Trends in Product Branding

There are two trends in product branding, which may at first seem disconnected: the focus on product experiences, and the growth of corporate branding.

People increasingly see the product experience as a key driver of the brand relationship. The quality of the product experience is growing in importance after a couple of decades when some companies perhaps lost focus on product performance, particularly in developed markets. If true innovation is defined as product change that provides real solutions to real consumer issues, then it’s not unfair to suggest that some brands ignored this in favour of quick-fix brand extensions which lacked any longer-term impact

Surface innovation that fails to truly innovate or differentiate can have a short-term positive impact on profits. This may be enough for a new product manager under pressure to deliver, but it can turn off consumers in the medium term, as marketing becomes a surrogate for product innovation and stops being truly effective.

Consumers buy products, and for many the product experience is by far their most important touchpoint. It should be stressed that, although it has been over-emphasized on occasion, the so-called softer side of the brand remains an important component of the brand alchemy. Through a brand’s emotional story, the product experience is amplified and linked to the consumer’s imaginative life – it is all a matter of balance.

The second trend is the development of corporate brands, which have traditionally stayed ‘behind the scenes’. Procter & Gamble’s name is increasingly visible on many of its brands. Its main competitor Unilever also announced early last year that they would use their corporate name in customer-facing marketing activities. We could also mention Nestlé, Danone and many others, which have been historically keen to hide their wide range of branded products from consumers. Many reasons drive the decision to appear as one company under an ‘umbrella brand’. In part it is a response to a global marketplace, but the main factor is the need to rationalise marketing spend.

Many companies have developed multi-layered and extremely complex brand architectures over the years – some for historical reasons (like brand acquisitions), some possibly due to a lack of internal cohesion or communication. The trends toward corporate branding and an emphasis on the product allow us a different perspective on what brand architecture could and should look like. They imply a simplified brand structure in which the corporate brand would directly endorse a range of product brands, with all intermediate brand levels progressively disappearing. This would clarify the offers, put the product back at centre stage for consumers, and force companies to really define their corporate brand and related values.

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