What Are You Branding (Part 1)

“The brand is your business and your business is your brand.”

Working with many businesses over the years, we have come to realise that some business leaders may not be entirely sure what their brands are, or which are the products, services or entities that they would like to invest in to turn them into brands. Sometimes they own so many businesses, products, and services they can’t quite tell which has the potential and which has not. This is a valid dilemma; after all, anything can be branded.

Let’s look at the different types of brands and help you identify the types of brands you may have in your organisation’s portfolio. In part one of this article, we’ll examine 3 different types of brands.

1. Product brand

Going back to history, product branding was really the starting point of the concept of branding, and the company that invented it all in the 19th century was none other than Proctor & Gamble (P&G). Today when you go to the supermarket you’ll be bombarded by the variety of branded products sitting on the shelves: toothpaste, cooking oil, toilet paper, snacks, batteries, chocolates, etc. According to statistics, a typical medium-sized supermarket carries between 20,000 to 40,000 SKUs (stock keeping units). Some of the brand names are synonymous with the product itself, for instance, Pampers, Scotch tape (Tape), Tupperware. Going from the supermarket shelves to other retail stores there’s apparel, books, furniture, lights, plants, mobile devices; the list goes on.

The idea is to turn a commodity into a product brand, such as Evian water, Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream, Osim uDiva massage chairs, Energizer batteries, Michelin tyres, Tao Kae Noi seaweed snacks, or even Mao Shan Wang durian (the best we heard versus Red Prawn durian), etc.

2. Service brand

Have you ever paid someone to stand in line, such as queuing for property launches or bakkwa (especially during Chinese New Year), or to do stuff for you such as training your dog (think reality star Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer), educating your kids (think Singapore’s premier enrichment school The Learning Lab) or getting you from Point A to Point B (think Singapore Airlines).

Unlike product branding, service branding is significantly more challenging due to its inherent four key characteristics. Intangibility means it’s something that you cannot hold, touch or bring home, just like you can’t bring home a ‘Marriot hotel stay’. The second characteristic is inseparability. This means that the characteristics are provided and consumed at the same time at the same location, e.g. a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland. The third characteristic is perishability. Unlike a vacuum cleaner, which you can keep in the shop if it is not sold today, a laundry service cannot ‘store’ their ‘unused time’ today and keep it for tomorrow’s customers. And the final characteristic is variability. The quality of a service can vary by many factors, including who provides it, where it is provided, when it is provided, and how it is provided. The more your business relies on humans to provide services (instead of automation), the more susceptible you are to variability.

For simplicity’s sake, I am not arguing that product branding does not include services as well, e.g. an after purchase warranty. Today all brands incorporate an element of service, but we’ll use a simple classification category here.

3. Corporate brand

Many people want to work for Google as it is perceived as an unconventional company with great prospects, and one that offers excellent tangible and intangible benefits such as cool work, cool office, cool colleagues and cool titles. According to an article in Inc. magazine, it wrote “Google receives more than two million job applications each year. Based on the ratio of applicants to hires, landing a job at Google is roughly ten times more difficult than getting into Harvard.” That’s the power of a strong corporate brand! 3M is another company widely known for innovation: a place grooming intrapreneur where the staff is encouraged to spend 15% of their working time on their own projects. When you think of innovation, you think of 3M.

Over the last ten years, corporate branding has taken prominence over product branding. Businesses have come to realise that differentiation strategies using products and services no longer cut it because of the rapid rate of service imitation and technology innovation. Corporate branding reflecting corporate values and emotions has become a strong unique selling proposition to garner trust and respect. For instance, in 2015 Singapore-headquartered United Overseas Bank launched a major regional brand campaign to mark eighty years in business. A new slogan ‘Right by you’ was created to reflect a bank built on the ‘timeless values’ needed to do the right things for stakeholders and use its corporate values as a brand differentiator.

Take a look at your brand portfolio, what do you have right now? The type of brand you choose can help guide your business decisions and should be incorporated into your overall business planning.

Keep a look out for Part 2 of “What are you branding” where we’ll discuss other types of brands.