Starsky Insight _ February 2002Brand activationBy: Paul Morel, Peter Preisler and Anders NyströmBrand activation is not a theory; it is a naturalstep in the evolution of brands. This papertakes a deeper look into the possibilities withinthe brand, its’ strategy and position to findassets that can be relevant, adaptable andprofitable for the entire company. Paul Morel,Peter Preisler and Anders Nyström are brandstrategists at the brand and design agencyStarsky. The authors have gathered experienceand knowledge about today’s brand environ-ment both inside and outside companies. Brandactivation is an expression of how they approachbrand management within an organization.
Brand activation _ 2 From marketing brands to brand activationThe enlighted individual is the As society moves into post modernism, new companies have evolvedfocal point in the postmodern and older ones have reformed their businesses to meet the changingsociety. needs of people and companies. These companies have listened to their customers, and they have learned that, both as companies and as persons, we perceive ourselves as individuals with specific needs. The enlightened individual is the focal point in the postmodern society. As Robert Delamar states in his article “Post-modernism, electronic consciousness and humanness”: “Humanity is the center of the post- modern period; indeed it is helpful to characterize this age as the self- centered era”. Today, people are no longer a massive work force, or manipulated consumers. Each individual brings competence and ideas valuable for every kind of commercial business. We look upon ourselves as persons with individual values and preferential needs. An increasing number of industries have specialized in meeting the increased complexity of the individual needs. Staffing service, with companies such as Manpower, have flourished meeting the demands in a rapidly changing global business environment where flexibility is key to a lot of companies. In the meantime, in the highly competitive business climate, developing and maintaining unique product features has become hard and costly. Technical progress does not necessarily assure commercial success or sustainable competitive advantages. Products are becoming more and more like commodities. According to Naomi Klein, author of the much debated book “No Logo”, leading companies like Nike, Microsoft and Tommy Hilfiger put brands before products claiming that they no longer produce things, but images of their brand. Companies also turn to services to differentiate themselves in the customer relation. Financial institutes such as banks have abandoned their diversified strategy with a wide range of products and services, where each individual service had its’ own selling point. Instead, they reform their relations to their customer by bundling different services and offering financial planning. This strategy is not based on a specific product portfolio; rather it reflects a deeper understanding of the customers as individuals. One of the basic ideas behind financial planning is to understand the individuals’ financial situation, behavior and needs in order to cater specific services and products. It’s worth to mention here, that these new services are not just meant as a new source of income, but also serve as a key differentiating feature. The American airline Southwest Airlines distinguish themselves from other airlines by having singing flight attendants onboard. “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and Company Spirit.” Not surprisingly they call it service.
Brand activation _ 3The brand faces new challenges Companies desire a stronger relationship with their customers, makingin giving meaning to a it harder to exchange the products for other offers, both on a functionalcompany’s whole relationship and on an emotional level. In this highly competitive and individualwith the customer. world companies are increasingly depending on the brand as a compe- titive weapon. The brand has become the carrier of the emotional value proposition towards the customers and a symbol of the specific competence that builds up a company’s competitive advantage. Thus the brand faces new challenges in giving meaning to a company’s whole relationship with the customer. Traditionally, branding has been a marketing communication tool, a visual and verbal weapon owned by marketers and marketing consultants. In order to earn trust and loyalty from the postmodern customer, it is time for the rest of the company to take benefit of the assets embodied in the brand. Demystify the brandBy demystifying the brand Since branding in most cases is driven from a communication perspective,companies can make the brand branding and competence about branding is still owned and guarded bycommon knowldege among marketing directors and advertising agencies. Today a person meets intheir employees. general 30 000 messages per day, of which 3000 are branded in some way. Brand strategies have evolved into complex theories predominantly driven by the communication environment. According to David C.Court, Mark G. Leiter and Mark A. Loch, brands do “work” for the customers. In their paper “Brand leverage” they explain why: “they simplify everyday choices (a shopper who regularly buys Crest doesn’t have to agonize continually over toothpaste), reduce the risk of complicated buying decisions (IBM mainframes and Boeing jets are safe choices), provide emotional benefits (Tiffany), and offer a sense of community (Apple Computer and Saturn)”. Besides the reasons mentioned by Court et al, we believe that there are two other reasons why brands work, especially for the service industry. First of all they work if they create relationship benefits (the experience of being known by your banker or a car sales- man). Second, brand works if they create accessibility (when services are accessible for me 24/7). Marketers have been eager and successful in developing and exploring the brand as an asset for communication during the 80’s and 90’s. Other organizational competencies have much to learn from marketers when it comes to adapting and exploring the brand for their specific purposes.
