Positive brand equity is one point often overlooked by many startup founders. As a consequence, they fail to reach their full potential. In contrast, those that have effective branding strategies tend to fare better. Also, they are more likely to experience tremendous growth.
As a startup CEO, the cost of branding should be one of your concerns. Keep this one thing in mind when deciding how much resources you allocate to brand building. It is your best investment in developing brand recognition and loyalty.
What Is Brand Equity?
Brand equity refers to the premium that consumers attach to a brand. Quantifying such value, though, is not that simple. For one thing, it is a general term that encompasses several elements.
Brand equity exists in different states:
- Positive Brand Equity. When consumers think highly of a brand, they are inclined to buy and pay more. A company with higher brand equity can recover its investments sooner. It is also easier to open new markets and successfully introduce new products.
- Negative Brand Equity. Poor products and services lead to a negative experience. It happens when a brand consistently under-delivers. In this case, the company loses customers. Even worse, it might not even be possible to recover from a bad reputation.
- Neutral Brand Equity. For new startups, there are not enough customers to influence public opinion. Hence, they neither have positive nor negative brand equity. Over time, this changes to either end.
What Are Brand Equity Models?
As a concept, brand equity is complex and multidimensional. After decades of research, academics and other experts have proposed different interpretations. Be that as it may, each theory consists of more than one element or component.
Today, the most accepted brand equity models are those developed by:
- David Aaker is an organizational theorist and hailed as the “Father of Modern Branding.” He is also an American Marketing Association (AMA) Hall of Fame inductee.
- Kevin Lane Keller is the author of Strategic Brand Management. Used in business schools and marketing firms, many regard this book as the “Bible of Branding.” Lane has over 90 published papers on marketing strategy and branding.
Aaker’s Brand Equity Model
Aaker’s model is simple. For him, brand equity encompasses four dimensions:
- Brand Loyalty
- Brand Awareness
- Brand Association
- Perceived Quality
A sound branding strategy is to create separate campaigns, each focusing on one or two dimensions. Doing so can help increase the values, resulting in positive brand equity.
1. Brand Loyalty
Brand loyalty refers to the attachment of customers to specific brands and products.
Benefits of Positive Brand Loyalty
- Trade Leverage. Loyal customers are a steady stream of revenue, mainly due to repeat purchases. As such, your company can have a degree of stability.
- Reduction Marketing Costs. Since you already have a captive market, you do not have to spend as much marketing resources as when your company was new. Your marketing team can now focus on new markets and consumers.
- Customer Referrals. Customers become loyal to your brand because they trust your brand and the quality of the products. Add to that other positive experiences, and they would have no qualms recommending you to their family and friends.
- Competitive Threats Response Time. Now and then, competitors come up with innovative products or enticing offers. Loyal customers will not switch brands quickly, thus giving you time to come up with a solution.
How to Build Positive Brand Loyalty Equity
There are several ways to increase your brand loyalty equity. Whichever methods you choose, there are three steps to follow:
- Brand Recognition. Consumers tend to purchase from a recognized brand. As such, focus your marketing campaign in the beginning to promote awareness.
- Brand Preference. Even as you gain more customers, you are also losing them. Hence, a part of the marketing strategy should go towards reinforcing your brand’s identity. This way, you can influence people to continue preferring your brand over others.
- Brand Insistence. One of the highest goals you can reach on branding is when customers no longer look at other brands. Focusing on providing positive feelings, unparalleled customer service, and high-quality products are among the things you can do.
Brand loyalty in Aaker’s brand equity model may only be one dimension. But it does not mean you should treat it as a single component and be oblivious to others. It means that you should make a strategic brand management strategy that encompasses other dimensions – at the same time.
Things You Can Do to Increase Brand Loyalty
- Determine the needs of customers, then ensure you can meet their expectations.
- Create communities in which you can interact with customers. On Facebook, for example, you can create a group. Also, respond to customer comments on your posts.
- While still on social media, do take note of what customers are saying. In particular, pay attention to negative feedback and take remedial actions at once. At any rate, social monitoring is one way to understand consumer perception of your brand.
- Personalizing your marketing efforts can pay big dividends. For example, you can send birthday greetings to newsletter subscribers. This strategy helps you build trust and reinforces loyalty.
- Consumers are people like you who feel positive emotions when appreciated. Since they are already recommending your brand to other people, try giving them rewards. Companies that implement referral programs, for instance, have had great success.
