The purpose of the brand is to convey information to the customer about the products or services covered by the brand.
Brands, whether they be company names, trademarks, labels, design characteristics, smells, sounds or visual images, are tangible or intangible elements or attributes which are assigned to a set of products or services.
To be meaningful, the brand should have some consistency of meaning across the assigned products or services. Any product or service with the assigned brand should take on some common characteristics or attributes of them all.
A good brand says a lot about the underlying product or service. It can convey information about the product or service itself – price level, quality, features, functions, usability, robustness, design and so on.
It can also convey information about the intended customer – young, mature, optimistic, adventurous, serious, artistic and so on.
It can convey information about availability – exclusive, widely available, only through pharmacies and so on.
Because the brand can convey so much information, the customer who recognises the brand and imputes meaning to it is expecting that all products and services with that brand will take on, or can be assumed to have, those common characteristics or attributes.
This can dramatically reduce their search time for information relating to the specific product or service and may dramatically simplify their evaluation problem if their prior experience or knowledge of the brand suggests an acceptable solution.
Whether intended or not, a brand will take on an implied set of characteristics and attributes from the communicated experiences of its prior customers. Over time, these accumulated and related experiences will gradually shape what the market thinks of a specific set of branded products or services. This assigned image then forms a set of expectations in the minds of customers. It is this set of expectations or assumptions which the customer brings to the buying decision.
It is important that you understand the brand message as received by your customer – which may be different from the one you intended or desired. The customer receives inputs from many sources, those which you generate through your marketing communications may be only a small part of those. Family, peer groups, reference groups, independent publications, social networking sites and so on, are all providing commentary on your products and services.
In addition, the customer has their own experience.
From all of these inputs, the customer arrives at a mental model of the brand. The customer will place a number of labels or descriptors on the brand which will guide their decision making in the future. In the absence of new input which contradicts this view, this is the brand image they will carry with them.
You need to find out how well the customer brand image conforms to what you offer and can deliver.
You need to collect data from a number of sources to ascertain how consistent the brand image is and how well it reflects what you desire as the brand image.
Try these questions on your employees, customers, the target market, the trade press journalists and other parties in your sector who will influence what is communicated about your brand.
- What is the name of our brand?
- What does it look like?
- What products or services are covered by our brand?
- Which words would you use to describe the functionality of our brand?
- How would you describe someone who would be most likely to buy products or services under this brand?
- How would you describe our competitive position in terms of quality, price, availability, functionality, design, style, usability, risk in use, reputation and so on.
Remember that brand image sets expectations. Your ability to deliver to the brand image will impact on the quality or the customer experience.