What do a global industrial material producer, a not-for-profit research organisation, a business to business (B2B) tech services firm and a producer of Over The Counter (OTC) pharmaceuticals have in common?
Over the last six months I had meetings with the senior management team and boards of these very different companies, where I addressed the issue of a fragmented brand communication that was affecting their brand equity. Research showed each to have a low brand awareness score (how well it was known) but medium to high brand health scores (how well regarded the brand was amongst those who knew the brand and its preference ratios).
So what exactly is fragmented brand communication, and why is it important to resolve for organisations?
Fragmented brand communication refers to marketing efforts that represent the brand in multiple ways to the market, sending out different messages with no clear brand style or ‘language’. This reduces the overall effect of the brand on their market memory, and as a result, the overall brand equity.
As an example, the B2B tech services firm I worked with was one that had high efficacy in its chosen field. It had a clean logo with a customary tech styled blue colour. The stationery matched their logo but their website was very different from their print material. Campaigns running for their three main products had creative that was well developed, but looked like it came from three different companies, with the logo the only thing connecting them. Presentations the sales people gave were all different, based on what each team set up as the template, leaving behind material that had a generic feel.
This meant that the brand had no consistency, and was represented in too many different ways, that is, their communication was fragmented.
What was wrong with this picture? Creatively the advertisements hit the mark, and the content of the presentations and website were quite good. The Director of Sales explained that while they had run four advertising campaigns with targeted media buy in the last three years, his teams still faced new clients who had low memory of their brand. The problem was the memory imprint on the market of the brand. The fragmented approach meant the brand was less recognised than its peers.
Branding is one of the most important aspects for any business, whoever your customer is. It is, however, an often misunderstood concept as many organisations put so much emphasis on their logo instead of the overall picture. Long term brand equity is built through careful understanding of the best positioning for the organisation, then communicating that clearly and succinctly through brand-led marketing.
At its core, branding has everything to do with our brains and how we perceive one particular product from another. The advantage a good brand-led marketing strategy gives us is stronger memory imprints, disruption in the market, emotional connections and trust based on recognition. Fragmented marketing undermines the overall imprint, and though it can be overridden by spending big on media, that route becomes very expensive and inefficient.
To imprint a brand into market consciousness, we need to make our brands familiar, and then connect them with desired messages. Our brains react to repeated brand imprints by creating patterns very similar to what we see with habit formation. The effect of brand associations on the creation of new connections in the brain has been well researched, and what an unfragmented brand can do is create strong gestalts (memory shortcuts or triggers in the brain that allow a whole story or emotion). For example, an advertisement of a gorilla with a purple background, while not associated with chocolates, automatically brings to mind the Cadbury brand and its emotional connections.
Another example is how simply seeing the shape of the Coca Cola bottle is enough to bring forward a whole association and trigger dopamine reactions from brand-loyal consumers. Such connections are due to brand communications that retain consistency over the years. Numerous neuro-scientific studies have shown that these associations create actual changed activity and associations in consumer brains (Read Montague’s 2004 Coke-Pepsi experiment being one of the most famous).
When we fragment our brand communication, we reduce the amount of repeat media the viewer receives, making it difficult to create strong brand associations. Now while mega brands like Cadbury and Coca Cola have the resources to really put their brand out there, smaller organisations need to be more conscious of their marketing dollars. This means thinking of each communication device as an advertising media, and trying to ensure the brand message gets through in a simple and consistent way.
The basic steps an organisation should take to de-fragment their brand marketing
1. Audit your brand
Check your branded message to ensure it is positioning in the market correctly. Check if that positioning is consistent across all marketing material, internal and external. How many ways do you present yourself? Does the way your organisation works fit with the brand image it tries to create? It might make sense for your organisation to engage an external entity to exclude internal biases, and have a brand report created.
2. Consolidate and create a consistent brand language
Determine the best way to present your brand in the market and create a brand guideline that helps create consistency across all communication. A brand language includes elements such as brand colours, shapes, styling, typography, tone of voice, copy, photography style, etc. All of these should have a consistent feel. For example, if the brand is positioned as premium and specialised, a cool and informal write up style would create a disconnect with that positioning. Likewise, a formal serif font would not sit well with a brand that is positioned as young and fun.
3. Enhance current brand elements
Try to implement strength in communication by increasing the memory factor of each element you use with your brand. If your current brand is too generic in its market, try to enhance it by increasing its unique feature sets. With Columbia pencils, a brand that had lost market share from a leadership position, we incorporated the shape and colours of the product with a rebrand. The pencil design itself, which research told us had the strongest recall amongst consumers in the Australian market, was made a key part of the logo and branding. Brand health and sales increased due to the disruption and consistency of brand element with growth that outstripped industry growth by huge margins.
4. Allow flexibility
If you enforce rules that are too rigid, marketing different products suffers, and creative briefs tend to be too restricted. Create a level of flexibility that still retains core brand elements, to ensure consistency without generic representation.
5. Test the efficiency of your brand language
The simplest test is to gather your marketing material, remove the logo and name, and check to see if they look like they come from the same brand. Is there a particular brand look or style present? Is it identifiable? Is its presentation matching the positioning of the organisation in the market? If not, there is still some work to do.
Each industry and each organisation is very different, and you need to really understand the space your brand occupies before embarking on consolidation or defragmentation for the brand. Successful organisations with strong brand equity understand that branding is based on clear data, science and creative thinking. A clear and consistent brand-led marketing strategy is a major part of getting your branding right, but whether you are a small NFP organisation or a big global giant, ‘defragmenting’ your brand is the easiest and most cost effective way of increasing the efficiency of your marketing and sales efforts.