Brand activation _ 4As consumers are getting more selective towards brands and products,seeing themselves as individuals with strong values and preferences,companies that don’t live up to communication promises will rapidlydisappear from the consumers mind. This means that companies cannotafford not to meet expectations set by the marketing communication.Therefore, companies would be wice to take control of their brandmanagement, and apply it to areas beside the pure marketing function,instead of putting it in the hands of marketing consultants. We mean thatthe brand can be activated in all customer relations, such as the helpdesk,in the telephone, in the product or in the design, etc. To be able to do that,it’s time to demystify the brand. It’s time to make the brand a commonknowledge among all employees; so that it can be a source for innovationand new ideas among all competencies within the companys’ organization.What is brand activationBrand activation is not a theory; it’s a natural step in the evolution ofbrands. We belive when all the necessary brand strategies are imple-mented, companies just need to execute them across the organizationand in the total offer towards the customer. Brand activation is lookingdeeper into the possibilities within the brand, its strategy and position tofind assets that have relevant consequences for the whole company.A brand can be activated in a range of situations, best summarized infour cornerstones; Products and services, Employees, Identity andCommunication.An active brand offers products and services that deliver on the brandposition. It meets the customer in a personal manner closely related tothe position. It also has the same appearance independent of interface.In other words, the customer will perceive the brand as “one coherentcompany” whether he or she meets it in digital or analog media, througha product, face to face or on the telephone. But brand activation is alsocommunicating the position through advertising.What to activateWhen activating a brand, look for the core features that constitutethe brand. It might be the communicated position or promised customerbenefit, or the company vision or people policy – strategies and tacticsthat often are relevant for the whole company. Therefore, effective brandactivation starts with a defined brand.Brand position is a common definition in these circumstances. Al Riesand Jack Trout first defined the term in their book “Positioning”. Riesand Trout describe the marketing opportunities of conquering a specificposition in the mind of the target audience. This position must havestrategic advantages towards competitors to be profitable.
Brand activation _ 5 One example that supports their reasoning is Avis, the car rental company. Avis admitted that Hertz was the first car rental brand in the world. Acknow- ledging this Avis explored the opportunities and competitive advantages of being second. The result was: “Avis, we try harder”. By positioning the brand as the second brand in the car rental market, Avis gave meaning to why they had to work harder than its’ worst competitor to please their customers. Another example is Apple. Apple was first among the computer manu- facturers to conquer an obvious position: the position as the different computer company. “Think different”, gave meaning to the bite in the apple; to the different operative system and, later on, the different approach to product design. Another theory is developed by David A. Aaker published in his book “Building Strong Brands”. Aaker’s Brand Identity System describes the brand position like this: “Brand position is the part of the brand identity and value proposition that is to be actively communicated to the target audience and that demonstrates an advantage over competing brands”. Aaker describes the identity system itself as the core identity and the extended core built by products, organization, personality and symbols. In this paper we will simply use the term Brand since constituents may vary depending on which branding theory and strategy used. Where to startSearch for solutions where the We see the brand position in Aaker’s model as a tactical asset whenbrand can support, guide and communicating especially the core identity. Thus the brand position caninnovate the company. change focus without interfering with the core identity. While Aaker identifies competitive communication strategies from a perfectly working identity system, we search for ways to look deeper into the parts that build up the system. We also look for ways to let the brand make a positive impact on these areas. Though there are obvious similarities between Aaker’s Brand Identity System and the four cornerstones; Products and Services, Employees, Identity and Communication – there are differences. The four described cornerstones are not defined from a communications perspective, i.e. we do not try to find values in these areas worth communicating because they strengthen the identified core identity. Instead, we search for solutions where the brand can support, guide and innovate the company in these four areas. The point is to help companies become a coherent brand whatever situation or customer relation.
