Consider your brand’s opacity to develop a winning brand strategy

In an earlier post I noted the crucial role of brand strategy in brand building and described it as “the means by which we associate a brand with a compelling promise of value in the minds of customers” and shape customer demand.

This definition poses two important questions:

  1. What are the tools in the brand strategy toolbox?
  2. Are these tools equally valuable for brands regardless of the context in which brand building must take place?

While an exhaustive review of this subject is not possible in a single post, my intention is to highlight the important tools in this toolbox and their potential utility for brand building within two different business-to-consumer arenas:

  • Packaged goods brands
  • Services brands

Packaged goods brands are opaque

Brand strategy for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands has historically focused on creating, delivering and communicating the compelling value desired by customers through the so-called marketing mix: product, pricing, place and communication strategies.

These strategies associate a brand with its compelling promise of value in the minds of customers and drive the purchase and consumption of the products that are at the heart of their attraction to these brands.

A key consideration in formulating brand strategy for CPG brands continues to be their opaque nature. They are opaque because the manufacturing process of CPG brands is hidden from customers and removed from their consumption process by a long supply chain–customers cannot easily perceive the difference in efficacy between one brand and another during the purchase and consumption process. Universal advances in manufacturing and product formulation during the past ten years have all but ensured the commoditization of many CPG brands at the product level because product performance differences between competing brands are often difficult for consumers to detect. That’s why product innovation continues to receive such a high priority in leading CPG companies such as P&G.

So how do customers perceive the difference?

It is largely through the brand’s communication–the voice of the brand–that customers can perceive these differences.  That is why brand managers in the CPG industry must develop such a thorough knowledge of branding. It is because of their expertise that these marketers can ensure customers can hear the distinguishing claims of their brands and are able to perceive them during the purchase and consumption process.

Dove is a case in point

Dove’s packaging informs and reminds customers of the brand’s difference at the product attribute level–one quarter moisturizing cream—which in turn allows customers to conclude that Dove soap cleans without drying your skin. Although this premise is central to Dove’s brand proposition, by itself it is no longer sufficient in the face of universal product enhancements by the other major players in the industry.  That is why Dove has chosen to focus so much of its branding effort in traditional and contemporary media platforms on linking the abstract benefits of the brand with a higher social purpose—to help to bring about “a world where every girl grows up with the self-esteem she needs to reach her full potential, and where every woman enjoys feeling confident in her own beauty.”

While it is true that every part of the marketing mix plays a role in shaping customer demand and can have a branding effect, communication strategies need to play a prominent role in the design of brand strategy if CPG brands are to be successful in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace.

Services brands are transparent

Brand strategy for services brands has historically focused on creating, delivering and communicating the compelling value desired by customers through the so-called services marketing mix and it includes four additional strategies to those used to formulate brand strategy for CPG brands: people, process, physical evidence and information technology strategies.

Why this difference?

The transparent nature of service brands means that most customers can perceive distinguishing characteristics of a brand during both the production and consumption process. Unlike the opaqueness of CPG brands, the production and consumption of services brands is inseparable. It literally takes place in the full view of its customers. It’s transparent.

Because of the inherent intangibility and inseparability of services brands, the services marketing mix must include the four additional strategies in its toolbox. It is through these strategies that services marketers are able to ensure the consistent quality of their services offering and better manage customers’ perceptions of their brand’s distinguishing characteristics. People strategy and the extent to which front-line services interactions are supported through enabling business processes and information technologies, are crucial in this regard.

This is why marketers of services brands often say, “our culture is our brand.”

The Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is a case in point 

Renowned for its leadership in transforming the hospitality industry through its unique focus on offering only experiences of exceptional quality, Four Seasons makes this statement about its service culture on its website:

“Our objective is to be recognized as the company that manages the finest hotels, resorts and residence clubs wherever we locate. We create properties of enduring value using superior design and finishes, and support them with a deeply instilled ethic of personal service. Doing so allows Four Seasons to satisfy the needs and tastes of our discriminating customers, and to maintain our position as the world’s premier luxury hospitality company.”

Given their artfully conceived brand strategies it’s no wonder that both Dove and Four Seasons continue to win in the marketplace.

The next time you find yourself tasked with conceiving a brand strategy you now have a better idea of some of the important tools in the brand strategy toolbox and also their potential utility for brand building within different arenas. Most important, you now know that it is useful to consider your brand’s opacity if you want to develop a winning brand strategy.

While this post has considered only two examples of brands at opposite ends  of the brand opacity continuum, contemplating where your brand fits on this continuum will help you to develop your marketing mix to build your brand and business.

About ashleykonson

STRATEGY CONSULTING | EXECUTIVE COACHING | CORPORATE TRAINING | KEYNOTE SPEAKING | Ashley Konson is the Managing Partner of Global Brand Leaders Inc., a new kind of brand consulting company dedicated to making brands and their teams leaders across the globe. He is a Brand Leader, Business Consultant and Award-Winning Educator, and a recognized thought leader and fervent advocate of the premise that strong brands and businesses achieve and sustain their market positions because they are strong Inside out™.
This entry was posted in Brand Strategy, Consumer Goods Brands, Services Brands and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Consider your brand’s opacity to develop a winning brand strategy

  1. Amani says:

    Great blog. I just recently started following your blog and I was wondering if you can direct me to blog posts that you might have made in the past that discuss how to increase brand awareness for a startup companies.

  2. ashleykonson says:

    Thanks for your comment Amani. Feel free to contact me directly using the contact information at the top of each page.

  3. That’s a great way to think about product vs service brands. Very insightful!

  4. Ashley – great post. Was struck by the 2 examples delivering “a promise of value” by creating differentiated social (Dove) or service (Four Season) attributes. Sadly, many marketers reach for price when they get into trouble believing that creating a perception of “value” around price alone will help. As many CPG, telcos and hospitality brands can attest, that’s not a promise you can extricate your brand from once you’ve begun.

    • ashleykonson says:

      Hello Hilton, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I’m happy if you found some value in it.

      Yes, the price game often creates a downward spiral.

  5. ogolo rachel says:

    Thanks Ashley, I have learnt something new today.

  6. Devesh Verma says:

    Good one Ashley, I had always known about the extended P’s for the services industry. However, you brought in the concept of opacity to better explain the difference between Product and Services marketing. Thank you!

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