As a brand manager, you probably have heard this statement (or some variation of it) at least a few times: "A brand is owned in the mind of a customer." Al Reis made the point in most all of his books that the brand needs to own "one thing" in the minds of its customers. Whether a brand owns one thing or two things or even a myriad of things in the minds of its customers, at the end of the day, a brand is what its customers think it is much more so that what the its managers intend for it to be.
That is why we get a read on peoples' brand associations in all of our brand research and especially as a part of our BrandInsistence(SM) brand equity measurement system. We ask this as an open ended question and we ask it in two different ways:
- Thinking about [brand], what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
- What makes [brand] different from or superior to other brands in the [product category name] product category?
Having hand-coded and interpreted the responses to these questions in more than one hundred different brand studies, I will confess that I have seen a huge variation in the consistency of answers across brands. Some brands are known primarily for one or two things (telling me that the brand manager has done his or her job well), while at the other end of the continuum, other brands are known for as many things as there are customers responding to the survey. This tells me that those brands are substantially underfunded or have not been well managed.
The goal is to create significant consistency around what the brand stands for, what it promises to its customers and what its top associations are. Ideally, those top associations are highly relevant and purchase motivating to the customer. Further, ideally they evoke strong positive emotions.
While one might think it is useful if a brand stands for something different to each customer and potential customer, it really isn't because then the brand does not stand for anything in particular.
An entirely different topic for another blog post is how to change brand associations from one or two negative (or even neutral) associations to one or two highly compelling associations.
But suffice it to say that "a brand is owned in the minds of its customers," so it is important that you know what it does own so that you can carefully manage what you intend for it to own to become highly compelling to its target customers.