Do you have a finger on your brands’ pulse?

Health check’s are vital for your brand’s survival.

I often describe brands as living organisms. Like those organisms, brands change and evolve. Some are mortal and some could be described as immortal. As with any living thing, you have to check that it’s in good health and adapting well to its environment, if not, we make adjustments in order for it to thrive.

Many moons ago when I worked with Unilever brands, we attended a brand health meeting every month. The research company would present their findings on various checks that helped us keep our brands healthy and thriving. Sometimes they would give us the sad news that a brand was not thriving at all calling for us to make decisions on what to do with that prognosis.

The researchers would share information mapped against competitor brands on:

  • Brand awareness – do consumers know of our brand?
  • Band preferences – what proportion of the consumers would prefer to use our brand over competitors’
  • Brand penetration – what proportion of the consumers that actually buy our brand
  • Brand advocacy – would consumers recommend our brand?
  • Market trends – what was happening in the market place e.g. how is the pandemic affecting consumer behaviour?
  • Consumer spend – what’s in their shopping basket and why
  • Consumer shopping habits – when do they buy, how often?
  • Advert/message recall – do they remember what we say about our brands?

The research company would also arrange for us visit consumers in their homes, where we would spend the day with them observing as they went about their day and how they used and interacted with the products in their homes. All this to gather insights.

Insights. Insights. Insights.

The insights helped us keep a finger on our brands’ pulse. Was the brand in good shape? Was it healthy? Did we need to make adjustments to make the brands work better for the consumer? Were we communicating in a manner the consumer understood and resonated with? Did our communication help their purchase decision? What changes have an impact on our consumers and how they interact with our brand? What do we need to do to keep our brands fighting fit?

The insights shaped product and service innovation, product formulation changes, packaging changes, price adjustments, supermarket display strategy, advertising campaigns, changes in messaging, positioning adjustments, category shifts and more.

I can hear you saying, it’s all well and good for Unilever to do this, they have the budgets for such in-depth research. It’s a good investment to engage specialists and commission research. One big advantage is that you can tap into wider insights that the research company already has at their fingertips on your product category and market. You will have to work a bit harder to obtain those insights. The advantage is that it frees up your time to concentrate on other projects and priorities.

An organisation can easily keep track of their brand’s health. There is a plethora of information within the organisation already. Talking to the customer facing staff will give you insights on how your customers are experiencing your products and services. The sales teams pick up information as they interact with their network and can give you insights on what is happening in the market place. Your social media channels can tell you what customers saying about your brand to the rest of the world? Other checks you can to is to find out if your non customer facing staff know enough about your brand to tell their friends and family about it with ease? If the customer at the centre of your processes and the way you do business? Reporting systems can be put in place to continuously and consistently capture this information.

As marketers and senior leadership you can check if your brand:

  • supports your business strategy? 
  • reflects what your organisation’s about?
  • has impact and stand out?
  • feels up to date?
  • works well for your selling and marketing activity?

If majority of the answers to the above questions are, no. Then its time to review your brand and put in a call to someone like me to help you.

Who is looking after the leader?

Image: Unsplash

The world is in the throes of the biggest crisis since the last century. Business leaders have had to lead their organisation in unchartered territories that are rife with fear, uncertainty and trauma. Leaders are worrying about how to keep their businesses operational. They’re having sleepless nights about the debt they are incurring as a result of the crisis and the cost of it. All the while keeping their employees calm, engaged and productive.

Employees look to them for direction. Peers look to them support but who is looking after the leader? Leadership roles are often the loneliest ones and I can only imagine them being even lonelier in these tough times we are facing. Self-care, physically and emotionally, becomes really crucial for today’s leader– if their tank is empty, they can’t carry or take anyone anywhere.

The crisis the world is in has left leaders with a long list of things to do at breakneck pace. This often leaves very little room for a leader to just be. There are four things that today’s leader can be to start refilling that tank.

  1. be self-aware – know thyself. Having a good handle on what is going on inside and what the limits are will help a leader keep a finger on their own pulse. This way, they can quickly pick up signs of burn out or the need to change direction.
  2. be reflective – find space in the day to reflect on the day’s events and regain perspective. I find journaling particularly helpful. I know someone who writes themselves letters. Another evaluates the day then draws the highlight of their day. These are just examples of ways that a leader can wring out all that they soak in, to create space for more the next day.
  3. be purposeful and values-led – personal and organisational purpose and values are a leader’s compass. In times of crisis, these ensure that the leader stays on course and not get lost in the role, situation or environment they find themselves in. In their reflective practice a leader can ask themselves if they fulfilled their purpose or lived their values that day.
  4. be vulnerable – it takes great strength to be vulnerable, yet many strong leaders view this as a sign of weakness. Appropriate displays of emotion can be assuring to the team and be an effective tool for change. In sharing vulnerability, the leader can let people know that though the situation is fraught with emotions, it is containable. It also shows solidarity with people who are feeling the same way.

