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By: Paul Morel, Peter Preisler and Anders Nyström
Brand activation is not a theory; it is a natural step in the evolution of brands. This paper takes a deeper look into the possibilities within the brand, its’ strategy and position to find assets that can be relevant, adaptable and profitable for the entire company. Paul Morel, Peter Preisler and Anders Nyström are brand strategists at the brand and design agency Starsky. The authors have gathered experience and knowledge about today’s brand environment both inside and outside companies. Brand activation is an expression of how they approach brand management within an organization.
or manipulated consumers. where each individual service had its’ own selling point.Brand activation _ 2 From marketing brands to brand activation The enlighted individual is the focal point in the postmodern society. both as companies and as persons. new companies have evolved and older ones have reformed their businesses to meet the changing needs of people and companies. but also serve as a key differentiating feature. It’s worth to mention here. As society moves into post modernism. Companies also turn to services to differentiate themselves in the customer relation. According to Naomi Klein. We look upon ourselves as persons with individual values and preferential needs. Today. . rather it reflects a deeper understanding of the customers as individuals. with companies such as Manpower. This strategy is not based on a specific product portfolio. friendliness. “The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth. indeed it is helpful to characterize this age as the selfcentered era”. have flourished meeting the demands in a rapidly changing global business environment where flexibility is key to a lot of companies. One of the basic ideas behind financial planning is to understand the individuals’ financial situation. The enlightened individual is the focal point in the postmodern society. and they have learned that. Instead. behavior and needs in order to cater specific services and products. leading companies like Nike. people are no longer a massive work force.” Not surprisingly they call it service. Microsoft and Tommy Hilfiger put brands before products claiming that they no longer produce things. that these new services are not just meant as a new source of income. Each individual brings competence and ideas valuable for every kind of commercial business. Staffing service. individual pride and Company Spirit. but images of their brand. developing and maintaining unique product features has become hard and costly. electronic consciousness and humanness”: “Humanity is the center of the postmodern period. in the highly competitive business climate. we perceive ourselves as individuals with specific needs. As Robert Delamar states in his article “Post-modernism. The American airline Southwest Airlines distinguish themselves from other airlines by having singing flight attendants onboard. In the meantime. These companies have listened to their customers. Financial institutes such as banks have abandoned their diversified strategy with a wide range of products and services. they reform their relations to their customer by bundling different services and offering financial planning. author of the much debated book “No Logo”. Technical progress does not necessarily assure commercial success or sustainable competitive advantages. An increasing number of industries have specialized in meeting the increased complexity of the individual needs. Products are becoming more and more like commodities.
Traditionally. Second. Thus the brand faces new challenges in giving meaning to a company’s whole relationship with the customer. both on a functional and on an emotional level. 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 strategies have evolved into complex theories predominantly driven by the communication environment.Court. it is time for the rest of the company to take benefit of the assets embodied in the brand. 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). . Since branding in most cases is driven from a communication perspective. 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. Leiter and Mark A. we believe that there are two other reasons why brands work.Brand activation _ 3 The brand faces new challenges in giving meaning to a company’s whole relationship with the customer. According to David C. Demystify the brand By demystifying the brand companies can make the brand common knowldege among their employees. reduce the risk of complicated buying decisions (IBM mainframes and Boeing jets are safe choices). branding and competence about branding is still owned and guarded by marketing directors and advertising agencies. a visual and verbal weapon owned by marketers and marketing consultants. In order to earn trust and loyalty from the postmodern customer. Today a person meets in general 30 000 messages per day. brands do “work” for the customers. Mark G. especially for the service industry. and offer a sense of community (Apple Computer and Saturn)”. Besides the reasons mentioned by Court et al. branding has been a marketing communication tool. Companies desire a stronger relationship with their customers. of which 3000 are branded in some way. First of all they work if they create relationship benefits (the experience of being known by your banker or a car salesman). brand works if they create accessibility (when services are accessible for me 24/7). provide emotional benefits (Tiffany). making it harder to exchange the products for other offers. Loch. In this highly competitive and individual world companies are increasingly depending on the brand as a competitive weapon.
