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Building Meaningful Brands
by Murray Hunter
2014-09-29 10:55:19
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In a busy world where so many brands exist to snap our attention, developing a substantive brand concept is one of the most important things about developing, marketing, and sustaining any product, or group of products.

Get your branding wrong and most probably, your product fails. Get your branding wrong and you just have to do so much more work distributing and selling your product, than you could have. Get your branding wrong and your product may not be sustainable and become a one or two year wonder.

As the author has said on these pages before, there are so many brands about, and consumers are fatigued.

Anything less than a substantive product will most probably attract a 'one time' purchase, or worse still relegate your product to outlets that specialize in clearing 'old stocks' and failures.

A brand is not just a word, slogan, or smart looking logo. A brand should be a total configuration of product/strategy attributes as shown in the figure below.

Branding incorporates features that give us our general impressions. It personifies both tangible and intangible benefits, where the emphasis should be on the intangibles. And this is signaled to the consumer through packaging, fragrance, and other product associations. Where the product is channeled supports all this. Location is everything, and sends consumers very strong messages.


The Key is About Building a Theme

A product should be personified by a powerful theme that conveys the meaning of a product to the consumer.

The theme approach to branding is a useful tool to meet the consumer paradigm shifts occurring in various markets today. Several contemporary themes can be equated with a number of growing consumer segments that are emerging today.

For example, some contemporary Western consumers are losing their faith and trust in the established institutions of the Western culture, including the church, government and corporations. This loss of faith and trust is creating a spiritual vacuum where consumers are searching for something that is missing. There is a similar situation in China where growing middle-upper class have been brought up without religion and no longer feel affinity to the “old revolutionary culture” of China. This situation is leading consumers in a number of directions;

  • As society is becoming more ‘self centred’ in their aspirations, custom made goods and personal customer service is now very important. This can be seen in the rise of private banking, custom made computers and cars, tailor-made suits and fashions, and shopping for unique items in specialized shops rather than chains.
  • Consumers are looking for unique items that are hand-made, exclusive and come from an ethical background to fill the spiritual void. The rise of Fairtrade and establishment of farmers markets and eco-tourism is providing consumers with more fulfilling consumption experiences.
  • Consumer alternatism gives rise to alternative marketing and promotional strategies such as viral marketing and on-line buying through the internet. Shopping in this way provides the consumer with a story and feeling of control.
  • Seeking alternatives is leading to less consumer brand loyalty and more experimentation with new products and new brands, as well as quick changes, meaning shorter product lifecycles. The development of new brands and new images is more widely accepted than before. New brands and images give new experiences like the low cost airline Air Asia has done in winning new customers in South East Asia. Likewise, adventure and eco-tourism is rapidly growing as consumers look for new experiences in their leisure time.
  • The new generation feels no guilt about ‘over the top’ luxury as the post war generation did. Top luxury is acceptable to both self esteem and social exposure as this generation fulfills are role in a live for today in the white collar professional job market. Luxury is about feeling good and looking good.
  • People are very concerned about health and the sector is growing rapidly with five star private hospitals, health tourism and the rise of nutraceuticals and cosmoceuticals. Organic foods sold at premium prices are growing. Sports wear and sports equipment is about being seen and trendy, gyms are full and racing bikes dominate the roads during weekends.
  • People want to deal with corporate entities that do the right thing. People are then doing the right thing by association – a kind of spiritual materialism. This shows in the rise in ethical products and companies with social programs and supply chains that benefit those that are not as fortunate.   

Successful market paradigms (themes) utilized by well known international companies are outlined below.



The Body Shop


Hain Celestial


Est. Sales

USD120million (1996)

USD619mil (2006)

USD1.5Billion (2006)


USD738Mil (2006)












Personal Care

Personal Care


Organic food and cosmetics

Basic Philosophy

To sustain the environment and give back to communities

Social humanitarianism activism on many issues

Halal & Toyyibaan

Free of artificial ingredients, Kosher foods




































Mode of Distribution

Direct Marketing/Salon

Retail and e-Commerce

Direct Marketing

General distribution


Estée Lauder Companies Inc.


Private Ownership

Listed company

Each company has been able to create a solid position in international markets by following a definite corporate and marketing philosophy based on a theme. Not many companies have completely connected all the possible paradigms together into one complete corporate image and philosophy, except for Aveda and The Body Shop, although the Body Shop has not been without criticisms. There is a link between company platform (i.e., Aveda owned by Estee Lauder) and size. Good and opportune branding also requires strong channel access to succeed. One should also note that there is a growing momentum of small to medium young companies that are achieving dramatically high sales growth rates through the utilization of themes in their marketing and corporate strategies.