In this article, my starting point for looking after a leader is self-directed. Those around leaders can be supportive too. There are many ways that we can look after our leaders and perhaps the topic of another blog. For now I will leave you with two questions that you can ask to look after the leader around you.

  • change the question “how are you?” to “How are you finding / coping / managing / feeling….” This will help move the conversation away from the standard and automatic response, “I’m fine / OK /good” and solicits are a more in depth response and hopefully the start of a great conversation.
  • ask “what can I do to help you”, “what can I take off your plate to enable you to catch a breath” in recognition that leaders also need help. This could be as simple as fetching them a coffee and having a chat for five minutes or taking over a task.

Why rush your branding process?

If we take the time to properly craft a winning strategy that will bring success to the company, why should crafting the brand that carries that strategy be rushed?

Creating a brand is a process in the same way that defining a strategy is. Processes takes time. The flow chart below shows some of the activity in the process of creating a brand.

Timing is everything. Engaging your brand agency or consultants early will save you time in the long run. If you are aiming for creating efficiency through a re-organising your governance structure or your operations structure, you will also need to look at how that affects your brand architecture (brand family) and how your brand is presented to the world. If your strategy is to grow through mergers and acquisition (M&A), you can set parameters for what the resulting brand family would look like as well as the transformation and migration process based on the M&A strategy.

[Brands] are a business strategy brought to life, and are the primary means for differentiation and growth.” Jez Frampton, Global CEO of Interbrand

It’s a good idea to start thinking about your brand as you craft your strategy. If your brand affects everything that the organisation does and everything the organisation does affects the brand, then it’s worth the same consideration as the stragic planning process.

Is being purpose-led still a thing?

It most definitely is. More and more brands and companies are redefining themselves as purpose-led. 

Companies are spending time defining a purpose for their brands that stretch beyond market dominance and high profit margins. They’re learning that consumers are making carefully considered choices to buy from companies that have a purpose that they personally identify with and that reflects their values and beliefs. Consumers are loyal to brands that act authentically and demonstrate a commitment to a purpose that goes beyond profit. In a world of turmoil, consumers also expect their brands to be aware of the issues affecting society and to take a stand. In some circles these are referred to as woke brands. 

There is a danger for organisations who pay lip service to a purpose rather than intrinsically linking it to their DNA. This can make the intention seem inauthentic, just a campaign or a marketing tactic. Consumers are much wiser. They can see through it. And if they feel their trust has been betrayed, they will abandon the brands. 

It’s possible for an established organisation to define their purpose, change how they do business and for that to be authentic. Take the time to rediscover the reason your company exists

Why you exist? Why do the people in the company do what they do? Why they get out of bed in the morning to come to work (reasons that are not salary driven)? What difference to people’s lives or society would you like your products or company to make? 

Once defined, a purpose sits at the centre of an organisation’s vision driving culture and every business decision and informing how the brand looks and what it says. It’s such a powerful thing that it can’t be left to chance or considered to be a marketing tactic. 

Amazon has been climbing the ranks

Sara Budhwani : Unsplash

The 2019 BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brand report came out yesterday. It’s always interesting see what brands are in the top 10, which ones moved and why. This year Amazon took poll position knocking Google off the number 1 spot a place it’s held for 2016.

As you can see in the table below, Amazon have been on the upward move since 2015 when they occupied position 15 in the rankings. Amazon climbed up to the top 10 the following year, taking 7thposition before finishing in 3rdplace in 2018. Not a surprise really with all the growth and expansion, acquisition, investment and innovation activity at Amazon over the last few years. 


Apple has firmly held the second place since it was knocked of 1stposition in 2016. Interesting to see Coca-Cola and Marlboro who were in the top 10 in 2015 now occupy 14thand 15th position respectively. Alibaba snuck into the top 10 in 2018 and continues to move up the ranks, giving us two Chinese brands in the top 10.

As the brands move up the rankings, their value is also increasing. On the webinar to launch the report, Doreen Wang, Global Head of BrandZ mentioned that they evaluate over 160,000 brands that have a total value of US$4.7 trillion – the equivalent of Spain, South Korea and Russia’s combined GDP. She emphasised the importance of brands investment to achieve long term success. This was encouraging to hear her called it an investment rather than a cost, which is how the funding behind brand development is often viewed.

The report is also always full of interesting and insightful nuggets of information. When I’ve read through the 195 pages of the report, I will share what I found to be most insightful.

Like people, brands have a personality too

Every brand has a personality and accurately understanding that personality is important to its success. Understanding a brand’s personality facilitates a brand story telling process and also helps select the most appropriate visual identity, messages, media channels, sponsorships or partnerships. It also enables brand owners to deliver consistent brand experiences that connect with audiences and leave a lasting impression.

