What can you learn about branding strategy from 3 of the top 10 strongest brands in the world? Multiple companies provide the same (or otherwise very similar) product or service and they compete for the same business. But, only one will win the deal.
What sets that winning company apart from the others? Branding.
Here are 3 examples of different (successful) approaches to branding from global brand champions.
Coca-Cola – Branding through consistency
“Is Pepsi okay?” It’s almost an apology. It’s also shows just how brand loyal consumers are to the Coca-Cola brand.
The brand strength is especially apparent in the south where it’s common to call any soft drink a ‘coke’ so that – in the same way someone may ask a waiter for a soda (or pop, in some states) – the same is done in the south except replacing the word soda with coke. “Can I have a Coke?” “Sure, what kind?”
What makes the Coca-Cola brand so powerful?
- They keep their drink recipe largely unchanged.
- They maintain consistency in their packaging (the contoured bottle is trademarked and is easily identifiable)
- They use consistent advertising that reflects “a brand connected with fun, friends and good times.”
Apple – Branding through value
The company branded its products so well that, similar to Coca-Cola, the name of a generic device (like a portable music player) was rendered meaningless. Think about it:
- In the early 2000s, every mp3 player was an iPod.
- In the late 2000s, every is an iPad.
Ask your friends to try and name another branded portable music player or a tablet. They probably can’t (or they’re hipsters and they already have all Apple devices). We’re only just starting to see some competing devices (like the Microsoft Surface and the Google Nexus). Still, chances are they probably don’t know about these unless they’re either tech-enthusiasts or in a tech-savvy field.
The thing about Apple is that the products aren’t actually new or innovative. The products use existing technology in a friendly, useable, and useful way. That’s what allows their marketing team to set the devices apart. They’re simple to use. On a technical specification level, Apple’s devices tend to be lacking. But what Apple lacks in specs, it makes up for in usability and the feeling of being part of the ‘in’ crowd.
Google – Branding through superiority
When is the last time you actually heard someone say something other than “Google it” when talking about searching for something on the web? The answer is never.
- “Google it.”
Google focused so intensely on making their core product the best and so it became the master of search. They turned the responsibility of making websites useful to advertisers and companies. That fundamental change resulted (pun intended) in a more useful tool that eventually overcame the has-beens of search (AltaVista, Yahoo, MSN, Ask Jeeves).
Microsoft tries (and fails) to compete with Google using Bing search. Funny enough, despite trying to market the results as better than Google, Bing allegedly copied Google’s own search results.
The point is that because Google provided such a useful tool, we use the brand’s name instead of the function to describe it. We don’t search for things on the web, we “Google” them.
What does it mean for a small to medium sized business?
Coca-Cola, Apple, and Google all started small. They also all started early with creating their brands. While their path to branding success may be different from yours, you can still use them as an example of success.
Branding isn’t ambiguous and you don’t necessarily need an agency to do it.
Branding isn’t some ethereal concept. It’s also not limited to colors, logos, and letterhead. A brand is a complete character representation of a company. That (among many other things) includes employees (attitudes, appearance, age, experience, etc), culture, and tone of voice. If you have the time and resources, it’s possible to manage company branding internally without the help of an agency. In some cases, an agency can be used to help kickstart branding for small to medium sized businesses.
If you haven’t already, start by defining the brand. Ask yourself a few questions and, when you answer them, imagine your company to be a person.
- What does your company represent emotionally?
- What about its character?
- What attributes describe your company best? Here are some short examples:
- Are you bright and innovative?
- Are you altruistic and nurturing?
- Are you steady and predictable?
- Are you charming and excitable?
- What drives the business? What is its purpose, beliefs, and role-models?
- How do you keep lasting relationships with your customers?
- An example of frequently poor experience is by many high speed internet and cable companies that focus primarily on acquiring new business only (while often disregarding the customer service needs of current customers). This is readily apparent in the case of Time Warner Cable where they earned an overall rating of ~1 star (out of 5).5
Tips for successful branding
Don’t just copy the big brands
While the big brands have done well, and while some practices are repeatable examples, don’t try to copy them entirely. Carve out your own company brand. A brand is meant to be an individual attribute, not a repetitive one.
Consider the reality of the company
Try to define your brand with things your company truly believes in. This holds especially true as companies become more established. While you may want to change the brand, it takes time and has to be adopted and reflected by the company for the branding to stick.
Remember that marketing is not the same as branding.
Branding is the company’s identity whereas marketing is how you tell the story about that identity.