Helen Edwards on Branding: The True Path to Ownership

Article excerpt

Living up to your customer-value proposition is more important than futile attempts to 'own' it.

As soon as marketing teams have created their latest customer-value proposition, they move anxiously on to the next big question: 'how can we really own this?'

It's always that same, unequivocal verb: 'own'. You can see why; a wary eye on competitors, coupled with a personal stake in the seductive phraseology, gives way to an instinct to build fences.

The notion of brands 'owning' bits of consumer mental space surfaced in the assurgent mid-90s. Teams back then would talk boldly of appropriating the most universal human concepts. 'Let's own 'refreshment'', you'd hear in a brainstorm for a small fizzy-drinks brand. Or, 'This brand can own 'escapism''.

I even remember, in a workshop for a coffee brand, the team declaring that they would 'own the morning'.

There is, in fact, just one way to ensure commercial ownership of the concept embedded in your value proposition, and that is to craft one so awful that no one else could possibly want it.

Declare that you will henceforth own 'frumpy', and that piece of mental real-estate is sure to remain safely uncontested.

In the more likely event that your value proposition includes positive notions, such as health, confidence, or refreshment, the chances are that other brands, including some in your category, will verge frustratingly close to it.

Outright ownership is as elusive as it is commercially desirable. So what is the answer? It is to ask a better question. The moment your value proposition is agreed, write it up big, pin it up high, and ask this: 'How can we live up to this statement, today, and every day?'

Make this the quotidian question, the one that's on everyone's screensaver, on every meeting-room wall. It will not appeal to the more testosterone-driven types on the team, since the focus shifts from world domination to human servitude. Yet, this question will achieve three important things.

First, it serves as a daily reminder that branding is more about what you do than what you say. As such, it will have relevance to everyone in the organisation, at all levels; 'ownership', conversely, would bemuse many, or, worse, impart the illusion of 'job done'.

Second, it takes your focus off the competition and puts it squarely onto the relationship between you and your customers. …