Defining the core identity of the brand - Strategic Brand Management

At Mars, a fundamental debate divides the company. What are the key facets of the Mars brand? For some, the answer is purely the taste and the sensory experience. For others, the uniqueness of the brand relates to the taste and the energy provided (physical and emotional). This discussion is not a matter of splitting hairs. Depending on Masterfoods’ choice of one or other of the two visions of the essence of its Mars brand, certain product lines may or may not be in contradiction with the brand, and therefore incoherent.

Thus, from the first perspective (taste and sensory experience), Mars with almonds is a mistake. Yes, it sells. But nothing is more contradictory to the famous Mars sensory experience than the dry, crunchy aspect of an almond. In fact, many consumers like Mars less once they have tasted a Mars with almonds. The same is true for Mars drinks and the Mars chocolate egg.

From the second perspective, based on taste and energy, Mars with almonds is not contradictory, nor is a Mars drink, but the Mars egg remains so (it was created to counter the Kinder egg, so strong on the notion of the parental gift). Note that the two visions of Mars do not offer the same prospects in terms of variety, and therefore of the inclusion of new products and new consumers (van der Vorst, 2004).

Defining Mars as a ‘taste and sensory experience’ is to define inclusion according to the product’s character. This is a concept with clear borders, linked to the characteristics of the product. On the other hand, it leaves open the consumer benefit and the targets.

Nothing in this schema prohibits the creation of new products, coherent with Mars of course, but also with the added benefits of energy here, of indulgence there, of a gift there, of sharing there. Moreover, this brand perspective makes it possible to aim at very different targets: men with a chocolate bar, women with Mars Delight, children with Mars Mini and so on. This brand essence categorises the products, but less so the clients (van der Vorst, 2004).

Defining Mars as ‘taste and energy’ opens up a multitude of organoleptic formats (bar, drink, biscuits, ice creams and so on) but is much more restrictive in terms of consumer benefits and clients. Here a choice has been made: to address those clients and situations where energy is a key expectation.

This brand essence categorises the clients, but less so the products. How is the brand’s core identity identified? Recall the central precept: the truth of a brand lies in the brand itself. By studying the heritage, roots and history of the brand (its DNA), potential facets of its core can be identified.

However, the evaluation of the clients themselves must be sought on this, in order to avoid a gap between an exhumed past identity, and the present reality (the market opinion): identity is not a point of view. For example, ‘radical progress’ is certainly in Citroen’s DNA, but is it still attributed to the brand today? It is therefore also necessary to integrate the perception of consumers or industrial clients themselves.

In addition to the image study that identifies the traits associated with the brand, another study must be carried out, to identify which of these traits are critical to the brand, the others being peripheral. G Michel (2000) has contributed to this by transposing the methodology of social psychology to marketing.

To find the answer, it is enough to ask interviewees whether a new product that does not have one or other of the brand’s image traits could nevertheless carry the name of said brand. If the majority say no, it is a non-negotiable trait: it belongs to the core identity. The peripheral traits may be present or not, according to the segments and the products of the range that correspond to them.

However, if the core identity is subjected too much to the judgement of consumers who are constantly evolving, a deviation is created. For the directors of BMW, a BMW will always have rear-wheel drive, since this is the necessary physical signature of the unique driving experience of the cars of this brand. This would be true even if certain potential customers expressed the opinion that, for them, a front-wheel drive would not change their love of the brand. Managing is not about following, but about having a vision.

How to identify kernel and peripheral traits

out of  the brand territory

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