Managing brands over time

Published in the Business World, March 22, 2001

Today, more than ever, the right marketing and sustained brand management have become critical to an organization’s ability to respond to a changing environment. Firms are now looking into intangible assets, which include patents and copyrights, technical expertise and skills, management know-how and, most important of all, the company’s trademarks or brands.

Brand management is a means of organizing and sustaining the company’s focus. It is now firmly intertwined with the company’s vision, culture, strategic planning and program development. Brand Marketing has become basic and intrinsic in any business’s survival in a competitive marketplace.

Brands as profitable intangible assets. Merchants learned to brand their goods so that they could differentiate their products from those of their competitors and presumably charge a premium price. But branding can never be a meaningful exercise if the product is simply identical to all others in the marketplace and if there is no desire to set the product apart from the rest.

Today, a brand is recognized as one of the company’s most valuable assets. It is the engine behind the organization’s present and future growth, success and continuous profitability. Therefore, it is critical for firms to understand the quality of this important asset and manage it to sustain distinctiveness and growth.

Interbrand, a leading European-based international branding consultancy, underscores the financial profitability behind carefully managed brands with its list of the world’s 60 most valuable brands for 2000. The total value of these brands is pegged at US$1 billion and counts the following among its top ten: (1)Coca Cola, $72.537M; (2)Microsoft Windows,$70.197M; (3) IBM, $53.184M;(4) Intel, $39.049M; (5) Nokia, $38.528M; (6) General Electric,$38.128M; (7) Ford, $36.368M;(8) Disney, $33,533M; (9) McDonald’s, $27,859M;(10) AT&T, $25,548M. Except for four brands that are under 25 years of age (Microsoft and Intel in the top ten and e-brands Amazon and Yahoo! In the top 50, majority of the brands are above 75 years of age, and many have been existing for more than 100 years. Furthermore, two-thirds of the brands in the list originate from the U.S., indicating how American firms take a long-term view in building brands.

What’s in a name? The key to creating a brand is to choose a name, logo, symbol, package design or other attribute that can identify a product and distinguish it from others. A name must be simple and easy to pronounce or spell, and familiar and meaningful. It must also create desirable associations. Marketers have learned from Chevy’s Nova, which never sold well in Spanish-speaking countries, where no va means it doesn’t go. Likewise, marketers are now more careful with their selling lines after Pepsi introduced its slogan Pepsi brings you back to life in China. When written and read in Chinese characters, the slogan literally means Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.

Managing brands through time. Building a brand can start from pre-operating activity. Asian Hospital, a tertiary care hospital soon to open in Filinvest, Alabang, has integrated its name and logo in the hospital’s unique positioning of patient centered care in a total healing environment.

The logo, the chrysanthemum, a flower emanating from Japan and China, is renowned for its healing power, cheerfulness and rest. In Japan, a single chrysanthemum petal placed at the bottom of a wine glass encourages a long and healthy life. In ancient China, the chrysanthemum was cultivated as a flowering herb, symbolizing life.

Branding is a continuous and ongoing effort. An organization must first decide what its brand should stand for and then deliver on that promise to its customers. The ability to deliver a highly focused product and message to a specific audience is critical to successful marketing. The marketer needs to specify a reason for the audience to believe. Sadly, it is this part of the promise that is most often neglected.

Asian Hospital’s support for its promise of patient-centered care in a total healing environment includes: 1) providing the patient a physical environment that encourages healing and comfort; and 2) encouraging patient-centered relationships with caregivers who deliver the highest quality of compassionate care and stimulate the patient’s positive thoughts and emotions, thereby hastening the healing process.

A healing environment shall be further created through healing partnerships. Patients will be able to choose the extent to which they want to participate in their healthcare treatment process. Caregivers, on the other hand, will provide education and support to meet patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs, and will help patients prepare for the transition from hospital to home care.

Long-term view of marketing decisions. Aside from creating singularity in message delivery, brand marketing thrives on consistency and a long-term view of marketing decisions. The temptations and challenges to change direction are countless. The more frequently directions and messages are changed, the longer it takes for the brand to get anywhere in the mind of the target.

A constantly reinforced message sticks in the minds of the market. For example, a brand of soap has been running its positioning as a beauty bar with one-fourth cleansing cream that creams the skin while washing since 1957. Over the years its sales have grown and its share has expanded. The soap’s brand managers have been able to keep the idea of creaming the skin fresh in the minds of people through advertising that never strays from the brand positioning. Consistency, therefore, does not go the way of boredom.

Furthermore, managing brands over time requires the marketing manager to reach out to new customer groups. A baby powder further achieved success by promoting its brand to young adults with its face powder extension. Yet another strategy is to retain existing customers who otherwise would eventually move away from the brand.

Note how a milk manufacturer has introduced one brand for infants zero to six months old, a second brand for toddlers six months to two years and yet a third brand for children two years to six years old. Throughout all these, what is important is to provide a consistent positive image in the minds of consumers.