Branding Equilibrium: A New way of Measuring Success
Your brand strategy should flow directly from your business strategy, the two are integral, just as one cannot separate the functional side of a business from the emotional.
Conventional ways of measuring brand success have traditionally been fragmented. Brands operate in communities, yet community thinking is still not represented in current brand measurement approaches. Branding Equilibrium, a new methodology that measures brand relationship strength, strives to build a more complete picture which can predict more accurately a brand’s potential for long term success.
“What gets measured, gets done”, a simple, yet profound statement that implies that measurement is the key to driving action within an organization. However, for many, the success that they are seeking continues to elude them. The question is, what are they measuring? Are these the right things to achieve their goals? Have they even defined these goals correctly? These questions have led me to explore more deeply the nature of organizations, what makes them tick, what are they really striving for, and is this sustainable?
Put simply, there are two sides to any organization, a functional, and an emotional. The functional side is concerned with business operations, employee skills, products and services and the company’s fixed and movable assets. The emotional side is concerned with the organization’s vision, mission and values, its personality and identity, its employees’ behaviours, and what can loosely be termed as its ‘intangible assets’. Broadly speaking the functional side of the organization is the ‘business’ side and the emotional, is the ‘brand’ side. The brand side is the human side of the business, the side where relationships are formulated, where values drive behaviour, where passions are built and compassion is recognised as important.
The corporate arena is continually challenged to be more human, to show more compassion, to live by its values. Yet the measures that most shareholders are concerned with are things such as market capitalization, share price, EBITDA and bottom line earnings. If we continue to place more importance on measures of the ‘business’ side of an organization, then the human side will always be sacrificed in the name of profits, and we should not be surprised at the emergence of brands such as Enron, Tyco and Worldcom in the global context, and Masterbond, Macmed, and Leisurenet, closer to home.
Granted each of these brands were victims of fraudulent activity, however, if the human side of each of these organisations had been interrogated and measured on a regular basis, I believe that much of the mischief would have been uncovered at an earlier stage.
On the more positive side, there are numerous examples of brands that have striven to balance short term profits with long term sustainability to good effect. These organizations are said to have a high level of ‘Social Capital’, the value placed on the organisation’s relationships both internally and externally.
Social Capital is driven via trust, mutual understanding, shared values and behaviours, the same attributes that drive successful brands. An organization’s brand should be the catalyst for all of its relationships: with its shareholders; its employees; its customers and consumers; and the communities that it operates within. Branding Equilibrium is concerned with the measurement of these relationships. The stronger the relationship, the greater the level of ‘Social Brand Capital’, and the more likely the organisation’s long term success.
So what of this issue of balance or equilibrium? All stakeholders in a brand’s community are important, however, a company has only so many resources. It’s all about trade-offs, if you take resources away from one side of a business, that side will undoubtedly suffer. So the question is, how well does your brand balance its relationship building resources amongst each of its key audiences to ensure a win/win solution?
Branding Equilibrium is a fledgling methodology that strives to measure the strength of relationships amongst a brand’s key audiences. Each of these audiences are critical to a brand’s long term success, and the strength of the relationships that a brand has with each audience, impacts on each of the other audience relationships.
The Brand Community
Branding Equilibrium focuses on four key audiences, which make up the Brand’s Community, these include:
1. Investors: These are people who have invested in the brand, and have a non-executive role to play in the strategic direction of the organization. In listed companies, these are traditional shareholders, who will often have no contact with the organization beyond their perceptions of the brand driven by the annual report, board reports, and financial analyst opinions.
2. Employees: These are all the people who work for the brand or organization. From the executive leadership team, to middle management to general employees. This segment can also be extended to represent partner organizations that supply products or services to the brand. Each of these people will have built their own relationship with the brand based on their personal experience in the work environment, internal communications and how
they are treated by their line-management and peers.
3. Customers: These are the end users of the brand, whether product or service, in either the business to business, or business to consumer environments. These are the people that we focus most of our marketing and brand building activity around as they will ultimately drive demand-led growth for our offerings. Their relationship with the brand is driven
by the full mix of brand communication that they come into contact with, the branded product or customer service experience and the visual identity of the organization. These people need not use your brand exclusively, but they should be aware of your existence.