2. Brand Awareness
Brand awareness refers to the extent of familiarity consumers have with brands. Having more customers recognize your brand is one of the best ways to increase market share. No wonder 9 out of 10 marketers put growing brand awareness ahead of sales and lead generation.
Benefits of Positive Brand Awareness Equity
- Familiarity. At the start, awareness is about letting consumers know about your brand. But through constant exposure, the consumers may develop a liking. At any rate, they may purchase or talk about your products, thus increasing your sphere of influence.
- Association Anchors. You can design marketing campaigns that create associations. In some ways, it is similar to recognizing logos. But it can also be attaching your brand to an object or personality. Whenever consumers encounter those attachments, your brand comes into mind.
- Sustainability. Much of this benefit comes from providing products and services that meet or exceed consumer expectations. But you also want to capitalize on this momentum by creating awareness so that other consumers can trust and believe your brand. As a result, you can have a stable revenue stream at the very least.
- Consumer Consideration. By the time customers need to make a purchase, your brand comes into mind.
How to Build Positive Brand Awareness Equity
- On social media platforms, invite influencers to feature your brand. A common practice is to provide them with sample products. They can then test and speak about their experience.
- Many consumers today read blogs or watch video reviews of products before buying. Therefore, it is necessary to build a digital presence.
- Invest in packaging. Great designs can influence consumers to choose your products over others. More importantly, they tend to remember you, which increases awareness.
- A great way to create awareness is to sponsor public events, organize charities and fundraising events.
3. Brand Association
Brand association refers to the kinship between consumers and brands. To be more specific, it is about the mental and emotional connection.
Take company logos as an example. What do consumers think of whenever they see those images? How do they feel? If consumers have a positive thought or feel good, then it helps you develop strong brand equity.
Brand associations are not limited to images. It could also be other attributes that distinguish itself from others. These traits can be anything – unique features, specializations, or even causes.
Benefits of Positive Brand Association Equity
- Information Retrieval. Customers can retrieve or process positive associations upon encountering your brand name. This characteristic is also crucial to building brand recognition or recall.
- Drive Purchasing. Positive brand associations influence consumers to make purchases. The higher the value, the greater the influence. In turn, this leads to higher conversions and sales.
- Attitude. Developing a good reputation is crucial to your brand’s success. Aside from personal experience, feedback, recommendations, and social media exposure help consumers have a favorable view. The more consumers associate you with positives, the more your company can grow.
- Brand Extensions. Once you have a successful brand image, you can spin off the image in other product categories. Having an established brand name can boost sales of new products.
How to Build Positive Brand Association Equity
Being associated with anything negative turns away customers. As such, the use of the right branding strategy is a must.
Here are the things you can do to improve your brand association value:
- Customer experience is your main priority. Review the consumers’ processes, from being aware of your brand to purchasing and using the products. At each step, ensure that there are no weaknesses. While at it, remember to create an emotional connection.
- Brand partnerships are a great way to raise your brand awareness. Regardless of which organization you pick, the one thing that you should remember is to avoid alienating consumers. Non-profit organizations and adopting social causes are good considerations.
- Hire endorsers or work with influencers. Choose those with a solid fan base. More importantly, they should share the same values with your brand image and culture.
- Be ready to respond to competitive threats. For example, competitors may put up a comparison between you and their brand. While they may not necessarily put anything negative about you, they will highlight their advantages. In this case, you can react accordingly.
4. Perceived Quality
Hofstede’s perceived value dimension refers to how consumers view brands and products.
A positive perceived value depends on the quality of actual products and services. Consumer experience is also a significant factor.
But perceived values can also be that – a perception, which can be real or not. Although well-known brands have a history of reliability, it does not mean the competitors are mediocre. In some cases, there may be superior alternatives.
Benefits of Positive Brand Perceived Quality Equity
- Quality. The needs of different market segments vary. As long as the quality of your products can satisfy the needs of your target customers, that is more than enough reason for them to buy.
- Brand Position. By synonymously building positive brand equity and providing a great experience, you can strengthen your brand position. Higher positioning also equates to higher perceived quality.
- Price. No doubt, the cost of goods and consumers’ buying power are factors. Brands that can show in simple terms why their products are worth the price can sell better than those that could not. High perceived quality influences people to think your brand is worth it.
