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Brand vision

Updated Sunday, 1st July 2007

Brands can inspire staff and attract customers. They can even help you grapple with the future. This course extract from Marketing in a Complex World explores brand vision.

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Midland Bank logo Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: HSBC The old Midland Bank logo - long since replaced by HSBC

If brands are to succeed there needs to be a vision to give a sense of direction. Not only does this enable staff to appreciate what role they should play but when unforeseen challenges appear, it helps managers identify strategies that will help them stay true to their long-term intent. This section addresses the three components of a brand vision:

  • values characterising the brand
  • future environment
  • purpose for the brand

Brand values
The word ‘values’ is frequently used in marketing, yet there is sometimes confusion about its meaning. A value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence.

In the context of brands, values represent the behaviours and end-states to which a brand adheres as important guiding principles. A brand’s values effectively say ‘This is what we believe in and this is how we think our business should be conducted’. A brand’s values should not be confused with the concept of added value, which refers to the augmentation of an offering to differentiate it from competitors (that is, to elevate it to the level of a brand rather than a commodity that is indistinguishable from other offerings).

In the case of service brands, where staff are the brand, by understanding their brand’s values, staff have a better feel for the types of behaviour they should adopt to reinforce the brand if they understand the brand values. Brand values offer an opportunity for brand differentiation and attract people whose values match those being projected by their chosen brand. These people are employees who are proud to align themselves with these values, as well as consumers.

One of the principles of effective branding is that there should be a low number of core values, typically no more than five. As the number of values rises it becomes more difficult for staff to recall them all and the task of devising and sustaining a clear unique promise becomes more difficult. A further advantage of majoring on a few core values is that as they encourage specific types of staff behaviour, there is less scope for internal confusion and thus there is a greater likelihood of behavioural consistency amongst staff.

For example, when Midland Bank (as it was then) set up a team to develop a new approach to banking – telephone banking through First Direct – one of the team’s early actions was to define the brand’s values. These were chosen as being: respect, openness, energy, thinking and getting it right. When they then recruited their telephone bank representatives they were less concerned with applicants’ banking skills, which they argued could be taught, and put emphasis on whether the applicants’ values reflected the desired brand values.

For established brands, by auditing staff throughout the firm, managers can evaluate what staff think are the values of the brand, and thus identify gaps between the espoused and the perceived values. By working together to identify why gaps have occurred between the espoused and the perceived values, organisations are in a much stronger position to take pan-company action to ensure greater consistency in delivering the brand promise.

To thrive, brands need to have a clearly defined set of core values, which staff should understand and be committed to, and which should appeal to the target market. We would stress the need to ensure everyone inside the organisation is behind the brand, otherwise internal tensions can damage the brand. After all, if two people are in a boat heading towards a rapid, they should not be arguing about how they got there but they should row together.

BBC THREE logo Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC BBC Three's launch branding, before a 2008 refresh

Envisioned Future
If a brand is to thrive, the team behind it must have a stretching vision about what the future environment in which the brand will exist should be like, at least 10 years ahead. We firmly believe that it is important to say ‘at least 10 years ahead’, as we want to encourage managers to stop incremental projections and to develop a more challenging, lateral view about the future. To be appreciated, a brand needs to bring about welcomed change and, by thinking a long way into the future, managers should not consider themselves to be shackled by the current constraints under which they operate. They also need to remember that environments change and a brand has to be able to adapt accordingly.

For example, Kurt Wikstedt, the head of the electronics department in the 1960s at the Finnish Cable Works (which became part of the Nokia Group in 1967), had a clear vision of the future of electronic communication as ‘digitally charged’. Specifying a long-term horizon encourages managers to think about discontinuities that will result in step changes in the market.

There is no such thing as a ‘correct’ envisioned future. Instead, the team devising views about the envisioned future should be challenged to consider:

  • Is this going to stretch the organisation?
  • Is it stimulating facing such a future?
  • Will this motivate staff to bring the future we hope for? There should be some flexibility, to allow for changes in the future environment.

Brand Purpose
The final component of the brand vision that needs to be identified is the brand purpose. This is more than just increasing shareholder wealth, or making a profit, which is taken for granted as being essential. Rather it is to do with answering the question ‘How is the world going to be a better place as a consequence of the brand?’, and again it has to inspire and guide staff.

We have focused on the three components of the brand vision: the brand’s values; the brand’s envisioned future; and the brand’s purpose. The reason for having a brand vision is that it gives a clear statement about the ‘soul’ of the brand and provides a good sense of direction. Defining the values that the brand will be true to is extremely important, since these set guidelines about the type of behaviour that will always characterise the brand and help customers to rapidly appreciate the brand’s promise. A brand should always have a few core values, which are timeless, possibly augmented by a few peripheral values which enable the brand to reflect the changing mood of society.

Brands do not thrive just by focusing on customers but also by thinking about staff. As this section has shown, it is important to ensure staff understand the brand’s values, are committed to delivering these values and appreciate the type of behaviour that should help the brand succeed. The brand team needs to formulate a long-term view about the environment their brand will face at least 10 years ahead. This should again provide a sense of direction, but it should also excite staff. By thinking about the brand’s purpose, everyone in the firm should be able to consider how they can contribute to making the world a better place through the brand.

About this article

This article is taken from the Open University Business School course Marketing in a Complex World (B825).





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