A lot has changed in recent times. People are getting a lot more conscious about happenings around them. Around the world, and even here in Nigeria, people are a lot more interested in brand reviews, testimonials and even customer complaints. They are increasingly forming a large part of the information that helps consumers decide for or against a brand.
One may ask “Should what someone thinks about me as a brand matter?” “Shouldn’t people experience me to form an opinion about me?” These are valid questions. However, when it comes to brand and brand building, it does not quite work rationally. Everything you do as a brand will have an outcome and an impact.
What is a brand and why should I be so conscious of my dealings with people around me? You must never forget that above all else, a brand is a promise kept. You become a brand when you appeal to someone. The appeal is a promise and for as long as the promise is kept, you would have a positive review from the person relating with you.
From my Marketing 101, anything can be a brand. Just anything you can offer to someone else who is willing to accept it and even pay a fee for it is a brand. It can be a place, property, an organisation, goods & services, experience, information, idea, event, person – just anything you can create value from and sell to a willing individual or business.
Let’s get a bit more academic and look at a couple of definitions for the word brand.
From a traditional point of view, American Marketing Association sees “A brand as a name, term, symbol, or design, or a combination of these, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or a group of sellers and to differentiate them from competitors. This speaks strongly to the fact that a brand needs to be identifiable and differentiated from others in its domain. As you know, there is hardly anything you want to produce and sell that is common to you only, even ideas and information. So, it is critical how you present yours to your audience in the market place.
However, Modern Marketing seems to approach the definition of a brand from a more emotional perspective. “A Brand is a promise made to the consumers to deliver certain tangible and intangible values each time he or she makes contact with the object of the brand – product, services, experience etc”. This speaks about a brand as a relationship and I personally believe that if we appreciate a brand as a promise that must be kept, our views and outlook on branding would be different. It would positively impact the efforts we make to build the brand.
No wonder, Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon defined a brand as “what people say about you when you are not in the room”. Brands must understand that they won’t always be in the room to defend themselves. People will judge you as a brand by what their experience with you and what they’ve heard or read about you. This reminds me of a Yoruba adage “don’t do is don’t say”. If you don’t want people to say negative things about you, then don’t do what would make them say bad things about you. At least make some effort.
This then brings me to the subject of this article – brand perception. We had a very stimulating discuss with my MSc students on this subject. We reviewed several definitions of the phrase ‘brand perception’ and it became clear to us that most brands are not able to evolve to what they were set up to be in their mission statement because they just would not pay attention to the true meaning of brand perception thereby not fully hannessing the benefits of positive brand perception.
What is brand perception?
Let’s start with this image from Premium Partners. ‘Perception is reality”. We all perceive things differently– same glass of water can be half full or half empty. Guess what, they are both correct. The Fox News brand offers a perfect example of brand perception. To Fox News brand loyalists, the Fox News brand is perceived as “fair and balanced.” To people who don’t like the Fox News brand, it’s perceived as quite the opposite.
These are very good examples of brand perception but does it really define the subject? I do not think so. What you think is good for you, may not be the reality. Since brands cannot control what people think or say about them, it is their core duty to ensure that the right message is put out on the brand as regularly as possible. If you don’t tell your story, people will attempt to tell your story for you the way they best understand it.
We all have great admiration for some brands that we have never experienced e.g. Rolls Royce. For many of us our views are based on what we have heard or read about these brands and they are valid, very valid. “The reality is what we take those testimonials to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality that we live in.” – David Bohm.
For me, brand perception is the intersect between brand promise and brand experience. You cannot have a valid perception on a thing without these two elements being present – brand promise and brand experience. The brand is the promise it makes and the experience is the extent to which that promise is kept. When fully and consistently kept, we say the perception is good and it’s otherwise if not kept at all or kept randomly.
Brands make promises as captured in their brand positioning statement. This is fine but only to the extent that they keep the promise. Brand positioning is a core component of brand development. As a value creation consultant, I advise brands to ensure their proposition statement clearly identify the benefits that a consumer derives from relating with the brand. A good proposition should not focus only on the benefits that a brand offers, it should include the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) which includes benefits that no other brand can provide.
So what is a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?
It is a statement that describes how your brand is different and hopefully better than the all other alternatives in the domain of your existence. It takes something that is unique about you and explains how it would benefit the audience that it is targeted at, using simple and emotionally connecting words or phrases.
