Mon, 25 Aug 2003

Sakti Makki, Contributor, Jakarta

If someone were to ask you what was the first thing that came to mind when posed the question, "what is the best cola beverage in the world?" more often than not the answer would be Coca-Cola.

Why Coca-Cola? How can a simple product or brand evoke such high brand recall? Many cola-based beverage producers in the world have tried their best, but failed, to replicate Coca-Cola's success.

It goes to show how powerfully a brand can be registered in the mind of its consumers. It also proves, once too often, that brands penetrate the mind in ways that are as abstract as they are memorable. With clear brand direction and a strategic set of actions, Coca-Cola has successfully carried out its strategic branding program, a program that is designed to achieve the highest mind-share among cola beverage consumers.

Mind-share, arguably more important than market share, can be achieved through a consistently singular, holistic and continuous brand communications approach that is specifically aimed at consumers. The attempt to achieve this position for any brand is intricately and undeniably complex, as well as time-consuming.

The brand in question must first become a relevant living brand that emotionally transcends its central idea and all of its added values through a focused and strategic branding program and communications. Essentially, it is the result of a specific approach for arousing consumer anticipation in and providing fulfillment of brand benefits or promises.

The communications must continuously and persistently highlight that one singular brand message and its value positioning is emotionally the most relevant and appealing to its consumers. From the onset of brand creation, brand owners must clearly understand and adhere to human psychology and dynamics, particularly in how a brand idea registers, grows and lives in the mind, while at the same time one should never forget that brands and branding are very much about delivering promises consistently, without fail. From needs to wants to loyalty, brands must accomplish this status by living up to all of their promises. To ignore this important aspect is extremely unfortunate and potentially fatal.

As with any long-term investment, returns take a whole lot longer to realize. Through a well-tracked and phase-by-phase brand communication campaign, the progress of mind-penetration by a brand can be measured and proper future action can be taken accordingly. The achievement of mind-share is not an overnight process. It takes patience and well thought out strategic brand planning and communications.

Consumer decision-making processes are very much influenced by a brand's perceived functional and emotional benefits. Perhaps the latter becomes even more important, as competing at product level is increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Through branding, Marlboro has made its successful, emotional brand relationship through its "cowboy masculinity" appeal, just as Nike has achieved success with its emotional "spirit of champions" brand positioning. Marlboro smokers perceive themselves as being the American cowboy that, directly or indirectly, personifies self-dependent, self-assured macho men facing the challenges in life, as the cowboys in the prairies would have done.

Equally important to Nike's core brand positioning of being a champion -- or at least the idea of becoming one -- just like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, is intimately real and apparent in the minds and hearts of Nike's consumers. Successfully delivering these distinct and central messages, both have harvested and enjoyed brand success at a global scale. Despite the complexity of human psychology, both Marlboro's and Nike's core brand messages have deeply penetrated many consumers' minds and, more likely than not, will remain there for quite some time. These brands have planned their branding programs well and communicated them successfully. Without a doubt, mind-share is important and may well be that one key ingredient in sustaining the longevity of a brand.

The next question is what about the products? Aren't brands about products too? In a basic sense, they are. However, brands are about paradigms and belief systems that are inherent to the brand, whereas products are about vehicles that transmit these philosophical ideas, directly or indirectly, to consumers.

The ultimate purpose in branding is about transcending central ideas and values. Brands are beyond what products are capable of. Take a theme park as an example. Many people go to Disneyland because of what the Disney brand represents. It is about acknowledging that there is still a child in all of us and the sense of freedom of being one is what appeals to people -- children and adults alike -- to visit the place. Disney theme park is the brand and all the souvenirs and merchandise are a product of the brand. We go to Disneyland because of the brand and what it represents, not because of the products. Why bother going to Disneyland because of how great their puppets or key chains are, with Disney characters on them? We go there because the park symbolically represents having fun and spending quality time with our families. -- The writer is managing director of MakkiMakki Branding Consultant