Small business and startup tips: which type is your brand? Mike | September 12th, 2011

Building and managing your brand, its identity, its name, and its reputation is critical to your company’s ultimate success. How (and when and where) you connect with your customers is determined in large part by your branding and by how your audience relates to your brand. markets are more competitive than ever, and the quality of products and services more consistent so, in many cases, your branding will become your strongest differentiator in the marketplace.

Today I want to discuss the three types of brands, what distinguishes each, and some thoughts on how this can help you to determine the optimal marketing mix of strategy and tactics.

1. Functional brands.
A functional brand is typically bought to satisfy a functional need on the part of the consumer. Automobiles, cell phones, and dish soap are examples of functional brands. Functional brands are tied in the consumer’s mind to specific product categories and typically share  the user’s associations with other brands in the same category. For instance, all automobiles share in their basic functionality; they are designed to transport passengers from point A to point B and they all do the same thing in essentially the same manner. Because of this, functional brands must differentiate from their competitor’s brands by stressing either better performance or better economy.

Performance: BMW is an automobile brand that maintains category leadership by spending heavily on product research and design to produce cars that are faster, more luxurious, and with greater cutting edge design relative to the competition. BMW cars are known for their sophisticated and elegant styling as well as their high-performance components and when BMW launches a new model, it is positioned based on these qualities and BMWs marketing.

Economy: Kia is a South Korean automobile company which also produces many models sold in the US and around the world, but this company competes based on perceived economic value. Kia also spends a great deal of money on R&D, but the focus is on finding ways to reduce cost through increased manufacturing efficiency, simpler design, and more modest features. Kia has become a leader in the market, based on their ability to introduce products at a price point that is attractive to  many automobile buyers. Kia competes by striving to produce a high-quality car at a low price.

Building and managing a functional brand is dependent on focusing the marketing mix on either the product itself (for superior performance) or on place and price (for superior economy). Advertising and messaging must support the connection between the brand and the category. but must also stress what it is that makes the brand superior, either in functionality and features, or in price and overall value.

2. Image brands.
Image brands create value by building  specific perception in user’s minds. Certain fashion, food, and liquor products are image brands and they differentiate themselves because buyers perceive them as offering a unique association or image. For instance, while clothing is typically a functional product, many huh-end fashion brands are marketed based on the image used to differentiate it from the competition.

Feature-based. Many image brands create their image based on product features. A good example of this is the Mazda Miata sports car. This car was designed to evoke the features and feel of the classic British roadster – top down, and that great sense of speed when driving. In addition, Mazda designed in features ranging from a special speedometer to a specialized exhaust system which evokes the sound of the classic ports cards from MG and Triumph.

User Imagery. Ralph Lauren is a clothing brand that is built on images of exclusivity, high style, and luxury. Lauren uses imagery of country estates, antique cars, and beautiful models to impress upon consumers the exclusive nature of the product and the

Advertising. Many image brands use advertising specifically to create associations that are not dependent upon features. Great examples of this are the Marlboro Man in tobacco advertising and the current ads for Dos Equis beer. Both of these brands use an actor to convey an image of individualism and rugged adventure, one through images of the old west and the other with humorous ads extolling the virtues of “the most interesting man in the world.”

Managing an image brand is a function of creating an emotional connection with the customer. Image brands depend on their ability to tap into consumer’s desires to belong to a social group, or to be admired by others, or to define themselves according to a particular image. Because of this, advertising plays a huge role in building these brands, as well as other forms of communication such as sponsorships and publicity.

3. Experiential brands.
Experiential brands differ from image brands in one important respect: where image brands focus on what the product represents, experiential brands are all about how the product makers the user feel when interacting with the brand. An experiential brand is not always a tangible product, but in many cases is a place or a service which delivers a sensory experience or encounter with the brand. Starbucks is an experiential brand; while the product is coffee and other beverages and food items, the real product is the experience of the store itself. Comfortable seeing, stylish design, WiFi connectivity, work space, and music are all part of the experience the brand provides. Another example of a experiential design is Six Flags amusement parks. Here a consumer pays admission in exchange for the thrills and adrenaline-inducing rides available in the park.

The dimensions of an experiential brand are primarily its potency (intense or mild) and its activity (passive or active). Most experiential brands deliver a positive experience (think Disney or Elizabeth Arden salons) but vary in the intensity of the experience as well as the activity involved. Disney theme parks, while varying in intensity are, for the most part, active experiences, while Elizabeth Arden provides as mild and passive experience.

Managing experiential brands are primarily a challenge of consistency. Starbucks takes great care when hiring and training employees to assure a good cultural fit and and the ability to convey the brand values and deliver on the brand experience. Disney, too, is known for the care it takes in hiring, training, and managing employees, as well as maintaining the spotless and cheerful tamps[here of the parks.

Image: Dos Equis

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