Branding today has reached a level of importance, maturity and competitiveness that demands a commensurate investment in infrastructure to do it justice - and that requires an investment in corporate identity (CI) management systems. Competitiveness today is all about the brand.
Over time, companies tend to reach parity with their competitors in most areas of their business - but the brand represents the last true area of enduring competitive advantage: a great brand can represent unimagined value on the balance sheet, as Fortune shows in its annual survey of the world's top brands. One product or service will be chosen over another based on people's perception and overall experience with the brand; people want and expect the same experience all the time, and part of that expectation resides in the way the brand is projected.
New approach to branding
Corporations need a new, fresh approach to branding, and digital marketing technology offers them part of the solution. For corporations with dispersed operations - which is many of them in today's increasingly competitive and globalised market - brand consistency has been achieved in part through publishing a brand book, or corporate identity (CI) manual. This manual typically contains logo design, fonts, colours, attributes, details of bulk buying agreements, and workflow, policies and procedures. This manual is produced at huge per-unit cost, and it needs to be replenished frequently - every time there is a change in the business. However, given the value of the brand, businesses can no longer rely on a print brand or CI manual - the moment it hits marketing's desk, it's out of date due to the time required to produce and disseminate it.
Marketing today needs a more flexible CI manual - the ideal is an online, or Internet-based repository which is centrally updated and maintained. Such a Web-based system brings together everyone who needs to work with the brand. All can draw off the same, commonly agreed and standardised information. It enables the capture and sharing of knowledge, and ensures that logo, advertising, banners, umbrellas, T-shirts, folders, flyers - the entire panoply of corporate collateral - is used correctly every time. It also means work done in one region (how to put together an event, order umbrellas, manage suppliers, obtain the best deal) can be shared with all other regions - and every organisation seeks to share knowledge and drive reuse of existing work.
Such an approach also ensures traceability, accountability and answerability, issues that are typically difficult to enforce in teams. The Internet has revolutionised much of business; marketing represents one of the last frontiers for benefiting from the application of integrated marketing technology. Those corporations which see and maximise the opportunity will enjoy rapid and sustained returns.
Examples abound of companies which have competed with their brand to leave their competitors far behind: Nike, Coca Cola, Harley-Davidson, Jack Daniels, Google and Mercedes-Benz, to name six.
In the case of Nike, the company does little more than manage the brand, having outsourced almost every other function. And Harley-Davidson has made such a visceral connection with its target market that it has evolved from being a manufacturer of motorcycles to an organisation that manages a brand and also happens to sell motorcycles. The very sound of its engine evokes emotions, even to non-Harley enthusiasts.
Finally, Google, the world's fastest growing brand (the world's 24th most valuable brand, remarkable for such a new company), builds brand loyalty by giving away its products and services.
Brand loyalty the holy grail
Brand loyalty - deep, abiding loyalty that will transcend any temporal event - is the goal and aspiration of every commercial entity, along with many non-commercial ones, which have come to understand that they too are brands. The visceral connection is what marketers seek, that unshakable commitment to the company because of a set of associations and experiences with the brand. Above all, brand loyalty is the holy grail of marketers because customers are unlikely to switch when they are emotionally invested in a brand. This then supports the twin business goals of boosting customer retention and reducing churn. However, while it is clear that brand equity is a critical component of any business today, the ability to give effect to this value has not been internalised universally by executives, a fact which can undo some of the value of brands which corporations have spent millions establishing. Executives need to strategically understand their brand, and how everything in the business must be connected to the brand identity: how the company is portrayed on buildings, on posters, in advertisements, in events, on the website - in all applications.
Critically, as we are seeing increasingly today, the reality of the service or product provided must match the promise of marketing: due to international competition, gone are the days when consumers accepted mediocre service and products. Today, marketing must be synonymous with delivery. Because branding has become such a central issue, management needs to think about the brand all the time, and take positive steps to prevent misapplication of the brand.
Cambrient is a South African full service Web development, content management and marketing process management company. Its solutions for large and medium-sized websites are based on world-class content management systems. Because these solutions are locally developed, they are priced competitively and clients' requirements can be addressed immediately. Cambrient has developed over 300 websites, many of them for the top corporate names in South Africa, and internationally. In a world where websites are becoming the single most important way to access information anywhere, Cambrient's content management focus is on organisational information assets and their appropriate structuring, storage and re-purposing. Cambrient's marketing process management solution automates key processes in the marketing department, freeing up marketers for creative work, cutting down on admin, lowering costs, creating transparency and reducing financial risk.