Brands are important to our daily lives as they help us make choices by differentiating between competing offerings. Next time you go shopping, you're likely to almost subconsciously select the products you like because of the potential they have to satisfy your needs. But as consumers, how do we decide which brands to buy—and which to leave on the shelves?
Academic researchers tell us that consumers build knowledge structures about the products they are interested in by storing information in their memories for future use when purchasing products (for more, see French & Smith, 2010). Manufacturers aim to motivate us to learn about specific products that might capture our interests though the use of sophisticated marketing communication messages. Consumers then carry out complex subliminal evaluations of the features of a product.
By the time a decision to purchase is made, we have compared past shopping experiences with existing evidence in our personal information banks with any new messages and incentives from the seller. Manufactures and retailers are very aware of how these complexities of consumer behaviour inform product choice, and so take great care when developing, building and delivering brands to market.
Successful brands provide quality products and deliver the perceived benefits a customer expects. To make a brand attractive in the minds of the consumer, a manufacturer aims to creating a unique position in the market place and establish a clear advantage over its competitors.
Brands are built around a core product or service, by adding features that are relevant to the target consumer. The types of the features added help to define a product in the mind of the consumer and can be tangible or intangible.
Take the basic commodity (product) water; it is one of life’s essentials, without which we die. In the UK, drinking water is available on tap in our homes but we choose to spend two billion pounds on bottled water. Why?
Bottled water brands can deliver benefits, which may be very tangible, e.g. conveniently sized bottles that mean we can drink water on the go, in the gym, or on the bus, at a price we are prepared to pay. However, successful bottled water brands are not so much about the tangible features of a brand which create the appeal but the intangibles. Most brands are intangible entities that form complex associations in the mind of the consumer.
Perrier was one of the first companies to successfully put water (the core product) in a bottle and build a global brand, which had a much more important meaning to its consumers than a drink of water. The company created international demand for their product by adding an air of 'Frenchness' and the bottled water was positioned using creative advertising to attract a specific target market. These middle class consumers who were looking for an interesting and exciting product which had exclusivity; drinking this brand of water said something about its consumers, and at one time it was considered to be the champagne of bottled water, and a very suitable alternative to alcohol for some brand-obsessed consumers.
Intangible Brand Positioning
In reality, the strength of a brand’s position in the market is based more on its intangible assets rather than physical attributes because of the associations consumers make in their memories. According to French & Smith (2010), from a consumers point of view a brand is “an associative network of interconnected information”.
Manufacturers and retailers build this intangible information around:
- What the target market demands
- The stories and history which make up the heritage of the brand
- The value and quality of the brand
- The personality of the brand (what it means to an individual who buys and consumes a brand).
These principles of branding have been applied in virtually every setting where consumer choice is involved (For more on this, see Keller, 2002, p. 151).
Branding and Marketing
Branding is the life blood of a modern company and is the manifestation of thorough marketing planning. Marketing is at the heart of most successful companies and provides a framework for integration of all of the functions within a company.
Marketing enables managers to understand what the customer is looking for and how the company resources can be mobilised to meet their demands. But branding is what really emerges from the marketing process and is what makes the heart of a company tick as the brand transfers meaning to employees and consumers of a product.
The halo effect of brands can transfer good will and positive feelings about one product in the brand portfolio to another, and in doing so extend and perpetuate the life of a brand while ever it is able to satisfy its consumers.