Brands need a platform–but which one is best?

In an earlier post I described how my friend Mike’s brand building efforts found focus after he had created a Brand Platform for his cycling store.  The payoff has been remarkable–achieving congruence across the marketing mix has led to higher levels of employee engagement and customer loyalty, which in turn has resulted in a 30% increase in sales in the past nine months. So much for the current recession!

What is a brand platform?

A brand platform is an internal document that makes explicit the brand’s raison d’être.

Its purpose is to foster the cross-functional cohesion that is so crucial for identifying and cultivating the company-wide business practices integral to the brand’s success in the marketplace.

There are numerous brand platform formats in use today. This normally-copyrighted intellectual property is one means by which branding consultants and advertising agencies make claim to their superior know-how in this area. Most platforms take the form of a succinct and carefully crafted articulation of a brand strategy that makes three elements explicit to all stakeholders (the owner, the employees, suppliers etc.):

  • The target customers that a business is choosing to serve
  • The compelling value that they are seeking
  • The justification for why the business can win these customers.

 Some platforms worth knowing about

My intention is to highlight a few brand platforms that are worth knowing about given their different utility for inspiring the company-wide business practices integral to the brand’s success in the marketplace.

 Brand Positioning

Still the most widely used brand platform, Brand Positioning’s roots stem from an article published by Jack Trout in 1969 and to a series of articles published by Al Ries and Jack Trout in Advertising Age called “The Positioning Era.”  Formalized in their classic book first published in 1981, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, the authors describe how positioning should be used as a communication tool to reach target customers in a crowded marketplace. This new concept had a profound impact on Madison Avenue advertising executives and positioning became a key focal point for their work in developing marketing communications.

Use of this concept has evolved over the years, and while it still plays a key role in the world of marketing communications, its primary purpose today is to make explicit the strategy of a brand and to guide the execution of this strategy through a relevant marketing mix. My preferred version of this format is that used by the Marketing Faculty of the Kellogg School of Business and its excellent book Kellogg on Marketing, 2nd Edition, by Alice M. Tybout and Bobby J. Calder.  The major strength of the Brand Positioning platform is that it makes explicit:

  • Target customers and their rational and abstract goals in consuming the brand and category
  • The competitive frame of reference
  • The brand’s point(s) of difference from alternatives
  • The reason(s) to believe that the brand can rightfully make claim to this difference.

Brand Identity

The Brand Identity brand platform is an increasingly more popular framework for articulating brand strategy. Jean Noel Kaferer and David Aaker, pioneers of this concept in the 1980’s and 1990’s, continue to be fervent advocates of the importance of this framework for bolstering the efforts of Brand Managers to craft richer, more compelling brand platforms given the forces feeding commoditization in today’s hypercompetitive marketplace.

While the primary focus of Brand Positioning is external–it comprises elements that help to establish how the brand will win in the minds of customers against the competition–Brand Identity is internal because its focus is solely on the brand and how it will forge a value proposition and relationship with target customers.  That is why both Kapferer and Aaker make the case that brand platforms today should include both Brand Identity and Brand Positioning.

The major strength of the Brand Identity platform is that it allows for a richer articulation of all associations the brand aspires to create in the minds of customers and makes explicit the role of the brand’s culture, values and other important organizational attributes in creating compelling value.

I encourage readers of this blog to deepen their knowledge of the conceptual frameworks pioneered by these authors. This will allow you to fully comprehend the power of Brand Identity working hand-in-hand with Brand Positioning for inspiring the company-wide business practices integral to the brand’s success in the marketplace

Brand Vision

Brand Vision as a brand platform is a more recent invention.

The chief architect of this brand platform is Leslie de Chernatony and the key premise behind this concept is that to thrive in today’s marketplace, brands must meet the needs of all stakeholders­–with an emphasis on employees­–not just customers.   The groundbreaking work of James C. Collins and Jerry I Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies–which found a strong core ideology to be a crucial distinguishing factor of enduring great companies–is generally credited for being the source of inspiration for this brand platform.

The Brand Vision platform builds on the organizational facets of the brand identified in the Brand Identity platform in two important ways:

  • It asks brand teams to consider bold, challenging and welcomed lateral views of the future business environment–the envisioned future–that the brand may help to bring about.  The central idea here is that brands can play an active role in shaping their future business environments rather than being passive players within an industry.  Apple is an example.
  • It asks business teams to consider how the world will be a better place as a consequence of the brand­–to define the brand purpose beyond simply increasing shareholder wealth or profit– and to make explicit its raison d’être and the compelling value that it provides for all stakeholders.

The major strength of the Brand Vision platform, with its focus on defining the envisioned future for a brand, the brand purpose and brand values, is the inspiration and direction that it provides for employees.

So which brand platform is best for you?

I believe that most brand platform formats in use today provide useful frameworks for articulating your brand strategy regardless of the industry in which you compete. However, it is always worthwhile to consider the particular strengths of any brand platform based on the nature of your specific brand-building challenge. Some brand platforms are superior to others given their advantages for encouraging the leadership and business practices to stimulate a more potent people strategy for your brand–if this is important for achieving a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Most important of all, remember that the absence of a brand platform makes it extremely difficult to foster the cross-functional cohesion crucial for inspiring the company-wide business practices integral to the brand’s success in the marketplace. My friend Mike’s experience is testimony to the payoff that can result for your brand and business if you formalize your brand strategy in a thoughtfully conceived brand platform.

If you enjoyed this post then you should also read the posts below which have received acclaim from readers of this blog.

Mike’s challenge for building a strong brand and business

What secret distinguishes brands that are strong from those that are not?

What is brand strategy?

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™.
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5 Responses to Brands need a platform–but which one is best?

  1. Pingback: » Do you consider your social emblem? Income At Home

  2. Good post Ashley. The first platform identified above is indeed the default, in one form or another, and I believe most people who use it get it passed down to them at some point. Then when they start their own shops they change the labels but retain the ingredients in an effort to ‘differentiate’. I’m sure the irony of that is obvious.

    I think the more salient point is that, to practice in this area, people really need to READ THE LITERATURE. I’m sure that 98% of folks in creative industries who profess to understand brand would not recognize any of the names mentioned above. Ask anyone where the term ‘value chain’ comes from and you’ll see what I mean. So good on you for shining a light in the source of these ideas/platforms.

  3. Edward Burghard says:

    Great review. At P&G we simply call it brand building, and it included everything you mentioned. Another thought-leader I would suggest people get familiar with is Kevin Lane Keller.

  4. Pingback: Do you think about your social brand? « Metro CSM Metro CSM

  5. Lana G. says:

    It looks like the three described brand platforms escalate from making a company good, to making it great, to making the world a better place.
    Great brand platform description and comparison, Ashley! Extremely helpful for our B2B company that is trying to articulate the brand strategy internally and externally.

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