A brand does in fact act as a genetic programme. What is done at birth exerts along-lasting influence on market perceptions. Indeed revitalising a brand often starts with reidentifyingits forgotten genetic programme. Table below shows how brands are built and exert a long-term influence on customer’s memories, which in turn influence their expectations, attitudes and degree of satisfaction.
In the life of a brand, although they may have been forgotten, the early acts have a very structuring influence. In fact they mould the first and long-lasting meaning of this new word that designates Brand X or Brand Y.Once learnt, this meaning gets reinforced and stored in long-term memory. Then a number of selective processes reinforce the meaning:selective attention, selective perception, selective memory.
This is why brand images are hard to change: they act like fast-setting concrete.
This process has many important managerial consequences. When going international, each country reproduces it. It is of prime importance to define the products to be launched in relationship with the image one wants to create in the long term. Too often they are chosen by local agents just because they will sell very well.They must do both: build the business and build the brand. Brand management introduces long-term effects as criteria for evaluating the relevance of short-term decisions.
The brand as genetic programme
New generations discover the brand at different points in time. Some discovered Ford through the Model T, others through the Mustang, others through the Mondeo, others through the Focus. No wonder brand images differ from one generation to another.
The memory factor also partly explains why individual preferences endure: within a given generation, people continue, even 20 year slater, to prefer the brands they liked between the ages of 7 and 18.
It is precisely because a brand is the memory of the products that it can act as along-lasting and stable reference. Unlike advertising, in which the last message seen is often the only one that truly registers and is best recalled, the first actions and message of abrand are the ones bound to leave the deepest impression, thereby structuring long-term perception.
In this respect, brands create acognitive filter: dissonant and atypical aspects are declared unrepresentative, thus discounted and forgotten. That is why failures in brand extensions on atypical products do not harm the brand in the end even though they do unsettle the investor’s trust in the company (Loken and Roedder John, 1993).Bic’s failure in perfume is a good example. Making perfumes is not typical of the know Bic as perceived by consumers: sales of ball pens, lighters and razors kept on increasing.
Ridding itself of atypical, dissonant elements, a brand acts as a selective memory, hence endowing people’s perceptions with an illusion of permanence and coherence. That is why a brand is less elastic than its products.Once created, like fast-setting concrete it is hard to change. Hence the critical importance of defining the brand platform. What brand meaning does one want to create?
A brand is both the memory and the future of its products. The analogy with the genetic programme is central to understanding how brands function and should be managed .Indeed, the brand memory that develops contains the programmer for all future evolution, the characteristics of upcoming models and their common traits, as well as the family resemblances transcending their diverse personalities.
By understanding ab rand’s programmer, we can not only trace its legitimate territory but also the area in which it will be able to grow beyond the products that initially gave birth to it. The brand’underlying programmer indicates the purpose and meaning of both former and future products. How then can one identify this programme, the brand DNA?
If it exists, this programme can be discovered by analyzing the brand’s founding acts: products, communication and the most significant actions since its inception. If guideline or an implicit permanence exists, then it must show through. Research on brand identity has a double purpose: toenails the brand’s most typical production on the one hand and to analyse the reception, ie the image sent back by the market, on the other.
The image is indeed a memory in itself, so stable that it is difficult to modify it in the short run. This stability results from the selective perception described above. It also has a function: to create long-lasting references guiding consumers among the abundant supply of consumer goods. That is the reason a company should never turn away from its identity, which alone has managed to attract buyers.
Customer loyalty is created by respecting the brand features that initially seduced the buyers. If the products slacken off, weaken or show a lack of investment and thus no longer meet customer expectations, better try to meet them again than to change expectations. In order to build customer loyalty and capitalize on it, brands must stay true to themselves. This is called a return to the future.
Questioning the past, trying to detect the brand’s underlying programme, does not mean ignoring the future: on the contrary, it is a way of better preparing for it by giving it roots, legitimacy and continuity. The mistake is to embalm the brand and to merely repeat in the present what it produced in the past, like the new VW Beetle and other retro-innovations. Infighting competition, a brand’s products must always belong intrinsically to their time, but in their very own way. Rejuvenating Burberrys or Helena Ruben stein means connecting them to modernity, not mummifying them in deference to a past splendor that we might wish to revive.