-Bayo Adekanmbi explores how a healthy brand can create a wealthy business.
Brands are not inanimate products we pick off the shelf. Like man, they are living entities and extendable organic identities that exist in the hearts and minds of everyone they touch. They evolve like embryonic creature and grow to take on human personalities that make them powerful forces that control our desires. No wonder, if well nurtured they often outlast their creators and generations of others servicing them.
A retrospective comparative with our elementary characteristics of living things coded as MR NIGER, validates this hypothesis. Brands can move from the factories to the end-users. They are sensitive to market equilibrium, feed on market trends and grow through line or brand extension whilst exhibiting definite growth curve through their product lifecycle. Like humans, they breathe and thrive on the air of consumer emotion as an exhalation of core values and attribute. As animals compete for food and territory, so do brands compete for customers and markets. It’s no tautology that brands demonstrate significant human traits that make it valid to conclude that they can die like every living being.
This reality of “brand death” calls for an intellectual discourse on how Nigerian brands can secure immortality in the shifting marketspace and survive the tsunami of death-causing market virus.
Nigerian brand landscape has experienced more brand demise in this decade than the previous. We have seen more brand obituaries than we have seen excellent brand health state. You only need to be at forum where brands are discussed. It’s all rhetoric of case studies on the rise and fall of our beloved brands.
Those that were inoculated from the virus of counterfeiting could not dodge the hit of the distribution snipers or evade the big stick of regulators. It’s like a serial killer has been on rampage and have left more brands in atrophy and morbidity.
The genuine concern this throws up in the mind of an average brand student is the question of who monitors our brands’ state of health. Are there no observable symptoms that can mitigate against this avalanche of marketing disaster? It seems like our healthcare system, there is a dearth of pre-emptive brand diagnosis. The market is in dire need of anticipatory observers who like modern day doctors believe and live the mantra - Prevention is better than cure.
The biggest epidemy in our market is the preponderance of quick-fix and short-cut tactics of quacks masquerading as brand health custodians. They have got all the buzz words, the razzmatazz and the gizmo of health-boosting treatments without deep-seated microscopic check-up at the DNA level. They are not different from modern herbal medicine-man who calls every bacterial infection “Staphylococcus” with gusto! They are not different from half-trained auxiliary nurses who having worked as a messenger in an hospital goes ahead to set up a maternity clinic. They have midwived the highest brand mortality ever in history. Even the few survivor brands are “haemorrhaging” from the unending internal bleeding caused by the surgical knives they forgot in the body of “patient-brands” during their crude operations.
It’s painful to realise that most of our brand health custodians have survived on a meagre credential of 5-day crash course in South Africa. It’s no wonder each of their brand surgery leaves the brand worse for it. They have stabbed brands for the sake of short-term profits, and have reduced their life expectancy through paucity of know-how.
Like “one-drug-cures-all” peddler in a “molue”, every brand problem is resolved with theme advertising. You cannot imagine how a fundamental product problem is being resolved with a new campaign or a distribution gap issue addressed with a value-destroying consumer promotion!
Your brand is all you have got!
The immediate question that comes to the mind of a curious reader is “why another treatise on brand health?” Well, the answer is not far-fetched. It’s a known fact that the brand is a business’ most valuable asset. It’s not the physical infrastructure or the size of the balance sheet. It’s that special place a company has jealously secured in the minds of the consumers that subliminally propel preferential demand at every point of purchase. A healthy brand is the driving force behind profitable customer relationship.
It’s the admirable soul of a healthy brand that gives the right meaning to all the outward qualities expressed through tangible assets like the company name, the product, tag lines, symbolism, iconography and even jingles. When you go to the market with a healthy brand, you are not just a commodity but a strong emotional link that consumers are fanatically attached to. Healthy brands are truly the foundation of wealthy businesses.
The need for intelligent probing
From Milward Brown’s Brand Dynamic Pyramid ™ to Ipsos BrandOptimizer™ are hundreds of proprietary tools used as symptomatic frameworks for measuring brand health globally. There are even company-specific tools like Heineken’s Dashboard custom-made for this same purpose.
Each comes with its peculiar strength and biases. For example, Nielsen’s framework appreciates the importance of the category where a brand plays. It emphasises a need to deconstruct the category to be able to have a relative brand health scores. This is premised on an assumption that a brand is as healthy as the category where it shares appreciable membership and mental cues.
