Many factors go into making a successful brand

The look of the logo, retail strategy and use of emoticons in communication all count

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 4:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 4:30pm

Branding is the difference that distinguishes your product and service from your competitor’s, though on the surface they may offer a similar bundle of benefits.

It includes everything: logo, advertising, website, social media chatter, and every other experience that customers might have with your product and service. Those experiences determine whether a customer goes or does not go for your product or service when it’s time to buy.

There have been some interesting findings by members of PolyU’s Asian Centre for Branding and Marketing (ACBM) on brand strategies.

According to one recent research piece, even though consumers don’t really know it, the shape of a logo communicates important messages. All logos are basically either circular (curved lines), or angular (straight lines/sharp corners), or a combination of both. The research documented that the mere circularity and angularity of a brand logo is powerful enough to affect customers’ perceptions of the attributes of a product. Physical products, such as sports shoe and sofas are seen as more comfortable when the logo is circular, but more durable when the logo is angular. And a service that has a circular logo is often seen as being more consumer-sensitive.

The mere circularity and angularity of a brand logo is powerful enough to affect customers’ perceptions of the attributes of a product

Google’s recent logo change included making the two ‘g’s and the two ‘o’s almost perfect circles and removing the serifs (flicks at the ends of letters). A recent Bloomberg article quoted Google’s brand executives at the new logo launch announcement saying: “we think we’ve taken the best of Google (simple, uncluttered, colorful, friendly) and recast it not just for the Google of today, but for the Google of the future.”

What happens online is critical too. The use of emoticons in online communications is commonplace today and even used by companies, including emoticons with pictorial representations of facial expressions. Do they work? ACBM research finds them to be a double-edged sword. Emoticons increase customers’ perception of the warmth of the employee or the company, especially when the employee is doing something special for them, but they can also harm perceptions of competence if customers feel there is an ulterior motive for using them.

What about online dating sites such as Match or Lovestruck? A South China Morning Post article last year said Hong Kong singles have been failing to find “the one” on dating sites. According to ACBM research, companies can offer more accurate, targeted searches in online dating, social networks, and on shopping sites like Amazon, and that will increase their brand equity. So marketing theories which describe how people behave are not just limited to understanding what people buy.

How the brand gets to market also makes a big difference. Distributors are a critical force in a company’s value chain activities. Recent ACBM research found that if those in the distribution channel do not give the brand sufficient support, the brand does not get to the retail consumer as quickly and as prominently as the manufacturer wants it to.

Some firms adopt a “one-retail-brand strategy” with all of their products sold in one store or chain. Diamond-ring prices in Tiffany stores can range from less than US$500 to, believe or not, US $1 million. Other firms, like Giordano and Gap adopt a “multiple-retail-brands strategy”. Depending on the specific consumer segment they want to attract, high/medium/low-quality products are sold in separate chains, like Gap does with its Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy chain stores.

An interesting recent ACBM finding is that when consumers cannot readily observe product quality, which is so often the case, they make inferences about its characteristics and quality based on the retail outlet that they are shopping in. Chow Sang Sang, a premier jewellery retailer in China, adopts a two-retail-brand strategy in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where it has two respected retail brands or chains, “Chow Sang Sang” and “Emphasis”, but it adopts a one-retail-brand strategy (Chow Sang Sang) on the mainland. One of the compelling reasons for this is to signal quality. Consumers are more likely to believe that a high-quality product really has high quality if it is sold together with lower quality products in the same store or chain, rather than in a separate store or chain. Therefore, quality signalling is a prominent issue in a developing country where the market is less developed and consumers are less informed. Chow Sang Sang forgoes the benefits arising from segmentation for the signalling efficiency facilitated by a one-retail-brand strategy.

So all in all, many marketing factors contribute to the equity of your brand in a consumer’s mind.

Professor Gerald Gorn is chair professor of marketing and co-director of the Asian Centre for Branding and Marketing at Hong Kong Polytechnic University