- Wide Availability. One reason consumers do not buy from some brands is difficulty making purchases or obtaining goods. Making transactions easy and products available to them raises perceived quality.
- Brand Extensions. In using this method to enhance brand association, perceived quality also increases.
How to Build Positive Perceived Value Equity
- Consumers are tired of being misled, which is why many do not trust advertising. Increasing the perceived value of your brand should be based on meeting customer expectations. Rather than feeling disappointed, they would feel good about their purchase, which enhances your brand.
- Engaging with customers can significantly raise their perception of your brand. Hence, you should not only create a digital presence on social media but also interact with them.
- You can raise the perceived value by proving your value. Free trials and samples are among the most common practices. Another is by providing facts – case studies or research.
- Transparency can boost trust levels. Being honest with the consumers is one way to increase your brand’s perceived value.
- Marketers usually would use any of the Laws of Persuasion to sell products. While this is yet another effective method, be careful not to overdo it.
- The packaging of your goods affects customer perception. Notice how companies like Apple box iPhones? That is because it adds aesthetic value and gives the product a premium feel.
Keller’s Brand Equity Model
Keller’s Brand Equity Model or Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model is simple. Creating the right image and ensuring a positive consumer experience raises the brand value.
The CBBE model consists of four levels, each addressing a question. These questions are to determine consumers’ perceptions and attitudes toward a brand. In other words, it is a means to measure brand equity.
Using this model, startups can construct ideal encounters. These include invoking or leaving positive thoughts. Even more significant is connecting on a deeper emotional level. By doing this, consumers can have a stronger conviction to buy and recommend to others.
Level 1: Brand Identity – Who Are You?
There are two components to this level – brand identity and salience.
- Brand Identity. It refers to your brand’s visible elements, such as the logo, colors, and design. Features that give tangible or intangible value to the equity are also important.
- Brand Salience. This component refers to the extent of your brand’s image or perception to consumers. Having a solid identity can enhance brand salience. As a result, your brand can have positive brand awareness.
How to Build Positive Brand Salience
Do extensive consumer research and know the market segmentation. In each of the target customer segments, understand these things.
- Consumer needs
- Consumer perception of your brand
- Factors that influence them to choose one brand over the others
- Factors and processes involved in deciding to select a specific brand
- Consumer views of your brand compared to others
Every step of the way leading to making purchases, compare your brand to competitors. If consumers perceive that you can meet their needs, they are more likely to choose your brand.
Those factors distinguishing you from competitors are the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Your brand identity must be synonymous with your USPs.
One can say that brand identity is the image projected to the consumers. Even so, it is still your products and consumer experience that cements the positive brand identity.
Level 2: Brand Meaning – What Are You?
Your brand should represent your identity. But is what you are conveying the same message that consumers receive?
Meeting consumer needs is a must in building positive brand equity. To do this, Keller determined the two most essential elements to convey your message are:
- Performance. For consumers to have a positive experience, you need to give them what they expect and need. A great logo design that costs millions of dollars is worthless if products are trash. Here, Keller identified five characteristics that you should meet:
- Primary characteristics and features
- Product reliability, durability, and serviceability
- Service effectiveness, efficiency, and empathy
- Style and design
- Imagery. Performance alone is not enough. Your brand should also connect with consumers at the psychological and social levels. With this, not only can you communicate to consumers what your brand means. Consumers would also know what you stand for, thus forming a positive brand identity.
How to Build Positive Brand Performance and Imagery
In a nutshell, this level is about creating, managing, and meeting expectations.
Consumers experience your brand in two ways. One is direct in which they use your products or services. Another by indirect, consumers hear about your brand from family and friends or through your marketing channels.
On Level 1, you identified the specific needs of target market segments and determined your USPs. Concerning this step, you can also use tools to identify consumer needs.
KANO Model is one such analysis tool used for exploring and measuring consumer needs. Besides identifying the requirements, it can also help you determine performance.
Critical to Quality Tree or CTQ Tree) is another excellent tool startups can use. You can use this Sigma tool to identify and transform consumer needs into measurable product and process requirements.
“Gap” is another element you want to identify. Is there any weakness in your products or services that results in a poor consumer experience? Is there any room for improvement, so you not only meet but exceed consumer expectations?
In looking for gaps, you should not only look at your products. See if your competitors have gaps. If there are, you can take advantage by offering better products, turning those gaps into your USPs.