I’m currently working with an organisation that is going through a transformation and want to establish a clear brand identity to engage with current and future employees, customers, partners and investors. Last week I wrote a piece to be shared with that organisation’s staff explaining brand personality and why I was asking them to select words that seemed random to them in an online questionnaire. 

Brands can take on human characteristics which helps staff, customers and stakeholders to relate and feel emotionally connected to the brand. These characteristics, such as honest, friendly, charming, signify how the brand behaves, looks and sounds. 

Some of the world’s most powerful brands spend a considerable amount of time looking for those characteristics to define their personality. One way of defining a brand’s personality is to use a framework developed by Jennifer Aaker, a Stanford University professor, which has  five core dimensions; sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness.  Each dimension has core attributes:

  • Sincerity– genuine, honest, wholesome and cheerful e.g. Dove and Disney
  • Excitement– playful, daring, imaginative, and spirited e.g. Virgin and Red Bull
  • Competence– intelligence, success, reliability, and expertise. e.g. Intel and 
  • Sophistication– charming, refined, elegant, and poise e.g. Audi and Cartier
  • Ruggedness–powerful, forceful, potent and outdoorsy e.g. Marlboro and Harley Davidson

Whatever tools or frameworks you use, getting the personality right is the most important thing as it puts attitude and behaviour boundaries around the brand. Using Aaker’s framework as an example, think about Disney, we can describe the brand as friendly, wholesome, sincere, happy, brave and adventurous. With that description, we know what to expect when you go to see a Disney movie or visit their theme park. And when they start to do something out of character like being forceful and potent for instance, we question and, in some instances, start to doubt the brand.

Defining your personality has to be organic and authentic.

  1. Know your customer’s perception of you – your customers will have a rich list of descriptions of your brand personality. 
  2. Know your competitors – how do your competitors describe themselves or what personality traits come through strongly in all their activity; how can you distinguish yourself from those traits to be unique
  3. Know what you want your perception to be – how would you describe yourselves. How different or similar that that to your customers and competitor descriptions. Are there synergies to take advantage of or gaps you need to close?

Like people brand personalities evolve as we grow navigate through life. Some traits will remain the same and become the core personality, but some will change with time. Keep a constant check to make sure that what you are portraying in your personality remains true to your brand. 

A bit about branding

It’s easy to think of logos and colours when we’re talking about brands. It’s what we see and mostly remember yet there is so much more to a brand. 

The Chartered Institute of Management define a brand as” the set of physical attributes of a product or service, together with the beliefs and expectations surrounding it – a unique combination which the name or logo of the product or service should evoke in the mind of the audience.”

Branding is the process of defining and creating that unique combination. It aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers. 

My work involves spending lot of time researching the company, products / services and markets to ensure that what we define and create is truly authentic to that organisation and their products.

Housing association brands gear up for change

Posted on the Creative Bridge website: June 23, 2017

The landscape is changing. The world we are operating is changing at an even faster pace than before. Geopolitical changes have caused a shift in policy. Technological innovation has sped up how we access information and given us ever more information at our fingertips. As people access products and services at phenomenal speeds, their opinions are formed at the almost the same rate. Their attitudes and behaviour towards products and services are affected by what they are exposed to, causing them to change.

Closer to home, the sector has had its fair share of change too; funding cuts have resulted in housing associations re-thinking how they deliver a valuable service to its residents and communities. For some, this means reaching into new markets and entering into competition with commercial entities. One thing that hasn’t changed in ten years is the need for more affordable housing and the constant need for the sector to make its voice heard.

A recent global brand report says that it’s more important than ever to strengthen brands to remain relevant, stand the test of time and cope with rapid changes. Housing associations reaching new markets and entering into competition with commercial entities means that they can no longer afford to not pay attention to their brands.

The time has come to carefully consider your brand, if you are to compete in the same arena as commercial entities or inject commerciality to your organisation to generate higher surpluses.

How do you build a brand that stands the test of time? Your branding is what will get potential customers to notice your organisation. They will form perceptions about who you are and what they can expect from your organisation, services you offer, homes you are selling or renting. This makes them feel a particular way about you and influences their attitude and behaviour towards your organisation. Those perceptions are what make up your brand. To build your brand is to manage those perceptions.

What is that perception? It’s a reflection of your purpose, your business mission, who you are, how you differ from the competition, what you are promising the target group and what they need. Anything else will not succeed.

Consistent representation of your perception builds recognition and trust – developing a brand that doesn’t just describe the attributes of the product or service but also explains the functional benefits and conveys the emotional benefits.

