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A Five-step Guide to Building Successful Brands

A winning product launch requires differentiation, positioning, personality, vision, and added value.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Title: Towards the Holy Grail of Defining “Brand” (Subscription or fee required.)
Author: Leslie de Chernatony
Publisher: Marketing Theory, vol. 9, no. 1
Date Published: May 2009

How does a new brand become successful? The author of this paper, after conducting in-depth interviews with marketers in the consumer products and services sector, argues that the perception of a successful brand — among employees, shareholders, and managers within different departments — undergoes a five-stage evolution. Understanding how the meaning of a brand changes over time is crucial to ensuring its success.

The first stage is differentiation, when the brand is rolled out, hopefully attracting attention and standing out from the competition. To achieve this, a brand must be linked to a unique advantage in the minds of consumers and not merely try to win over converts with superficial elements such as logos, colors, or designs. Next is positioning, during which time marketers must clearly identify why the brand is better than similar products on the market and explain why consumers and employees alike need this new product in their lives. The third stage, personality, involves how the brand’s message is communicated internally and externally; ideally, employees should be living examples of their brand. (Think of the “geniuses” at the Apple store or a hardworking UPS driver.) Following this is a lofty phase, known as vision, in which management strives to convince consumers of the brand’s high-minded values — specifically, how it can contribute to social, environmental, or economic well-being. With values incorporated — for instance, by contributing a percentage of a product’s sales to protecting national parks — employees become more committed to the product and consumers feel better about their purchases.

The final stage, added value, is the pinnacle for successful brands. Like a customized computer, phone, or car, the brand is seen as a product that consistently improves an individual’s life, enhancing self-identity. At the highest level, this can include inviting customers to become co-creators of the brand’s value; as prime examples, the author cites the Nike and Lego Web sites, which offer interactive tools that let people personalize their products by choosing their own designs, colors, or styles. When a community of respect builds around the brand, everyone — manager, employee, customer, shareholder — takes equal delight in participation.

Bottom Line: To build a successful brand, managers should follow this five-stage evolutionary process. Taking an idea for a new or different product to the stage where customers consider it an important part of their lives requires differentiation, positioning, personality, vision, and added value.

Author profile:

  • Matt Palmquist is an award-winning feature writer for the San Francisco–based SF Weekly, and a founding staff writer and contributing editor at Miller-McCune magazine.
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