Catalog Branding: Striking Up the Brand

Philip Kotler, who is often referred to as the father of modern marketing, said it best: “Building a brand calls for more than building a brand image. The savvy company must build a continuous positive brand experience for its target customers, what others have called ‘the moment of truth.’” A continuous brand experience covers every aspect of your company’s interaction with the customer. And we mean every: from catalog creative and product packaging to the attitude of the order-taker and the delivery speed — not to mention quality of the products themselves.

In his book Brand Asset Management, Scott Davis, a managing partner at Chicago-based consultancy Prophet Brand Strategies, writes that first and foremost, brands need to be treated as assets. He encourages companies to look at brands holistically, embracing all functional areas within the organization.

The catalog and online worlds provide many brand “touch points” for consumers. Perhaps it’s time to conduct a “brand audit” and see if you are presently leveraging each touch point to its fullest potential.

Grading your brand

Kevin Lane Keller, the E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing at Dartmouth College’s Amos Tuck School of Business, offers a set of criteria for this assessment process. In a recent article in The Harvard Business Review, Keller challenges companies to rate their brands on a scale of 1-10. When grading your brand, remember to do so through the eyes of your customers, not through your “company insider” eyes, which are tainted by budget biases, departmental constraints, and other realities of day-to-day business.

The following is an excerpt from Keller’s “brand report card” criteria discussion guide, designed to stimulate internal company discussion of brand perception:

  • The brand excels at delivering the benefits customers truly desire. If next-day delivery is vital to a significant portion of your audience, do you offer it and promote it? Have you done research to be sure that other benefits aren’t equally, or more, important to them?

  • The brand stays relevant. Do you keep track of your customers’ changing needs and tastes, as well as changes in product trends and the marketplace as a whole?

  • The pricing strategy is based on consumers’ perceptions of value. For instance, if your customers favor your brand over the competition because they perceive it as top-quality, don’t undermine that by promoting huge discounts and price slashes.

  • The brand is properly positioned. In other words, are there clear, promotable differences between your brand and the competition?

  • The brand is consistent.

  • The brand portfolio and hierarchy make sense. If your brand includes “sub-brands” — various private labels of merchandise, for instance — do they each fit within different niches? Or do they overlap to the point of redundancy?

  • The brand makes use of and coordinates a full repertoire of marketing activities to build equity.

  • The brand’s managers understand what the brand means to consumers. We’re not talking about what you want your audience to think about the brand, but what they really do think.

  • The brand is given proper support, and that support is sustained over the long run. Branding isn’t a matter of ponying up for just one splashy promotional campaign. You’ve got to support it with research and marketing for the long term.

  • The company monitors sources of brand equity. This includes regularly conducting brand audits and gauging market performance, and then providing your team with the results.

How to start?

Many experts agree that getting your team together off-site — where members can step away from the brand perceptions as viewed from within the company and take a fresh approach — is the place to start. Pull together your departmental leaders in marketing, creative, and merchandising to tackle some of these brand-assessment questions.

Keller believes companies should conduct this type of assessment once a year at the very least. He also believes it is valuable to create a report card and chart for competitors’ brands. With this sort of evaluation, you’ll see where you are truly leveraging your brand most effectively and where your shortcomings are…and where your competitors might be gaining an edge.

In The Brand Mindset, Duane Knapp, president of consultancy BrandStrategy, defines a genuine brand as “the internalized sum of all impressions received by customers and consumers resulting in a distinctive position in their mind’s eye based on perceived emotional and functional benefits.” He provides another sampling of assessment questions, including:

  • Does the brand have a value proposition (or as Knapp dubs it, a BrandPromise)? Think of this as your unique selling proposition. Knapp describes it as a two- to four-sentence paragraph that emphasizes what makes the brand special or different.

  • What does the brand stand for in the minds of the executive team?

  • Do different departments communicate the same promise and messages to their audiences?

  • What companies and/or brands would be appropriate and potential brand-alliance candidates?

  • What is the most effective way to use marketing, promotions, and so forth to increase sales, profits, and brand equity?

  • Who are the highest potential customers, based on sales, by segment?

  • How is the brand currently positioned?

To address these questions, Knapp suggests a variety of tactics, such as holding formal brand team meetings, conducting interviews with key stakeholders, and hiring a firm to conduct and analyze customer and market research.

Improving your grades

Okay, you’ve completed your brand report and looked over your grades. Now how do you turn the assessment into action?

Knapp outlines steps for putting a concrete action plan into place for brand growth:

  • Develop (if you don’t have one), reconsider, or refresh your company’s long-term unique selling proposition, describing the brand’s core benefits or brand promise for customers.

  • Compose written guidelines for graphic representations, brand name, byline, tagline, and the creation of the brand story.

  • Form the guiding principles that outline the brand’s commitment to offering superior value to customers. Create a brand execution plan and schedule, and measure your progress.

Once you’ve implemented your action plan, you must of course continually leverage the brand advantage. Then, too, you’ll need to constantly reassess and reposition the brand for the future.

For all of the brainstorming, the questioning, the researching, and the struggling, branding comes down to this: What word or experience or feeling comes to mind when your customer thinks of your brand? If you aren’t sure or it isn’t the association you want, get busy reexamining your branding strategy.


Andrea Syverson is president of IER Partners, a Black Forest, CO-based strategic consulting company.

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