Procter & Gamble has had the reputation as the premier brand builder over the years. Their methods have been copied by many companies, not only in consumer packaged goods, but across a wide variety of industries. The company has a full dedication to providing its consumers with brands and not just products. What does that mean? It means that they are committed to establishing their products and their performance as promising something specific to consumers and then delivering on that promise. Consumers get a product that not only works and works better than most, but also the confidence that the product will do exactly what is claimed.
There are a number of significant lessons that have been learned over the course of a 23 year career at Procter & Gamble like I had. This is part of a series of articles which will share some of those lessons.
Here are some thoughts about brand building:
A great brand can be in any industry.
As I said above, it isn’t just consumer packaged goods brands like Tide, Olay, Pampers and Crest that have recognized the value of brand building instead of product selling. Some categories may lend themselves to branding better than others, but almost any product offers an opportunity to create a frame of mind that’s unique. Nike, for example, is leveraging the emotional connection that people have with sports and fitness. In the technology industry, most people do not know what Intel processors do or why they are superior to their competition. All they know is that they want to own a computer with “Intel inside.” And are willing to pay more for it.
A great brand understands what and who it is.
To build a great brand you have to understand who you are. Go to consumers and find out what they like or dislike about the brand and what they associate as the very core of the brand concept. That gets you started. To keep a brand alive over the long haul, to keep it vital, you’ve got to do something new and reenergize it. It has to be related to the brand’s core position. Many mistakes are made by trying to make the brand something that it is not and more importantly, what customers do not believe it is.
A great brand is relevant.
Knowing oneself leads to establishing relevance. It meets what people want and performs the way people expect. The delivery of the message may change to stay current but the basic promise stays unchanged and relevant. Consumers are looking for something that has lasting value. There’s a quest for quality, not quantity.
A great brand changes the game for the entire category.
Procter & Gamble brands have dramatically changed their categories – Tide in fabric care, Crest in dental care, Olay in beauty care, Pampers in baby care. Other brands like Disney, Apple, Nike, and Starbucks have made it an explicit goal to be the protagonists for each of their entire categories. Disney is the protagonist for fun family entertainment and family values. Apple wasn’t just a protagonist for the computer revolution but a protagonist for the individual becoming more productive, informed, and contemporary. They have changed information flow with the IPhone and IPad. A great brand raises the bar — it adds a greater sense of purpose to the experience.
A great brand capitalizes on emotions.
The common ground among companies that have built great brands is not just performance. Emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions. Not many people discuss the benefits of the high performance Mercedes engines. But they do picture themselves sitting behind the wheel of this luxury automobile. A brand reaches out with that kind of powerful connecting experience. It’s an emotional connection point that transcends the product. And transcending the product is the brand.
A great brand has design consistency.
Fashion brands may be the most obvious example. Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, for example. have a consistent look and feel and a high level of design integrity. They refuse to follow any fashion trend that doesn’t fit their vision. They’re able to pull it off from one season to the next. Strong brands like Levi’s, Gap, Disney and Procter & Gamble consumer brands have a design that supports the brand image in the minds of the customer.
A great brand operates for the long term.
Many of Procter & Gamble brands are close to a century old and in the case of Ivory soap, one hundred and fifty years old. These brands are based on solid value propositions. Conversely, in the past two decades, many companies stopped building strong brands. As a result, there were a lot of products with very little differentiation. All the consumers saw was who had the lowest price. Many of these products are off the shelves and many companies are out of business.
There is a key lesson from Procter & Gamble who have a stable of billion, yes billion dollar world wide brands. In an age of accelerating product proliferation, enormous customer choice, and growing clutter and clamor in the marketplace, a great brand is a necessity, not a luxury. If you take a long-term approach, a great brand can travel worldwide, transcend cultural barriers, speak to multiple consumer segments simultaneously, create economies of scale, and earn higher margins over the long term.
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