Be careful when creating a brand image, and do not make empty promises. As long as your products can meet or exceed consumer needs and expectations, they would have a favorable view of your brand. In this way, you can develop brand personality and loyalty.
Level 3: Brand Response – What About You?
On Level 2, a key concept is identifying and connecting with consumers on an emotional level. Level 3, meanwhile, is about consumer response to your brand.
To be a successful startup, you need to ensure positive perceptions and emotions. Implementing this step should not focus on the exterior only. It should also involve building a solid foundation by hiring the right people.
Keller’s brand response involves two elements:
- Judgments. As you can expect, consumers never stop judging your brand. Even the most loyal customers can turn against you if, for some reason, a product fails to work. At any rate, Keller identified four key areas by which they form judgments:
- Quality – actual or perceived
- Credibility – expertise (and innovation), trustworthiness, and likability
- Consideration – relevance of the product to their needs
- Superiority – comparison of your product with competitors
- Feelings. Besides examining your brand, consumers also respond based on the emotions evoked. A negative is a no-no – it is bad for business. Ideally, it should be one or more of these positive brand feelings:
- Social approval
How to Build Positive Brand Recognition
Although new, startups should have a strategy for collecting customer feedback. There are plenty of ways, from interviews, surveys, and others.
At any rate, you intend to find out what customers feel and think about your brand. In particular, you want to know about their experience based on the four key areas of judgment.
It is necessary to know the emotions they felt. Hopefully, it is all positive. But even if there are negative sentiments, it is not too late to correct them.
For each of the positive brand feelings, consider what you can do to trigger those emotions. Among the key areas you focus on in this regard are:
- Improving both the actual and perceived quality of your brand and products
- Enhancing the credibility of your brand
- Ensuring you are properly communicating your relevancy to consumer needs
- Comparing your products with those from competitors
Next, consider each key area and ask which feelings it evokes? Then, align your marketing campaign to target those trigger those positive emotions. Successful campaigns, for sure, can boost your positive brand recognition.
Level 4: Brand Relationships – How Do You Relate to Me?
Resonance – the last level – is on top of Keller’s pyramid of brand equity. After going through the previous levels, where do your customers go to next? It is time to strengthen your bond.
Customers who resonate with your brand will make repeat purchases. Not only that, but they are more likely to engage with your social media marketing campaigns – liking, sharing, and even interacting with other customers through comments.
All businesses should strive to reach this level. In theory, it seems straightforward. But getting it done is altogether another matter. Needless to say, there are ways you can make it happen.
The four elements you need to establish excellent brand recall are:
- Behavioral Loyalty. Customers patronize your brand by making regular repeat purchases.
- Attitudinal Attachment. Customers feel special and are proud to buy your products.
- Sense of Community. Customers feel a connection with others who patronize your brand. They may also have the same sentiments towards your representatives (or even you).
- Active Engagement. Customers, including those who have not used your products, engage with your brand. They may follow you on social media, share your posts, join official and unofficial groups, participate in events, and more.
How to Strengthen Brand Recall?
One thing you can do is to introduce a loyalty program. For many companies, it is one of the best ways to connect with customers.
Rewarding customers, though, come at the cost of reduced profits. Nonetheless, far more companies end up earning higher revenues.
Other ways to build a positive brand recall is to offer gifts, vouchers, and others. Remember that it is human nature to want to feel appreciated. A loyalty or rewards program can do that while encouraging them to make purchases.
Strong Brand Equity or Negative Brand Equity Is a Choice
All entrepreneurs agree that positive brand equity is critical to success. Not everyone, though, devotes enough time and resources to enhance their image. As a result, they lose business to competitors who develop good customer loyalty.
Some companies also do not use brand tracking tools, engage and get customer feedback. In this case, growing their business becomes much more challenging. Not only that, but any problem that arises leads to negative brand equity.
The solution is to pursue high brand equity.
But a brand image is not only about what you do, as consumer demand defines brand equity too. At its core, it means meeting or exceeding their expectations. When you build brand equity, you can use either Aaker’s or Keller’s model to plan.
As your reputation grows, your branding efforts provide you with these benefits:
- Competitive advantage
- Customer loyalty
- Higher profit margins
- More sales and higher revenues
- More leeway to expand business
The list of benefits is endless. With this in mind, it is time to rethink your strategies and take your brand to new heights.