If you are presented with flashcards of product logos, how many will you be able to identify?

When presented with a logo or a brand name, what immediately comes to your mind? What feelings does the name invoke? How do you respond to it? Now try thinking back to the first time you encountered that brand. What did you think of it back then? What do you think of it now? Has it changed? If so, what changed?

This means that your brand perception has undergone a shift.

Strategies for Changing Brand Perception

© Shutterstock.com | Stuart Miles

In this article, we 1) understand the basic concept of branding, 2) how to develop a brand strategy, 3) a quick overview on brand perception, 4) actionable strategies for changing brand perception for your company.

THE CONCEPT OF BRANDING

Before we go any further on the topic of brand perception, let us first take a look of what branding is.

A “brand” is a name, term, design, or any other feature that distinguishes a product from one specific seller or manufacturer from that of another. “Branding”, on the other hand, is more than the process of choosing a unique name or image for a product. It actually involves embedding that unique name and image in the minds of the customers through various strategies and techniques, such as advertising campaigns and other marketing programs. Its goal is to make the brand gain a solid foothold in the market and carve a market comprised of loyal customers.

A business cannot handle its marketing aspect without touching on branding. In fact, branding is considered to be one of the most important aspects of a business since it is one of the major tools or strategies that will give the business a competitive edge.

With their brands businesses give a promise – a representation of what they offer to their customers. It is also a tool that can be used to differentiate their products or services from that of their competitors. The brand is the thing that customers will first see, and we all know what they say about first impressions: they stick, and they last. Therefore, it is important to make sure you have a brand that fully represents the promise of what and who your business is, and make your customers stick with you.

Let us take a look at why branding is important for all businesses.

  • All businesses have a message to convey to customers, whether this is having the best product or wanting the customers to buy their product instead of others. Branding is their tool in order to deliver this message clearly and effectively to its target market.
  • Branding adds credibility to a business. Customers will take a business more seriously if they have a brand to associate it with.
  • Branding mainly targets the emotions of the customers, so if you want to connect with your customers on an emotional level, the best way to do that is to have excellent branding strategies in place.
  • Branding is also a good way to motivate your customers into buying your products or service. Turn them into buyers and start earning that profit!
  • Companies would like to have a customer base, develop loyal customers that will keep coming back to (and buying) the business.

DEVELOPING A BRAND STRATEGY

Branding does not end with coming up with a good name, an even better logo, and slapping both on flyers, brochures and advertisements that you release to your target market. Your business’ brand strategy is not something that you should take lightly, if you want your brand to have meaning for your customers.

Brand strategy involves the what, where, when, how, and to whom you will be conveying your brand messages. What message will you communicate? What channels will you utilize to convey the message? Who will you target, and who will you use to get the message across? What timing will you follow in the delivery of the message?

The aim of having a brand strategy is to increase the equity of the brand. Brand equity is seen as that value-adding element that will set your product apart from identical or similar products or services in the market. The stronger the brand equity, the higher will be the value of your product or service. That gives businesses a license of sorts to increase its premium or its price.

Take Coca-Cola, for example. The market is now saturated with different brands of soda. However, Coca-Cola products are more expensive, and that is mainly down to the fact that it has already built a very strong brand equity. The same is true for Facebook. Other similar social network platforms have sprung in recent years, but Facebook remains to be the most popular and still widely used platform because it already has a solid brand equity besides its network effects.

Much of the reason why some brands carry more weight or have more brand equity is because the companies or businesses behind these brands were able to find ways so that the market will have more emotional or personal attachment to them. Coca Cola’s advertising campaigns over the years involved utilizing the concepts of family, togetherness, and having that sense of belonging, all while sharing a drink of Coca-Cola.

Any company can come up with a unique brand name, design an eye-catching logo, and come up with a genius tagline. However, all that will be for nothing if the business is unable to create meaning or perception in the minds of the customers.

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QUICK OVERVIEW ON BRAND PERCEPTION

Here is a dose of reality: management may think that their product is the best in the market. The public, however, may think differently. This is because they are from different ends of the spectrum. Now it is up to them to make sure that their assurance about their product will align with the public’s perception of their product, and of their brand, as a whole. The business can argue all it wants about how the public is wrong, but in business, public perception is a reality. Unless the business is able to change the negative perception of the public of their brand, it will not be able to improve how the brand is seen or perceived, and the business will not be able to move forward.

Brand perception does not develop overnight. It is a result of various experiences, such as:

  • Advertising or marketing
  • Previous experience of the customer with the brand
  • Interactions with the sales force, customer service and support, and other employees of the company that owns the brand
  • Reviews from trusted sources
  • Word of mouth or recommendation by personal acquaintances

Three Layers of Brand Perception

Derrick Daye, the author, and a senior brand strategist at the consultancy firm The Blake Project, said that brand perception or meaning has three main layers.

