This year's top four branding techniques - so far
The top four branding techniques currently in use have been highlighted and examined in a recently published study from brand marketing consultancy, Prophet. The trends suggest that traditional brand marketing is in danger of becoming stale without continued innovation.
According to Prophet, the days are long gone in which a brand strategy simply equated to a new name, a new look, or a new advertising campaign. Even tried-and-tested approaches such as brand extensions (e.g. new products and add-ons) are rapidly becoming stale ideas.
In its study of current branding techniques, Prophet identified four branding trends that are reshaping the practice. "Branding has evolved into an exciting and business-driven discipline that goes well beyond product or service," explained Prophet's CEO, Michael Dunn. "It now taps into increasingly unconventional messaging vehicles, and its influence pervades the entire organisation."
Top trends The branding trends that Prophet says market leaders are most successfully leveraging include:
- Advertainment More credible and entertaining than infomercials, "branded entertainment" is one of the latest, most intriguing developments in branding. Advertainment allows advertisers to gain viewers' attention more subtly than through traditional commercials, by weaving the brand into storylines of movies and television shows.
For example, American Express has employed this approach in the US by integrating its brand into NBC's reality series, 'The Restaurant'. Not only is it a commercial sponsor but visual cues play up the brand (such patrons flashing their AmEx card), and the brand is also incorporated into the programme's dialogue; when facing a cash-flow problem the restaurant owner is heard telling his book keeper to "call our account rep at American Express" to get a line of credit.
- Buzz branding Especially for Generation 'Y' (ages 8-27), traditional media holds less sway in building a brand than other, less tangible approaches. Creating a 'brand buzz' through peer influence or word of mouth via more public relations-like programmes than mass marketing approaches has been highly successful for smaller businesses.
For example, BellyWashers (cartoon character juice bottles made by Atlanta's In Zone Brands Inc.) created a national 'Kids Board' and community relations projects. These combined activities have gained substantial media coverage that spreads a positive buzz, and BellyWashers bottles are flying off store shelves. The cost to In Zone Brands of managing the Kids Board is only US$60,000 a year. That's a small investment when compared with its 100% annual compounded growth over the past three years. Sales of over US$75 million are expected in 2003.
- Differentiator branding The famous 'Intel Inside' campaign has helped fuel the popularity of ingredient branding - in other words, promoting a product component that is otherwise invisible to the consumer. According to Prophet, the next generation of this technique involves branding an aspect of an offering that differentiates it from the pack.
This has been Westin's approach with its 'Heavenly Bed' brand initiative that plays up its "unique ability" to meet travellers' main concern: to get a good night's sleep on a comfortable bed. Branding its specially designed bed has worked well for Westin, which saw an immediate gain of 12% in customer satisfaction. Since then, the firm has extended the concept with a line of Heavenly bed, bath and gift items. According to Prophet, competitors are now scrambling to jump on the same differentiated 'brand wagon'.
- Experience branding Strategists are increasingly thinking beyond the product to the full extent of the brand experience, which is consistently reinforced organisation-wide in all customer interactions, and not only in advertising and marketing.
The airline Jet Blue has been successful in creating a unique branded experience that is reinforced at all customer touchpoints, offering compensation for late flights, up to 24 channels of in-flight Direct-TV programming, and play areas for children at its main hub. Both the experience and the brand are further reinforced through its loyalty programme, True Blue Flight Gratitude, and through other quirky touches such as its co-branded in-flight yoga card (with Crunch fitness centres).
Prophet also points out that the common element tying these trends in branding together is the deep insight they require into customer behaviours, desires, and choices. "From our perspective, that is what makes today's branding far more strategic and impactful than it was even a decade ago," explained Dunn.