A brand’s success does not guarantee anything: Kevin Lane Keller

19 Mar,2012

By A Correspondent


Prof Kevin Lane Keller, brand management guru and the author of well known book Strategic Brand Management, believes that brand is the most important intangible asset that any corporate can have. He states, “The role and functions of brands are so fundamentally pervasive and valued by consumers, it is difficult to see their potential importance diminishing. Managing brands to achieve that potential, however, is as difficult as ever. The pace of change in the marketing environment has greatly accelerated in the last decade.”


Three of the major changes he stresses upon are emerging markets, emerging media and social networks, and with them has emerged the need for the brands to remain valuable in the changing environment.


As per him, a strong brand is key to enhancing marketing effectiveness and efficiency, and is therefore a promise to customers and means to set expectations and reduce risk. Heart of a great brand is a great product or service but every brand contact matters.


A strong brand, according to him does not only work wonders with customers but also gives direction and purpose to employees by motivating them.


In the changing market environment, challenges of branding too have changed. Some of the challenges, mentioned by Prof Keller are as follows:

  • Rapid technological developments all over the place
  • Great customer empowerment
  • Fragmentation of tradition media
  • Growth of the interactive and mobile marketing
  • Channel transformation
  • Increased competition and industry convergence
  • Globalisation and growth of developing markets
  • Heightened environmental and community welfare awareness
  • Social concerns
  • Recession

And in the backdrop of these changes, he recommends six branding imperatives, for effective brand management.


Fully and accurately factor the consumer into branding equation: As per Prof Keller it is important to ‘Engage in participation marketing by establishing what consumers know and don’t know, and what they want and don’t want from the brands.’ Permission marketing, in his view is not the right answer – many consumers don’t even know the questions they should be asking.


Prof Keller explains the concept further by giving example of Nike. Nike’s brand mission is :’To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’.


And right under its mission statement Nike website states, ‘If you have a body you are an athlete.


By making that statement, Nike clearly mentions that it is not just marketing to athletes, it is marketing to everyone. Nike has a trickle down target market – top of the pyramid are most evolved – athletes, next come the weekend warriors and the bottom of the pyramid are casual athletes.


However, It is not only trickledown effect to other segments, but they also market directly to each segment. One of the reasons, the brand is so successful is because it realises the importance of establishes broad access points.


Another important takeaway from Nike branding is that it is important to have a brand mantra – three words that are the essence of the brand, and in Nike’s case it is ‘authentic athletic performance.’


2. Go beyond product performance and rational benefits: Well-designed products and services that provide a full set of rational and emotional benefits are key to successful brand management.


Prof Keller brings home the point that developing better designed products and services requires ‘a comprehensive, up-to-date understanding of consumers, how they purchase and use products and services, and how they think and feel about the brand.‘


A well deigned brand, as per him, offers advantages in product and service performance, and imagery that creates significant functional and psychological benefits. The strongest brands connect their emotional and functional benefits.


He elucidates it with Apple’s example, which has a strong brand promise. Its Intrinsics are performance and design, while its extrinsic s are think different, personality and character.


Apple has done sustained product innovation through feedback and expansion.


Another brand Prof Keller refers to, in this context is Pampers, which has evolved from a functional to an emotional positioning.


Based on the functional benefit of ‘Absorbency and dry baby’ , it created the emotional connect with mothers by emphasising that by being dry baby sleeps well at night and so is more active in the day. It established itself as a brand, caring for baby’s development.


Pampers created emotional pay off for the functional benefit – and they worked well in a synergistic way. And to do it effectively, Pampers changed their marketing program – both advertising and online.


3. Make the whole of the marketing programme greater than the sum of its parts: Prof Keller believes that it is imperative to ‘develop fully integrated channel and communication strategies that optimally blend their strengths and weaknesses.’


He states, “Marketers can combine push and pull distribution strategies to maximise coverage and impact, selling directly via email, internet, telephones, cell phones and company stories while also selling indirectly via whole sellers and retailers.in devising communication styrategies marketers must address a number of market place developments – the fragmentation of TV viewership, the increasing use of mobile phones, the explosion of online blogs and social communities, and the greater importance of buzz marketing.” In his view,tTo develop successful communication programmes, marketers must combine online/interactive communications. Real world/experiential communication and traditional mass media communication.


Here he gives the example of Red Bull – which has been successful for the longest time.


The brand employs a full set of brand elements and marketing activities – from traditional media to digital to ground events.


