Growth has been difficult for most packaged goods companies over the past decade. Value-driven consumers, fragmented and confusing channels of distribution, and the increasing market share of retailer brands have put greater pressure on expected year-over-year, double-digit growth. Coupled with changing global market dynamics, the growth of in-store offerings, and the fragmentation of media, these divergent forces are challenging brands to compete effectively at the store shelf, where 75 percent of all sales are made.
Brands looking to maximize every dollar of growth often overlook the counter-balancing, unifying factor of brand coherence. The ability to align every facet of the organization through a collaborative process in support of a brand’s unique value proposition has become one of the most effective tools in a marketer’s arsenal. It has also become one of the most talked about topics with the word “omnichannel” dominating boardroom conversations. Smart marketers realize brand coherence goes well beyond omnichannel strategies as the critical factor in ensuring customers select their brands over competitors at the moment of purchase.
We have all witnessed how a lack of cohesion can have a devastating effect on sales and growth. Coherence is all about ensuring every facet of an organization is clearly aligned and supports what drives the ultimate moment of truth, when the consumer purchases a product or service. This is a much tougher feat than considering every facet of your channel strategy since coherence relies on both the soft and hard skills of an organization. My experience has shown that on many occasions initiatives fail, especially those that have a higher risk level due to an overtaxed sales force with multiple, and at times conflicting, mandates. The failure of sales or merchandising in understanding the bigger picture and unique value of a new packaging initiative will break the chain of selling at the most crucial moment when a buyer is placing a potential order.
The importance of brand coherence is driving brand marketers to put greater emphasis on how both internal and external stakeholders align behind one singular compelling brand idea. Companies such as Kraft and PepsiCo have embraced the concept of providing a singular point of difference for their brands, which resulted in both organizations restructuring into two separate specialized and focused companies. As more and more brands succumb to category commoditization and become threatened by emerging, non-related industries, it becomes paramount that all of a brand’s moments of truth are effectively aligned to drive a sale at the moment of purchase. Companies such as PepsiCo, P&G, Unilever and Apple are all strong believers in the power of brand coherence.
What is startling is not the inherent power of brand coherence, but the fact that only 38 percent of companies, in a recent study conducted by our organization, have a high level of brand integration that consists of a clearly defined brand position articulated at all levels of the organization. When asked if their company leadership, employees, vendors and customers could clearly articulate their brand position, the study showed a startling drop-off between each level of stakeholder, starting with the leadership team (38 percent), followed by the employees at 19 percent, customers at 11 percent, and vendors at 10 percent. A key reason for the high drop-off highlighted in the study was the fact that close to 60 percent did not have a brand essence — the ability to distill their brand’s unique value into an easy-to-remember, simple-to-understand and focused message. The study also identified that an emphasis on positioning was predominantly external in nature with the position most often supported in online marketing, social media, merchandising and package design (42 percent respectively), followed by advertising (39 percent) and public relations (17 percent).
Employee branding and on-boarding had the lowest participation scores with only 11 percent and 8 percent, identifying a significant gap in how brands are supported. Another factor that has a significant impact on the ability to deliver a truly coherent strategy is the lack of focus on the emotive side of the position with only 15 percent of respondents mentioning their brand’s position was somewhat or very emotional. This is a significant oversight as studies have shown that more than 50 percent of all purchase decisions are driven emotionally. From our research findings, we determined one of the key factors why organizations do not put greater emphasis on creating coherent branding strategies is based on how they define the financial value of their brands. Not having clarity on the value of a brand or an industry-wide accepted practice removes the potential attention and importance of how it contributes to the evaluation of organizations.
Marketers contemplating a brand refresh or the launch of a new offering should consider the following:
- Ensure your brand position and value proposition have been properly communicated to the entire organization and that your employees can articulate your brand essence in their terms.
- Facilitate this by distilling your brand position into a few easy-to-remember phrases to help your employees retain the information.
- Use images to create a visual theme around your brand launch and package design to increase message retention and establish an emotional connection with your audience.
- Do your sales force marketing materials tell the right story and support your brand essence? It’s important that your sales force understands how the initiative supports the direction of your organization and how easily it can be articulated as part of a sales call.
- Make sure your brand platform is sustainable for a long period of time. Brand coherence means delivering a consistent message at all touch points, both internally and externally, over a sustained period.
The brand essence should be communicated effectively in the blink of an eye on your packaging. Packaging graphics, hierarchy of communication, proof-points and other elements found on the package should support the brand’s key point of difference.
The biggest challenge in delivering a strong, coherent brand strategy for packaging programs is ensuring both internal and external stakeholders are aligned to drive the at-purchase moment. Brand coherence is a powerful tool that creates greater alignment toward a common goal and vision for organizations. It starts with a single, focused proposition that is effectively articulated to an organization’s internal stakeholders through all communication touch points and culminates with an effective package design. Although creating better efficiencies and providing shareholders with greater returns on investment have been the mantra for corporations weathering the last recession, leveraging the efficiencies of marketing and employee engagement seems to have been lost in the focus. As companies continue to define how they provide value to the marketplace, it will be important that greater focus be put on brand coherence and the steps to ensure brand alignment.