Brand health is brand wealth

Since the dawn of time, man has sought the fountain of youth – the magic elixir to stay healthy and live longer. According to a website called ‘tastyhuman.com’, people with more moles on their bodies generally live longer, and a cold shower in the morning helps make you ‘cold and flu proof’. Obviously, the secret to eternal health is a little more complex when you’re dealing with something as intricate as the human body. In many ways, brands are like people.

Both are complex, multifaceted entities, and the performance of each is entirely reliant on the skilled management and health of all moving parts. Just as an in-grown toenail can sideline a human, the wrong tone of voice can sideline a brand. With this in mind, I asked some of the most successful marketers and brand experts of our time what it is that keeps brands healthy, as well as what they identify as the biggest health risks for any brand. Who better to ask than senior marketers from some of the world’s biggest brands, as well as some of Australia and the world’s leading brand agencies. Here’s what they said:

 

Every brand has unique strengths and challenges, however, there is an underlying formula, or science, that supports the health of all brands, much like our immune system. At the most basic level, healthy brands are seen as unique, relevant and consistent. To achieve this impression with customers, Lucinda Barlow, head of marketing for Google Australia and New Zealand, advises that brands need to “do good things that matter”.

Investigating brand health further, I spoke with four of the most awarded brand agencies – Interbrand, Principals, FutureBrand and Frost Design – to get their take on what brands need to do to stay healthy. Principal’s managing director Tom Brigstocke suggests that healthy brands don’t take their customers, or their employees, for granted. Instead, they create an authentic forum with both audiences, making it easy to engage with them.

“Healthy brands are meticulous. They take everything seriously, not just the major things, but the small things as well – like the hotel a colleague went to recently where everyone mysteriously always knew his name. That same hotel had a concierge with a stock of belts for people like him who’d forgotten to bring one. Healthy brands have a razor-sharp view of who’s doing what in their market, and where they fit in it,” he says.

Interbrand’s managing director, Damian Borchok, views brand health as “a brand’s ability to create value for an organisation and its customers”, and lists 10 factors that enable a brand to generate demand and value :

  • internal clarity about the meaning and purpose of the brand,
  • an organisation’s commitment to build and support its brand,
  • brand protection,
  • responsiveness to market changes,
  • authenticity of the brand,
  • relevance to customer needs,
  • the degree to which the brand is clearly differentiated from competitors,
  • consistency with which the brand is experienced,
  • brand presence across touch points, and
  • depth of understanding of the brand in the marketplace.

 

Founder of Frost Design, Vince Frost, says brands are living entities that stay healthy through constant attention. “The ongoing relevance and sensory appeal of a brand determines its health and success. Brands, like all living things, grow, and the healthiest brands understand this and evolve in tune with their markets.”

Sally McNeill, FutureBrand’s managing director, agrees, saying that, “Brand health is decided by many contributory factors, but most importantly the relationship between current and future value, competitive differentiation and ownable marketplace positioning.”

Brand health risks:

When it comes to organisational or broad-appeal product brand health, the stakes are high. Avoiding the more common mistakes is a priority. So what can put a brand’s health at risk?

Interbrand’s Borchok is quick to point out that, “Brands don’t make mistakes, the organisations that own and manage them do.” Frost suggests that mistakes are more frequent and more likely to happen down the track after the initial glow and enthusiasm wanes, and avoiding health risks means, “maintaining energy for and around the brand throughout the brand’s lifespan, much like we, as people, do”.

FutureBrand’s McNeill supports this, stating, “As any doctor will tell you, the effective measurement of personal health requires a comprehensive check-up and assessment, with ongoing wellness requiring effective management of emotional and physical input and output. Brand health is no different. Effective measurement requires a full, 360-degree view of your brand in the context of the world in which it resides.”

Interestingly, Borchok indicates that there is a direct correlation between the quality of talent inside an organisation and the quality of the brand. “It sounds obvious, but not enough emphasis is placed on hiring marketers with deep brand management skills.”

This explains one of the most prevalent brand health risks experienced across all markets: the ineffective integration of the brand through the entire organisation. Brigstocke comments, “Organisations invest time and money creating a coherent brand strategy, but don’t spend enough time with senior management and their teams to explain their role in it, how to implement it, and why the brand matters.” McNeill further reiterates this, stating, “The core brand strategy therefore has to be defined in a way that allows it to be interpreted and brought to life across all touch points, ensuring that all stakeholders receive a consistent message and experience.”

Another key brand health risk lies in understanding the ‘purpose’ of a brand. Frost rightly believes that the organisational brand should guide everything a company does. McNeill believes that a common misconception is that ‘awareness is brand health’.

“This is a grave mistake,” he says. “Measured alone, brand awareness is not an overall indicator of strength, yet this is what many brands rely on to gauge health, strength and performance.” Brigstocke agrees, saying, “All too often, companies allow their brand to be seen as a ‘marketing tool’, rather than something that drives everything the company does.” This brand health risk is emphasised by Borchok who suggests, “Too much brand activity seems to be about going through the motions, not achieving results. It is essential to be always asking, ‘What’s the point of all of this? How will this change the behaviour of our customers? How will this help us to create new value?’ When an outcomes-based approach to brand building is missed (and it happens all too often), organisations end up wasting millions of dollars in pointless initiatives.”

The Wrap:

It is clearer than ever that marketing directors and brand managers have an enormous responsibility. A brand (by my definition anyway) is a unique set of thoughts and feelings that a person attributes to a ‘thing’ – a company, product, service, person or a place. So if a brand disappoints, in any way, it threatens the very thing keeping it healthy: the relationship it has with its customers. Human health and brand health share similar maintenance requirements: a holistic perspective on what’s going on inside, regular check-ups, acute awareness of external influencing factors and urgent attention given when problems crop up. How healthy is your brand?

 

Karl Treacher
BY Karl Treacher ON 13 June 2013
Chief executive of The Brand Institute of Australia, a behavioural analyst
with more than 15 years of brand consultancy experience and a pioneer of organisational branding and culture alignment. Tweet at him using @treacher.