In a saturated and highly competitive market place, the importance of brands and branding to market share growth and product success cannot be over emphasized. Companies, countries, regions, towns and organizations who are able to grasp the principles of brand DNA are more likely to eclipse those who do not, in terms of delivering value to shareholder investments, or in the ability to attract inwards and foreign direct investments (IDIs and FDIs).
A brand refers to the tangible and intangible values of a product, service or place. On their own and in their generic forms; products, services, towns, regions and countries are similar to each other. In a blind test; a thirsty consumer may not be able to spot the difference between Pepsi and Coke, neither will a potential tourist be able to differentiate between the beaches of Maldives from those of Mallorca. Products therefore become like other products, just another need-fulfilling article. Any real differences may remain lost to consumers because brands mean nothing unless the brand values are consciously communicated to the consumers and target publics.
A brand’s DNA refers to its Distinctiveness, Novelty and Attributes, as compared to those of the competition. In this instance, countries like Nigeria must discover its unique national brand DNA and communicate the same to potential investors who may be attracted to South Africa as a potential investment country. Also, brands like BMW must communicate to consumers the superior differences in owning a luxury BMW car, as compared to a Toyota Lexus. Telecommunication firms such as T-Mobile, Vodafone, MTN and GLO must consistently find ways of identifying and decoding their brand DNA and communicating it to subscribers, such that their networks actually connects with them, and not be regarded as a mere mobile phone service provider.
Why is Brazilian football different from those of other football countries such as England and Germany? Because Brazilian football is free spirited, it possesses the samba element which connotes enjoyment and pleasure. A very distinctive characteristic which has become a promise to fans of Brazilian football all over the world. It is a basic expectation of the fans based on this unwritten promise that they will be entertained each time they watch a Brazilian football match anywhere in the world. Brazilian footballers try as much as possible to fulfil this promise, for this reason the likes of Ronaldinho and Robinho continue to mesmerize fans both off and on the pitch.
Italy is another example, its football is rooted in a distinctive style of defending and shielding the goalkeeper, a famous poster advertisement during Euro 1996 had an advertising copy saying “Italian goalkeeper, the safest job in the world”, a testimony to Italy’s distinctive style of defensive football.
A brand must be unique in its own way; it must have characteristics that make it stand apart from competitors, such that these characteristics become easily identifiable by the consumers. Marketers must then seek to discover or create their brand’s distinct characteristics and communicate them to consumers; also any brand promise made must be constantly fulfilled and matched by action, just like Brazilian footballers.
Other examples that readily come to mind are the superior engineering behind Mercedes vehicles, the comfort of Nike trainers, the prestige of an Oxford or Harvard education etc. These products and institutions have distinctive brand values which have also been communicated over the years to various stakeholders, thus helping to sustain the brands’ immortality in their respective sectors.
At the same time, brands must also constantly adapt to changing market conditions, brands are always playing catch-up to consumer tastes which are ever changing and any brand that does not heed the warning ‘innovate or die’ does so at its peril. Consumers’ tastes for new products and services, just like investors hunger for new investment opportunities and destinations are constantly on the rise, brands must constantly re-invent themselves, and be able to offer consumers something new. Such novelties must be specific and relevant to consumer needs. In the case of regions and counties, potential investors want to know of new government policies aimed t reducing bureaucracy, expanding opportunities and increasing capacity. Such new policies must be communicated to the people needing that information.
Apple has released several generations of the iPod since the release of the first generation in 2001; every new edition appears to have something new for the customers, who could also switch to rival brands with novel features. Sony made this mistake with its Walkman and Discman brands, and for a long time did not offer customers novelty until Apple launched the iPod. Now, Sony has re-launched the walkman in its mobile phone handsets, but the damage has already been done because Apple has cornered a better part of the market for portable music devices.
In addition to a brand’s distinction in terms of brand quality and superior performance, brand novelty refers to brand evolution through a process of research and development, the brand has to sum itself up in a brand charter and state what it is all about. The brand attributes therefore encompasses all the tangible and intangible aspects of the brand, which is also consciously and unconsciously communicated to customers and stakeholders.
Successful brand building achieved through brand distinctiveness and novelty may still be negatively affected if the customers and stakeholders receive conflicting signals about the brand’s attributes. The people element is key to enhancing positive brand attributes. Both superior and innovative brand offerings will fail in the face of poor customer service. If the service delivery chain is slow or poor and customer complaints are not responded to on time, the customers can take their custom to competitors.
Also, the brand identity should be clear and easily identifiable; this can be achieved through a combination of elements such as corporate communications, advertising, public relations, corporate social responsibility, events, word -of- mouth, designs, packaging, labelling, logos etc. The Nike swoosh and the Mercedes star symbols are prime examples of strong logos which have now aided the brand recognition of the Nike and Mercedes brands.
Other brand attributes will include the use of colours, for example the Brazilian national team’s famous yellow and blue jerseys, and the orange jerseys of the Holland national team. England surprisingly hasn’t been able to adopt and promote its national colours in a way that will be as distinct as those of Brazil and Holland. Its red and white combinations are not as distinct as would be expected for such a country with heavy football following and history of brand building. Nigeria has been outstanding in its green coloured jerseys although lately, due to dwindling football fortunes it hasn’t been able to sustain the earlier promises and also meet the expectations of the growing number of fans worldwide.
Every brand must be able to communicate its origins and history, as well as its culture, knowledge and awareness of the DNA of the brand, and successful communication of all related brand distinctions, novelty and attributes can help the brand live long, if not for ever.