Companies from the 19th Century began developing brands to differentiate their products from their competition. Brands probably developed in the tobacco industry, where different tobaccos in regional America began to be transported to different locations and therefore had to be identified by a brand. Coca Cola was a soft drink that carried the name to distinguish it from the number of other colas on the market. Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati found in the 1930’s that it had a number of successful brands in the same category like Camay and Ivory soaps that needed a new way to manage so that due focus could be given to each brand. The company gave responsibility for total brand management to a single person (product manager) under a brand management system, which took over all decision making in regards to the brand in the company. Brand management spread throughout most consumer goods companies and is still a widely practiced functional structuring of a marketing organisation today.

The rationale behind the development of products had traditionally been designed around a mix of physical product, price, place and promotion, known as the 4Ps. This was considered the most important part of the marketing strategy. This was not a big breakthrough, but a convenient way to view and think about product strategy. The 4Ps concept was developed at a time when mass industrial marketing was growing rapidly. In recent times the orientation of marketing strategy has dramatically widened as the 4 P’s have become much more integrated and other factors like customer needs and wants, cost, convenience, communication, distribution and relationships.

Recently Kotler has taken the approach that a product exists on a number of levels. The core benefit the product provides to the consumer is the nucleus. The physical features, made up of packaging, brand and quality level is considered the actual product. Finally the support features or augmented product include additional consumer services such as installation, after sales service, warranty and delivery and credit.

A product theme focus should consider four major issues. Firstly, what is the central theme of the product?  This must consider the basic satisfaction the product will give to consumers’ aspirations. This will include the design of all product features and benefits to consumers, including branding and packaging, etc. Secondly, how much competition is there? Are there others out there with similar themes, ideas, philosophies and products? Thirdly, What will be the channel of distribution? Will the product and the message be able to reach those who may be interested in the product. Finally, are there enough consumers? Are there enough people interested in the chosen theme and product? Company philosophy, branding, strategy, channels and physical product should all support the theme.


The acceptance of a new product/theme in the market has a degree of risk associated with it. The further away a company moves away from a generally accepted product theme, the higher the risk. Consumer acceptance depends upon a number of complex factors including the prevailing culture, existing and emerging sub-cultures, product ambience, the target group and the advertising budget.

Products and themes have to meet basic needs of people and provide perceived benefits. New products must therefore solve a consumer problem or meet a particular need or want. Products must also be consistent with consumer culture, although consumer habits can be changed. Themes must also be acceptable and conducive to satisfying consumer wants and needs, whether they be psychological like the need for health, to feel good about something, to keep pace with their neighbors, etc. or spiritual needs such as the need to help, give or save the environment, etc.

Globalism is bringing new ideas to different cultures around the world. Cultures vary in the resistance they have to new ideas. Values and beliefs also differ among age, social, religious, ethnic and socio-economic groupings (sub-cultures) within a market. Acceptance by a target group will depend upon how far away the product/theme is from the group’s traditional ideas and values.

Advertising is a tool for drawing attention to a new product/theme in the community. Advertising is also a method of assuring the community that the product is good and the theme is something important and should be taken notice of. Advertising increases the scope of a company to be theme innovative. Products with low advertising budgets must generally follow others and emulate others’ concepts as much as possible for any chance of sales.

Generally speaking a product/theme can depart more from the traditional when a product is targeted at a specific sub-group, rather than the whole general community. Products aimed at the general community cannot be too radically different from what is already on the market, if risk is to be minimized. To establish how innovative a new product/theme can be, the above factors and market must be thoroughly understood. Often factors will point to different trends and directions, and this must be reconciled as to its meaning for new product/themes. Product differentiation is necessary to gain competitive advantage, however too radical differentiation can miss consumer needs and aspirations, and fail to gain mass consumer acceptance. Innovation resistance for new product/themes is shown in the table below.

Innovation Resistance for New Product/Themes


Traditional Under Developed Markets

Developing Markets

Cosmopolitan and Developed market

Culture and sub-cultures

Static and rigid towards change

Slowly evolving or faster changing sub-cultures

Dynamic or in transition

Product Ambience



Individual or creative

Target Group

Mass market

Mass market or Selective


Advertising Budget


High at launch for assistance

High or specifically targeted


Keep new products within existing market categories

Can experiment with developing new categories

Can aggressively develop new categories


Risk of launching innovative products too early in market

Growth may be slow in developing categories

High risk if fail to see correct potential ‘niches’

‘Niches’ too small


Generic products


Local brands in developing markets

Either a major new brand (same product) introduction to mass market or a new product/theme targeted at a specific group

Specific products for specific consumer groups (sub-markets)

Finally, the company can begin developing the technical aspects of the product concept, knowing what themes and characteristics the project must fulfill.

This gives you the best chance of building up a meaningful brand. Good Luck.


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