Brand activation _ 6 Em y tit pl I den oy ees Brand Pr od es u ct & s ervic Com m u nic atio n Picture 1. Brand Activation ModelHow can the brand be relevant, When exploring the brand for activation, search for answers to how theadaptable and profitible? brand can be relevant, adaptable and profitable for the four areas, respec- tively. There is also an opportunity to add a fourth question; how is this measurable? Though there are numerous well-developed theories and methods for measuring the brand, we choose not to explore this question further in this paper. But we do want to stress that measurement tools and methods are important indicators of the effects of brand activation efforts. The questions mentioned – if the brand can be relevant, adaptable and profitable - are not intended to question the validity of a brand. Instead, they shall explore the opportunities within the brand that can have relevant and meaningful consequences for the four areas. In other words: there must exist a strategic brand work as platform for brand activation efforts. To further explain what we mean by brand activation, we adapt the three questions to two of the cornerstones: Employees and Products and services. We will use showcases to make it more understandable.
Brand activation _ 7EmployeesSince employees are one of the most important carriers of a brand, youmight ask yourself; how do companies give employees inspiration,education and tools to perform on the expectations created by marketingpromises?How is the position relevant?McDonalds vision is to be the worlds best quick service restaurantexperience. The mission is to get the customer satisfied as fast as possible– and to leave just as fast with a happy face. On the corporate homepage,McDonald’s states: “This means providing outstanding quality, service,cleanliness and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurantsmile”. The question to ask here is: how can the company mission berelevant to low paid staff in the fast food industry? And what makes peoplesmile in a fast food restaurant?How is the position adaptable?The Scandinavian airline, SAS, has chosen to let the company’sScandinavian heritage form the foundation for its’ brand. The companydescribes the typical Scandinavian character as “informal and unpre-tentious, straightforward and honest, modest and with a lighthearted glintin the eye”. The challenge is to define how the brand position “It’sScandinavian” can help flight attendants understand how to meet theirpassengers. What inspirational guidelines can every employee agree upon,when breaking down the brand into behavior and attitude?In some companies, the brand may not be stated or articulated in a waythat easily translates into personal behavior, attitude or mission etc. Forexample, how is the mission adaptable to employees at the petrolcompany Statoil? At the corporate homepage, Statoil states: “The missionis to make our customer’s every day life easier through personal service,care and quality, and through attractive locations and opening hours makeit possible for the customer to shop more from one same place”.Considering this, as an employee at a Statoil service location you hadbetter be prepared to serve the customer with a lot more than filling carswith petrol. What can you as an employee at a petrol station do to makepeople’s life easier?How is the position profitable?How can the brand be profitable for the employees, given the fact that it’sprofitable for the company? Does it increase their salary or in other waysadd to their personal well being, i.e. by making the workplace a meaningfulor joyful part of life?
Brand activation _ 8 The American luxury department store Nordstrom declares that “no customer should leave the department store without being satisfied and happy”. Nordstrom also has identified the people closest to the customer as the most important employees since they have best opportunities to effectively satisfy the customer. Therefore there is only one company rule; “Rule # 1. Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules”. At Nordstrom, no employee has to seek their boss to make decisions regarding customers. In the realization of the declaration, employees are offered a lucrative commission and bonus deal making it possible to earn more than you would in the assembly room. Leslie Kaufman a stars salesman at Nordstrom says; “If I was paid by the hour I wouldn’t be as motivated as I am. Since I know about the commission I get a completely different driving force at work. The more I sell the better for me and for Nordstrom”. Southwest Airlines promise that they will entertain everybody during the flight, because they love what they are doing. So, the flight attendant at Southwest Airlines grabs the microphone to give the obligatory safety precautions – but today she is rapping; “Federal regulations says you must comply/If you don’t you can kiss seatmate goodbye/Chhhh-ch-ch-ch-ch- Ch-ch-ch-ch…”. Now, what makes her rap? Kathy Pettit, Director of Customer says; “Make the working place the most fun place to be at”, and explains, “Skip uniforms and formalities. Have lots of competitions, cele- brate as often as possible and encourage practical jokes and pranks. Let prices rain over the employees but never give money – let it be t-shirts or things as access to the best parking spot for a week”. Pettit continues; “You will be surprised of how much people (employees and customers) are willing to give when they feel loved and acknowledged”. Products and servicesEmotional preferences How do we activate the brand through products and services? And howdiffer products with similar do we make sure that products and services live up to advertisingfunctional attributes. promises? By aligning these questions, emotional preferences can be attached differing products with similar functional attributes. McKinsey Quarterly, 2002 nr 1 captures this in their article about “Revving up auto branding”. GM and Toyota build two more or less identical cars (the Toyota Corolla and the Chevrolet Prizm), both models designed by Toyota in their joint venture plant in California. The models have similar functional benefits and both models score high in consumer reports. Yet, selling the Chevrolet Prizm requires $750 more in buyer incentives, only one-quarter as many Prizm are sold, and their trade-in value depreciates much more quickly.
