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Ahoy branding!

The strategic thinking behind a brand positioning or re-positioning exercise has now become a very sophisticated game.

The strategic thinking behind a brand positioning or re-positioning exercise has now become a very sophisticated game.

Traditionally, branding has been considered the exclusive domain of creative people in the advertising industry. It was the advertising agency which took care of a company's branding and re-branding, but in recent years the exercise has become much more sophisticated and fundamental to competitive advantage.

Branding is now the domain of strategists. Creating or re-positioning a brand is not simply a question of conjuring up a catchy advertising campaign, a logo and an advertising slogan. It is a strategic exercise which tries to understand what a brand actually is (what you communicate to the marketplace), what a brand involves (your promise of value to customers) and what a brand does (the customer experience).

Branding has come a long way since McElroy's memo of May 13, 1931, when, as an employee of Proctor & Gamble, he innovatively suggested the idea of branding Camay soap, but advertisers sometimes seem to be stuck in a time warp.

The strategic thinking behind a brand positioning or re-positioning exercise has now become a very sophisticated game. For instance, we now talk about "branding the customer experience" as a means of differentiating the product or service and enhancing the brand value. We also engage in very elaborate market analysis and research before even deciding on how to position, target and brand the product and service. Market segmentation has radically changed over the years to reflect more the way customers live their lives, rather than going by traditional segmentation variables such as age, gender or geography.

A brand allows customers to readily identify their favoured product and service in a busy and noisy marketplace and the seller to more easily communicate the advantages of the product and service.

If a brand strategy is properly pursued over time, the owner of the brand will end up with 'brand equity', a combination of brand awareness, brand loyalty, perceived brand quality, and brand association.

The local business community has become more brand savvy. It is not uncommon for businesses to first try to get their strategy right before contemplating the engagement of an advertising agency to plan and execute an advertising campaign. A brand is a promise of value to a customer and is judged by the customer on the basis of his or her experience of that particular product and service. This happens every single time the customer interacts with the organisation's people, processes or delivery of the product and service. Another way of explaining is by thinking of it as a series of "moments of truth" for the customer such as when a customer calls a company and gets lost in a maze of pre-recorded instructions (if you want this service press this number and then another number and then another, and God only knows when you will get to speak to somebody) or when a customer makes a suggestion on how to improve the service to a front-line employee and is met with a blank face or an uninterested expression.

In the words of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos: "It has always seemed to me that your brand is formed primarily not by what your company says about itself, but what the company does".

To a strategist a successful brand, such as Coca Cola, Google or Toyota, should be consistent, intentional, differentiated and valuable. Product Malta, for example, should consistently be "the heart of the Mediterranean" to visiting tourists, the level and type of customer service or the quality of the product intentional, the customer-value-proposition differentiated and the product perceived by the customer as being of value for the price being paid.

If we fail at any of these four pillars of branding we run the risk of breaking our brand promise and delivering to the customer either a random experience or a predicable experience, but not a branded experience. Put another way, overseas advertising by the MTA will generate interest in the short-term. If the brand promise is not kept, we will not be building a sustainable brand which will pay dividends in the years and decades to come.

I say "Ahoy branding!" Brand positioning has all too often been considered the exclusive domain of those creative people at advertising agencies when in practice it should have also involved the strategist. Think strategically when branding or re-positioning your product and service. Remember a brand should always be consistent, intentional, differentiated and valuable.

Mr Fenech is a partner at Fenci Consulting Ltd.

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