A brand is a complex concept.

“Brand” doesn’t refer to just a logo, product line, or a series of advertisements. It refers to every interaction that a marketable entity has. Through these interactions, a brand creates the promise of specific benefits and experiences. These promises are represented by the information, images, memories, meanings, products and other elements that are associated with the brand.

That may sound broad and big — but it has to be. It’s hard to imagine Apple without any of the sleek design elements that define its brand, or Coca-Cola without its signature red logo.

Managing those interactions and resulting emotions was simpler when an organization had only a few ways to engage audiences. For many decades, products, packaging, out-of-home and print advertisements, and eventually broadcast advertisements were the principal ways that potential customers would interact with a brand.

But the number of ways for brands to reach out to customers — and the number of places where potential customers reside, both physically and online — has exploded in recent years.

It’s impossible to shepherd a brand through today’s digital world, building awareness and convincing audiences around the globe to start a customer relationship with you, without having a system in place for doing it methodically. That includes having a system to:

  • Ensure consistent interactions with your brand
  • Plan, produce, and distribute branded content quickly
  • Understand what customers think about you
  • Collect actionable information that will help you plan more effective interactions

This post provides an overview of what brand management really is, as well as some resources to help you define and execute against your brand identity.

Defining Brand Management

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In marketing, brand management is the process of planning, governing, and growing a brand, its market share, and how consumers perceive it.

Fundamentally, brand management is an integrated discipline. In Rising Tide: Lessons from 165 Years of Brand Building at Procter & Gamble, scholar and researcher Davis Dyer notes:

“What remained essential [in brand management], however, was the ability to integrate [R&D, campaign management, and market research] into a single, organic brand-building process.”

A successful brand management system brings together production, sales, advertising, promotion, marketing research, purchasing, distribution, package development, and even financial accounting.

The people most commonly responsible for brand management, are, unsurprisingly, brand managers—individuals who plan, develop, and direct the marketing efforts for a particular brand or product. However, because brand managers are only directly involved in a fraction of the activity, meanings and experiences that define a brand, it’s also important to consider every employee in a company as a steward of that brand. After all, every advertising impression, store visit, and customer service interaction represents and reinforces the brand.

The Beginning of Brand Management

The time is the early 1940s, and America is just starting to exit the Great Depression. The installation phase had laid the groundwork for mass production with the assembly line, mass communication with radio and television, and mass distribution with the introduction of trucking. Those, in turn, drove explosions in income, products, channels, and the complexity of organizations (amongst other things).

In response to these changes, companies introduced new organizational approaches from R&D departments, to GM’s division structure, to P&G’s market research discipline, and finally, to brand management, a new way to organize and operate an organization centered around the company’s brands. Introduced in 1931, brand management took the next ten years to really get its legs and start to spread outside Cincinnati to many of the largest organizations in America.

Even then, “P&G recognized that building brands is not exclusively or even primarily a marketing activity. Rather it is a systems problem.”

It’s also around this time that the rise of the highway system and suburbs led to a proliferation of products and brands that needed to be governed. Brand management grew as a practice since then, adjusting as necessary in response to broadcast technology and international expansion.

The Present and Future of Brand Management

In today’s day and age, customers don’t just see your brands on a shelf, or on TV, and print ads — they’re everywhere thanks to the revolution in digital, social, and mobile. To add to that complexity, not only are there more channels — there are more regions, more products, and more people with disposable income that your brand needs to cater to.

Taking advantage of all those opportunities means being on all the time, ready to deliver the right message through the right channel at the right time.

An organization’s ability to manage brand relies on four things:

  • Defining your brand
  • Living up to that definition in every interaction possible
  • Evaluating whether your definition is working
  • Redefining yourself to better take advantage of opportunities

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Here are some articles, templates, book recommendations, and reports we have to help you manage brand in today’s digital sea.

Defining Your Brand

1. Understanding What Makes a Brand
First, get acquainted with the elements that make up a brand — beyond the logo. Defining Brand Identity covers seven facets that brand owners need to establish, in order to give your organization guidelines for decision-making and messaging.

2. Connecting at the Atomic Level
Second, understand how people actually form connections with brands. How the Human Brain Experiences Your Brand covers the biological basis of brand recognition and association; you can create visual markers with neuroscience in mind.

3. Building the Brand Internally
Remember to look within the organization as well. If brands are the sum of interactions with people, that includes employees too. Work Culture: The Inward Elements of a Brand explains the interactions between internal work culture and external-facing messaging, and how to direct them.

Executing Against Your Brand

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Once you have an understanding of what your brand should stand for and what it should look like, it’s time to live up to it. That’s obviously a big endeavor, encompassing more than just marketing. We broke it down into a few component parts.

1. Understanding the Science of Brand Growth
Take the time to understand why some brands succeed and others don’t. Our report, Brand Building for the Modern Marketer, explains why ads should focus more on customer acquisition (rather than retention) and mass markets (rather than extremely specific segments). It’s inspired by Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow, a highly recommended read.

2. Setting Down a Strategy
Build a strategy around the resources at your disposal and the trends affecting your industry.

First, consult The Seven Marketing Trends to Watch in 2016, our report on the disruptive forces affecting brands right now. Then review The Handbook for Marketing Budgets: Questions for the Modern CMO; it provides six questions to answer when it comes to setting the resources you’ll use to take advantage of those trends.

