Brand equity is the commercial value that derives from consumer perception of the brand name of a particular product or service, and not from the product or service itself (Shopify.ca). This emphasis on perception helps explain why some brands are perceived as intended and others take on public attributes that were unintended.
Branding is often polarizing. Servicing one niche demographic may preclude being able to target another demographic.
Brand equity becomes a particularly challenging concern when performing in novel and complex spaces. In the competition of the marketplace (where product/ service offerings are abundant and differentiation is often perceived to be minimal) the goal is to stand out.
Innovative offerings require unique positioning to differentiate itself from the rest of the market.
Unfortunately this uniqueness is often misunderstood as the marketplace seeks to understand the product/ service offerings. The resulting comparisons often yield an understanding of the offerings that was different from intended. The features and functions that do not fall into preexisting categories are challenged to prove their value but are often found to represent blasphemous deviations from existing norms in the perception of the customer.
Complex Customer Groups
Another challenge brand equity often faces is trying to carry out too much with too little space. A case example includes a hypothetical company that operates in a competitive industry. Brand equity emphasizes attempts to join the perceptions of the customer, employee, investor, and community stakeholder but finds that there are potential contradictions in how the brand is perceived.
A brand’s over-identification with specific demographic can impact the brand’s perceived relevance to other groups.
Unified Brand Management
The brand characteristics that drive value for the investor (profit) are not necessarily the same characteristics that drive value for the customer (quality). Similarly, the characteristics that drive employee performance (competition or goal achievement) are not necessarily those that are of concern to the community stakeholder (sustainability or the environment). In an ideal situation the company is able to harness these complex interests to drive stakeholder value across these complex customer groups without losing value.
Premium pricing can have a paradoxical effect of excluding entry into other categories as the product/ service positioning becomes fixed.
In order to support aligned perception of the company’s brand additional campaigns, marketing, and community based messaging are often deployed. Brand equity begins to take on other characteristics to include the company’s public relationships, conduct, and integrity.
Each unit of information that deviates from the intended branding message interferes with the already established image(s) of the company’s offerings.
As this happens the public’s perception of the brand’s integrity changes.
Stakeholder’s representing or associated with the company brand are watched closely. Improprieties and poor judgment on the part of a core stakeholder can reflect on to the integrity of the company’s brand. The resulting brand equity will often include the extra characteristics harvested from the stakeholder’s actions.
Brand integrity is viewed from the combined total of relationships held by the business. This includes how vendors are treated and whether these relationships are aligned with the brand’s positioning.
Branding and Growth Cycles
Company branding is also challenges as a company moves from a startup phase to the growth phase. Customer characteristics and product/ service demands change as the business model matures. Messages that may have been accepted during a startup phase (“we need more profits!”) will be less accommodated by socially conscious stakeholders in the growth phase.
Understanding these shifts in customer values is crucial if the product/ service requirements are to stay relevant and the company brand is to stay attractive.
After a while the unique branding messages delivered and tailored for each stakeholder group will begin to merge. Instead of customers appreciating the larger brand’s purpose and impact the new information creates a conflict for the customer.
The reasons why they invested in the brand in the first place may no longer be justified. This fallout is particularly likely as the extreme voices from each branding group’s messages are heard across the marketplace. Instead of the complexity being appreciated it is viewed as violating core values and principles of a specific stakeholder group.
Prioritization of voice is not the same thing as magnitude. Whereas exaggerated brand voices overshadow others prioritization seeks to influence how the others are integrated and interpreted.
Brand Messaging Conflicts
The key to managing a company’s brand is learning what messages are important to which group and decided what is the most appropriate delivery mechanism. Delivering controversial brand messaging that may be important to investors to the stakeholder group concerned with environmental impact may create more confusion than clarity. Although parallel campaigns to strengthen the alignment between brand messages is essential to effective brand management it is not enough. A systems thinking approach is needed.
A brand that is identified with one characteristic can create the perception of conflict with other characteristics.
A systems thinking approach recognizes that the corporation’s responsibility is complex. This complexity crosses social, environmental, financial, and regulatory domains with the risk of conflict surfacing regularly. It is how these conflicts are managed that will decide how the company’s brand is perceived. The brand equity that results can decide the company’s future.
Understanding how the different stakeholder values and interests are related is the first step. This information can be used to develop a graphical depiction of that relationship and used in training, communication, and branding efforts. Discussions should surround how each brand value contributes to the larger whole as well as how the potential conflicts are managed.
|Primary Values||Message||Route||Value Ranking|
|Stakeholder Group #1|
|Stakeholder Group #2|
|Stakeholder Group #3|
|Stakeholder Group #4|
Policies, procedures, and guidelines are also needed to insure that communication, training, recruitment, and research & development efforts are aligned with the values hierarchy. Any possible deviations should be evaluated carefully and only pursued if the company is able to effectively manage the perception of the conflict. Social media is a great place to gather information and feedback to evaluate if the company’s complex branding approach is working.
How is your company managing conflicting values perceived in the public brand? Share your comments below.
Travis Barker, MPA GCPM
Innovate Vancouver is a business development & consulting service and technology startup located in Vancouver, BC. Contact Innovate Vancouver to help with your new project. Innovate Vancouver also gives back to the community through business consulting services. Contact us for more details.