Our era is one of temporary advantages. It is often argued that certain products of different brands are identical. Some observers thus infer that, under these circumstances, a brandies nothing but a ‘bluff’, a gimmick used to try to stand out in a market flooded with barely differentiated products.
This view fails to take into account both the time factor and the rules of dynamic competition. Brands draw attention through the new products they create and bring onto the market. Any brand innovation necessarily generates plagiarism.
Any progress made quickly becomes a standard to which buyers grow accustomed: competing brands must then adopt it themselves if they do not want to fall short of market expectations. For awhile, the innovative brand will thus be able to enjoy a fragile monopoly, which is bound to be quickly challenged unless the innovation is or can be patented. The role of the brand name is precisely to protect the innovation:it acts as a mental patent, by becoming the prototype of the new segment it creates –advantage of being a pioneer.
If it is true that a snapshot of a given market often shows similar products, a dynamic view of it reveals in turn who innovated first, and who has simply followed the leader: brands protect innovators, granting them momentary exclusiveness and rewarding them for their risk-taking attitude. Thus, the accumulation of these momentary differences over time serves to reveal the meaning and purpose of a brand and to justify its economic function, hence its price premium.
Brands cannot, therefore, be reduced to amere sign on a product, a mere graphic cosmetic touch: they guide a creative process, which yields the new product A today, the new products B and C tomorrow, and so on. Products come to life, live and disappear, but brands endure. The permanent factors of this creative process are what gives a brand its meaning and purpose, its content and attributes. A brand requires time in order for this accumulation of innovations to yield meaning and a purpose.
As shown in figure below, brand management alternates between phases of product differentiation and brand image differentiation. The typical example is Sony, whose advertising focuses on innovations when they exist, and on image in between.
The cycle of brand management
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