Let’s assume that you are in charge of a mainstream brand and that, according to research, respondents think it is as good as white label products. Assuming that your offering is mid-priced, your situation is not enviable. Your customers will struggle to understand why they should pay more for your brand than for generic products or services.
What can you do to give your brand a more premium image, and where should you start?
If you do not start here, it will really make no sense to do anything else. Check with your customers to find out how good your product or service is unbranded (e.g., in blind tests). Compare its quality to that of your competitors and use measurable metrics to see where you stand. Your product or service does not necessarily need to have the highest quality (though that of course helps!), it just cannot be much below the level at which you aspire your brand to be. If your offering is found to be of relatively good quality even without any branding, you can go to the next step. If not, figure out what improvements are required to make your product or service feel more premium. Do you need to get rid of that artificial sweetener in your soft drink, because it makes the drink taste like a cheap fake? Is it time to bring your customer service in-house, rather than outsourcing it, as it is ruining the brand experience? Should you stop airing high-volume, inexpensive reality series, if you want your channel to be perceived as the next HBO?
Do not ever think that your customers will not notice the difference in quality.
By now, you know that your product or service is of high quality and delivers on its rational promise. What about the brand? Does your product or service receive more positive feedback when it is tested in branded research? Does your branding help you build a premium image? If not, you need to get your story right and translate it consistently into brand assets that people can see, hear and feel. Hire professionals, who will revise your brand strategy, audit your brand assets and advise you on details, such as which shade of your brand’s dominating colour suggests a more premium product and which words establish the right tone. Make sure your brand is consistent (this, of course, is easier said than done).
Sometimes, where your product or service is sold, how it is merchandised and how much it costs tells consumers more about your brand than the physical branding itself. For example, if you are in charge of an FMCG brand, you need to make sure that it is not being displayed on the lowest shelf, can be bought at high-end supermarkets, is not heavily discounted and in general is not cheaper than other premium brands. If you sell only in digital, the same rules apply—is your brand well-represented on various e-commerce websites (e.g., those of supermarkets), is there a high-quality picture of it accompanying all the necessary information, does the description do your brand justice and is your pricing where it should be?
If your brand’s high quality is not something people are widely aware of, you need to shout louder about it. There are brands which have been communicating quality for decades in order not to lose their iconic status (e.g., Heinz or Mercedes-Benz). Sometimes it is enough to communicate the premium image indirectly and focus on a more unique attribute, but sometimes the brand needs to remind its consumers that it stands for high quality (e.g., freshest ingredients, best customer service or durability). It is also important to remember that while the messaging is crucial, the tone of voice and production values of your campaigns contribute to your brand image to the same extent. Every piece of communication, including your website, ads, social media posts or even internal videos should build a premium image of the brand. B2B companies, in particular, have a lot of work to do in this area. Even though they often sell expensive solutions to other businesses, they tend to use cheap-looking materials (e.g., amateur videos) to attract potential customers.
It is also important to be careful when selecting brand ambassadors. If you need to make your brand appear more premium, choose ambassadors that have a more aspirational perception than your brand.
A good trick to elevate your brand image is to introduce a sub-brand or a special edition product or service, and to position it as a much more premium offering than your main brand. Think Tesco Finest, the Amex Black Card or Johnnie Walker Green Label Whisky. If your promotion is focused around this sub-brand, the brand equity of your main brand will be enriched with more premium associations. An example of a brand building its image in a similar manner is Emirates Airline, which often promotes its business class to create a more aspirational image of the main brand.
If you did all of the above steps and after 12 months your product or service is still perceived to be on par with lower-end brands because it has such a strong, negative legacy, only then you should consider rebranding. A change of the name is advised when the previous name brings more troubles for the brand than advantages. Still, to make rebranding a successful exercise, you need to start with step one.
Remember that this is your last resort and that you should not make this decision lightly (read here why).
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