by Jeffrey Gottheil

Before we can create a new brand, breathe renewed life into an old brand, or add a new product to an existing line to utilize brand equity, we must understand the definition and value of a brand as well as the issues brands face in a highly competitive and volatile marketplace.

At best, it’s difficult if not impossible to compete on price alone. The market is inundated with inexpensive imports and we’re asked as a company to retain the quality characteristics that helped build our brand but still provide a product that competes on price with less expensive products. The only salvation we have is the value of our brand and our ability to convince the consumer that “quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”. True, this may buy us some time, but what happens when our competitor’s quality starts to improve? Welcome to today. Turn over a pot, a pan or coffee maker and you’ll see they all come for the same place.

Now what do you have? Let’s hope you have a brand.

There are at least nine definitions of brand equity. The simplest, and most relevant: The premium that a customer will pay.

If price is one of our biggest challenges then retaining our sense of identity is the other. Let’s face it, in today’s marketplace, whose brand is it? “The Store’s Brand”, “The Vendor’s Brand”, “The No Name Brand”, “The Store as a Brand”, and (with the popularity of product endorsements) “The Celebrity as a Brand”. Confused? So is the consumer; that’s why there’s very little brand loyalty today.

Most companies today feel it is more important to get a product to market than to make sure it fits within their overall brand strategy. But lose your brand and you lose everything.

Take it from this brand strategy article, the key is not to look at competing products, but to look at competing brands and decide where your brand best fits. “Don’t build a product and chase customers, build a brand and they’ll chase you”. Remember that the customers, not your or your industry, decide who you are and who your competitors are. A brand is not what you want it to be; it is who you are and how you are perceived. Can you change people’s perceptions? Sure, but that means re-educating the consumer, and that takes time and money.

It is who you are as a company, the quality of product, the value of price, the service and the selection. And the most important aspect of it all: the consistency and follow-through across all lines. The relationship does not end when a customer makes a purchase, it begins there: user experience is key to loyalty. That’s the difference between selling a product and selling a brand.

Build customer confidence and you build a customer for life. If you keep true to what you are, then “If you build it, they will come”.

There also seems to be a shift at the retail level to departmentalize houseware products by brand instead of function. This can be attributed to manufacturers placing more emphasis on total line design, presence and lifestyle, and retailers finally realizing that the “sum of a brand, is greater than its parts”. After all, it’s nice when appliances in a kitchen match.

Product design can be a key differentiator in housewares. The design can even become what the customer wants, or aspires to have. The “look” can itself be the brand. The design can be functional, or aesthetic, or even both. Look at the success Apple has had by producing PC’s in colours other than beige, and in shapes other than rectangular.