The most valuable brand in the world, Coke, is little more than carbonated sugar water, but it sells at a premium to other colas because of outstanding consumer demand and brand loyalty. For anyone who doubts the value of a strong brand, consider this: In 2010, Coke’s total revenues worldwide were $36.7 billion, according to FactSet Research Systems. Archrival PepsiCo posted revenues of $57.8 billion. Yet the total value of Coke’s stock is now $153.5 billion, while the much larger PepsiCo is only at $101 billion. The difference, in large part, is the difference in the value of their brands. PepsiCo is a bigger company and arguably has more hard assets than Coke, but in the minds of investors, Coke is where the money is.
In the B2B world, FedEx, GE, and IBM are all outstanding examples of brands that command a higher price, which translates directly to brand equity and ROI for their companies. Brands are valued as assets by many companies along with computer systems, real estate and long-term contracts, but they are also subjective and integrated into a the sales and marketing system, making brand hard to measure separately.
So how can a company justify an investment in brand building?
One way to think of brands is as part of the infrastructure of a company. Just as most firms have to invest in an effective and scalable IT infrastructure for their company, an strong brand strategy will act as a functional structure for many aspects of running a business. Investments in IT systems are used to make data management more efficient-a better billing and payment system, for instance, or a secure email server accessible from remote locations. Upgrading brand strategy can also bring efficiencies as it guides planning for many business elements from product development to marketing campaigns and even sales promotions. That’s why Rolex doesn’t waste time developing $50 watches to compete with Timex, and nobody busts into a board meeting at IBM demanding that they develop a line of clock radios.
Apple is a textbook example of how brand can provide structure to a company. The Apple brand, at its core, is about innovation, with subsets of being different and easy to use. (There’s plenty more, but neither you nor I have the time.) All of their brand touch points reflect this, from their category-creating products like the Mac, the iPod, iPhone, and iTunes to their retail store design and operation, their customer service (e.g.: Genius Bar) and even their web site. Their drive for innovation influences all of these elements and sets high standards for maintaining the concept.
Behind the scenes, which customers can’t observe directly, we can still read about Apple’s fierce internal battles to develop new products, the long hours put in by employees as they work to perfect them, and even the products that don’t make it to the consumer because they weren’t innovative enough, or easy enough to use. Apple doesn’t own a single factory and has relatively few hard assets, yet it is one of the most valuable companies in the world. Again, brand is a huge part of that value and it guides much of their thinking as a company.
Yet as the inner workings of Apple often show, investing in brand strategy is effective, but by no means easy. A company that refocuses their brand on excellence, for instance, may have to dispose of product lines that don’t meet that standard. (Or create a sub-brand to justify the difference.) Because brand touches so many parts of a business, sales people and customer service departments may require retraining and restructuring. Research and product development teams may have to move in new directions. The benefit of this hard work, though, is that sorting and redirecting can bring clarity to a company’s mission.
Over the years, I’ve seen the branding process and the creative process described in much the same way: Decide what the brand is, and then remove everything that is not the brand to make it reality. That kind of focus can give structure to a company’s marketing and business plans, just as improving IT, or revamping the distribution network can create value. Ultimately, the infrastructure of a well-thought-out brand helps guide how the people of a company think. And that’s worth investing in on a regular basis.