The 7 Universal Brand-Management Truths

No Matter the Product or Service, Knowing Your Team, Understanding the Competition Are Crucial

By Published on .

Nitish Gupta
Nitish Gupta
Coca-Cola today has a market capitalization in excess of $100 billion because the perceived value of its brand is significantly higher than the sum total of all the assets of the company.

In my years with Procter & Gamble and Heinz, I have come to realize that no matter what the product or service, the key principles for building a great brand remain the same. By staying true to these seven principles, a marketer can weather economic highs and lows while building an iconic brand for target consumers.

1. Leverage information via hypothesis-led data analysis. This refers to leveraging information and converting it into a forceful rationale to take the right action for the brand. Key to this is understanding the issue at hand by anchoring the hypothesis and then looking at the data or information to prove the hypothesis right or wrong.

The pain-relief medicine brand Aleve had been struggling with single-digit market share. The team anchored two hypotheses: Consumers were not aware of the brand Aleve, and consumers were aware but didn't want to try the brand. Through data mining, they found that 35% of heavy pain-relief medicine users had tried Aleve in the past year but had been using other brands as well. Thus the issue was clear that the brand had the awareness and trial but needed to drive loyalty. Then, based on the top attributes that drove preference for the brand (control over pain, and freedom to do things you want), they developed the "Dramatic Difference" campaign, resulting in an almost 10% to 20% increase in sales and shares hitting an all-time high.

2. Understand the competition and maintain your point of difference. Having a broader category-competitive understanding is important because that sets the context under which consumers will be viewing your brand. It's critical to maintain the point of difference for your brand and play to its strengths.

When Coke managed to get sponsorship rights for the 1996 Cricket World Cup in India, Pepsi gauged the competitive threat and stuck to its point of difference (youthful rebellion brand positioning). It launched the "nothing official about it" campaign during the Cricket World Cup, which actually helped Pepsi strengthen its leadership position in India.

3. Be consistent with your positioning over time and across platforms. For any brand, it's imperative to create a distinctive and meaningful position in the mind of consumers for the offering. So no matter what brand extension or innovation you are planning for your brand, ensure that it builds on and strengthens that distinctive positioning.

The Dove brand has extended across categories from skin care to hair care to others like deodorants by positioning itself on the soft/smooth platform and the fact that it contains moisturizing milk. Dove deodorants are positioned as leaving the underarms feeling soft and smooth. The brand has extended itself only in those categories where these soft/smooth and "contains moisturizing milk" equities are relevant, thus staying true to the positioning over time and across platforms, thus strengthening the brand.

4. Know what your target consumer wants. Evaluating all the marketing choices from the vantage point of the consumer will help you to connect with the consumer and genuinely make a positive difference in his or her life. It's important to understand both the stated and unstated needs -- the insights into your target consumers' lives.

Louis Vuitton was launched in the late 1800s by supplying LV-branded suitcases to travelers. Travel then was a luxury afforded to only the wealthiest. Thus the brand became a symbol of status -- it helped consumers showcase their differences from others. By leveraging this core human insight, LV was able to extend to shoes, apparel and bags. It has became one of the most extended brands but has suffered almost no diminishing returns. The brand was positioned not just on a functional need (like storage), but instead it tapped into deeper insights to connect with consumers.

5. Manage budgets with a "scarcity" mentality. Working with a scarcity mentality will help you maximize returns for every dollar spent by answering the question, "Is this the best way to spend dollars on marketing my brand, or is this money better spent elsewhere to generate greater returns?"

Starbucks, instead of spending money on TV advertising, clusters an area with its stores, increasing total revenue and market share. This was contrary to what established retailing houses did, which was to avoid placing stores near each other so as not to cannibalize sales at existing outlets. For Starbucks, doing so resulted in reduced supply costs and made management of the stores cheaper, which more than made up for sales lost to cannibalization. Thus, funding for expansion from internal cash flow was a judicious use of money. Until recently, Starbucks spent just 1% of its revenues on marketing and advertising (compared to more than 10% for companies of the same size).

6. Get the right pricing that offers value in the eyes of consumers. Pricing determines the value that your consumers get for your offering: Perceived consumer value equals perceived brand benefit/price. Thus it's critical to decide the pricing strategy for your brand so that there is a net positive value for your consumers.

Gillette's pricing strategy for its flagship men's razors and blades brand focuses on regularly upgrading them, and hence pricing up on their newest offerings. The innovations are consumer significant, so that they are ready to pay a premium to upgrade to the latest offering. Right from their twin blade to triple-blade Mach3 to Mach3 Turbo (with vibrating motor) to Gillette Fusion (with an additional trimming blade), their upgrades have been significant, and as a result they've been able to charge a more than 10% premium with them.

7. Motivate the team via thought leadership. Building a successful brand requires dedicated support, not just from the leader but from the whole multifunctional team -- sales, research, R&D, finance. To do the same, the brand leader needs to have a clear vision for the brand and enlist the team toward the same.

When it launched, Cosmopolitan had been positioned on a broad "for the family" platform. However by the mid-1950s it was suffering from declining readership. In the 1960s Helen Gurley Brown took charge. She sharply defined the target audience (progressive, career-oriented and open-minded women) and then rallied the team to deliver a product that would appeal to the target. They came up with innovations like a glossy format, inspirational articles and writings, and talking frankly and honestly about various issues and needs of women. The first print run of about 350,000 was sold out by the end of publication day, and the Cosmopolitan of today was born.

Nitish Gupta is a Dubai-based regional brand manager at Heinz handling marketing and brand management for ketchup and condiment brands in the Middle East and Africa markets. Previously, he worked in Singapore for Procter & Gamble as a brand manager handling beauty care brands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australasia and India. He can be reached at
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