Brand activation _ 9How is the position relevant?An Apple computer doesn’t offer a unique functional benefit that cannotbe offered by other computer companies. Still, “Think Different” casts newlight on the purpose and perceived benefit of Apple computers andcomputer accessories. The company’s mission is to deliver high qualitycomputing products with a different experience. Apple is a great exampleon how the brand can alter the way consumers look at benefits oncommodity products.How is the position adaptable?How do you make products state the brand? In the insurance industry,it’s sometimes hard to tell one brand from the other just by reading theproduct and service offer – with one exception. The insurance companyProgressive decided to restructure their auto insurance offer to deliver onthe promise of customer service. Instead of having in-house represen-tatives, Progressive took their brand promise to the extreme and putclaims representatives in Immediate Response Vehicles that could comeright to the scene of an accident. In doing so, Progressive clearlydemonstrates how the brand can cast new light on the total customer offer.How is the position profitable?Increased profits are one of the major drivers of change and development.Perceiving profit as growth in sales figures or in number of items, exploringthe brand unravels new opportunities for sustainable growth. To leveragethis driving force, the company might have to adopt a more holisticperspective than previously.Progressive has since 1990 grown to be the fourth largest insurancecompany in the United States. To achieve this, the company went throughan extensive reformation, restructuring their total product offer on a long-term basis.The Progressive case shows that brand activation efforts can ignite a totalreconstruction of the product offer or reveal new opportunities for specificproducts. Naturally, brand activation may also result in less revolutionarymeasures, like sale support or development of new products. During theprocess, opportunities to expand your category, or to move into closelyrelated ones, can appear. Gillette expanded the razor category to includeshaving gel and other skin lotion products. Disney is focused to entertainall living ages, but their offer is diversified into a variety of product categories.
Brand activation _ 10Finally, why do we needactive brands?In today’s postmodern society, merely offering supreme product featureson a functional or emotional level is not sufficient. While the basic ideaabout active brands is to execute the brand in other terms than marketing,the real value lies in the opportunities it creates. Most fundamentally, brandactivation contributes in creating trust between the customer, the societyand the brand (i.e. company). And trust is one of the key factors to createloyalty between consumers and brands.In return, companies can use the loyalty to create re-purchase behavior orcustomer recommendation behaviors. Companies can also, according toCourt, Leiter and Loch, use customer loyalty to diversify or focus theirbusiness. We do not look deeper into these strategies in this paper, but itis worth mentioning that when a company relies on customer loyalty toexpand; the key challenge is always to retain the existing relation of trustbetween the customer and the brand.SummaryBranding is much more than advertising. The time has come for companiesto leverage the brand asset within the entire organization. The postmodernindividual demands that brands live up to their promises in every interactionwhether it is through products and services, employees, identity orcommunication. A coherent brand in these four areas will gain trust andloyalty with its customer enabling profitable relationships between brandsand people.
Brand activation _ 11SourcesPost-modernism, electronic consciousness and humannessRobert DelamarSpark-online issue 6.0Brand leverageDavid C.Court, Mark G. Leiter and Mark A. LochMcKinsey Quarterly 1999 number 2Building Strong BrandsDavid A AakerThe Free Press ISBN 0-02-900151-XPositioning, the battle for your mindAl Ries, Jack TroutMcGraw-Hill Professional Publishing; ISBN: 0071373586No LogoNaomi KleinPicador USA; ISBN: 0312271921StarskyStarsky is a brand and design agency. Our focus is to strengtheningthe relationship between people and brands. Starsky works with clients likeSAS, SEB, SEB Enskilda Banken, Travellink and BMG.StarskySibyllegatan 53114 43 Stockholm, SwedenTel. +46 (0)8 660 00 52Fax. +46 (0)8 660 40 53www.starsky.comPaul Morelpaul@starsky.comPeter Preislerpeter@starsky.comAnders Nyströmanders@starsky.com