What is a brand? More than a mere product, service or company, a brand exists in the mind of the consumer as an association with a particular product, service or company. These associations are based on a combination of objective and subjective factors. Objective criteria include quality, price and consumer reports, while subjective criteria tend to reflect a highly personal sense of nostalgia or aspiration on the part of the consumer. Given the surfeit of products available today in every imaginable sector, a proactive branding campaign is vital for separating your product, service or company from the competition and generating a heritage of customer loyalty.
Because brands exist in the minds of consumers, brand positioning should always focus on the minds of your target market. Before this can happen, you must define who and what that target market is – ie, who your customers are, and where your product, company or service will compete. Only then can you properly deduce the set of characteristics that best describe your brand. It is important to note that this information must come from your customers, not you. (When it comes to branding, it's not who you think you are that counts – it's who your customers think you are.) After collecting perceptual information about your product, service or company from a sample of customers, you can apply this learning to calculate the ideal combination of brand characteristics for your target market.
While all brands are essentially an amalgam of consumer perceptions and expectations, there are a number of brand positioning techniques for creating the impression that a brand associated with a particular product, service or company is special or unique. One key method is to create value. This can be accomplished by manipulating the projected image of a product, service or company in a way that makes the consumer view it as intrinsically valuable. The right advertising campaign, for example, can do wonders for brand value – with many going so far as to convince consumers to pay premium prices for products or services that are relatively inexpensively to produce or provide.
Another method is to secure brand recognition. By making your brand widely recognizable in the marketplace – ie, through advertising, event sponsorships or other marketing initiatives – you will directly inform – and elevate – your consumer's perception of your product, service or company. In addition to having positive ramifications within the culture at large, brand recognition pays off where it really counts – in the retail environment. When choosing between a branded product and its generic counterpart at the point of purchase, customers often select the more expensive "name brand" option on the basis of reputation.
The fact that brands exist in the minds of consumers does not preclude the possibility of brand management. On the contrary, successful brands are actively positioned on a regular basis – long after they've been unleashed on the market and become part of the cultural landscape. By eliminating your target customers and tailoring your product or service to their needs and preferences, you can obtain the value and recognition necessary to make your brand a leader in every relevant category.