Building Brands without Mass Media

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Building Brands without Mass Media

Executive Summary

COSTS, MARKET FRAGMENTATION, and new media channels that let customers bypass advertisements seem to be in league against the old ways of marketing. Relying on mass media campaigns to build strong brands may be a thing of the past.

Several companies , making a virtue of necessity, have come up with alternative brand-building approaches and are blazing a trail in the post-mass-media age. The Body Shop garnered loyalty with its support of environmental and social causes. Cadbury funded a theme park tied to its history in the chocolate business. Haagen-Dazs opened posh ice-cream parlors and got itself featured by name on the menus of fine restaurants. Hugo Boss and Swatch backed athletic or cultural events that became associated with their brand.

The various campaigns shared characteristics hoping they could serve as guidelines for any company hoping to build a successful brand: senior managers were closely involved with brand-building efforts; the companies recognized the importance of clarifying their core brand identity; and they made sure that all their efforts to gain visibility were tied to that core identity.

Studying the methods of companies outside one's own industry and country can be instructive for managers. Pilot testing and the use of a single continuous measure of brand equity also help managers get the most out of novel approaches in their ever more competitive world.

IF YOU TAKE AS A GIVEN - and we do - that companies must build strong brands to be competitive, then you are faced with a simple yet staggering challenge : How?

In the United States (as much as in India), mass-media advertising has long been the cornerstone of most brand-building efforts. But that norm is threatening to become obsolete. Fragmentation of media, and media audiences, and rising costs are already inhibiting marketing through traditional mass media like television and print. And new communication channels - which, in some cases, allow individuals to bypass advertising as they peruse entertainment options, obtain information, or shop - are already in use.

Perhaps the new media scene will take more time to develop than the two or three years that the pundits have predicted. Perhaps it will not affect everyone: some people may not want (or may not be able) to pay to access ad-free media. It is not hard to imagine, however, that the media landscape as a whole will be very different in only a few years.

To build strong brands in this uncertain environment, Indian companies would do well to study their counterparts in the USA & Europe. Because they were forced to, companies in Europe have long operated in a context that seems to mirror some of the harsher realities of the post-mass-media era. Media options for branded manufacturers in Europe historically have been limited and relatively ineffective. Europeans have had access to fewer commercial television stations, many of which bundle advertisements to avoid program interruptions. It is still rare to see media spanning several countries, despite the hype. What's more, because of the limited media availability, costs have been high. Even as new cable and satellite television channels were gradually added in European countries, costs did not decline - in part because new brands added to the demand. And powerful retailers in many nations usurp much of the available media capacity to engage in corporate advertising and to strengthen their private-label efforts.

In short, managers of brands  have found that communication through traditional mass media has been ineffective, inefficient, and costly. As a result, many  companies have long relied on alternative communication channels to create product awareness, convey brand associations, and develop loyal customer bases. Their brand-building approaches may point the way for others to succeed in the new media age.

Here we focus on the approaches of six companies: the Body Shop, Hugo Boss, Cadbury-Schweppes with its Cadbury chocolate line, Nestle with its Buitoni brand, Grand Met with its Haagen-Dazs brand, and SMH with Swatch. Drawing on and extrapolating from those approaches, we have developed guidelines that we believe will serve all companies well, regardless of their location, their ability to access traditional mass media, or their desire and ability to involve themselves in the as-yet-undefined new-media opportunities.

Let Brand Strategy Drive Your Business Strategy

The successful European companies we've studied share one critical characteristic in addition to their reliance on alternative media: senior managers drive the brand building. They actively make brand building part of their strategic plans and, as a result, integrate their alternative approaches to brand building into their overall concept of the brand.

One such manager is the Body Shop's founder and CEO, Anita Roddick, who, believing that adveritsing is wasteful, has made her alternative brand-building methods the basis of her company's strategy. Peter Brabeck, the newly appointed CEO of Nestle, is another example. Five years ago, Brabeck, as executive vice president for global foods, was the champion for the Buitoni brand; his involvement helped launch one of the food industry's most original experiments to bypass retailers and communicate directly with consumers. Another case is Jochem Holy, who with his brother shared the responsibilities of CEO at Hugo Boss between 1972 and 1993 and who became its main brand-builder. A grandnephew of the founder, Holy shaped the identity of the Hugo Boss brand and the communication of that identity.

In contrast, many U.S. companies delegate the development of brand strategy to someone who lacks the clout and incentives to think strategically. Or they pass the task to an advertising agency. Relying on an agency leads to two problems. First, in most cases, it creates a distance between senior managers and their key asset, the brand - the driver of future growth opportunities. That distance can make the coordination of communication efforts difficult - a situation that can result in confusion for customers, loss of synergy, and, ultimately, performance that fall short of potential.

Second, most agencies' talents, incentives, and inclinations still lead them to rely on mass-media advertising as their primary brand-building device. Agencies rarely suggest that a client lead brand building with alternative media. Although some agencies recently have made strides in expanding their ability to develop alternative - media options, most are still oriented toward advertising campaigns, despite pronouncements to the contrary.

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Certainly, agencies have much to contribute strategically and tactically. However, the key to engaging in a broad, coordinated brand-building effort that accesses alternative media is to develop and control brand strategy inside the organization.

Clarify Your Brand's Identity

The identity of the brand - the brand concept from the brand owner's perspective - is the foundation of any good brand-building program. Whether pursuing alternative brand-building approaches, accessing multiple media, or both, a company must have a clear brand identity with depth and texture so that those designing and implementing the communications programs do not inadvertently send conflicting or confusing ...

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