Branding Strategies Assessing the Influence Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

This level of the maturity model is a transitory one and is focused more on either small, incremental gains from the first level, which is Reacting. In the Reacting layer of this proposed Branding Maturity Model, the majority of brand departments have a decidedly "every department for itself" approach to process maturity and have information flow that is purely dependent on personal productivity applications only. That is to say specifically that at this low level of performance in the model, branding departments focuses first on tactical wins at the expense of global victories. This mindset in turn creates an isolated approach to branding throughout entire global industries. One of the key attributes of this level of the Branding Maturity Model is the neglecting of the many user-generated from of content including blogs, Wikis and other forms of interactive customer feedback. The short-sighted nature of being a company in the Reacting layer of this model forces branding teams more into firefighting and letting the bloggers who complain the loudest direct their firms with the greatest impact. The focus on results then is in minimizing pain and public embarrassment vs. creating lasting value through the pursuit of being a trusted advisor, defining products as value- and solution sets, and proving the value of branding through ROI work and extensive use of analytics.

In summary, the three critical success factors of becoming a trusted advisor, focusing on value-based differentiation and less on features and functions, and the strong trend towards the quantification of branding's value to organizations including its ROI signal a shift in the priorities of many SMEs in their approach to globally communicating their position and value. Underscoring all this in the research is the acceptance that blogs, Wikis, and user-generated content is here to stay and is aiding in the globalization of branding activities by enterprises. Finally, the correlation of a company's ability to attain trusted advisor status with its customers and retain that status through continual reinforcing has an effect on long-term profitability and sales. This last point is the subject of future research and shows the extent of contribution branding can make to firms who are scaling globally.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Executive Summary

There is a reciprocal relationship emerging between brandings' critical success factors globally and the increasing reliance on user-generated media including blogs, Wikis, and in the past, bulletin board systems. The growth of Web 2.0 technologies defined by O'Reilly (2005) is re-ordering the dynamics of branding globally. Table 1 in the Appendix of this report provides an overview of the collection of technologies that comprise Web 2.0. Figure 1 is the map O'Reilly and Battelle created showing how both market and user dynamics are defining social networking (O'Reilly, 2005. et.al.)

Figure 1: Web 2.0 Explained

Inherent in the user dynamics of the map completed by O'Reilly and Battelle are the theoretical foundations of branding being more socially oriented and interactive, and more communicative and collaborative in nature. There is a rapidly evolving level of transparency, trust and interactivity with consumers than has been the case in the past. These collections of technologies have made the managing of credibility critical in any branding strategy, and the role of social networking in branding critical. It is in fact infeasible to discuss branding today without taking into account the fundamentals of social networking according to branding industry experts including Mairinger (2008) and Blakely (2007).

Branding's Revolution: Collaborating & Participating with consumers

Branding's long-term value or brand equity (Market Research Executive Board, 2005) is based on consistency of messaging and the development of emotions that are evoked from messaging. From the initial development of a branding strategy to initial feedback through branding research, the lag time prior to consumer-generated media including social networking applications was months. Today with Web 2.0-based technologies and social networking, it's possible to get feedback on branding messaging effectiveness within days of the initial launch of the campaign. Given how transparent social networking is making branding, it's imperative that consistency and credibility be continually achieved and strived for.

Creating branding strategies had been focused on unidirectional communication and the development of branding strategies that have tended to be push-oriented in their messaging (Thomas, 2005). The transition to Web 2.0-based approaches to branding brings immediacy that must be based on transparency. This requires a departure in thinking away from the more traditional and slower-to-react approaches of evaluating and fine-tuning branding. For brand marketers the transparency inherent in Web 2.0 needs to be harnessed through the development of collaborative communities (Jones, 2008, p. 10, 11). These collaborative communities online can also become the foundation of creating levels of trust with consumers not possible through traditional branding strategies.

Creating and Sustaining Trustworthy Brands with Web 2.0 brand is by definition the identity of a company, regardless if the company is producing products or selling services. Advertising and marketing strategies on the part of companies have as their catalyst the association of emotional and imagery-based attributes to a brand. A case in point are the many efforts of financial services firms including Fidelity Investments to link their brand with being a trusted advisor to others looking for guidance in managing their investments (Gill, 2008). The breakdown in trust within many financial services industries was precipitated by Enron, Tyco and many other scandals that also impacted the value of investor's portfolios. The current mortgage meltdown is leading to a high level of distrust of any brand associated with mortgage banking or financials services involved with home financing.

Yet for a brand to be successful, it needs to generate a high level of trust, turning customers into advocates (Blasberg, J & Vishwanath, V., Allen, J., 2008). Take Apple Computer for example and the role of their technical evangelists in getting software written for the entire series of Apple Macintosh systems, and the passion these customers have for the product (Kawasaki, 1990).

Successful brands evoke positive emotions; it is up to those managing the brand to associate the brand with which emotions they choose to continually align themselves with. The use of the Internet as a means of branding products and services has led to a greater concentration on trust as a differentiator between companies than ever before (Elliott, R & Yannopoulou, N., 2007). Trust is the foundation for the development and sustaining of all exceptional brands. In the services arena is aspect of trust is a critical aspect of any branding strategy. Trust is as much about branding a service as any given products' benefits are to its unique positioning. Trust is one of the most potent differentiators between brands, especially in Business-to-Consumer (B2C) markets (Lee, Ang, Dubelaar, 2005).

Through the use of Web 2.0-based technologies, it's becoming more important than ever for companies to aspire to be trusted advisors in their chosen markets. Becoming a trusted advisor in a market is a more powerful differentiator than any demographic or psychographic segmentation variable, and certainly more powerful and longer-lasting than price alone as a product differentiator (Urban, 2005).

Internal Collaboration Critical for Branding Consistency

When the concepts of Web 2.0 technologies for creating branding are combined with Porter's Determinants of Competitive Advantage (1985), a new paradigm begins to emerge for creating competitive advantage. This paradigm centers on creating long-term differentiation on trust that leads to segmenting markets based on earning and retaining trust. Porter (1985) sees competitive advantage growing "fundamentally out of the value a firm is able to create for its buyers" (p. 3). Taking this concept from Porter (1985) and applying it to the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 technologies, branding strategies within leading companies are becoming much more collaborative in scope. Figure 2 provides an example of how Web 2.0 technologies can be used to create a higher level of collaboration in the branding process internally. Each of the functional areas of the company is represented in brand consistency and message execution.

Figure 2: Collaboration Internally Is Critical for Branding Consistency

Source: Based an analysis of Bernoff & Lee (2008); Thomas (2005)

What's most important about this internal coordination in brand execution is the ability to define a synchronized, well-orchestrated pre-launch, launch and post-launch plan. Figure 3, Internal Launch Planning Timeline provides an example of how AMD, SAP and Siemens are managing this process.

Figure 3: Internal Launch Planning Timeline Examples

Source: based on analysis of the research presented in (Kotlarsky, Fenema, Willcocks, 2008)

Once internal coordination of a branding campaign has been accomplished external launch of messaging is completed. The defining and strengthening of segmentation strategies using branding is the next step in many organizations' branding strategic plans.

Using Branding to Reinforce Segmentation Strategies

Over the last two decades, the emphasis in the strategic management literature has shifted from a view of competitive advantage as primarily determined by branding factors to a resource-based view that highlights ways in which the deployment of unique and idiosyncratic organizational resources and capabilities can result in sustained superior performance (Lado et al., 1992). Underlying this shift is a recognition that…

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