Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Brand is Not Just One Thing

If a brand is owned in the minds of its target audiences, and it is, then it may have as many different meanings and positionings as there are people who perceive it. Marketers talk as if there is only one brand positioning for each brand, and perhaps there is only one intended brand positioning, but my thirty plus years spent working with hundreds of brands has taught me otherwise. In fact, one of the things I can learn quickly from brand equity studies is how consistently or inconsistently a brand has been experienced by different consumers or even the same consumer.

I often ask these two open-ended response questions in brand research: (1) "Thinking about brand X, what comes to your mind?" and (2) "What, if anything, makes brand X different than or superior to other brands in the Y category?"

If you haven't hand-coded at least hundreds of these responses (and, with a quick calculation, I have hand-coded more than 100,000 of these responses over time), then you may not know how different these responses can be for the same brand. For instance, it is quite common for one brand's response to be "very high quality" and "very low quality." It is also not uncommon for the same brand to be known as both "convenient" and "inconvenient" and "old fashioned" and "leading-edge," though this last dichotomy is less common. My point is that due to product, service, technical support, distribution and even communication inconsistencies, brands have inconsistent reputations. 

I have done a lot of work in the health care industry. It is not uncommon for patients to have very different perceptions of a health care brand based on interactions with individual health care professionals, the medical conditions that they are dealing with, their prognoses and the outcomes. 

Customer service training and quality control systems also have a big impact on brand perception consistency. And even differences between products offered under the same brand name. Consider experience of a high-end limited edition version of a brand and its lowest priced entry-level product without many features. The brand might be described completely differently by people experiencing these two ends of a brand's quality/price/feature continuum. 

As a brand manager, don't assume that your intended brand positioning is always the brand's actual positioning in the minds of its target audiences. Further, you can be almost sure that your brand has as many nuanced meanings as there are people experiencing your brand. Having said that, it is your responsibility to insure that its intended brand positioning is communicated (and actually experienced) as consistently as possible repeatedly so that there is not a significantly different brand meaning for each person experiencing the brand.

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