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The 3 pillars of performance branding

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Molecular archaeology is a relatively new discipline which provides those practicing it with a deeper understanding of the past through the scientific analysis of molecules extracted from ancient samples.

For instance, recently the presence of substantial lipid deposits have been found on pottery shards originating from a Neolithic site in Ireland. Until this study it was thought that Irish dairy farming didn’t evolve until the Bronze Age, yet the evidence strongly suggests that humans were drinking milk in Ireland at least 500 years prior to this.

So, what has the molecular analysis of milk got to do with branding? Quite a lot, actually.

What this study reminds us is that things change. Through the use of new technologies we can alter our frame of reference and take new perspectives. Branding has long been used as an instrument of marketing; as a way to differentiate a product and create a lasting impression in the minds of the customers in order to aid the purchasing decision process. Much of theory underpinning it dates back to the 70s; 50 years ago. You wouldn’t use a vacuum from 1952 to clean your house, so it stands to reason that you would want the most up-to-date thinking to be applied to your business.

And yet marketing students are still taught about the key brand decisions such as House of Brands or Branded House, crafting the brand position using Points of Difference (PoDs) and Points of Parity (PoPs) and good old brand equity. Whilst I don’t have a problem with any of these concepts and believe that they had their place in the evolution of branding; today they aren’t ambitious enough.

Too often, branding only influences the marketing strategies and initiatives of a business, failing to drive core areas like HR, product/service development and innovation. It also tends to focus on long-term strategies, without thinking of what can be done in the short-term to capitalise on market opportunities. Whilst branding is an instrument of marketing, performance branding is rooted in a commercial understanding of business; it applies brand thinking where it delivers the best return.

There is definitely no one-size fits all approach, which unfortunately  means there is no ‘text book’. The reason? Because it’s a real-time approach for a real-time world. However, at its core lie three key pillars: strategy and experience, culture, and activation, which enables brand thinking to be applied to every facet of an organisation.

Strategy and experience

The brand is used to create compelling experiences that drive superior business performance, from ironing out brand architecture to defining the most profitable new markets and territories.

Culture

To succeed every strategy needs a culture behind it. Through leveraging the brand it is possible to mobilise people to make things happen leading to business transformation from the inside out.

All too often in their rush to scale, organisations forget the importance of internal culture. Growth is everything to the detriment of everything else. If you have read Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, this is exactly the issue experienced by Phil Knight when his brand started to fly.

However, cultivating distinctive ways of working that supports the business strategy, but also its workforce, is proven to create significant competitive advantage including improved talent attraction and retention, outstanding customer service and a happier, more productive workforce. And at the end of the day nothing is more powerful than an internal brand advocate, likewise there is nothing more damaging than a member of staff bad mouthing the organisation.

Activation

Performance branding is no longer part of the marketing strategy; it governs it. This means that the brand can be used to make people know, care and think about your organisation. For example, if the media strategy of a campaign is not brand-led then communication budget is wasted through sloppy targeting and at best falls on deaf ears, but at worst can serve to damage the brand.

A good example of this approach is iconic Asian retailer, Lane Crawford. It wanted one simple question answered: “where can our brand take us?” In the context of a globalising luxury market, the business was looking at strategically leveraging its brand to propel it even further ahead of the crowd.

Working with a cross functional team it was possible to set a stretching vision and articulate a positioning that put its brand at the heart of its customer and partner experience. From there, it was possible to work through the implications for the organisation’s concurrent business planning process, identifying organisational-wide strategic objectives and the actions required to make them happen.

Performance branding is working for Lane Crawford as they are making its newly defined brand a reality throughout the areas of the business that make the most difference.

Another good example is Apple. It is driven by the powerful brand purpose of humanising technology. This purpose is woven into everything it does; from product and service (intuitive design), environments and operations (destination stores, Genius bar and Today at Apple), people and culture (Genius boot camps, Apple University and EQ training) and its communications (light years ahead of the competition). As a result, it sweats its assets and spends a staggering $8bn a year less on marketing than its closest rival to achieve similar revenues. You do the maths!

Performance branding is like molecular archaeology. It is pragmatic and deals in DNA. It takes what already exists and builds on it to capitalise on the new market realities and diagnoses brand truths that can be planted at the heart of the organisation. In turn these become deep rooted and form the framework of the business which in turn lead to better decision making and more profitable business outcomes.

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Manfred Abraham is CEO and Founder of BrandCap.

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