Defining the brand’s platform in Strategic Brand Management

Unlike the product launch, the brand launch is, from the very start, a long-term project. Such launch will modify the existing order, values and market shares of the category. It aims at establishing a new order and different values and at impacting on the market for a long period of time.

This can only be achieved if people are convinced of the brand’s absolute necessity and are ready to give it all they have. In order to keep staff, management, bankers, clients, opinion leaders and salespeople mobilised for the long term, the company must be driven by a real brand project and a true vision. The latter will indeed serve to justify, internally and externally, why the brand is being launched and what its essential purpose is.

Creating a brand implies first drafting the brand’s programme, which underlies the brand identity and positioning. Presenting the brand in a programmatic format (Table below) is fruitful. It indicates where the brand stems from, where it draws its energy, what big project lies behind the brand. This is useful as a step in the brand thinking process itself, before the brand identity prism and brand positioning are defined.

Underlying the brand is its programme

  1. Why must this brand exist?
    What would customers be missing if the brand did not exist?
  2. Vision.
    What is the brand’s vision of the product category?
  3. Ambition.
    What does the brand want to change in people’s lives?
  4. What are our values?
    What will the brand never compromise on?
  5. Know-how.
    What is the brand’s specific know-how? Its unique capabilities?
  6. Territory.
    Where can the brand legitimately provide its benefit, in which product categories?
  7. Typical products or actions.
    Which products and actions best embody, best exemplify the brand’s values and vision?
  8. Style and language.
    What are the brand’s stylistic idiosyncrasies? Its semiotic invariants?
  9. Reflection.
    Who are we addressing? What image do we want to render of the clients themselves?

Many brands no longer know why they exist, so they would be quite unable to answer questions such as those in Table below defining the brand programme. Such questions reflect a philosophy at the opposite of niche tactics. Only those who are driven by a grand project within can actually set out on the long journey of brand making.

Of course, this brand project will have to be transformed into ‘strategic image traits’. In the car industry, we realise that Peugeot cannot be defined by simply a few of its features, such as dynamism, reliability and aesthetics. These image traits do help differentiate Peugeot from Volkswagen, which is rather positioned in terms of reliability and comfort.

However, each brand reflects its own fundamental automobile project and its own philosophy. As a result, Volkswagen speaks of cars, Peugeot of automobiles. Finally, without any industrial, marketing or commercial expertise, or any financial means, a project is just a wish.

The preliminary definition of brand identity is not the same for company-named brands as for brands that have their own name. Many companies nowadays act as brands. Alcatel is both company and brand, as are Siemens, Toshiba, Du Pont, Philips and IBM. On the other hand, Audi is one of Volkswagen’s brands, as Persil is one of Henkel’s and Dash one of Procter & Gamble’s. Companies become aware that their name is actually a brand when they notice that the purchaser and user are just as important as the financial analyst in the markets in which they operate.

On an operational level, creating a brand with no direct reference to the firm offers a greater degree of freedom: everything is possible, which does not automatically mean that everything is relevant or easy. What it does mean is that we can create the brand’s identity entirely from scratch.

In the case of company-named brands, the brand becomes the major spokesperson for the company. There must therefore be a relationship between brand identity and corporate identity. Brand identity has less freedom than in the previous case.

The company-named brand is indeed the company’s external showpiece: it is the messenger telling the company story to a larger audience. It is therefore vital for the company to identify with this brand as well as fully support this new spokesperson (which is different from the institutional spokesperson, the CEO). That is why we observe that company-named brands have the same culture as the companies from which they emanate (see Figure below).

Now the brand is here to sell to customers, while the corporation itself has other stakeholders and markets. This is why, although they share the same name, and thus strongly interact, it is important to differentiate for instance Nestlé as a corporate brand and Nestlé as a commercial brand. To help differentiate these two sources, the company itself has created two different visual symbols for each of its two facets.

The same holds true also for Danone, which has created a specific symbol for Danone as corporation (a small child looking at a star in the sky), different from the geometric form of the Danone brand logo. Even if they did share the same graphic identity (as do Shell, BP and Total), the distinction remains to be made. The corporation is not the brand but is nourished by the brand (and vice versa).

Nestlé as a brand could never assume a fun and exuberant or greedy and permissive identity. This is because it bears the same name as the company, whose identity is none of these. Even though the public does not know this company, the Nestlé brand is nevertheless strongly influenced by the overall Nestlé corporate identity. Final acceptance of a new brand’s identity is a company prerogative. And if the latter cannot identify with the new brand, the brand identity will be modified in order to be in tune with that of the company. This does not mean that the two perfectly coincide, but that there is a bridge between them.

Such a bridge is usually easier to build by means of the cultural facet (see Figure below). There is a theoretical reason for this: a company coins its identity by focusing on one or two key values (Schwebig, 1985). These are the values which feed the brand, give it the company’s outlook on the world and the impetus to transform the product category. This ‘source-value’ gives meaning to the brand. Underlying Peugeot’s rigour and quality, there has always been the corporate determination to offer more than a strictly functional product: a car which drivers could truly enjoy.

Transfer of company identity to brand identity when company and brand names

Transfer of company identity to brand identity when company and brand names

Over time, this relationship between brand and company is switched around. The company’s outward image is reflected inside and becomes far more effective in mobilizing the workforce than all of the other here- today gone- tomorrow ‘company projects’.

In order to take advantage of this positive feedback, many companies have traded in their old name for one of their leading brand names. Tokyo Tsuhin Kogyo, for instance, has thus become Sony Inc; Tokyo Denki Kagaku adopted the name of its famous brand TDK. Likewise, BSN became Danone throughout the world.

The identity of strong brands reminds us that identity is not just a matter of functional attributes. That is why choosing a new brand’s symbolic references is just as important as choosing its product references. Apple is steeped in the Californian high-tech and ‘counterculture’ imagery. Toshiba promoted its products, but never wove them into any particular symbolic reference. The brand has no aspiration and no vision of its own either for the product category or for the microcomputer industry as a whole.

Mitsubishi sells cars, but is not a brand in the full sense: we cannot perceive its values, its source of inspiration, its project, where it is heading and where it is taking us. It is just a name on a car, to which is attached the reassurance provided by the size of the industrial super-group, Mitsubishi.

For non-Japanese people, Mitsubishi means little beyond Japan and a giant conglomerate. Imported Korean cars have only their price and quality to rely on. They are not yet real full brands, with both tangible and intangible values.

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