Understanding, Identifying and Building Distinctive Brand Assets


This post is part of a continuing series of guest posts. Jenni Romaniuk is an Associate Research Professor of Brand Equity, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia.

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This post is a summary of an Ehrenberg-Bass Institute corporate member report written in conjunction with Nicole Hartnett, Research Associate at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute.

Distinctive assets are non brand-name elements that are able to evoke the brand in the memory of consumers.   Some of the most famous examples include the Nike ‘swoosh’, the Aflac duck and Mastercard’s priceless advertising.  All of these elements are able to represent their brand name without needing any other prompting.

Aflac Duck - Distinctive Brand Asset

Many creative elements have the potential to become distinctive assets including: logos, slogans, colors, shapes, typefaces or fonts, characters, celebrities, jingles and/or music, sounds, advertising style, tastes, textures and scents.

However merely using one of the elements described above as part of your brand identity does not necessarily mean it is an ‘asset’ for your brand. For an element to be an asset, it needs to meet two criteria:

Uniqueness To what degree is your brand only linked to the element? When consumers link multiple brands to an element, brand confusion ensues. Ideally, marketers want to develop brand assets that are unique in their category.

PrevalenceHow many consumers link your brand to the distinctive element? The more consumers that are able to identify your brand based on the asset, the stronger and more valuable the distinctive asset becomes.

The Nike Swoosh Is Prevalent and Unique

Simply put, distinctive assets are more creative alternatives to directly showing a brand name, and they help create a larger brand footprint when elements are used in conjunction with the brand. Marketers can use non-word elements such as color, visual images, and sound to provide a multi-layered process for entry into consumer memory. On the consumer end, brand assets simplify brand identification outside of the advertising context, for example on-shelf or as a retail outlet.

How does an element become a distinctive asset?

To develop a distinctive asset, marketers need to make a commitment to consistent co-presentation of the element and the brand name across all consumer touch-points. Then, consumers must learn to associate the element with the brand.

Whether a brand has already developed distinctive assets or is embarking on creating elements, the main question marketers need to answer is: “Do consumers recognize my brand?” Throughout this process, keep in mind that for an element to be a distinctive asset it must evoke the brand, without prompting, for close to 100% of consumers. Only then can the distinctive asset be considered strong enough as a unique brand identifier. Ultimately, distinctive assets can replace the brand name in marketing initiatives.

I have created the Distinctive Asset Grid to enable marketers to classify their brand’s distinctive elements.  The grid is divided into four broad quadrants, which each represent the current state and future potential of a distinctive element.

If an element falls in the quadrant labeled …

Use: It is a strong distinctive element that evokes the brand from memory for the vast majority of consumers. Distinctive assets that fall in the “Use” quadrant are highly differentiated from those of competitive brands. Therefore, assets in this quadrant can be used to replace the brand name in advertising.

Invest: The element has unharnessed potential: it meets the most important criteria and it is highly unique to the brand.  However, not many people are aware of the asset (low prevalence) which restricts its ability to be used in place of the brand name. To further cement the element, it should be co-presented with the brand name.

Avoid: If the asset falls in the “Avoid” quadrant, marketers should be wary of using the element as an alternative to the brand name. Otherwise, the element may bring competitors to mind for consumers.

Ignore: An element in this quadrant is best unused in its present state. The exceptions are elements that are at the beginning of their development, as the majority of new elements have low prevalence and uniqueness. However, if an element’s uniqueness and prevalence have not developed after receiving proper marketing support, then the asset should be reconsidered.

Finally, some FAQ:

1.  Are there any drawbacks in using distinctive assets for brand identification?

While distinctive assets represent some opportunities, they also present some risks.  If you use the brand name to identify the brand in advertising, all who notice the brand name will know that it is that brand that is advertising.  However, if you only use a distinctive asset to identify the brand, and it is not 100% unique and prevalent, there will be some people who see the distinctive asset but don’t think of the brand name.  These are wasted exposures.

2. Do distinctive assets have to have a meaning for consumers beyond the brand name? (or is it better if they do?)

There is good reason to be cautious about selecting elements with strong meaning to develop as distinctive assets.  Firstly, the strong meaning will hamper the brand’s ability to attach the brand name to the distinctive asset.  This meaning will be evoked in consumer memory when the element is presented, which will then dominate and interfere with the development of links to the brand name.  Secondly, you can’t control the consistency of this past meaning.  Finally, what if the core meaning of the brand changes over time in response to consumer or market trends?  The distinctive asset will also need to change, negating the value of past investments.

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For more information on this research, contact Jenni: Jenni@MarketingScience.info

Jenni Romaniuk’s research interests are Brand Equity Metrics, Brand Salience, Distinctive Brand Assets, Brand Name Execution, Advertising Effectiveness and the influence of Word of Mouth on consumer behaviour, particularly in Television program viewing.  Her work has been published in European Journal of Marketing, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Business Research and Journal of Marketing Management.  Jenni is also past editor of Journal of Empirical Generalisations in Marketing Science (JEMS): www.empgens.com

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is a world-class research institute that delivers real scientific knowledge and dramatic discoveries to corporations all over the word including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Turner Broadcasting. To learn more about the Institute visit www.MarketingScience.info

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3 Responses to Understanding, Identifying and Building Distinctive Brand Assets

  1. […] · Leave a Comment Are your sound elements becoming brand assets? I found an interesting blog post by Jenni Romaniuk on Randall Beard’s Blog which is describing how you can understand, […]

  2. C. Stiegler says:

    This article is a good example of how marketing communication can create symbols for a brand. As a relatively new field, sound branding and corporate sound also has the potential to create such symbols.

    Take the Intel Bong for good exmaple: The little melody calls to mind the chip producer, although the company is rarely even involved with the end consumers. And with the new sound aesthetics of the image campaign, which focusses on the employees rather than technology, also the soundlogo is sung by the people. Recall and message in under 3 seconds: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeuBeBis-Wg

  3. […] just awareness. It’s creating brand salience by linking your product to relevant strategic and executional equities that make it easy for consumers to think of your brand in buying […]

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