How to build a truly strong brand? How does your company’s brand compete with your competitors? What mistakes should you avoid? Krzysztof Langer, our co-founder and CEO has all the answers. You can find them in an interview for NowyMarketing.pl republished here.
What are the characteristics of a strong brand? Why is building one is so important in the context of competitive advantage?
The brand, of course, is not limited to the logotype and graphic sign. A hundred years ago the logo was only a sign of ownership. Then it evolved into a quality mark. Until later the role of the brand became that of differentiation from competitors and building an emotional bond with consumers. Today’s companies think differently about the competitive advantage. They know that they will not achieve it traditionally, but by building a community around shared ideas. And it is thanks to branding, or a clearly defined brand identity, that organizations can put their values in the spotlight.
The concept of conscious branding and responsible brand is the next stage of modern branding evolution. The new stage of this evolution is to transform brands into symbols of beliefs and values. Consumers are increasingly expecting both quality and financial return from brands, as well as a measurable, positive impact on the environment, the planet, our society, and vulnerable groups. The current pandemic has also proved to be a strong catalyst for these changes. Strong brands are aware of social transformations, changes in consumer attitudes and their projects create a space to share certain values that become relevant to people. If the company is aware of its core DNA (the manifesto of brand values adhered to by the organization), it also invites its customers to join in through authentic communication.
It is not only storytelling but also storydoing – the consistent building of space enabling us to change.
What is the most important thing to emphasize when building a strong brand? What are the key factors, elements that build a competitive advantage and demonstrate the potential for the brand’s market success?
It is worth starting to define (or redefine) the purpose of the brand – brand purpose. It’s a notion broader than just a business purpose in a traditional, previously dominant economic paradigm. To grow, a business obviously needs to generate profit. To build a strong brand, the company should have an overarching goal in a more general context. A good example is Patagonia, which has completely abandoned its focus on growth. The higher purpose, azimuth, or values around which we operate should be the authentic answer to the question: ‘Why does the company exist?’ Our response should be as important to our organization as it is to the wider consumer community.
Strong brands have a well-defined brand purpose and a communications strategy that supports that purpose when engaging with consumers in multiple ways. However, by engaging the whole organization, a brand can achieve true authenticity and brand consistency. It is not the task of the marketing team alone.
What do you think are the biggest challenges when building a strong brand?
The greatest difficulty is continuous transformation, in response to the dynamically changing needs and attitudes of consumers. The customers have more and more control over the products they like or even adore. They want to have a say in what is produced and how it is produced. To keep up with it, the organization must be agile, and the brand must engage people in co-creating solutions.
Often this kind of agility in branding is difficult to achieve. In some industries, such as fashion, we can see companies keeping up with these changes, dictated especially by ecology. On the other hand, in other sectors, such as the energy industry, it is difficult to carry out a transformation of organizations even over one decade. An example is our client, Shell. In its new strategy, Shell assumes long-term changes over the next 30 years. Because that’s how long it will take to move towards renewables and revolutionize the energy industry globally.
Which brands do you consider strong and why?
For me, strong brands are conscious, inspire action, and evolve with their brand purpose. They transform themselves into a mini-social movement that is co-created by engaged consumers. Philips, for example, builds the brand on a sense of responsibility, balancing its impact on the natural environment. The company has changed its business model – it wants to become part of the circular economy.
Conscious brands are also responsive brands, i.e. brands that react to changes. An example of such a brand is Google, which is constantly looking for new solutions, researching changes in needs, consumer and user behavior, and adapting its services to them.
Higher purpose drives the development of strong brands. In this context, a great example is IKEA and its vision: To create a better everyday life for the many people. Finally, a strong brand is also a leader-activist, driven by a fundamental concern for the immediate and biggest issues faced by society. Such a brand not talks the talk, but also walks the walk – just like Patagonia.
What else can we learn from these brands?
I believe that those brands that make bold decisions will reap the rewards. Strong brands are therefore not only existing conscious brands but also brands that decisively make strategically difficult decisions. Those brands that define bold strategies and at the same time are authentic and determined in achieving their goals, without forgetting consistency, will win. We should remember that brand communication should always be consistent – this is what Admind helps with as a branding agency, responsible for communication execution and ongoing support in brand governance.
What mistakes are most often made when building brand identites?
Limiting yourself to thinking in terms of product or service. People no longer focus on products, but on the importance of having them. Customers buy products to build their own identity, so our brand identity must be clearly defined. Marketing and branding alone cannot be responsible for the brand purpose – rather, they are the medium, supporting the brand activities in different areas. This is a certain azimuth that should translate into activities in different areas of the company.
The second important problem, in my opinion, is the lack of authenticity. The lack of a clear brand strategy – or its misunderstanding in the organization – may cause a lack of consistency and authenticity visible in the company’s activities. This makes it difficult to build awareness and community around the brand. Fortunately, more and more leaders are aware of the value of the brand and are investing in its development.
What advice would you give to companies wanting to build a brand from scratch?
It is worth thinking about these two perspectives. First of all to think about the changes and social and cultural trends we need to follow. Secondly, think about our competencies and strengths that we can use. Define the brand purpose and support yourself with the knowledge and experience of branding experts to determine all relevant elements of our brand identity.
Public expectations towards businesses have never been so high or changed so quickly and dynamically. Companies must not only achieve financial results but also show that their activities have a positive impact on the environment. These expectations need to be answered in the short term by seeking innovation in the business model, using new technologies and exploring new areas of action that an organization can take to achieve its brand purpose.
Krzysztof Langer is co-founder and CEO of Admind Branding & Communications (the largest branding agency in Poland) and one of the founders of the Creative Labs business incubator. For 10 years, he has been managing an award-winning agency that works with global brands such as ABB, Shell, Hitachi, and Givaudan.