Many in health and science tend to associate “branding" with “fluff" and consider it a “nice thing to have" versus a “must have." The reality is quite different: branding drives tangible results, specifically revenue, margin and additional equity building ability. Bottom line, any under-performing brand is on its way to the massive dump where a vast majority of once considered “great ideas" rest in peace. So, we all need them. The next question you may have is about what “high-performance" really means and how to achieve it. Good news—the answers are here so read on.
What are high-performance brands and how are they built?
Let's start with the model created by Kevin Lane Keller, E.B. Osborn professor of marketing at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. Keller's “Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model" or “brand-building blocks" defines what brand performance means and how to create it. As a branding expert, I believe his direction significantly helped change the perception of branding by shifting it from a soft discipline to a science.
In his model, Keller breaks down the equity building process. As he explains:
“These four steps represent a set of fundamental questions that customers invariably ask about brands—at least implicitly if not even explicitly—as follows [with corresponding brand steps in parentheses]:
- Who are you? (Brand Identity)
- What are you? (Brand Meaning)
- What about you? What do I think or feel about you? (Brand Responses)
- What about you and me? What kind of association and how much of a connection would I like to have with you? (Brand Relationships)"
Following these steps to measure and build brand equity by creating an identity or awareness, a meaning, a response and then a relationship is the only way to develop high-performance brands.
What does “high-performance" do for brands?
Brand performance has its perks. As Keller explains, building a strong or high-performance brand with high equity provides a wide range of possible benefits including:
- High customer loyalty
- Lower vulnerability to competitive marketing actions
- Higher margins as well as higher market price elasticity
- Increased marketing communication effectiveness
- Licensing and broader brand extension opportunities
All these perks help you reach one pinnacle goal: “brand supremacy."
What is “brand supremacy?"
Simply put, brand supremacy means market leadership. It is critical because in any segment, there is only room for two or three profitable brands. The others simply fight on price, don't have the economies of scale, and as a result, will not have the profitability to invest in what's necessary to challenge the top three. Former GE chairman and CEO Jack Welch clearly understood this notion, making a name for himself with his famous “fix, sell or close" business philosophy. While many thought his slash-and-burn style radical and even callous, by the end of the '80s, 12 out of 14 GE divisions were leaders in their space. Now, let's be clear: although we believe in the obvious and irrefutable value of market leadership, we are not advocating such drastic measures late in the game. Instead, we recommend brands think more strategically before such measures are needed by following a model such as Keller's CBBE.
What is the key condition to reaching brand supremacy?
It's called “radical differentiation". Merely finding a smart feature or benefit to focus your communication on is not radical differentiation. That's what's known as “me-too" branding. Everyone does that.
Radical differentiation is when you choose to do things in a way that no one else is doing. Dismissing conventional wisdom and “best practices" in favor of true innovation. That's the only way to win. It's the kind of approach that might scare the s**t out of you at first, but makes you look really smart when you see the results. If you want to achieve radical differentiation in the health and life science industry, forget lab coats, happy scientists and healthy patients: say hello to…Well, you'll need to meet with us for those priceless ideas, or check out some examples of our award-winning work.
Four ways to achieve radical differentiation.
According to Cincinnati research agency AcuPOLL, 95% of new products fail each year. That risk is not exclusive to new products either, many existing products see their profitability life cut short.
As a branding agency, we have the luxury to approach brand challenges holistically, with no bias. From this unique vantage point, we have identified and successfully implemented four tactics that, if done right, can truly create radical differentiation.
1. Product: We have seen our share of non-differentiated, “me-too" products come our way from clients asking us to “come up with a genius idea" to launch them successfully. Well, we might be geniuses, but we're not miracle workers. Rule number one: your product needs to be radically different, filling a void in the marketplace that separates it from what exists.
2. Strategic positioning: That difference must be compelling. And the positioning must tell the true reality of that compelling difference, simply and undeniably. This is done by: understanding the market's needs, identifying what your competitors are doing, then building a strategic positioning platform that accommodates both.
3. Brand expression: A great strategic positioning is worthless until you translate it into usable marketing and advertising communications. Historically, brands in the B2B space have handled their strategic branding internally, then retained an ad agency for the creative. The result: misaligned creative and strategy leading to disappointing results. The better choice: working with an integrated branding and advertising team to develop strategy and creative (we know of a good one if you're looking!).
4. Brand experience: Marketing and sales activities are not all that matter in brand building (go back to Keller's four questions if you don't believe us). The customer experience is much more comprehensive. Unfortunately brands tend to spend energy and resources on marketing, forgetting to identify and evaluate the chronological customer experience. The result: a touch-and-go customer experience where subpar interactions along the way negate the positive effect of the superior ones. Solution? You guessed it: manage your brand experiences as carefully as any other stage of brand equity building.
So, how do you build high-performance brands?
Let's recap. Armed with a great, differentiated product, a winning strategic positioning, an aligned brand expression and a seamless brand experience across all functional areas of your organization, now you can develop a marketing and advertising plan aimed at building equity using the “Customer-Based Brand Equity" (CBBE) Model. Start with awareness and build up to engagement and relationship. For each level, there are different tools, media and messages to deploy. Use the same model to periodically measure your brand performance. Based on the results, make adjustments to the various layers to ultimately reach your goals. No matter what those goals are, anything less than brand supremacy is not enough. Time to get to work.