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How to construct a future brand ‘road-map’...

Con-fi-dence (kon-fi-duhns) noun.
‘The feeling, or belief that one can have faith in, or rely on someone, or something.’

Despite the relatively bouyant economy, ‘confidence’ still remains an uncertain quantity: how long will the recovery last? What impact will Brexit have - on the economy, in general, and company prospects, in particular? Which sectors will continue to thrive; and which weaken? What do companies need to do to position their brands optimally and with conviction? What brand startegy to pursue?

Of itself confidence is difficult to assess, given it can be influenced as much by the environment within which it exists, as any specific measurement criteria.

And as the opening definition implies, beyond empirical data, it’s also made up of attributes as intangible as ‘beliefs’, ‘expectations’ and ‘feelings’.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, therefore, to see the current see-sawing of consumer and business optimism: Is the future a glass ‘half-full’, or ‘half-empty’?

Faced with such uncertainty, CEO’s, CMOs and Directors of Corporate Affairs, or Communications are seeking answers to such questions as:

  • ‘How well positioned are their brands?’ (be they consumer, or corporate; product, or service-oriented)
  • ‘How can they make the most of the current recovery?’
  • ‘What should be their future brand ‘road-map?’
  • ‘Should their strategy be defensive, or expansive; reflect market nervousness, or exploit it?’

Confidence and brand have been inextricably linked, ever since William Hesketh Lever (of Lever Brothers’ fame) took the decision in 1885 to brand his bar of soap - ‘Sunlight Soap’ - as a mark of quality assurance. The objective being to ensure that customers would trust his product, as much as be able to tell the physical difference from those ‘commodity soaps’ cut by grocers from unidentified blocks.

But brand confidence is much more than just a name and logo. It’s a complex mix of rational and emotional attributes - tangible and intangible - that create a total ‘promise’, or ‘added value experience’ when managed as a whole.

And that’s as true for corporate brands, as it is for products... because a strong corporate reputation and image (market value) is influenced as much by perception, as by reality; as much by ‘belief’, as by facts:

  • do forward-looking investors believe that management has the correct strategy in place and can deliver against it?
  • do they have confidence not only in what the leadership team is doing, but also what they say they’re doing and will do?
  • what indicators are there in what they do, what they say and how they say it to help draw the correct conclusions?

So is it possible to identify and measure Corporate Brand Confidence?

The starting point is a definition that goes beyond the loose version that opened this paper; one that might be expressed as:

Confidence = Knowledge + Trust

where ‘Knowledge’ represents a combination of Awareness & Understanding, and ‘Trust’ an amalgam of Performance & Appeal.

Because ‘Knowledge‘ is more than just awareness; it’s also the nature of that awareness:

  • who are your stakeholders and how well do they know you?
  • do differing groups know you for different things? If so, what and why?
  • do those segments have an accurate understanding of what you do, or want to do?

Given there’s absolutely no point in being known for the wrong thing, that means ensuring you have a clearly defined brand positioning and proposition... by target audience group.

Similarly, ‘Trust’ is more than just a function of reliability. Of course, any successful brand must delivers against product and service expectations - if not, what more must you do in terms of innovation? But to be a ‘Powerbrand’, stakeholders must also want to have
a relationship with you; and that means moving beyond functional choice to include an appreciation (if not admiration) of ‘softer’ attributes, such as vision, values and image.

With an agreed definition, the next step is to undertake a formal evaluation of this ‘Confidence Quotient’ (or ‘Brand Barometer’), not only in relation to your own brand, but also those of your competitors. This should be assessment-based comprising:

1. Business, brand & culture auditing

First, an audit of your current positioning in relation to macro / micro market trends:

  • your brand proposition (‘promise’) & substantiators (‘reasons to believe’)
  • ‘vision, mission & values’
  •  behaviours & culture.

Existing research (industry data; customer satisfaction surveys; media commentary; staff audits; web and social media metrics) can provide valuable reference points here.

2. Corporate / brand identity, communications & marketing activity reviews

Second, an evaluation of the effectiveness of all current materials and media used:

  • core brand fundamentals (name, visual identity & system)
  • ‘Masterbrand’ & sub-brand architecture (portfolio structures and management)
  • messaging and narrative
  • visual language; imagery; personality & tone. Design style and ‘look & feel’, especially coherence cross-media and within the digital space.

3. Target audience profiling & perceptions’ assessment

Finally, interrogating through proprietary qualitative and quantitative research not only actual awareness levels - top-of-mind / spontaneous vis-à-vis prompted - but also perceptions vis-à-vis expectations of your brand:

  • internally, from management and staff to get their views on comparative levels, plus competitive image standing: what is it? Strengths and weaknesses?
  • externally, to gather deep insights from key audience and stakeholder groups into current perceptions, understanding and appreciation, as well as - and most importantly - future needs and expectations. Also by differing target segments.

This should be complemented by insights about competitors - both direct and ‘peer’ - to build an overall picture of the marketplace, identify the degree of uniqueness of your ‘offer’ and explore opportunities to strengthen differentiation.

The sum total of these inputs will provide a profile for your brand that begins to identify its core strengths within a competitive environment. Not only will this deliver a high-level perspective on your Brand Barometer / Confidence Quotient, it will also give you the ability to drill down into the respective elements that make up the ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Trust’ dimensions.

Conceptually, it can be visualised like this:


With this in place, senior management can develop a future plan, or ‘road-map’, that builds on key brand strengths, while addressing identified weaknesses and exploiting those of your competitors, all at the same time.

It will deliver as objective and robust an evaluation of your brand ‘standing’ as possible - given the market circumstances then at play - and with greater understanding comes the ability to plan with confidence.

Or put another way - and returning to the earlier ‘glass half-full; half-empty’ analogy - perhaps what it really can do is remove the glass and focus more on the amount of liquid!


‘Knowledge’ is more than just awareness; ‘Trust’ more than just reliability