Arvidsson (81) posits that “Contemporary brand management presupposes that the value of the brands does not primarily derive from qualities of the products that wear their mark. It is something else. The brand resides at the social or even spiritual level”. In this paper, what is discussed is largely in agreement with him. Nonetheless, I will illustrate that the actual qualities of the product play a pivotal role in framing the spiritual and social elements or aspects of a brand.
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A brand is conventionally known to refer to a slogan, symbol or name or sign that a product, organization or corporation is known by. Brand as a sign “stands for something other than itself in some meaningful or meaning bearing way” (Danesi 25). The brand distinguishes one product or service from others. According to Twitchell (47), a brand is a story that travels with a product or service or, in this case, a concept”.
Randazzo (17) is in agreement with Twitchell, when he states that “we communicate through telling and listening stories. Strong, enduring brands use the power of a story/ or mythic images to create (or represent) mytho-symbolic brand building worlds”. More appropriately, a brand is the image people have of a product, service or corporation. Although a brand refers to a given product, often there is a big difference between brand and actual product.
As Danesi (3) indicates, even in the consumer’s mind “there tends to be a distinction between the product and the brand”. Brands are like life and “Our life is a story, an uncertain continually reworked narrative, part truth, part fiction, that is unfolding even as we live it” (Randazzo 12).
The value of a brand can never be overestimated. As a matter of fact, Randazzo (17) explains that “Savvy marketers understand that they are not in the business of selling products and services. They are in the business of building and maintaining strong, enduring brands that sell and sell and sell”. Therefore, successful marketing is to the extend one builds strong brands that do the selling of a product
Branding often starts in giving of a name to a product. According to Danesi (14), “By naming a product, the manufacturer is, in effect, bestowing on it the same kinds of meanings that are reserved for people”. The name in essence gives life or bestows on the product all the qualities in its extension.
Naming of a brand helps towards creation of the brand image. The brand image is the perception people have of a product and how they feel about it. Therefore there are two aspects to a brand i.e. “a physical object and a mental object” (Danesi 16). The mental object is the brand image.
The mental object has to be as powerful as possible if a brand is to stand the test of time. Brand image is made stronger depending on the number of connotations the brand name has (Danesi 37). However, in as much as a brand name should have high connotations, it should also have denotative value i.e. it can be linked to actual product.
The branding concern aims at communicating to people that a given product can uniquely satisfy their needs or wants. The brand often communicates qualities or is aligned with experiential, social or spiritual elements. However, the building of brand resonance is a cumulative endeavor that starts with experiential qualities to drive people towards a social and spiritual connection with the brand.
Brand connotation and denotation is improved through infusing its dimension in product design. Designing brand dimensions into product packaging is important because as Danesi (59) puts it, the designs “become artifacts in the archeological sense, – i.e. mementos of cultural love.”
According to Randazzo, using mythical archetypes can very well add value to a brand. He relates that “Mythic or archetypal images…have a powerful, magical appeal because they are truly enchanted” (Randazzo 16). To drive brand value, it is advisable to look into building or developing brand communities.
Muniz & Schau (738) point out that “Brand communities appear to be defined, in one sense, by their capacity for powerful and transformative experiences”. Therefore, brand value is realized in development of brand communities or when a brand connects with an in-group leading to self construal and self connections. Once an in-group identifies with a brand, it becomes part of their identity thus it is not easy to kill or end such a brand.
Schau et al recommend the close monitoring of brand community practices. It is the practices that determine actual product usage or consumption. Through community practices “members compete on brand devotion, knowledge, and history to display their various competencies” (Schau et al 38).
Therefore, developing brand community practices is the cheapest or easiest way of creating brand value. It enhances self connection as members of a brand community out-compete each other in devotion to a brand; raising the brand acumen or relevancy.
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Brand management at the initial stages entails efforts to establish brand identity. At this stage of building brand salience, cues or reminders of the brand are the greatest concern of the brand manager. It is at this level that qualities that carry brand marks are developed.
