Brand managers and branding
In most corporations marketing responsibility for brands resides at two levels. At the corporate level, the responsibility for fundamental strategic development of the brand-basic decisions about product development and design, pricing and distribution-is usually assumed by a core executive group, with the help of departments dedicated to specific functions, such as research and development, product development, product design, distribution management and consumer marketing.
Day-to-day responsibility, however, belongs to the brand manager, who typically functions within the marketing department. This person is responsible for managing all individual components of a brand and for combining them in a way that will attract buyers.
Designing and maintaining brands at both the strategic and the tactical levels is called "branding," the creation of a unique, positive reputation for a given product. When a customer purchases a branded product or service or does business with a branded organization, he is buying what amounts to a group of perceptions created by the branding process. The process of branding involves a continuous interaction between the strategic and tactical brand programs and the final consumer perception of these.
The brand manager does his or her best to channel and control these consumer perceptions, but realistically, much of this perception formation by customers and potential customers is out of the brand manager's hands.
A brand image is the impression people carry around in their heads about a given brand. It is the information a person has collected and distilled, consciously or unconsciously, about an individual brand. It is what remains after a person has been exposed to strategic branding activities, personal experience, word of mouth, promotion and advertising.
Advertising is a controllable means of creating images about brands. But advertising is only a part of how information about a brand is communicated. Other elements include the brand name, product functionality, pricing and distribution characteristics. Relatively few brands are distinctive solely because of the content of their advertising; in most cases, advertising serves instead as a vehicle to communicate the other elements of brand distinctiveness.
In some product categories brands exist without special distinctiveness. These are called parity products. Many nationally distributed brands of beer, for example, fall into this category. But such brands gain distinctiveness through pervasive market presence. Budweiser has overwhelming retail presence and allegiance because it has earned general customer acceptance simply because of the satisfaction it is known to give. Such brands also depend to an important degree on high brand exposure through tactical advertising and promotion to sustain their market share.
The most compelling basis for brand distinctiveness is almost inevitably intrinsic brand characteristics rather than the extrinsic emotional attractions generated by advertising. It is usually the job of effective advertising only to provide a tactical basis of brand distinctiveness built into the product.
Focus on advertising
In spite of the fact that advertising is only one component in a collection of ongoing marketing activities, advertising has a dominant role when marketers think about branding and brand management. There are three major reasons for this.
First, advertising reaches consumers and potential customers directly with a message designed to interest and influence them, independent of actual contact with the product. Second, advertising has the potential to become a sales multiplier. Finally, advertising is the easiest, fastest and least expensive to change of the factors that go into branding.
For all of these reasons, advertising is likely to receive far more attention in the process of brand building than it may deserve on the basis of clear sales results. Only rarely does advertising actually expand the market in a mature product category such as bath soap, cigarettes or beer. Its function typically is to allocate share of the market among competing brands, to attract new consumers at the expense of a competitor in the same product category.
The net effect of branding activity is to attract consumers to individual brands. This is why brands and branding are of such concern to marketers. Successful marketing depends on creating a continuing excellence in all branding activities. Marketers that try to rest on their laurels are doomed to failure in the intense competition of brand marketing.