This means that companies cannot afford not to meet expectations set by the marketing communication. Therefore. face to face or on the telephone.Brand activation _ 4 As consumers are getting more selective towards brands and products. or the company vision or people policy – strategies and tactics that often are relevant for the whole company. look for the core features that constitute the brand. Al Ries and Jack Trout first defined the term in their book “Positioning”. In other words. it’s a natural step in the evolution of brands. Ries and Trout describe the marketing opportunities of conquering a specific position in the mind of the target audience. such as the helpdesk. so that it can be a source for innovation and new ideas among all competencies within the companys’ organization. and apply it to areas beside the pure marketing function. effective brand activation starts with a defined brand. An active brand offers products and services that deliver on the brand position. in the telephone. It also has the same appearance independent of interface. . Brand activation is looking deeper into the possibilities within the brand. the customer will perceive the brand as “one coherent company” whether he or she meets it in digital or analog media. in the product or in the design. A brand can be activated in a range of situations. best summarized in four cornerstones. What to activate When activating a brand. We mean that the brand can be activated in all customer relations. etc. It meets the customer in a personal manner closely related to the position. companies just need to execute them across the organization and in the total offer towards the customer. Brand position is a common definition in these circumstances. It’s time to make the brand a common knowledge among all employees. We belive when all the necessary brand strategies are implemented. seeing themselves as individuals with strong values and preferences. This position must have strategic advantages towards competitors to be profitable. Employees. But brand activation is also communicating the position through advertising. instead of putting it in the hands of marketing consultants. To be able to do that. it’s time to demystify the brand. Therefore. companies would be wice to take control of their brand management. companies that don’t live up to communication promises will rapidly disappear from the consumers mind. What is brand activation Brand activation is not a theory. Products and services. It might be the communicated position or promised customer benefit. through a product. Identity and Communication. its strategy and position to find assets that have relevant consequences for the whole company.
In this paper we will simply use the term Brand since constituents may vary depending on which branding theory and strategy used. Aaker published in his book “Building Strong Brands”. guide and innovate the company in these four areas. Apple was first among the computer manufacturers to conquer an obvious position: the position as the different computer company. Though there are obvious similarities between Aaker’s Brand Identity System and the four cornerstones. . Employees. Products and Services. Instead. We also look for ways to let the brand make a positive impact on these areas. the car rental company. The four described cornerstones are not defined from a communications perspective. While Aaker identifies competitive communication strategies from a perfectly working identity system. The point is to help companies become a coherent brand whatever situation or customer relation. We see the brand position in Aaker’s model as a tactical asset when communicating especially the core identity. personality and symbols. The result was: “Avis. we try harder”. Another theory is developed by David A. the different approach to product design. 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”. By positioning the brand as the second brand in the car rental market. “Think different”. organization. Thus the brand position can change focus without interfering with the core identity. we search for ways to look deeper into the parts that build up the system. Another example is Apple. Avis admitted that Hertz was the first car rental brand in the world. Avis gave meaning to why they had to work harder than its’ worst competitor to please their customers. i. to the different operative system and. guide and innovate the company. we search for solutions where the brand can support. later on. Aaker describes the identity system itself as the core identity and the extended core built by products. Where to start Search for solutions where the brand can support. gave meaning to the bite in the apple.Brand activation _ 5 One example that supports their reasoning is Avis.e. Acknowledging this Avis explored the opportunities and competitive advantages of being second. we do not try to find values in these areas worth communicating because they strengthen the identified core identity. Identity and Communication – there are differences.
how is this measurable? Though there are numerous well-developed theories and methods for measuring the brand. We will use showcases to make it more understandable. adaptable and profitable . we choose not to explore this question further in this paper. The questions mentioned – if the brand can be relevant. search for answers to how the brand can be relevant. There is also an opportunity to add a fourth question. respectively. Brand Activation Model How can the brand be relevant. adaptable and profitible? When exploring the brand for activation. Instead. they shall explore the opportunities within the brand that can have relevant and meaningful consequences for the four areas. adaptable and profitable for the four areas. But we do want to stress that measurement tools and methods are important indicators of the effects of brand activation efforts. .Brand activation _ 6 tit y Em pl I den oy ees Brand Pr od u ct & s ervic es Com m u nic atio n Picture 1. we adapt the three questions to two of the cornerstones: Employees and Products and services.are not intended to question the validity of a brand. 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.
