Building the brand in reverse? - Strategic Brand Management

In the traditional model of brand construction, the work is done in stages: first the product, then the distribution, and finally the marketing communication. The problem is that, during the second and third stages, that is to say late in the process, it becomes clear that there is not enough money for advertising, not to mention that there are increasing doubts about its efficiency, if not its effectiveness. This then harms the credibility of the proposal made to the distributor. In fact, mass distribution sells access to display space and ‘associated services’ dearly – in the form of pre-margin and post-margin – which further eats into the advertising investment.

Perhaps it is time to review the process itself? C Boutineau, managing director of Bongrain for many years, suggested the concept of the brand in reverse. He is right. Rather than falling at these two hurdles, would it not be better to begin with the hurdles and build brands constructed to overcome them (that is, contagious brands)?

First of all, could not rumour and word of mouth come to the rescue of the brand, taking up the slack left by the faltering budgets? Since my team’s work on the effectiveness of word of mouth and rumours (Kapferer, 1987, 1991 etc) has become internationally known, this question is regularly asked of us, and constitutes a frequent theme for management seminars. In reality, in order to make a brand contagious – that is, to transform its first clients into spontaneous, zealous ambassadors – it is necessary to conceive the brand in this manner from the beginning. You need to make it contagious, not through a viral marketing artifice, but intrinsically, through the idea that it represents or the experience it provides.

It is at the moment of conception of the product or service itself (of choosing a name, a packaging and so on), that it is necessary to inject the power of contagion, and not at the end, when it is too late. The keywords of contagion are strong idea, strong experience, interactive direct relationship, emotion and opinion leaders. It is interesting to note that in order to relaunch Converse, Nike did not use an advertising blitz. On the contrary, it favoured intimate, community media, and the direct involvement of customers, whose works contributed to the online Converse Gallery.

When the US marketing manager of BMW was asked how he planned to reach his sales objectives, he claimed he already had the means to make them: the simple rise of current clients up the range. His role, he added, was to make sure that young Americans dreamt about BMW when they fell asleep each night. This long-term marketing strategy led him to use the internet to carry long and very original films, created at his request by famous directors with the maximum creative freedom. These films circulated on the web and reached their intended addressees a thousand times better than any mass advertising campaign. It was even better that everyone to whom they were passed knew which of their friends were BMW fans, or at least fans of beautiful cars.

Japan Tobacco has become a leader in the launching of new brands, such as Sakura, without advertising. It has access to a mega database (bringing together several million Japanese smokers), and this makes it possible to send a high-quality boxed set, such as only the Japanese can do, to very precise segments. This presents the universe of the Sakura brand, and encourages them to try the product. Nespresso has also used reverse brand building. In the automobile sector, Toyota launched its Xion brand to young people without mass advertising. Mini did the same thing. Swatch, less so.

Pernod Ricard excels in its ability to build brands with very strong foundations, thanks to the emphasis placed initially not on advertising, but on direct relationships with the bar trade, where its products are consumed, and where numerous, repetitive and very well managed events leave a durable emotional trace on customers, at the same time as they understand the new product, and how to use it. In order to stage-manage a brand, it must have a base: it needs to embody an idea, a strong idea.

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