Russ Cornelius, one of 20 Certified Brand Strategists in the country, is president of Brand Savants, a brand development firm. Cornelius is past president of the American Marketing Association – San Diego Chapter.
Q: We hear a lot about brand and branding these days. What exactly is brand and branding óare they the same?
A:For those of us who specialize in brand development, our time has finally come -- just listen to all the “brandspeak” lately. I am somewhat troubled about all of this, however. I'm not sure I understand all the brand stuff I’m hearing and seeing. And if I’m confused, what’s the CEO, business owner, or marketing executive to think?
Indeed, there is a difference between brand and branding. Branding comprises the tactics used to deliver a brand's distinction. The definition of a brand is “a claim of distinction.” First, you have to identify that distinction. We use what we call “Turning the Telescope” to guide our clients toward identifying their true distinction -- their brand. Yet “branding” is the Holy Grail spouted by most advertisers and ad agencies that claim it as their specialty. Thing is, you can’t have great branding without an incisive brand.
Here's how I see it: branding is a tactic. Brand is the personality, the culture of an organization. It is the relationship that organization has with its publics. And brand development is a discovery process that unearths a brand’s distinction. The brand, or distinction, is defined by the evidence of what separates a brand from its competitors, makes it stand out as extraordinary or different, or better yet, more valuable to the end user.
Q: Why is focusing on brand important?
A:Here's the topline on your brand: it affects your bottom line. Significantly. According to the latest report that I’ve seen from Interbrand’s findings of the top 100 global brands, on average, determinants of company worth are comprised of 31 percent cash, receivables, real estate, and investments and 69 percent trademark, perceptions and brand. So what’s a good brand worth? How do you quantify your brand? Put simply, it’s the difference between being a preferred product or service and being a commodity drive by price alone.
Q: How do brand and branding fit into a company's marketing strategy?
A:Brand is not a marketing strategy. It is a corporate initiative -- because brand isn't marketing on steroids. It’s a strategic initiative that drives customer loyalty, differentiation from your competitors, and market leadership. And to achieve it, everyone in the organization needs to understand his or her role in bringing the brand’s promise to life. This is where many organizations fail with their brand. They speak it, but don’t deliver upon their brand promise because the employees are not in alignment. BMW has staked their claim as the ultimate driving machine. Do you think their engineers focus on how they can make the ride cushier? No, because they know their brand. Again, it is a corporate initiative driven by the CEO. It is just that, in many organizations, the top marketing person becomes the Brand Champion, so it can look like a marketing strategy.
Q: What are some good examples of corporate branding? Who's doing it right?
A:Nordstrom and Walmart; BMW and Honda; Ritz Carlton and Motel 6 -- all have very clear brand distinction, and then do a good job of branding because they have that brand distinction. Each has done a fine job of staking a brand claim within their specific marketplace. One can also look at Disney and Starbucks to see organizations that understand the value of investing internally to ensure they deliver upon their brand promise. Sharp Healthcare gets it.
Back in the day, one of the earliest manifestations of effective brand development happened at Maytag. Looking to define itself in the market, third-tier player Maytag conducted a discovery process to find out what unique aspects it offered vis-à-vis its competitors. The research revealed that Maytag washers and dryers outlasted competitors' products and had superior service records.
The company then undertook a companywide initiative to substantiate and reinforce the quality performance of all product lines, internalizing the brand not just in manufacturing, but in sales, service, channel marketing, research, finance and development. After the company was secure it would fully deliver on the brand promise of quality and dependability, a branding campaign was launched, the cornerstone of which was the lonely repairman, an icon that has endured through four decades.
Q: What should you look for when hiring a brand expert to work with your company?
A: By now you know that if an agency starts talking to you about your brand and is talking in terms of being consistent with your look and messaging, I feel you should step away. Consistent messaging is important but that is touching your brand only upon the surface. The brand counsel you want to engage is going to talk to about bringing clarity to your organization's brand and then being able to deliver upon your brand promise.