CAN ANYTHING BE BRANDED?

By Aschalew Tamiru

On the same newspaper I wrote about “Misconception about Branding, Basics to Successful Branding and Why do Brands Matter.”

In my article titled “Why do brands matter” I was trying to discuss and show how brands provide important benefits to customers and companies/firms. Now, it’s worthy and relevant to deliberate and give response to a question “Can anything be branded” so that, customers and firms get the best out of branded products and services. Most branding scholars acclaim that although firms provide the impetus for the brand creation through their marketing activities, ultimately a brand, ultimately a brand is something that resides in the minds of customers. A brand is a perceptual entity that is rooted in reality, but it is also more than that, reflecting the perceptions and perhaps even the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of customers.

To brand a product it is necessary to let the customers know “who” the product is-by giving it a name and using other elements, which were also described in my article entitled “basics to successful branding”, to help identify it-as well as what the product or service does and why customers should care. In other words, to brand a product or service, it is necessary to give customers a label for the product (that is “here is how you can identify the product”) and to provide meaning for the brand to customers (that is here is what this particular product can do for you and why it is special and different from other brand and name and products”). Branding involves creating mental structures and helping customers organize their knowledge about products and services in a way that clarifies their decision making and, in the process, provides value to forms. One has to understand that the key to branding is that customers perceive differences among brands in a product category. Brand differences often are associated to attributes or benefits of the product itself. In other cases, however, brand differences may be related to more intangible image considerations.

Whenever and wherever customers are deciding among alternatives, brands can play an important decision making role. Accordingly, firms can benefit from branding whenever customers are in a choice situation. Given the countless of choices customers make each and every day, it is no surprise how pervasive branding has become. For instance, consider how firms have been able to brand once a commodity or a product which were basically similar and it cannot be physically differentiated in the mind of customers. Over the years, a number of products that at one time were seen as essentially similar products (commodities) have become highly differentiated as strong brands have emerged in the category. The value adding effect of branding can be best explained in commodities such as coffee, bath soap, flour, salt, oatmeal and water industries or categories. As branding literatures witnessed, these commodity products have become branded in various ways. The key success factor in each categories, however was that customers become convinced that all the product offerings in the category were not the same and that meaningful differences existed. In these cases the brand was seen as assuring uniformly high quality in the product category on which customers could depend. If product differences were virtually nonexistent, brand have been created by image or other non-product-related considerations.

The universality and application of branding can be recognized and applied by physical goods, services, retail stores, online businesses, people, organizations, places or ideas.

Branding for Physical Goods: physical goods are usually associated with brands and include many of the best known and highly regarded consumer products such as Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, and Nescafe. As more and more different kinds of products are being sold or at least promoted directly to consumers, the adoption of modern marketing practices and branding has spread further. Besides, companies selling industrial or long serving products to other companies are recognizing the benefits of developing strong brands. Now a days, an increasing number of firms are recognizing the value of having a strong corporate brand in their business dealing with other firms. In a Business-to-business deal, branding involves creating a positive image and reputation for the company as whole. Creating such goodwill with business customers is thought to lead to greater selling opportunities and more profitable relationships. A strong brand can provide valuable reassurance to business customers who may be putting their company’s fate- and perhaps their own career-on the line. A strong brand can thus provide a strong competitive advantage. Another showcase for the increasing realization of the important role that brands play in the marketing comparison is with technologically intensive or high-tech products or computer related products. Many technology companies have struggled with branding. The rapid nature of the technology product life cycle causes unique branding challenges. Trust s critical and customers often buy into companies as much as products. Branding scholars acclaim that CEOs and owners of technology companies often become a dominant component of the brand as Apples’ Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

Branding for Services: there have been strong service brands for years such as Ethiopian Airlines, Sheraton and Hilton Hotels. Studies tells us that the preservative and level of sophistication in branding services has accelerated in past decades. And in the last 30 years, some of the greatest branding success have come in the area of services. This looks true in our country too, unlike other industries, the service industries such as Hotels and banks have been given more attention to branding of their firms and products and services. One of the challenges in marketing of services is that relative to physical goods, they are more intangible and more likely to vary in quality depending on the particular person or people involved in providing the service.

