settle for lower sales volume than the more central brands in their space. Apple (a very distinct brand) shipped a total of 18 million Mac computers in 2018, while Lenovo (a more mainstream option) shipped as many in the third quarter of 2020 alone.

Brand Performance

Tracking the performance of your brand is notoriously difficult — unlike sales, website traffic, or engagements, it’s not easy to quantify your potential customers’ awareness or impression of your brand.

Measuring the performance of a brand involves asking pointed questions and looking at specific KPIs in order to gauge brand performance throughout a prospective buyer’s decision-making process.

  • Awareness: In the awareness phase, your goal is to find out if prospective customers remember your brand. This is the stage at which customers are just starting to identify a problem, and you want to know whether they think of your brand first as a solution.

Top KPIs in this phase will include top-of-mind awareness, spontaneous brand awareness, and prompted brand awareness. Conduct surveys to find out how many prospects think of your brand first when asked to consider your industry, how many think of it at all, and how many recognize it on a list.

  • Familiarity: In this stage, the goal is to measure whether your brand is easily recognizable and included in your desired customer’s buying-related scenarios. Ask prospective customers to name brands that come to mind when you list certain adjectives (reliable, affordable, luxurious, or whatever’s relevant to your brand) and see whether yours is on the list.
  • Consideration: In the consideration phase, the focus is on whether your potential customers would consider buying your brand. Purchase intent is usually correlated strongly with sales, but in the event that it’s not, deeper analysis is necessary. Customers may express a strong interest in a product based on its features, for example, but then balk at the price.
  • Purchase: Do people buy your brand? This is a tangible metric that can be analyzed through measuring your products sales. While overall sales volume can’t be attributed entirely to the strength of your brand, trends in your gross sales are an important metric to judge the success of your branding strategy.
  • Advocacy: After a customer completes a purchase, it’s important to understand how they will portray your brand to their friends and colleagues. Surveys and NPS scores can give you a good sense of the impression your products have made on your customers and how likely they are to recommend your brand to those they interact with.

The Bottom Line

For a brand to command loyalty, it needs to be more than just an interchangeable commodity. To stand out from the crowd, it’s crucial that you both establish a brand that’s unique and strategically driven and carefully track that brand over time to ensure its continued success.

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