In traditional media – it largely uses cartoon ads and delivers brand promise in a very cost effective way. And hence has enough budgets to spend on digital and events among other things.

Prof Keller insists that marketing will become more interactive, more digital, more social in times to come. It is important to establish a public voice and presence on the web for dialogue and monitoring consumer reaction and also because it compliments and reinforces other communication.

Having said that, he also reminds that not everyone actively participates in social media – ‘only some consumers want to get involved with some of the brands some of the time’ – and hence integrated marketing communication is the key. Traditional mass media gives advantage of broader coverage and greater control.

It is smart brand marketing, as per him to employ multiple touch points and appeal to multiple senses via special events, contests, promotions and sampling. “Make a splash, but pick your spots,” advises Prof Keller.

Capitalising on real news is another factor brands need to integrate in their marketing.


4. Understand where you can take a brand (and how): “Design and implement a new product development and brand architecture strategy to maximise long term growth across product offereings, customer segments and geographical markets” is Prof Keller’s advice on brand extensions.


As per him, from a branding standpoint, growth requires a well-though-out and well-implemented brand strategy that clarifies three key issues:

A. The potential of a brand in terms of the breadth of its ‘marketing footprint’
B. The types of product and service extensions that would allow a brand to achieve that potential
C. The brand elements, positioning and images that should be used to brand any new or existing products

Crayola, the market leader in crayons in the USA, is his example of choice here. Crayola broke free from the thought process that it was about crayons to ‘Colouring is about imagination and not only crayons – and hence Crayola too has to be about imagination and not just crayons.’


First right step in brand extension is thinking out of your box – and that is the most difficult step’ underlines Prof Keller.

The other example he gives here is of Virgin mobile, whose brand strategy is to enter categories where customer needs are not well met and do different things, and do things differently.


5. Do the right thing with brands – ‘embrace CSR’ is Prof Keller’s parting message to the brands. And this can be done by creating win-win marketing programmes and activities. He gives the example of British Airways, which has for years kept an envelope in the back pocket of the seat – where people can put in foreign currency coins of no use to them. And the proceeds are sent to Unicef.

CSR, in his view, helps in creating a bond with customers and employees. If done right, it helps in increasing sales.

Prof Keller also recommends doing the right thing with brands by avoiding over extending, over exposing, over modernising, avoid death by 100 cuts.’

Says he, “The best and most widely admired marketers treat their brands with understanding and respect, as well as a clear sense of commercial and social purpose. They take out their brand on thought – out journeys that allow them to grow profitably, while preserving brands’ close bonds with consumers and benefits to society as a whole”.

Multiple compromises and shortcuts, as per Prof Keller, add up and create big problems. A series of micro –decisions by Starbucks in recent years added up enough to transform the customer experience in adverse ways that loyalty suffered, forcing Howard Schultz, the CEO to take drastic actions


6. Take a big picture view of branding effects. Know what is working and why: The last imperative that Prof Keller suggests is, ‘achieve a deeper understanding of the limits and powers of brands, and be able to qualitatively and quantitatively justify brand investments.’

As per him, increasingly marketers have to do ‘more with less’ in their marketing budgets. “To help develop return on investment insights and interpretations, marketers must adopt comprehensive, cohesive and actionable branding models,” he advises. Three linked interlocking models, as per him, for brand planning, tracking and measurement can be:

1. The brand positioning model describes how to establish competitive advantage via points of difference and points of parity
2. The brand resonance model considers how to create intense, active loyalty relationships with customers. Brand resonance occurs when the consumers feel completely in sync with the brand.
3. The brand value chain model describes how to trace the value creation process to better understand the financial impact ot marketing expenditures and investments.

Prof Keller stresses that brand management is an ongoing process and just because you are successful today does not guarantee anything.


MySpace, Yahoo and Barnes & Noble were the market leaders in their space at a point in time, but they have been replaced by successful challengers: Facebook, Google, Amazon. Another case in point is Samsung, which is competing with Sony across the globe today because it has an excellent value proposition.


Prof Kevin Lane Keller was invited by Cogito Consulting, the brand consultancy division of FCB Ulka group, for an exclusive, informative and enlightening talk – and the above article is MXM India’s take away from the talk. The Indian edition of the book Strategic Brand Management is co-authored by MG Parameswaran (ED & CEO Draftfcb Ulka Mumbai) and Prof Isaac Jacob (Head of Marketing Faculty, SIMSR). The book has 40 informative examples from the world of branding and marketing in India.


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