  • Cultural meaning: This is the first layer that consumers see and respond to whenever they see a brand. It is that aspect that is easily influenced by popular or local culture. Thus, it is not rare to see brands make use of celebrities to leverage popular culture, or specific representations to leverage local culture. Examples would be the Molson beer in Canada and Subway in the United States.
  • Community meaning: In this context, “community” refers to any group of associated people, or people that share something in common. It could be a hobby, an interest, or a common cause. Harley Davidson, Apple, and Patagonia have been cited as brands that have the ability to attract entire communities.
  • Individual meaning: This looks into the person himself. Does the brand make enough of a difference to convince a user to spend money on it? In the end, this is what marketers aspire for, so they must first pierce through the first two layers – influence the cultural and community meanings – in order to be able to eventually influence the personal or individual meaning. From there, marketers may also be able to change how an individual perceives a brand.

STRATEGIES FOR CHANGING BRAND PERCEPTION

When a company notices that their brand is no longer making as much money as before, they normally become resistant towards making some changes. But when they do, the first thing they look into is the possibility of changing the advertising agency they used to work with, or giving their logo a facelift. Or they could throw more money on a new advertising campaign that, sadly, may or may not work.

There are many strategies that can be employed in order to change brand perception. Before you can change anything, however, you must first gain a clear picture on the perception of your brand.

  • How does the public perceive your brand? (ACTUAL)
  • How do you want the public to perceive your brand? (IDEAL)

Once these two questions are answered and you see significant differences, it’s time to take action and come up with ways in order to make them correlate.

Perform an internal check

This entails looking within the organization. Is there something you can change that will enable the business to deliver the promise of their brand to their customers? Is the customer service and support no longer performing well? Did the management suddenly change objectives and it is no longer aligned with that of the brand?

There have been times in the past when brand suffered due to poor management, and the restructuring or change of leadership in the companies have proven to be enough of a nudge to make the public or the customers change their attitude towards the company and the brand.

Make your brand social

TV and print advertising are still reliable tools, but they are no longer only – or the best – options available. These days, all businesses are now cognizant of the power of social media and the wonders that social forms of brand publicity can do for them. Advertising or establishing online presence in social sites is definitely highly recommended, even to startups. Users of these sites are seven times more likely to spend or purchase a product or service if they see the brand on these social sites.

Studies show that social media is responsible for the largest shift in brand perception. Take advantage of this trend and make sure your brand is visible in social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, to name a few.

Pay attention to your product or service experience

Businesses pour so much of their resources towards their marketing campaigns and strategies, but they fail to improve their products or services. This is one thing that is often overlooked even by the most seasoned marketers. It is often said that marketing strategies can make or break brand perception. That is true, yes, but that is not all there is to it. They often forget that the product or the service experience itself can also create or destroy brand perception.

What does this mean? A business may have the best marketers in town, and they have excellent marketing strategies in place. In fact, their marketing communication is impeccable, and can easily reach and influence the customers. However, if the product is of poor quality, or the service was delivered in a less-than-satisfactory manner, the customers are still going to have their perceptions undergo a shift or change.

Therefore, never lose sight of your product or service development. Continue to look for ways to improve your offering. When we say “product or service experience”, we are not only referring to the quality of the product or service, but also the various aspects that make up the whole experience. You also have to rethink and reconsider the following:

  • Product features. These include the specifications, functions, styling, and even the packaging of the product. Find ways to improve them.
  • Pricing. Monitor your pricing. Do your customers still find your pricing competitive? Reasonable?
  • Distribution strategy. Think of ways to improve the delivery of your products and services to your customers.
  • Customization. Will you be able to customize your products or services for your customers? Consider bundling or unbundling of products and services.
  • Customer service and support. How well does your company handle complaints and other customer concerns?

Focus on key players

Brand perception is influenced by word of mouth, recommendations, and reviews. You can start by focusing on key players, or the individuals and entities that have enough power to change the public opinion.

For example, a brand of athletic shoes has been getting flak for being associated with illegal labor practices, resulting to negative brand perception. The company addressed this by signing up a world-famous athlete, who also happens to be considered from a minority group, to endorse the brand.

Here are other examples: restaurants enlist the help of food bloggers and food critiques to improve their image. A food manufacturer forms a partnership with a health guru to incorporate their products in his diet or food plan.

Be flexible and always stay on your toes

Always keep in mind that branding is a continuous, ongoing, process, and brand perceptions can evolve over time. Just because you were able to create an excellent brand perception among your customers does not mean you should be complacent. Continuous monitoring is still required so you will remain in touch with your customers and how they perceive your brand.

  • Conduct regular or periodic surveys to existing customers regarding their current brand perceptions. Use questionnaires and/or feedback forms.
  • Keeping in touch with customers through social media channels.
  • Research what new customers need or are looking for.

Anticipate the shifts or changes by analyzing their behaviors. This will make you more prepared to deal with the effects of these changes in brand perceptions. Also, be quick on your feet. As soon as negative perceptions arise, act on them. Letting them slide, hoping that they will soon pass anyway, may be counter-productive.

These strategies apply when the company decides to continue investing on the existing brand. There is one other option, which is considered as the last resort when studies by the business reveal that the market segment being tapped into by the brand no longer has a future.

This option entails inventing a new brand altogether. Sure, it means you would have to go back to square one and start from scratch. But many businesses may deem it easier to create a new brand than to attempt to change existing perceptions. This can be seen as a fresh start for the company.

Changing brand perception is not an easy process. It is not cheap, either. The company has to have more than enough dedication, determination and commitment to make it happen, not to mention a lot of other resources like time and money. However, the rewards are always worthwhile once the company is able to push through.

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