The company describes the typical Scandinavian character as “informal and unpretentious. On the corporate homepage. service. by making the workplace a meaningful or joyful part of life? . i. Statoil states: “The mission is to make our customer’s every day life easier through personal service. the brand may not be stated or articulated in a way that easily translates into personal behavior. so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile”. care and quality. as an employee at a Statoil service location you had better be prepared to serve the customer with a lot more than filling cars with petrol. how do companies give employees inspiration. how is the mission adaptable to employees at the petrol company Statoil? At the corporate homepage.Brand activation _ 7 Employees Since employees are one of the most important carriers of a brand. straightforward and honest. and through attractive locations and opening hours make it possible for the customer to shop more from one same place”. when breaking down the brand into behavior and attitude? In some companies. education and tools to perform on the expectations created by marketing promises? How is the position relevant? McDonald's vision is to be the world's best quick service restaurant experience. attitude or mission etc. What can you as an employee at a petrol station do to make people’s life easier? How is the position profitable? How can the brand be profitable for the employees. The question to ask here is: how can the company mission be relevant to low paid staff in the fast food industry? And what makes people smile in a fast food restaurant? How is the position adaptable? The Scandinavian airline.e. McDonald’s states: “This means providing outstanding quality. What inspirational guidelines can every employee agree upon. given the fact that it’s profitable for the company? Does it increase their salary or in other ways add to their personal well being. The mission is to get the customer satisfied as fast as possible – and to leave just as fast with a happy face. Considering this. has chosen to let the company’s Scandinavian heritage form the foundation for its’ brand. For example. you might ask yourself. The challenge is to define how the brand position “It’s Scandinavian” can help flight attendants understand how to meet their passengers. SAS. modest and with a lighthearted glint in the eye”. cleanliness and value.
“Make the working place the most fun place to be at”. Southwest Airlines promise that they will entertain everybody during the flight. “You will be surprised of how much people (employees and customers) are willing to give when they feel loved and acknowledged”. only one-quarter as many Prizm are sold. McKinsey Quarterly. “Skip uniforms and formalities. 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. and explains. In the realization of the declaration. Products and services Emotional preferences differ products with similar functional attributes. “Federal regulations says you must comply/If you don’t you can kiss seatmate goodbye/Chhhh-ch-ch-ch-chCh-ch-ch-ch…”. employees are offered a lucrative commission and bonus deal making it possible to earn more than you would in the assembly room. 2002 nr 1 captures this in their article about “Revving up auto branding”. selling the Chevrolet Prizm requires $750 more in buyer incentives. . 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”.Brand activation _ 8 The American luxury department store Nordstrom declares that “no customer should leave the department store without being satisfied and happy”. GM and Toyota build two more or less identical cars (the Toyota Corolla and the Chevrolet Prizm). “Rule # 1. celebrate as often as possible and encourage practical jokes and pranks. At Nordstrom. The more I sell the better for me and for Nordstrom”. Director of Customer says. Now. emotional preferences can be attached differing products with similar functional attributes. Since I know about the commission I get a completely different driving force at work. Yet. and their trade-in value depreciates much more quickly. So. what makes her rap? Kathy Pettit. The models have similar functional benefits and both models score high in consumer reports. the flight attendant at Southwest Airlines grabs the microphone to give the obligatory safety precautions – but today she is rapping. Have lots of competitions. Pettit continues. Therefore there is only one company rule. How do we activate the brand through products and services? And how do we make sure that products and services live up to advertising promises? By aligning these questions. no employee has to seek their boss to make decisions regarding customers. Leslie Kaufman a stars salesman at Nordstrom says. because they love what they are doing. Use your good judgment in all situations. “If I was paid by the hour I wouldn’t be as motivated as I am. There will be no additional rules”. both models designed by Toyota in their joint venture plant in California.