4. Communities: This is probably the most difficult segment to define as it relates to both the communities that your organization operates within, as well as those that your brand impacts upon. It could be represented by environmental interest groups or community organizations, it could also include many of your customers, however, their relationship with your brand in this context is fundamentally different. (Expert interviews are conducted to ensure that this sample is relevant to the brand in question.)
A representative sample is selected from each of these audiences and via a combination of in-depth expert interviews, qualitative and quantitative research techniques the level of Social Brand Capital is measured.
The Measure of a Relationship
The ultimate measure of Social Brand Capital is whether a shareholder, employee, customer or community trusts the brand. Trust is the single most important attribute of any brand in our modern age. It builds relationships, drives commitment and ensures that even if a brand stumbles along the way, as long as it was not intentional, its Brand Community will still stand by it. Trust is the firm reliance that each of these audiences have in the brand’s integrity, ability and character, it is their reason to believe.
The Branding Equilibrium methodology identifies 4 levels of relationship between the brand and its various audiences, these include:
Level 1:- Awareness:
Is this brand even in my sphere of reference? Do I know who it is, what it does, and why this should matter to me?
Level 2:- Engagement:
Have I connected with this brand? Has it connected with me? Do I aspire to it? Do I believe in it? Do I buy into it?
Level 3:- Commitment:
Do I use only this brand? Have I invested something in it? Has it invested something in me? What is the future potential of this brand? What is the future potential of our relationship?
Level 4:- Advocacy:
Would I be prepared to make a personal sacrifice for this brand? Would this brand be prepared to make a sacrifice for me? Would I link this brand to my good name? Do I trust this brand implicitly?
Branding Equilibrium in Practice
By measuring a brand’s relationship with each of these audiences, we not only assess the strength of the brand in terms of long term sustainability, but also how well we are managing our resources across each area.
Although this has not been proven empirically, it does appear that a predominant focus on investor and customer relationships can negatively impact on the relationship a brand has with its employee and community audiences. Currently companies do
seem to spend most of their brand resources on the customer and investor audiences, but this is changing rapidly. More and more organizations are realizing the importance of building their brands within their organizations to ensure employee commitment, and delivery of the desired brand experience. Cause Related Marketing is also developing as a discipline, where businesses and charities develop partnerships with the aim of leveraging both brands for mutual benefit – the organization is perceived as caring for the charities’ cause, building Social Brand Capital amongst its customers, whilst the charity receives much needed publicity and funds.
By plotting each of the relationships out onto a Branding Equilibrium Score Card (see Figure 1), you are able to quickly assess your brand’s relationship strengths and weaknesses and realign your resources accordingly. You will also be able to benchmark your relationship scores internally over time, as well as against key competitors and the corporate arena at large.
Your brand strategy should flow directly from your business strategy, the two are integral, just as one cannot separate the functional side of a business from the emotional. Brands that bridge the gap between their tangible and intangible assets are far more likely to be in equilibrium and therefore to enjoy long term, sustainable success.
The aim of Branding Equilibrium is not to compromise a brand’s relationship with one audience for another, but rather to find a balance between each, with the resources it has available. Ultimately if we are measuring the strength of our relationship with each of these audiences, we will start to balance the importance of shareholder and customer interests with those of our employees and the communities that we operate within. This in turn, I believe, will create a more prosperous brand community at large.
Dee Blackie is a strategic marketing and brand consultant with extensive experience on Pan-African and Global projects. She holds a Bachelors of Journalism from Rhodes University, and has a background in publishing, advertising, market insight and brand strategy.
Dee has consulted to numerous South African and Global brands, initially with the Global Added Value Group, as Strategy Director (Africa/Middle East) for Enterprise IG and more recently in her own boutique marketing and brand consultancy, XFACTA.
For more information about Branding Equilibrium or XFACTA contact firstname.lastname@example.org