With so many school of thoughts, agreeing on appropriate measures of brand health can be a very demanding exercise. Like a modern doctor, it is not just the blood pressure but an interpolatory combination with the blood sugar level and body mass index to make a valid conclusion. Woe to that brand custodian who like my great grandmother relies on body warmth to conclude if it’s a typhoid fever. Its therefore pertinent every brand owner must understand the basic underlying principle of brand health measurement before your brand doctor walks in with his “prescriptions”.
Like Jim Lenskold said in his popular book Marketing ROI “The roadblocks and endless detours on the path to effective brand health measures are not the result of subtle errors in the execution of sophisticated techniques, but are mostly the result of not getting the fundamentals right.”
Here are 5 key basic requirements
1) A cross matrix of behavioural and perceptual measures beyond market share scores.
2) Basic appreciation of how consumer perceptions drive positive brand behaviours.
3) Elementary extrapolation of future propensity from current perceptions.
4) An understanding of product vulnerability dimension, measured by how much the brand delivers on its primary reason for being purchased.
5) You must always consider a 2-way approach that matches research feedback with “real-time” consumer buying behaviour.
Please note that a misleading measurement tends to correlate with the employment of ultra-sophisticated black-box techniques, managed by the gurus. The principle is to measure for the pleasure of discovering the treasure. As with any process, the practice of measurement is a journey more than a destination.
It is also important we appreciate that there is no silver bullet. Each firm requires unique measures but always consider an appropriate mix of perceptual, financial and behavioural measures
Beware of cosmetic surgeries – new logo, new pay-off
The brand guru Kevin Keller said “Brands are built over years; it’s beyond a yearly change of face”. So much as it’s important to reinvigorate our brands to be relevant to times, we must not be sucked into the “my new logo” syndrome. It’s a much serious disaster to change your logo without translating it to a better experience, intuitive products, superior wow service, and smarter channels for the consumers. It is not merely in the exciting TV adverts with lovely models and sing-along songs. A genuine sincerity to the cause of brand health is beyond the sensational. Every act must cumulatively support a coherent point of view reinforced by every element of your marketing mix. This is really the most recommended treatment path in the Nigerian brand emergency wards. It’s no jibe to mention that a popular branding consultant from South Africa had to rebrand itself having secured the best share of the “owambe” Nigerian rebranding spree.
We must always remember that “Brands are living, breathing things, not static logos”
The first symptom comes from your staff
Your brand message is as powerful as your brand messenger i.e. staff who deliver the experience. The first touchpoint for brand health check-up is to test how your staffs LIVE the brand at every point of engaging the consumers. This could be through the walk-in ambience, call centre response, problem resolution via email etc.
Internal stakeholders must first believe before you can make a believer out of somebody else. It’s “faithless” spending millions of naira on high-impact advertising and brand communication programs, yet devote little or no resources to make sure people inside the company understand and “buy into” what the brand is all about.It’s simply practising what you preach. I think someone should advise those that “touch the right spot” to learn to stop touching the left spots of the Nigerian “high fliers” or else they will “disVirgin” a global success story
We need to make doctors out of the top management
Brand health tracking requires company-wide resources. Brand-health measures need to be elevated and added to the executive “dashboard” as leading indicators predicting future revenue streams. As such, they should be reviewed by the executive team with capital allocation mindset. Investing in brands is securing future profitability, and as such brand building must be seen as a marathon and not a sprint. Surprisingly, few brands appear be set up for the long haul.
Measuring brand health gives you a view of forward momentum — keeping the brand position relevant by staying ahead of constantly shifting customer needs and competitive pressure.
I strongly believe that brands can be eternal if nurtured well. Coca Cola, First Bank, American Express, Budweiser, Gillette and Western Union, for instance, are still going strong in their respective categories after 100+ years with no finite end.
The “white and red blood cells” of healthy brands are resilience and leveragability and our brand custodians must always realise that maintaining long-term brand health is usually more important than the short-term naira gains.
Latham in his book Brand power said “Brands are living things. They communicate. Act and react. Create experiences. Form relationships. Become a part of people's lives”. If you don't give them the right environment—intelligence, respect for the audience, flexibility and a willingness to change—they will wither and die
While there is nothing we can do to make a dog live to age 50, there are many things you can do to double the life expectancy of our very beloved brands.
Like Bedbury said in his book -a brand new world, “Products and services will continue to come and go, but the residual experiences of customers who consume them will ultimately define the brand.”
The Nigerian brandscape is really calling for true brand doctors who have sworn to the Oath of Hippocrates to be truthful to the brand, the market and the almighty consumers
Maybe you are the one.