Many brands use their USPs as their slogans or payoff lines so that they can put them in front of as many prospective customers as possible. This has been the practice from old and still works today. What examples can you think of? At CPPL, we say that we ‘Create value through consumer insights’. Brands like Avis says “We’re number two. We try harder.” The ‘We Try Harder’ campaign was so successful, Avis’ market share went from 11% to 35% in just four years.
FedEx Corporation used to say, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” FedEx no longer uses this slogan, but while it lasted it was perhaps the perfect example of a great USP. In a few words, FedEx gives its customers the guarantee that it will deliver their packages safely and on time.
The slogan actually delivers not one but two benefits: the security of knowing that the package will be delivered as promised, and the ability to save time by getting it there overnight. Sadly, FedEx has since replaced it with the slogan, “The World on Time,” which is far less powerful because it doesn’t contain a USP.
Any Nigerian examples? Yes, there are lots of very exciting taglines by Nigerian brands. Innoson Motors says “we will take you there…” MTN, everywhere you go. Fidelity Bank “we are fidelity, we keep our word”.
There is really no formula for creating an inspiring slogan. However, you must make it catchy, well-crafted and bearing the brand in mind. After all, slogans are created to communicate the values and mission of the brand.
Customers, not companies, own brand perception. Brand perception is what customers believe a product or service represents, not what the company owning the brand says it does. Brand perception comes from customer use, experience, functionality, reputation and word of mouth recommendation – on social media channels as well as face to face.
There is the reality of a new normal – social distancing and the changing dynamics of transactions especially for businesses that rely on physical contact and in-store customers, for instance retail and hospitality. While specific solutions may vary from business to business, there are some general approaches that can be deployed and adapted as necessary.
SMEs need to re-strategize using the instrumentality of branding as one of the tools to navigate and be relevant in the new normal. There is the need for some sort of “rebranding” or effective branding for those who had not been on a strong branding trajectory before now. The soul of business is its patronage – consumers, and the heart of branding is being able to attract, connect, and retain patronage. Herein lies the importance and benefits of brand perception and business development.
It is therefore extremely important that we pay attention to our brand perception – strictly speaking, from the point of view of the customer. We can say communicate what we think we are but what the customer thinks is what really matters. That is their reality. People talk about Rolex watch as if they own one when they do not. This is because of the image they have created in the minds of both real and prospecting customers. What of Rolls Royce? How many people own one, yet the image is so strong out there. This is because of the good work that has been done – “Strive for perfection in everything you do”. Everything about a Rolls Royce speaks to this. For Rolex, it’s “A crown for Every Achievement”.
In conclusion, I would like to point out that we really can’t define a brand in a few lines. We can only try to capture the essence of a brand. Brands are conditional, intangible and legal assets for an individual or business. They act like signals of perceived value to all the stakeholders. The perceived value (benefits) may range from functional to psychological associations. This signal is influenced by the interaction between the brand and her audiences through the different efforts the brand makes to evolve the appropriate level of emotions in their customers.
As we know, the meaning of value can be subjective and personal; it is shaped by the interaction of brand and stakeholders over a period of time and driven by the vision of the organization. The challenge facing most brands is how to minimize the gap between brand identity and perception.
Having a positive brand perception is a shortcut to success. If customers believe in your brand they will be more confident in purchasing your products. Other businesses will be more interested in partnering with you. It will be easier to launch new products. You will have loyal followers and this is good business for you.
The ultimate goal of brand perception programs is to develop brand equity. Brand equity is the extra value a company gets from a product with a recognizable name, as opposed to a generic equivalent. You want to get a high level of brand equity so that your customers, when confronted with a buying decision choice, feel more confident and comfortable to proceed with your brand.
Indeed, brand perception is everything. If you get it right, you are in for good business whether as a personal or business brand. As a value creation consultant, I would always advise my client to pay attention to what the customer is saying about the brand. Perception is reality.
Ikechukwu Kalu is the Lead Consultant at Customer Passion Point Limited (CPPL), a firm of Value Creation Consultants providing Marketing, SME Consulting, and Training. He is being a part of the development of great brands across Manufacturing, Telecommunications, and Financial Services. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, London, a Member of Nigerian Institute of Marketing; an Adjunct Lecturer at Pan Atlantic University and a Resource Person at the Lagos Business School. Contact: email@example.com and call or WhatsApp on 08032002458