can appear. To achieve this. “Think Different” casts new light on the purpose and perceived benefit of Apple computers and computer accessories. The company’s mission is to deliver high quality computing products with a different experience. but their offer is diversified into a variety of product categories. . During the process. The Progressive case shows that brand activation efforts can ignite a total reconstruction of the product offer or reveal new opportunities for specific products. exploring the brand unravels new opportunities for sustainable growth. restructuring their total product offer on a longterm basis. Still. it’s sometimes hard to tell one brand from the other just by reading the product and service offer – with one exception. Progressive has since 1990 grown to be the fourth largest insurance company in the United States. the company might have to adopt a more holistic perspective than previously. or to move into closely related ones. How is the position profitable? Increased profits are one of the major drivers of change and development. The insurance company Progressive decided to restructure their auto insurance offer to deliver on the promise of customer service. How is the position adaptable? How do you make products state the brand? In the insurance industry. Gillette expanded the razor category to include shaving gel and other skin lotion products. Progressive clearly demonstrates how the brand can cast new light on the total customer offer. opportunities to expand your category.Brand activation _ 9 How is the position relevant? An Apple computer doesn’t offer a unique functional benefit that cannot be offered by other computer companies. In doing so. like sale support or development of new products. Disney is focused to entertain all living ages. brand activation may also result in less revolutionary measures. Apple is a great example on how the brand can alter the way consumers look at benefits on commodity products. the company went through an extensive reformation. Perceiving profit as growth in sales figures or in number of items. Instead of having in-house representatives. To leverage this driving force. Naturally. Progressive took their brand promise to the extreme and put claims representatives in Immediate Response Vehicles that could come right to the scene of an accident.
The postmodern individual demands that brands live up to their promises in every interaction whether it is through products and services. why do we need active brands? In today’s postmodern society. the society and the brand (i. Summary Branding is much more than advertising. While the basic idea about active brands is to execute the brand in other terms than marketing.Brand activation _ 10 Finally.e. Leiter and Loch. In return. according to Court. companies can use the loyalty to create re-purchase behavior or customer recommendation behaviors. brand activation contributes in creating trust between the customer. We do not look deeper into these strategies in this paper. the key challenge is always to retain the existing relation of trust between the customer and the brand. Companies can also. The time has come for companies to leverage the brand asset within the entire organization. And trust is one of the key factors to create loyalty between consumers and brands. merely offering supreme product features on a functional or emotional level is not sufficient. but it is worth mentioning that when a company relies on customer loyalty to expand. the real value lies in the opportunities it creates. company). A coherent brand in these four areas will gain trust and loyalty with its customer enabling profitable relationships between brands and people. . use customer loyalty to diversify or focus their business. identity or communication. Most fundamentally. employees.
Our focus is to strengthening the relationship between people and brands. the battle for your mind Al Ries.com Paul Morel paul@starsky. Starsky Sibyllegatan 53 114 43 Stockholm. +46 (0)8 660 40 53 www. ISBN: 0312271921 Starsky Starsky is a brand and design agency.com Anders Nyström anders@starsky.Court. electronic consciousness and humanness Robert Delamar Spark-online issue 6. Leiter and Mark A.com Peter Preisler peter@starsky. Sweden Tel.Brand activation _ 11 Sources Post-modernism. SEB Enskilda Banken. Mark G. SEB.starsky.com . ISBN: 0071373586 No Logo Naomi Klein Picador USA. +46 (0)8 660 00 52 Fax. Loch McKinsey Quarterly 1999 number 2 Building Strong Brands David A Aaker The Free Press ISBN 0-02-900151-X Positioning. Jack Trout McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing. Travellink and BMG.0 Brand leverage David C. Starsky works with clients like SAS.
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