Brand image must match up to the product experience

What is a brand ?

This might seem a simple question to answer but rival definitions of the meaning of a brand created a storm at MediaCom’s offices recently.  Jonathan Salem Baskin, author of the dimbulb blog and of the book “Branding only works on cattle” caused controversy at a recent conference by challenging what he considers are the sacred cows of brand orthodoxy.

His definition of a brand is all about brand experience : “A set of behaviours linked to customer needs that define and make real the value of a product or service”.

The classic definition of the brand was written in 1991 by brand consultant David A. Aaker :  “A set of assets (or liabilities) linked to a brand’s name and symbol that adds (or subtracts from ) the value provided by a product or service”.  It is everything that you can charge for over and above the product.

Much of the confusion about what a brand is arises from the fact that some use the term brand as a short cut for brand identity, others as a short hand for brand experience, and others still (especially consumers themselves) just mean the product.

Personally, when I’ve explained what a brand is to people outside the industry I’ve described it as a kind of “short cut” to a choice.  It stops you thinking too much about every purchase decision and makes it easier to be sure that you’ve bought the right thing.

The concept of a brand is a crucial one to our industry still.  But if the brand advertising operates in a silo then it is pointless.  Everyone’s dad can mention a brand experience where the advertising talks about how friendly the service is then the company won’t answer the phone except by machine when you call them.

And once you start researching holiday destinations or major purchases online you will be influenced in your decision by customer reviews rather than just on the basis of a brand’s advertising, no matter how persuasive.

And perhaps this is the greatest truth about a brand these days.  Whilst word of mouth was always important for a brand and personal recommendations were key, the channel for those recommendations was person to person and therefore much quieter than the broadcast channels available to advertisers.  Nowadays not only can anyone with access to a computer comment about a brand’s performance versus its promise, those comments are usually very close to the point of purchase.

So investment in a brand proposition further up the purchase funnel is wasted if the reputation of the brand is not delivered each and every time.

Brands matter, but now more than ever before the image must match the experience.

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