In a famous 1931 memo that’s still taught in business schools to this day, consumer goods conglomerate Procter & Gamble president Neil McElroy first identified the need for brand managers: employees who would focus on each individual brand in a company’s holdings, protecting, promoting, and individualizing them.
Previously, the company’s products often ended up competing against not only the broader market but against each other as well. McElroy saw that P&G could gain an advantage by finely targeting each brand to a specific market or market segment. It seems simple, even obvious, in retrospect, but the idea was revolutionary. It was a philosophy that embraced centralized control of the company while simultaneously empowering decentralized decision making at the brand level.
The goal of all brand managers is to foster positive relationships between consumers and brands. The logo on a bar of Procter & Gamble Ivory soap has to represent numerous qualities that consumers admire, such as heritage, purity, and value, and a brand manager must work tirelessly to continually reinforce those values so that consumers come back year after year.
They do that by tailoring the offering’s appearance, packaging, price, and other factors — but also by considering the consumer’s experience with it. People buy Ivory soap not only because it’s a good product at a good price, but because they have learned they can trust it, and trust breeds loyalty. Loyal customers will get you through lean times, price wars, and other ups and downs in the business cycle.
Good Feelings Become Dollar Signs on the Balance Sheet
Commodities, foodservice, and technology companies are particularly reliant on powerful brands, because they rely heavily on sales to individual consumers. According to Interbrand, the top global brands consistently include Coca-Cola, Apple, Google, GE, McDonald’s, Intel, Samsung, and Toyota.
Strong brands are literal assets for these companies. Corporate goodwill can be quantified under generally accepted accounting principles: “… goodwill is an intangible asset (it represents the difference between a company’s hard assets—cash, plants and equipment, and inventory—and its market value, which is typically assessed when a company is sold.”
In other words, a brand’s intangibles — the positive feelings that consumers have for it — are incredibly important. Take the soft drink industry, for example: Coca-Cola often loses in blind taste tests against competing products, but it outsells every other cola by a huge margin thanks to its sterling brand.
But Your Brand Won’t Maintain Value by Itself
Brand success also brings with it the challenge of maintaining it.
At the extreme end of that scale, a brand can become so thoroughly identified with its product category that it runs the risk of becoming genericized. Xerox has fought for years to keep people from referring to all copy machines as “xeroxes.” Likewise, Bayer has been fighting an uphill battle to keep Aspirin a viable trademark in several international markets; ditto for Kleenex brand tissues.
It may seem strange when mega-brands send cease-and-desist letters over these issues, but failure to protect a brand can be inferred as implicit permission for others to use it.
Meanwhile, consumer attention is shrinking, and along with it, product life cycles. Brands need to continually reappraise their markets and reinvent themselves to stay relevant. “Successful global brands are managed by balancing ‘consistent brand guardrails’ with the ‘freedom to adapt to leverage local growth opportunities.”
Procter & Gamble announced in 2014 that all its marketing directors would be renamed “brand directors,” with “single-point responsibility for the strategies, plans, and results for the brands.” Several factors led to this change, including the increasing pace of globalization (which has expanded competition) and internet technologies that have given consumers access not only to a huge new swath of products, but to far more information about them all, as well.
In short: Brand management has never been more important to marketing than it is right now. “In the world of multi-channel marketing and 24-hour, round-the-clock communication, marketing is no longer about closing a sale. It’s about brand advocates, social sharing and that all-important customer journey that creates a loyal brand following…”
If your brand is weak, consumers will lose interest and sales will suffer, making it that much harder to regain their trust and loyalty. So be proactive, not reactive. Your brand is your most valuable asset — manage it!