Consequently, branding can be particularly important to service firms to address potential intangibility and variability problems. Brand symbols may also be essentially important because they help to make the abstract nature of services more concrete. Brands can help to identify and provide meaning to the different services provided by a firm. For instance, branding has become especially important in financial services to help organize and label products and offerings in a manner that customers can understand.

Branding a service can also be an effective way to signals to customers that the firm has designed a particular service offering that is special and deserving of its own name. For example the Ethiopian Airlines not only branded its corporate brand, Ethiopian Air lines, but also give a brand name, “Sheba Miles”, to benefit regular passengers of the Airlines. Branding has clearly become a competitive weapon for services.

Branding for Retailers and Distributors: to retailers or other product distributing firms (channel members), brand provide a number of important functions. Brands can generate consumer interest, support and loyalty in a store, and consumers learn to expect certain brands and products from a store or supermarket. As branding scholars acclaim, to the extent that “you are what you sell” brands help to create an image and establish a good positioning for the store. Retailers can also create their own brand image by attracting unique associations to the quality of their services, product variety and merchandising, and their pricing and credit policy. The appeal and attraction of brands can permit higher price margins, increased sales volumes and greater profits. These brand name products may come from manufacturers or other external sources or from the store itself.

Retailers can introduce their own brands by using their store name, creating new names or some combination of the two. Thus, many retailers, especially supermarkets in Addis Ababa, actually introduced their own brands, which they sell in addition to manufacturers’ brand. Safe Way and All Mart super markets for instance, sell various assortment of products of these kind, fast foods such as pizza, salad and vegetables are among others. These products, referred to as store brands or private label brands, offer another way for retailers to increase customer loyalty and generate higher margins and profits.

Branding for People: Brand extend beyond products and services. People also can be viewed as brands. The naming aspect of the brand is generally straightforward in this case, and people also often have well-defined images understood and liked or disliked by others. The fact becomes particularly true when considering public figures such as politician, entertainers, and professional athletes. All of these different public figures complete in some sense for public approval and acceptance and benefits from conveying a strong and desirable image.

As most branding scholars acclaim, this is not to say that you only have to be well known or famous to be thought of as a brand. Anyone trying to build a career can be thought of as trying to create his or her own brand. Certainly one key for a successful career is that certain people (e.g. coworkers, supervisors, or even important people outside the company) know who you are and what kind of person you are in terms of your skills, talents, attitude, and so forth. By building up a name and reputation in a business context, a person is essentially creating his or her own brand. The right awareness and image can be invaluable to the manner in which people treat you and interpret your words, actions and deeds.

Branding for Geographic Locations: geographic locations like products and people also can be branded. In this case, the brand name is relatively fixed by the actual name of the location. For example, tourist sites of Ethiopia such as Entoto, Lalibela, Axum, Gondor, Ertale, Bale and so forth. The power of branding is in making people aware of the location and then linking desirable associations. Increased mobility of both people and businesses and growth in the tourism industry have contributed to the rise of place marketing. Various cities, regions, and countries are actively promoted through various promotion tools. The goal of the promotion or campaign is to create awareness and favorable image of a location that will induce visits.

Branding for Ideas and Causes: many ideas and causes have become branded, especially by nonprofit organizations. These ideas and causes may be captured in phrases or slogans/ taglines even be represented by a symbol or logo example AIDS ribbon. By making the ideas and causes more visible and concrete, branding can provide much value.

Various articles and books written on branding are used as a references.

Aschalew Tamiru was a full time lecturer at various universities, currently he is a Marketing and Customer Experience Director at Dashen Bank, holds MA in Marketing Management from Addis Ababa University.

Aschalew has published a practical book called “Make a Difference with Customer Service” Couple of months before and the book is available at various book stores. He can be reached by [email protected]

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