So, how important is brand?

Lucy Walker - Account Director

You may think it’s easy to write about why branding is important from the perspective of a brand and digital agency. It is after all our bread and butter and we do it every day. But as well as brand specialists, we are all of course consumers too and it is from this angle that I want to approach the question.

Branding has evolved in many ways, especially over the last 50 years. Rather than once being inherently linked to a specific product made by a company, and commonly the product, for example Hoover, being named after that company, we now sit in a far more congested and contested market place.

Branding is no longer just a commercial requirement, but something that needs to create an emotional connection with a customer.

As Wally Olins says ‘[Branding]…is largely about involvement and association: the outward and visible demonstration of private and personal affiliation’.

A brand is a way of creating a personality. A brand allows us to interact with it and in so doing, form a relationship with it. Through this, we humanise the experience of the product, service or business and that helps us to imagine ourselves using it or benefitting from it. In turn, we are open to becoming a follower or advocate of this brand, making emotional decisions on whether we want to buy or experience it.

Branding has become a very personal thing.

I believe that there are 2 key reasons for why branding is important.

The first is to create differentiation

Today, everything and anything seems to be accessible to us no matter where we are. Through the medium of digital we can buy anything we need within minutes and as quickly as buying it, we can return it if it isn’t right.

With this expansive landscape of choice at our fingertips, it is crucial that a product can differentiate itself from its competitors. A brand must ensure that it stands out from the crowd; do something unique or distinctive that it can claim as its own and that might lead me to buy it over the product next to it on the shelf.

The most powerful way that this can be done is by creating an impactful, emotive connection with the consumer. This might come down to colour and stepping away from the expected norm, the brand identity itself and a striking shape or form that no other has used in the industry, or its tone of voice and the way it speaks to its audience in a new, inspirational way.

One key part of the branding process at the Escape is to assess a brand’s colour profiling – what colour clusters exist on the colour spectrum; what segments are not yet saturated and can we try a different palette to allow them to stand out? This is exactly what we did for The University of Southampton Science Park. We identified a cluster of competitors in quite isolated segments of blue and green so chose a palette that used a primary palette of 6 varying colours, enabling an appropriate accent to be used depending on the campaign.

A better-known example of this is McDonald’s. It might be the biggest player in the fast food market, but not far behind it are Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Five Guys… the list goes on. The common colour across all of these examples is red, a colour that has become synonymous with fast, convenience food.

In 2009 McDonalds made a bold decision and changed their restaurant fronts from red to green to emphasise the idea of ‘good food’ rather than ‘fast food’. The brand message now elicits a feeling of natural, using quality ingredients that not only cater for our increasing need for healthy food options, but also differentiates themselves from their red and yellow competitors. McDonald’s will of course always be known for convenience food, but they are attempting to change the stigma and are striding towards cleaner eating. The choice of green is more wholesome and portrays an environmentally friendly picture – it sets them apart in the market.

McDonald’s green strategy continues today – no plastic straws, a healthier menu for kids, and pledging to make its restaurants more earth-friendly by 2025.

I know where I’ll be getting my next drive-through…

The second is to drive loyalty for customer retention

A brands’ ultimate goal is loyalty – to become known and loved by their customers so they keep coming back. If I’ve had a great experience before, then the chances are that I will buy again. Loyalty can be achieved in many ways – it might be price point and reductions for repeat spends, making a customer feel valued by offering them tailored promotions or appealing to their lives in the way that the brand portrays itself visually.

As well as benefiting the consumer, achieving loyalty demonstrates trust which is an opportunity for the brand too. The brand can create advocates using customers word of mouth to help grow the brand through social media, their product range can grow as they have a captive audience, their remarketing is a success, and their price points can rise.

A good example of brand loyalty is when looking at supermarkets. For me, the supermarket of choice is Waitrose & Partners. Whilst more expensive, I am willing to spend here as I know I will get what I pay for. The brand is aesthetically pleasing, the website is easy to use, the lifestyle it promotes is aspirational and it’s a modern-day brand with a rich heritage – something I really value. Waitrose & Partners (as well as John Lewis) have my gained my loyalty.

How have they done this?

  • They provide outstanding customer service
  • They portray themselves as a stable, quality brand, appearing to be part of the ‘fabric of the nation’
  • They use the Royal Warrant in their branding
  • Their own brand products are always of a good quality - they’re trustworthy
  • Their stores are easy to navigate and visually pleasing
  • The paper voucher rewards they send feel more tangible than points on a card

John Lewis and Waitrose’s recent rebrand has invigorated their brand values as well as appearance. Adding ‘& Partners’ to their name seemed a strategic move but also one that refreshed their look and feel – it demonstrates that people are at the heart of the business which is an important part of creating a personal connection. No better reason in my opinion, to keep coming back.

Is your brand working for you?

Does your brand stand out?

Could you differentiate from your competitors?

Could you increase your customer retention or bring in new brand advocates?

We’d love to hear from you and help you to see why branding is so important for your business.

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