MT EXPERT: How to make a great brand out of a sow's ear

Figures looking a little flat? Perhaps it's time to pep up your brand, suggests Simon Ward.

by Simon Ward
Last Updated: 11 Oct 2013

You only need to glance at the latest Interbrand index of the world’s most valuable brands to see how much good branding is worth: according to that, Apple’s brand is worth $98bn, while Google’s is worth $93.3bn and Coca-Cola – that ever-present model of great branding – has a brand worth $79bn.

Admittedly, those companies have marketing budgets worth millions – but even if you’re a small firm, you can jazz up your brand.

Be honest

If your brand has all the appeal of a sow’s ear, while sales are sliding and customer feedback is dipping, you need to face up to it and do what you can to find out why. Brand analytics will provide insights into what your customers and prospects think of your business. If you can’t afford to fork out, try an email survey of your customers (a prize always lures people in), or just adopt the old-fashioned approach: standing on a corner with a clipboard.

Be brave

Often businesses spend too long agonising over concepts, asking themselves ‘will it work?’ Have the courage to develop more than one creative route and test it out quickly in the real world. Using the 'test-learn-commit' model (make small adjustments, test them with customers and then commit), which is based on evolution theory, can lead to a higher success rate or lower risk for brands.

Are you learning?

Most brands don’t listen to their customers enough. These days, real-time customer data rules - and if necessary, business processes must be changed to ensure it is gathered at every stage of business operations. You must put the information to use too and therefore finding time to brief your employees is important. It’s a bit like eating your greens: you may not enjoy it but you know it’s good for your brand.

Customer as brand manager

Make your customer your brand manager. Get them involved with your brand and use their ideas. Starbucks’ ‘My Starbucks Idea’ scheme asks coffee drinkers what new things they would like to see in store and Ikea’s ‘Idea Hackers’ gets them to share images of how they have adapted key pieces of furniture to suit their living spaces. Such information can be used to inform innovation projects and enrich the brand.

Complacency is a brand-wrecker

The moment you think you have created a truly inspirational brand is the moment it will probably start to slip. Despite coming top in this year’s best global brands research, Apple has faced significant criticism after it launch of the iPhone 5c and 5s. Proof that even great brands can make mistakes.

The fault could lie in a brand that has become complacent about its own ability to churn out iconic designs that consumers will want, without involving them in the design process. Stay vigilant, and make sure you know what your customer is looking for.

- Simon Ward is chief executive of branding agency Holmes & Marchant

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