An increasing number of firms have embraced branding as a business priority and marketing imperative. Despite that fact, many firms are unsure as to exactly what they should do to effectively manage their brands and maximize their equity. Much of the branding literature has taken an external perspective to focus on strategies and tactics that firmss should take to build or manage brand equity with customers. Without question, at the heart of all marketing activity should be the positioning of a brand and the “essence” of its meaning with consumers. In term of strategic and tactical importance, properly positioning a brand is essential to creating a strong brand.
Equally important, however, is “positioning the brand internally,” i.e., the manner by which the brand positioning is explained and communicated intemalIy. With service companies especially, an up-to-date and deep understanding of the brand by virtualIy all employees is critical. Relatively little research, however, has taken an intemal perspective to consider what steps firms should take to be sure their employees and marketing partners appreciate and understand basic branding notions, and how they can impact and help – or hurt- the equity of their particular brands.
There are a number of issues that arise in deciding what should be the essence of a brand and arriving at its positioning that are beyond the scope of this paper. Ina nutshell, brand positioning is all about creating the optimal location in the minds of existing and potential customers so that they think of the brand in the “right way.” Brand positioning requires thoughtful analysis of competitors and consumers to detem1ine the desired image for the brand to maximize its chances for success. Although a number of different approaches and methodologies for positioning are possible, they all typically define the nature of the target market and relevant competitors and the means by which the brand should be seen as similar as well as distinct from those competitors.
A closely related – but distinct – concept is core brand associations.
Brand associations are those consumer-derived associations that reflect the brand positioning. In other words, core brand associations are those brandassociations in the minds of consumers that are created or reinforced as a result of the firms’ marketing activity to convey the desired positioning. Theeffectiveness of the marketing programme will be the extent to which strong, favourable, and unique brand associations are created as a result of consumerexperiences with the marketing programme that reflect the intended positioning. In other words, if asked for their associations to the brand, consumers should not be expected to state associations that are literally consistent with the brand positioning. Rather, they should be expected to elicit associations that implicitly capture that meaning. For example, consumers are unlikely to state “authentic athletic perfonnance” when asked about Nike, but they would be expected to state associations that are consistent with this brand mantra and the corresponding positioning, e.g., “top athletes,” “Michael Jordan,” “innovative technology,” “Air cushioning,” “competition,” etc. Core brand associations may be tangible or intangible attributes or benefits, experiences, images – anything that can be stored in memory and linked to the brand that reflects its brand positioning. Core brand associations are important to define so that efforts to measure brand equity, e;g.,through brand tracking, are pointed in the right direction and able to tap into consumer brand meaning in a relevant way. Core brand associations may also help to suggest the proper language and phrasing to be used for the brand internally within the organization.
Regardless of which particular positioning is adopted or which core brand associations are defined, a number of steps must be taken to ensure that marketing activities and the marketing programme that is developed accurately reflect the intent of the positioning. The positioning decision is typically made by only a handful or subset of the many different people within the organization whose words and actions could potentially impact the destiny of brands in a noticeable or even appreciable fashion. We next tum to one communication device to facilitate how pervasively the organization adopts brand positioning concepts and therefore effectivelymanages brand equity.
Brand mantras are short three to five word phrases that capture the irrefutable essence or spirit of the brand positioning. Their purpose is to ensure that all employees within the organization as well as external marketing partners understand what the brand most fundamentally is to represent with consumers so that they can adjust their actions accordingly. Brand mantras can provide guidance as to what products to introduce under the brand, what ad campaigns to run, where and how the brand should be sold, and so on. The influence of brand mantras, however, can extend beyond these tactical concerns. Brand mantras may even guide the most seemingly unrelated or mundane decisions such as the look of a reception area, the way phones are answered, and so on. In effect, brand mantras are designed to create a mental filter to screen out “brandinappropriate” marketing activities or actions of any type that may have a bearing on customers’ impressions of a brand. Brand mantras are important for a number of reasons. First any time a consumer or customer encounters a brand – in any way, shape, or fonn – their knowledge about that brand may change, and as a result the equity of the brand is impacted. Given that a vast number of employees, either directly or indirectly, come into contact with consumers in a way that may affect consumer knowledge about the brand, it is important that their words and actions consistently reinforce and support the brand meaning. Many employees or marketing partners (e.g., ad agency members) who potentially could help or hurt brand equity may be far removed from the marketing strategy fonnulation and may not even recognize their role in impacting equity. The existence and communication of a brand mantra signals the importance to the organization of the brand and an understanding of its meaning as well as the crucial role of employees and marketing partners in its management It also provides memorable short-hand as to what are the crucial considerations of the brand that should be kept most salient and top-of-mind.