This is an interview with Paul Friederichsen, partner of The American Marketing Group, on a recent visit to Portugal, with Lisbon-based Briefing, a publication devoted to brands and marketing.
What, in your vision, defines a brand? It is the sum total of all the experiences associated with the product, service, or organization. Many people believe that the identity— the name, logo, etc.— is the definition of a brand, but is much more than that.
And what are the main challenges that companies face when building a brand nowadays? That depends in large part on the category the brand competes in. Launching a new brand presupposes other competing brands already exist. The main challenge in that situation is finding the most advantageous position to exploit.
For existing brands, the challenge is usually intense competition that will pressure compromises in brand strategy that will affect consistency, value proposition, and marketing support. No matter where the brand is in its lifecycle, there are always challenges, both internal and external.
Does the digital world make brands more volatile? The digital world hyper-accelerates everything. Volatility happens often from the speed with which bad news about brands can spread virally and quickly through social media, negatively affecting perception and, as a result, sales performance.
And how to cope with customers/audiences who are more unfaithful? Brand loyalty is still the most coveted prize for any brand. A strong brand is the best defense against fickle consumers. Today’s strategy for major brands must include reputation and crisis management. When customers do leave, brands would do well to research the cause and assess their competitors’ strengths. The marketplace is never static.
Is differentiation harder to achieve than ever in a world with so many brands competing for the same attention? Yes. The world doesn’t need another “me too” brand. Differentiations can be challenging to determine, particularly in a crowded category. And they can be also be challenging to articulate and communicate in a way that breaks through the noise of our media-saturated world.
What role do emotions play in this approach? Decisions are made most often with the heart and not the head. Brands that are successful in winning the hearts of their customers will ultimately win. Brands with empathy — that identify with the hopes, desires, needs and wants of their customers — will become desired and sought-after. The emotional appeal of brands is playing an ever bigger role in B2B nowadays too.
We live in a culture driven by branding. Does it mean that brands are less relevant? Quite the contrary, brands are more relevant than ever. Some have argued that Millennials don’t care as much about brands as the previous generation and that simply is not the case.
More than promising, brands need to deliver. Do they understand this premise? It’s more than a premise, it’s fundamental. For those brands that survive and thrive, yes, they understand both the need to promise and deliver. All brand positioning must be underpinned with “reasons to believe.” These are the indisputable arguments for the brand’s position in the marketplace. Brand managers must ensure that these Reasons-to-Believe (RTBs) are protected through carefully monitored execution throughout the distribution channel.
And do they understand that their real owner is the customer, not the company? Again, successful brands do. The ones that don’t pay the price. Consumers vote with their pocketbooks. There are many brands that are extinct that forgot that one important fact.
What should be the real legacy of a brand? That they made a difference. That if they didn’t exist, it would matter and we would be poorer for it. Some brands achieve this through innovation, some through customer service, some through cause-related sponsorships, and some through their sustainability efforts, for example.