What’s in a name? — branding!

2007-12-11 00:00

When I think of branding, I go all the way back to my youth, in the late 1940s, when I used to go to the pictures with my dad every Saturday night. Often, there would be a Western showing and we would watch a bunch of cowboys next to a herd of cattle, with a fire blazing, heating the branding iron in order to leave the owner’s mark on his merchandise.

Not a fat lot has changed, really, in respect of modern day branding. A company brands its products to let the world know “This is mine, hands off!”. A reader, as readers often do, asked if we would devote a column to the whole subject of business brand leadership. My first thoughts were that this would be impossible: it is too big a subject, particularly in terms of who my target readership market is, namely the SME. Then I thought, there is one consideration in relation to product or company branding that is appropriate for all businesses, and particularly the SMEs: all considerations of quality.

Many companies do not, intentionally, brand their products because, for one reason or another, they are unable to accept the responsibilities that are inherent in brand ownership — the first of these being a responsibility to both above- and below-the-line advertising and promotion that is designed to stimulate the brand. The second is an acceptance of the responsibility for ensuring ongoing quality of product and product output. In modern-day business and marketing, product branding has taken on almost new meaning in respect of wealth creation.

Companies develop their brands because they know that strong brands represent powerful assets in their balance sheets. The law defines a trademark as a brand and gives it legal protection because, under the law, it is seen as having been developed and appropriated exclusively by the seller. Therefore, all trademarks are brands. This includes words, letters, numbers and even colours that distinguish, clearly, those brands from any other. As an example, take the major banks in South Africa. Each could be defined by colour alone: Absa, red; Standard, dark blue; FNB, turquoise; and Nedbank, green.

Back in the late 1970s, when I was marketing director for Formica Europe, we had to fight, worldwide, a major trade mark case in respect of the name Formica. Competitors argued that Formica had become a generic term for all laminates and, as such, they should be entitled to use the term. We had a tremendous fight on our hands, (which we eventually won), to show how we had built, using millions of dollars worldwide, the name of Formica to become so powerful that it did border on a generic term.

Part of the case also related to the question of quality and Formica’s ensuring that its quality of products standard was always guaranteed. It is this latter point that comes back to branding and the SME and it is a simple one. If you can guarantee consistent quality of product that your customers can identify as yours, you stand a very good chance of maintaining those customers’ business over a considerable length of time and with it, a brand identification and loyalty.

What I am saying is that most likely you do not possess the cash wherewithal to develop a brand image for your company, products or services to a point where you could define it as being “branded”. However, if you recognise the power of quality and service to your customers, you can reap many of the benefits associated with product or company branding. Let me give an example. A butcher opens a business in a small town and calls itself Billy’s Butchery. The whole mantle of his marketing approach is built around quality and is competing against the main high street, FMCG players. When he sells his products, he sells them as “Billy’s Best Pork”, “Billy’s Best Beef”, and so on. Because he guarantees his products as being the best, his business grows. What we see is, to all intents, branding. Customers come to see “Billy’s Best” as meaning something they can identify — namely quality, “If you want the best meat in town you go to Billy’s.”

Next week, I shall look at branding from other perspectives.

frankgreenfield@iafrica.com

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