Why Do Some Brands Stand The Test of Time While Others Fade Away?
“Any damn fool can put a deal together, but it takes genius, faith and perseverance to create a brand…………”
Brands are built holistically through the orchestration of a variety of tools, including advertising, celebrity endorsement, public relations, sponsorship, clubs, social causes and events.
Brands exist because there is a need for them in the market place. One may then ask why so many brands fail to win the hearts of waiting consumers?
Most brands start with good initial support, an opportunity for the brand to do well, resources to ensure that the brand communicates with the target market and a management team. We might agree that these are the minimum requirements for any brand to succeed, yet not enough to make a blockbuster or take a brand to the same level as Nike; brands need more than that.
Any brand’s basic needs
1. Market opportunity: every brand exists because there is market for that brand;
2. Sufficient resources: brands need sufficient resources to commercialise them and ensure continuous support;
3. The management team: The need for a good brand management team is vital.
These are only entry requirements; this is the ticket to enter the contest.
Beyond basic needs
For brands to become and remain successful they need more than just market opportunity, resources and the management team. These are only the basics needed to survive in a competitive market. If you look at brands that made it to the top and remained there, they had top management support and passion. CEOs of these companies walked the talk. The classic example is Harley Davidson. When they formed the Harley Owners Group (HOG) top management was always in front supporting the customers. The Harley-Davidson dealerships sponsored all the outings. The important thing is that the employees and dealers take part in these activities.
The following are some of the key factors, if well implemented, that ensure that brands overachieve.
Great brands work on emotions. A brand that touches the hearts of both employees and customers will get customer loyalty. Ensuring that employees are passionate about your brand gives the brand a boost for life. In both Harley-Davidson and Nike people support and commitment to the brand has been the thing that differentiated them. Companies that make sure their brands connect and touch the lives of people will make their brands blockbusters. The Harley brand connects and touches the lives of its customers. It is like a religion and its customers live the brand by wearing Harley tattoos and apparel. Many companies express the value that they add to the lives of their customers by saying they only sell the dream. A pharmaceutical executive once said that they are not selling pills but a cardiac problem free life.
The relationship with the brand will always make the difference during hard times. The Japanese bikes are without a doubt, technologically better than the Harley Davidson bikes. They have features such as digital instruments, rear speakers, reverse gears and air conditioners. They differentiating factor is the brand connection with people; the Japanese bikes/brands lacked that emotional touch. When the Japanese launched outstanding new products from Honda and Kawasaki, Harley-Davidson’s technology fell behind but the Harley Owners Group were married to the brand. It was not easy to divorce them because of the emotional connection to the brand.
A Harley Davidson executive was once heard saying “what we sell is the ability for a forty three year old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.”
Management support is not only about making resources available for the brand but living the brand and knowing that brand management is about creating the brand legacy that is bigger than the individual. It is about the full buy-in. The Nike brand has mainly been successful because of the uninterrupted management commitment and support. Management at Nike continues to out-resource competitors. The Nike marketing team and new product development are optimally resourced to bring new products on to the market and ensure that they do well.
Harley Davidson employees were deeply involved in branding activities. The commitment started from the CEO, his management team, the chief engineer and the employees. The employees are connected and live the brand as they participate in the company rallies.
Launching product campaigns to the employees
Most successful brands have two strategies, the internal strategy for employees and the external strategy, for the target market.
What is it that the internal brand strategy can do for you?
Internal brand strategy creates an emotional connection to your company employees. It gives employees the opportunities to share brand vision and values with customers. The internal brand strategy leverages on the employee’s word of mouth. Employees who understand the brand message tend to endorse the brand to their family and friends. A brand that has a sound internal brand strategy will always be ahead of competition. Most pharmaceutical companies value their internal customers (employees), because they care. They first launch brands strategies to the employees to ensure the internal buy-in before going out. We all know that charity begins at home. They implement very good internal brand strategies to ensure that employees have the same understanding of the brand message as the external customers.
Walking the talk
Senior management must consistently practice what they preach. Almost all companies with successful brands have top management that leads them with vision and brand values. With top management commitment and leadership the brands get adequate resources to become blockbusters. The success of the brand must be everybody’s business. The Harley Davidson top management walks the talk by taking part in all the companies’ rides with customers. In June 1993 more than 20 000 HOG owners went to Milwaukee, to celebrate the firm’s ninetieth anniversary. Mr. Rich Teerlink, the CEO and the president of Harley Davidson was part of this famous Harley Davidson ride, the Milwaukee rally. He also took part in many HOG owners’ rides, he was always part of the action and he connected with Harley Davidson customers.This has created an emotional bond with the brand and increases the brand value in the long term.
Making any brand a blockbuster requires one to think out of the box and go beyond the usual. For brands to be successful and remain successful they need more than a market opportunity, resources and the management team. These are only the basic needs for any brand to survive in harsh market conditions. If you look at brands that made it to the top and remained there till today, they had top management support and passion, they touched and connected with the people. They had both internal brand strategies and CEOs of these companies walked the talk.
Peter Mehlape is Group Sales and Marketing Manager: Aventis Pharma SA
• Harvard Business Review
• Kotler on Marketing by Phillip Kotler
• Building strong brands by David Aaker