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Is Brand Image that important?

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Is Brand Image that important?

Detractors of branding, the ones who keep repeating “the lipstick on the pig,” focus on the brand image as a metaphor for how branding is a useless accessory. So, what is the fundamental role of Brand Image?

Brand Image: historical development

Since the early 60s, consumer research has stumbled upon the insight that consumers’ perceptions and associations about brands go far beyond their functional attributes and benefits by including emotional and symbolic qualities often referred to as Brand Image.

These attributes, the sum of all brand-related experiences, combine to form the brand personality. This artifact is based on the physical reality of the product (e.g., packaging, performance, etc.) and attitudes and feelings that emerge in consuming the product and the brand.

These perceptions form brand-related consumer memories and are crucial for building brand salience.

Our most current understanding of how the brand image works with consumers leads professionals to believe that brand image has several components:

  1. Personality: the brand’s projection of consumers’ true or aspirational self. It is a process of humanizing brands to relate to them more easily. For example, Nike is perceived as a spirited, remarkable, and innovative brand that dares to push the boundaries of all athletes.
  2. Values: the perceived beliefs and moral compass guiding the brand’s decisions and choices. For example, Dove is perceived as a caring, inclusive brand and leader in advancing women’s causes.
  3. Culture: producers’ reputation, attitude towards environmental protection, inclusiveness, and treatment of employees. Patagonia’s efforts towards the environment are a great example of brand culture.
  4. Associations/ Attributes. The latter has three parts, mirroring the brand benefits ladder.
    1. Functional associations relate to the brand’s functional benefits. How well does Persil clean vs. Ariel? What is the best-tasting vodka? This is the performance-related part of the brand, as perceived by the consumers.
    2. Emotional associations are the sensed emotional benefits of the brand. For example, the rituals related to the first drink at the end of the workday or the first cocktail at the beginning of a holiday.
    3. Experiential associations connect with consuming the brand and the product. For example, the experience of receiving a bottle at a table in a VIP room.

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Why is Brand Image important?

In a nutshell, BI is the essential currency of branding. First and foremost, BI is the set of perceptions responsible for forming consumers’ memory and, therefore, is ultimately accountable for the saliency of a brand.

Consumers use “Google” instead of “search on the web” because of Google saliency, a derivative of the memories built through time with the brand. These memories are based on the performance of the brand (e.g., speed, results, the relevance of the results), on the resulting emotions (e.g., finding a cheaper flight, learning a new notion), and on the overall experience (e.g., being able to see something online while commuting under stress).

Moreover, BI defines whether consumers believe the brand is unique and different from the competition. That ability to stand out is a crucial driver of brand loyalty and a determinant of profitability in commoditizing categories. Your brand image determines in consumers’ minds whether your vodka is just another vodka or unique. In the spirits world, 200 new gin brands are emerging every year. The ability to stand out in such a crowded space is equivalent to the gift of survival.

And finally, BI defines how authentic your brand is. Any brand can find a unique niche, but its performance in that space will depend on how authentic it feels in consumers’ hearts and souls. In the era of social media and information abundance, the old mantra of “fake it until you make it” might be equivalent to suicide for a brand. Too many brands seek roots or establish credentials they do not own, and their brand image tells precisely that story. But Dove’s brand image emerges as an authentic brand involved in the causes closest to their heart.

While unique brands are not necessarily authentic, authentic brands are always exceptional.

In conclusion

Managing Brand Image is a binding domain of building solid and successful brands. Salience, Uniqueness, and Authenticity all stem from proper Brand Image management, which makes BI’s measuring and proactive management one of the most essential elements of marketing execution.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do companies measure the effectiveness of their brand image strategies in real time?

Companies measure the effectiveness of their brand image strategies in real-time by combining qualitative and quantitative methods. Surveys and focus groups allow for direct consumer brand perception and awareness feedback. Social media analytics offer insights into public sentiment and engagement levels, providing immediate feedback on how brand messages are received. Tools like Google Analytics track website traffic and user behavior, indicating the effectiveness of online brand image strategies. Additionally, sales data and market share analysis can reflect the brand image’s impact on consumer purchasing decisions. Real-time monitoring platforms enable companies to adjust their strategies promptly based on these metrics.

Can a negative brand image be redefined entirely, and what are the first steps in such a transformation?

A negative brand image can be redefined entirely but requires a strategic and comprehensive approach. The first step is acknowledging the issues contributing to the negative perception and transparently communicating this acknowledgment to the public. Next, it’s crucial to identify the core values and strengths the brand wants to be associated with moving forward. Developing a clear, consistent messaging strategy that aligns with these values is essential. Engaging with customers through improved customer service, community involvement, and positive PR campaigns can help shift perceptions. Regularly monitoring feedback and being open to further adjustments are essential to successfully redefining a brand image.

What are the most common mistakes companies make when trying to improve their brand image, and how can they be avoided?

One common mistake is lacking consistency across messages and touchpoints, which can confuse consumers and dilute brand identity. Companies should ensure that all communications, from advertising to customer service, align with the brand’s core values and image goals. Another mistake is failing to engage genuinely with customer feedback or ignoring negative sentiment, which can exacerbate a poor brand image. Listening to and addressing customer concerns shows a commitment to improvement and can positively impact brand perception. Lastly, companies often underestimate the importance of internal branding. Ensuring employees understand and embody the brand’s values can amplify positive image efforts externally. Avoiding these mistakes requires a strategic, integrated approach to brand management and a commitment to authenticity and transparency.

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