Be purposeful. Consumers appreciate that organisations seek to make money, which in turn brings about jobs and security to many people. This is no longer enough. They expect for organisations to have a higher purpose – to improve lives and the world. The new generation of consumers want to know how the organisation is contributing to the wider world before they part with their hard earned cash to purchase an organisation’s products and services. Therefore, your purpose becomes your foundation for future growth.

The sector certainly has this one nailed. Some may struggle to properly articulate their purpose in an authentic manner, but they have a purpose.

Be authentic. If you give your organisation a personality that resonates with who your consumers are, they will pay attention to you. A Marketing Week article on the subject suggests that the eight values comprising authenticity are the abilities to be genuine, original, unique, expert, visionary, passionate and honest, and integrity.

Defining your authenticity may give an organisation the opportunity to shape future perceptions especially if the organisation had any historical baggage that may affect this.

Be different. The traditional housing sector is one that had become commoditised. You will need to distinguish yourselves from your peers and tell consumers why they should choose you over the other choices they have. Defining the point of difference give you the ingredients with which to tell people what to expect from you.

Be noticed. Use your key differentiator to get noticed. The aim of your brand is to get noticed over the next brand. Create an impactful and visually appealing visual identity and engaging marketing communication.

Be elastic. Your brand does not only serve the organisation now, it helps you gear up for the future. In an ever-changing environment, you have to make sure your brand can adapt and react to the changing landscape.

Where do you start? Organisations will have to review their brands for relevance, commerciality as a starting point. Checking what those perceptions are, what is the personality of the brand? Does it align with the organisation’s mission, vision and values? What is your brand story? What does the marketing collateral look like? Does it effectively and consistently represent the brand?  What has been the customer’s experience when dealing with the organisation? Only when you have a clear understanding of where you are now, can you start to add the blocks to build a strong brand.

Five minutes with me

Posted on the Creative Bridge website: May 19, 2017

Head of client services, Roz Chiro, breaks down the psychology of branding

Define branding?

Branding is a collection of activities which I’ve seen described as an art. It’s a cycle of aligning what you want people to think about your company or products with the reality. It’s about constantly managing perceptions and ensuring that the messages you put out about your brand are authentic and true to your company or products. A sign of great branding is the ability to create shortcuts in the mind of your customer, to help them remember you when they filter the myriad of messages we’re presented with on a daily basis.

In a full service agency, why’ve you chosen branding?

My love for brands dates back to the early days of my career when I was an account executive on a Coca-Cola account. Up until then, I’d only ever read about brands, how to establish them and look after them. It was the first time that I’d encountered a living and breathing brand: it was fascinating. I’ve been hooked ever since.

How does branding match your personality?

I find people fascinating. How our mind and feelings work is amazing. I enjoy psychology and the study of what drives us to feel, think or behave in a certain way. Psychology Today recently published an article that talks about a nonconscious form of human memory concerned with the perceptual identification of words and objects. For example, a person sees the word ‘yellow’ will be slightly faster to recognize the word ‘banana’. This happens because yellow and banana are closely associated in memory. Remember the shortcuts I was talking about earlier? This explains how we can recognise the product in the picture below. Fascinating isn’t it?

Part of being a great marketer is understanding how (and why) people think and act the way they do. Understanding some key principles of the human psyche can be what takes a marketing campaign from good to amazing.

What’s the newest thing in branding?

Purpose. Consumers are sick of being lied to. They are buying more responsibly and are prepared to pay more for it. They are using their money to speak for them. They are choosing brands that have a purpose or acting in the best interest of society. And brands will have to adjust.

If the brand doesn’t have a purpose nowadays, it can quickly become irrelevant. Brands that truly understand their role in the world and make it a positive one are the ones that are winning.

What’s the future of branding?

Authenticity reigns supreme. The drive for authenticity will become a benchmark for which the viability of a brand performance will be measured. Inauthentic claimers of a purpose can lead to the brand being criticised or ignored.

How does creativity factor into branding?

Branding has been described as an art. It doesn’t get any more creative than that!

What’s your favourite brand?

I don’t play favourites!

Coca-Cola: What was instilled in me many years ago, remains a part of me. I only opt for the blue and red competitor drink if my choice is really limited! They inspire moments of optimism and happiness through their brands and actions.

Dove: Unilever is using the brand to help improve the self-esteem of girls worldwide. Their product packaging is celebrating the variety of shape in women’s bodies.

Starbucks: They’re using the brand to improve people’s lives worldwide – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time. This starts internally in how they look after their staff – paying tuitions fees and housing allowance.

What’s your dream branding project?

MOLESKINE! They have a great product that I adore. But its soul is buried corporate jargon, so its personality doesn’t come through. I would like to set MOLESKINE’s brand soul free!

If a creative agency were a car, what part would you be?

The body of the car. It’s what everyone sees and recognises before they even see the badge.

What superpower would help you with branding?

Enhanced mental acuity, which will give me advanced analytical skills and out of this world perceptive skills.