And don’t be afraid to take risks. Our post, Three Brand Management Strategies That Should Have Failed covers three case studies on counterintuitive plans that worked against all odds.

3. Putting Process, Technology, and People in Place
You need to equip your team with routines and tools so that they can execute on the plans you create. Marketing Operations 101: Why Your Brand Needs an Efficient Supply Chain outlines how your marketing works like a supply chain, and the tools needed to keep production going.

Use The Ultimate Skills Development Handbook for Marketers to get your team ready to meet the brand management challenge ahead of them. And our whitepaper Four Steps for a More Efficient Marketing Workflow provides a framework that brands should follow to get results from their marketing.

Finally, review our post on the current marketing technology landscape to understand why content marketing tools are more necessary than ever for brand management.

4. Going Global
The emerging middle class means more brands will pursue global strategies that need to be tailored to individual markets.

How Top Brands Localize Global Marketing Campaigns provides five steps for doing it. And The Ultimate CMO Global Marketing Strategy Kit includes briefs on the Brazil, China, and India markets.

You need the tools for efficient global branding, too; you can look to this example from MasterCard for a way to use technology to cut down on complexity.

“This was the first time that MasterCard’s marketing organization successfully created, shared, and published a global campaign, all in one platform.” — Jazmin Sagastiverza, Marketing Analyst at MasterCard

5. Planning On-Brand Campaigns
The marketing campaigns you launch must kickoff with details about your brand and brand guidelines. Our Marketing Campaign Plan Template helps you drill down into a campaign’s details, starting from the brand itself. You can also use our campaign brief template for an easy way to communicate your needs to an agency.

Finally, read from Percolate co-founder Noah Brier on why marketing-specific project management software is necessary for executing on-brand campaigns.

6. Automating Brand Governance
Once external-facing communications are underway, it’s important to make sure that the resultant creative actually abides by your brand. This can be a painstaking task unless you rely on software to make content falls within guidelines.

For instance, Unilever brands use software with fonts and logos preloaded, so that images are ready to be published in minutes. And Western Digital uses mobile apps in tandem with automated approvals workflows and pre-approved responses to make sure questions on social answered in an on-brand manner.

“It makes it easy to approve posts while I am in meetings and on the fly. — Katie Wilson, Global Customer Support Social Media Specialist at Western Digital”

You can learn more by listening to our presentation Balancing Brand Security: Making Creativity and Governance Work Together, featuring Mary Taylor, social media governance manager at Intel Corporation.

Evaluating (and Redefining) Your Brand

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As time goes on, your team should be collecting information on how expressions of your brand — marketing campaigns, customer support, in-store experiences, and even the product itself — resonate with your audience. This knowledge will help you figure out what aspects of your brand to emphasize and explore in the future — and, in the very long run, whether you should change fundamental aspects of the brand.

1. Preparing for the Long Haul
We emphasize that long timeline because we know brand-building takes a lot of time. Your brand needs time to become recognized by customers; changing it too soon prevents people from remembering you. The most recognizable branding campaigns, as Wieden + Kennedy’s Martin Weigel explains in this article, have been around for decades.

That’s why we advise that you give it time — and be alright that perfect performance measurement will probably never be within reach. 3 Reasons You’ll Never Measure Marketing ROI Correctly (and That’s Perfectly Ok) explains that brand campaigns can take up to three years to show an effect on business performance.

2. Closing the Loop
Set the stage for actually gathering information on customer behavior and sentiment. 5 Lessons from BuzzFeed and Uber on Building Closed-Loop Growth Systems explains how this sort of thinking can lead to exponential growth over time.

Read The Unexpected Creative Power of Marketing Operations to learn how marketing ops can gather information and help brands adjust messaging. Then read Three Analytics Traps (and How to Avoid Them) to better understand how to interpret the results you do gather.

Finally, review our presentation, Using Audience Data to Optimize Your Marketing, to see how you can put data learnings into action.

3. Assessing Performance
Your long-term goal is to build brand awareness and equity. You can measure that in dollars and cents; How to Tell If Your Marketing Economics are Broken or Brilliant helps you measure the lifetime value of a customer, giving you a good proxy for how brand is affecting repeat purchases.

And How to Build a Brand Your Customers Will Remember Tomorrow will help you measure brand awareness qualitatively, bringing things back to neuroscience by walking you through a “memory audit.”

4. Avoiding Pitfalls
Very last of all: a quick reminder of some things you may be tempted to do in an effort to improve brand, but really deserve extra consideration.

One is price reductions. Percolate co-founder James Gross explains why discounts might raise sales today — but can permanently damage the perceived value of your brand.

Related to that: quick boosts in customer satisfaction. Customer Satisfaction Isn’t a Short-Term Play details why enhanced customer experiences can similarly damage your brand in the long-term.

A System for Managing Brand

Hopefully, this post helps you with at least one aspect of your brand management plan or execution. And it hopefully makes it clear that brand management is a complex endeavor that requires a system.

That doesn’t refer to just technology, but also a process for centralizing information, people, and plans.

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For amazing examples of brand management, be sure to visit our Made With Percolate gallery, featuring campaigns that promise to stick out in audience’s minds. And visit us at our upcoming Transition conference to share ideas with other amazing brand owners.