The ultimate goal of branding as a discipline should be to create strong, relevant, and recognized brands that make lasting ties with customers. That is loyalty, passion, and love. Adding value that customers perceive when interacting with a brand. That is brand equity, where all its power and capacity for transcendence lies. Therefore, it goes from being a symbol to becoming a memory, a story, or a feeling in the heart.
In this way, understanding the true power of brands and their ability to influence the hearts of consumers is a primary condition to manage brand equity growth. It refers not only to the USP but also to its symbolic, emotional, or aspirational value. Thus, we can see this value in all brand’s marketing and communication actions that customers perceive.
Remember the time…
Finally, time completes the concept. Therefore, to know the essence of brand equity, evaluating all the perceptions, interactions, and touchpoints the client has with the brand over time is necessary. Brand equity is much more significant than any communication campaign or action. Beyond how creative or innovative it may be. Brand equity transcends branding, rebranding, companies, mergers, corporations, and markets. It is as big and complex as the universe that can inhabit the minds of consumers. Each person is unique, unrepeatable, and with increasingly particular beliefs and values.
Building brand equity takes time
The time factor is crucial to understand that branding is not a discipline we can address in the short term. Furthermore, we cannot treat it as a lifeline to hide marketing plan flaws. Nor will it serve as a safeguard against errors in market research. That happened to Coca-Cola in the eighties with New Coke and not long ago with Coca-Cola Life.
Modern branding must start from a long-term strategic vision. We must see each action, each campaign, and each customer approach – with successes and failures – as an investment. And the customers, with their experiences and realities, will mold and shape the brand over time. That is what will build true brand equity.
In other words, brand equity is a capitalizable investment that doesn’t depend on external factors but on the customers’ evaluations and experiences. Therefore, if a brand has a history, it also has a measurable, palpable, and possibly, redeemable brand equity. All this is to reposition it with new values and experiences following the customers’ current needs and realities.
However, orienting branding towards value creation doesn’t mean it becomes a positive value. Poor branding management acts that companies’ directors may commit, misdirected marketing campaigns, and even product failures can negatively affect brand equity.
How to preserve brand equity and make it grow?
Different elements contribute to the growth and maintenance of brand equity, which Kevin Keller explains very well. First, there is brand awareness. That is related to the level of relevance or notoriety that the brand has in the minds of consumers. In other words, how aware are they of the brand’s existence; how strong is the brand’s presence in people’s memory?
We can measure brand awareness through the ability of customers to recognize the brand in different circumstances and conditions. Two essential concepts follow from this. One is brand recognition, or the level of consumer exposure to the brand so that they can later recognize it at the point of sale or in everyday life. The other is brand recall, which is the ability to associate the brand with the product category or the need it covers.
In this regard, Keller mentions that awareness is very beneficial and has three well-marked advantages. The first is the learning advantage. It refers to the customers’ first associations concerning the brand and how they can store them in their memory. It also regards the associations and assessments that they can make of them. In this way, brand awareness helps the customer learn about the products or services.
More benefits of brand equity
The second is the considering advantage. In this case, brand awareness is also beneficial for it to be part of the set of considerations that the consumer has when thinking about their purchases. As this set is usually limited, the brands that occupy that place will prevent others from entering.
The third advantage of brand awareness is choice. In low-relevance decision-making scenarios, Keller explains that brand awareness can be critical to product choice. That happens when customers only care a little about the product or service. It also happens when they need more knowledge or capacity regarding them.
How to create brand awareness?
From the perspective of traditional marketing, the answer seems simple and repetitive in the broadest sense of the word. It would be applying the old-known formulas of issuing a message that includes the name, logo, and slogan. Then spread it through as many media as possible. And finally, repeat it as far as the budget can reach. These recipes that play with statistical and probabilistic data are far from the modern branding conception at all. In a contemporary vision, the focus is on the consumer and winning his heart.
A viral video aimed at the right audience is much more effective today than all T.V. diaper ads and campaigns. For this reason, in this new concept of branding, creating brand awareness is not breaking into the minds of consumers with blows, conveying the same message repeatedly. It is about touching their hearts by transmitting something that connects them more with themselves and reinforces their subjectivity, their very being.
Image is everything
Brand image is the second element contributing to brand equity’s consolidation. It is “customers’ perceptions about a brand, as reflected by the brand associations held in consumer memory.” (Keller, 2008, p. 51). Therefore, the brand image is not related to the visual field in a restrictive way. We can see that as a mental construction, an idea transmitted and germinating in the consumer’s mind.
This idea can be associated with many words, names, messages, feelings, and characteristics that can surround a brand and complete its image. In other words, a brand is much more than a name, a logo, and a slogan. A brand is everything that surrounds it in the minds of consumers and defines it for what it is.
Therefore, if brand image is a mental construction based on associations, we can build it thanks to certain intangible aspects we can use. First, there is the need to define a demographic and psychographic profile of customers. That is to connect with the target audience and let them transmit the necessary associations to the rest. Secondly, there are associations to the use of the product or consumption situations. We can convey this by defining a specific sales channel and purchase experience. Also, in the particular place and time to consume it, and in what activities we can use it.
Another aspect that can help build the brand image is its personality. The distinctive features of a subject’s personality can be easily associated with the brand and be decisive in constructing its image. Finally, there are associations with history or past experiences. The story’s emotional power is of great help in building a brand image and leaves powerful ties with the audience.
What is essential for proper brand management is that the associations mentioned above are favorable. That means they meet the customer’s expectations regarding the satisfaction of a need. Also, they are unique – which means they are not the same as the competition. An example of this is the strong position of Fernet Branca. It’s so powerful that it even uses the word “unique” in its tagline. The audience’s association with the brand in the fernet category is practically immediate. The level of brand awareness, brand image, and awareness is so great that the consumer hardly has to choose.
To conclude, management-oriented toward brand equity growth is necessary to construct solid and coherent brands. This approach provides a wide variety of fully measurable parameters. These end up configuring a roadmap to achieve successful strategic branding planning.
Finally, we can build brand equity after a while. It is a task that takes time; the time it takes to build customer relationships, to exchange experiences, values, attitudes, and stories.