16th of May 2013
Brands of Distinction
All brands have a different name, but few have distinctive assets that make them stand out from the crowd. Understand why and you are well on your way to building a strong identity.
A brand’s identity is the set of elements that come together to represent the public face of the brand. These elements can include colour, font, logo, spokes- characters, celebrities and jingles. When used with the brand name, they can increase the chance that consumers notice the brand in a highly cluttered environment.
Clutter hinders a brand’s ability to be noticed. It is not just competitors that create clutter; even the other creative elements within a brand’s own advertisements can distract consumers from noticing the brand. So how do you make your brand stand out?
The starting point is to assess the brand’s identity. Having a diverse brand identity takes the brand beyond simply being a word. It gives the brand greater neuro-richness. For example, concurrently using a colour and a piece of music to signal the brand can automatically trigger more activity in a consumer’s brain. This means the brand gets more impact without forcing the consumer to consciously work harder. If strong enough, these identity elements become what we refer to as a brand’s distinctive assets, which means they can replace the brand name in advertising, retail or in-store environments.
What makes a distinctive brand asset? A distinctive brand asset has two characteristics—it must be ‘unique’ in that it only evokes the one brand, and it must be ‘famous’, meaning that everyone who sees it, thinks only of that brand. Of these two, uniqueness is most important.
Many brands have built and capitalised on distinctive brand assets—McDonalds have their ‘Golden Arches’, Nike uses its ‘Swoosh’ insignia, and Disney successfully uses both its ‘Fairytale Castle’ and the ‘Mickey Silhouette’. All instantly bring each brand to mind without the need of a written name. In some cases, it’s not necessarily an icon that signals the brand. Take for example, the distinctive swirl of the Coca-Cola script, or the royal-purple Cadbury packaging—both are unique and successful identifiers of their respective global brands.
Capitalise on your brand’s strengths. The key is understanding your brand’s distinctive assets. This lets you use them more e effectively. It’s hard to manage without metrics, yet surprisingly few managers can identify the distinctive assets of their brands, let alone quantify their strength. This lack of metrics puts brand equity at risk.
The first step is to quantify the strength of your brand’s identity. Consumers do not sit up and take notice just because a brand is using a specific colour, logo or font. You need to check what consumers have processed into their long term memories, and use this knowledge
to formulate your brand identity strategy. This process is made easier through the Ehrenberg-Bass Distinctive Asset Grid (see Figure 1), created to help marketers plot the relative strength of their brand (and competitors’) identity elements. The grid provides strategic recommendations depending on which quadrant the element falls within.
Distinctive assets are non-brand name
elements, such as colours, logos or
characters that uniquely signal the brand.
Brand elements can land in one of four Ehrenberg-Bass Institute Product Group quadrants: (1) Use or Lose—an element in this quadrant is both famous and unique. It can be considered a distinctive asset and used to replace or extend the footprint of the brand; (2) Invest—an element in this quadrant is unique but not famous. It will need investment to build its fame; (3) Avoid—an element in this quadrant is famous but not unique. It should be avoided as such elements will trigger competitors to copy; (4) Test or ignore—an element in this quadrant will need to be tested. All new assets start with low uniqueness and fame. However if you have tried to get traction with an element and it is still not registering on fame and uniqueness metrics, you need to dramatically revise your execution or switch focus to another element.
When undertaking an assessment of your brand’s strengths, it is also useful to look at the brand’s history to see what could potentially be re-energised. Many brands have retired distinctive assets in the name of moving the brand forward. For example, up-market Australian retailer David Jones scrapped its long-standing slogan, ‘There’s no other store like David Jones’, in 2011 in favour of the less memorable, ‘Was. Is. Always David Jones.’ This potentially valuable asset is just wasting away; reversal could present some quick wins in building distinctive assets.
Understand distinctive assets to avoid costly mistakes. It’s easy to consign the brand identity to the design department, and embrace changes to a brand’s identity in the spirit of refreshment and keeping a brand up-to-date. However, change is not consumer friendly. Countless examples exist of brands that have gained a new identity but lost consumers. A very famous example is Tropicana’s replacement of the ‘orange with the straw’ packaging with a plain glass of orange juice, making
the brand barely recognisable. The iconic image was returned to the packaging less than a month after the launch. However, it is estimated that this ‘update’ cost them $26.3m in sales.
A final thought: Praise for the consistent brand.
Every time a consumer notices your brand, you have an opportunity to build distinctive brand assets. You can only harness this opportunity if you have a consistent, unique identity. Inconsistencies in colours, fonts, logos and the like are the enemy of distinctive asset building. Strengthen what you do have. Audit what the consumer sees of your brand, and eliminate any anomalies. Make the brand’s distinctive assets non-negotiable components in your advertising creative, and avoid packaging changes. These are the first steps to maximising ROI from your advertising budget and building a brand of distinction.