At this stage or level, product awareness is the key concern; in-depth brand awareness has to be effective enough such that customers can remember the product whenever need triggers (Batey 32). A lot of effort in brand building at this level goes into defining brand-client contact points or avenues.
The second layer or level in brand management concerns with building brand performance and related imagery. At this level, still the focus is on customer experience of product. Brand managers ensure that all aspects and affects of a product are communicated vividly. It is at this stage that social and spiritual qualities become the concern of brand managers.
Social/ Spiritual Connection with a Brand
The social and spiritual connection with a brand is what drives its performance. The third level or stage, in brand management or building, concerns with addressing customer judgments and feelings. Despite all efforts to build brand imagery and a socio-psychological appeal, brand managers have to look into customers’ response to the brand (Foxall 48).
This is important because as Holt (3) explains “A brand emerges as various ‘authors’ tell stories that involve the brand.” As Holt further explains, there are many authors to a brand. Some of the authors include critics, the company and its characteristics, business partners and most crucially the brand communities when they form. There has to be a way of capturing customer opinions and feeling about a product. At this stage focus is on shaping and responding to customer perception of a brand.
A classic example is offered by Danesi. In response to youth rebellion, marketers applied the “if you cannot beat them, join them” strategy thus “Through advertising images, being young and rebellious came to mean having ‘a cool look’; being anti establishment came to mean wearing ‘hip clothes’; and so on” (Danesi 119). This is a perfect example of marketers, changing brand strategy in tandem with changing market characteristics.
The spiritual connection is psycho-social because clients seek products that will enable them to fare in a better way in society. They crave to appear important to others, to look better and to be accepted by others.
Escalas and Bettman (380) explain this point better when they state that “Our basic premise is that consumers appropriate the meanings of brands as they construct their self identities, particularly brand meaning that arises from reference group use or non use of brands”. Once a brand becomes established and widely acknowledged in its value, it gains iconic status. According to Holt (1), “the crux of iconicity is that the person or thing is widely regarded as the most compelling symbol of a set of ideas or values that a society deems important.”
Once a brand has reached some form of iconic status, the pinnacle of brand resonance has been achieved. The pinnacle of brand performance i.e. brand resonance is only achieved after all the qualities of a brand have been well developed and dealt with (Majumdar 13).
The strength of a brand is measured by the resonance or intensity of socio-psychological bond a customer has with a brand. To achieve brand resonance fast, emotional branding has become a common approach to branding. As quoted by Thompson et al (50), Roberts (2004) describes emotional branding as “a consumer centric, relational and story driven approach to forging deep and enduring effective bonds between consumers and brands”.
As the discussed steps illustrate, the spiritual and social qualities of a brand determine its maturity and thus market performance. However, it is noted that the psychological bond is build over time, which is the reason why emotional branding often ends up a cropper. As Thompson et al explain, “A seldom discussed risk of emotional branding strategies is their potential to expose firms a particular kind of cultural backlash”.
Secondly, it should be noted that brand building and management is a continuous processes. About the Episcopal Church, Twitchell (59) says “Episcopalians committed an unforgivable marketing sin: they forgot their brand because they lost the story. Or, perhaps more accurately, it was taken away from them”. All that Twitchell illustrates using the church, is that if branding does not remain a continuous concern, the connection with people is lost.
Refreshing brand imagery, realigning perspectives in response to market characteristics is the essence of brand management (Barlow & Stewart 126). Brand self connection is possible through referral groups or other in-groups that force self connection to a given brand. Escals and Bettman (379) point out that “if a brand is not typically connected to an in-group (e.g. its image is incongruent with a group), this may negatively affect self brand connections”.
Considering the foregoing discussion, therefore, what Arvidsson says is true. I agree with it totally. “A brand resides at the social or even spiritual level”, however, the brand achievement is not possible without proper development or choreographing of a brand identity. Brand identity is influenced in a big way by qualities that carry the brand marks. Therefore, although a brand resides at a spiritual level, the qualities that bear its marks are equally important and contribute to the spiritual connection.
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