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May 4, 2010

Branding Hierarchy of Needs

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Digital media has afforded companies ever-more opportunities to develop and reinforce a brand and to reach a large audience with their message. At the same time, the environment has sped up the required reaction time for a brand manager to respond to criticism and complaints. Yet, while some aspects of branding have been augmented or become more urgent with the advent of the Internet, the general building blocks remain the same.

While more businesses are setting up shop due to the ease of publishing and tools to reach an audience online, there’s a growing need for basic branding guidelines that can be communicated to a general audience. And so we propose the Branding Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s original Hierarchy of Needs is a framework that illustrates psychological motivators as a pyramid in which each higher tier represents needs that can’t be realized until the needs below it are met. It stands to reason that the average individual with nothing to his name will reach for a sandwich and a blanket before a book and a hug.

Those needs at the bottom of the pyramid are requirements of fundamental health and sustenance. Moving up the pyramid, you find needs of emotional wellness and higher knowledge. Similarly, certain aspects of branding must be sufficiently established before higher branding objectives can be successfully sustained.

Branding Hierarchy of Needs

Corporate Identity

The most basic representation of a brand is the visual symbol and slogan. The company name, logo, colors and fonts work together to create a recognizable image. The corporate identity is a persona of the company and what it offers to the marketplace, and thus it constitutes the backdrop of all branding efforts. If a brand becomes well-known to its audience, it is the logo that acts as an anchor in an individual’s mind.

When you think of McDonalds, you think of the golden arches. Coca-Cola is forever connected to its curly script. Target’s red rings, Apple’s bitten fruit, Starbuck’s green lady — just how much brain space have you filled with the logos of the world? Step one of branding is taking advantage of people’s ability to store and recognize images. Create a strong visual anchor on which your audience can attach its experiences and associations. Reflect the corporate identity in all interactions with the audience and use the logo to tie messaging back to the brand.

Differentiate

Once you have defined your brand in a way that people can grab hold of via visual representation, you want to help your brand stand out in the crowded marketplace. In other words, before anyone can get excited about your brand, it must first stand out from the rest. Is it the most exclusive or most accessible? Is it the highest in quality or the best in value? Is it the easiest to use or the most convenient? A company’s product or service doesn’t have to be the best at everything, but it should be the best at delivering something.

Provide a unique selling proposition that differentiates your product or service from competitors. It should be easily recognizable, well-defined and easily understood. And it will act as a promise that something distinctive will be delivered. Then communicate that point of differentiation to the public, through your Web site, your staff representatives, your advertising, and most importantly, your product.

Care for Customers

When offering something of value, you’ll be able to attract and serve customers. If you want to continue this momentum, you have to treat those customers right. Excellent customer service goes a long way toward generating brand awareness. If your unique product or service offering is a promise of something to be delivered, caring for your customers is the delivery on that promise. Positive customer service experiences are shared by word of mouth, both in person and online. And if negative feedback is responded to quickly and respectfully, a bad situation can work to a company’s benefit.

In the case of an unpleasant incident with a product or service, customers generally recognize that everyone makes mistakes, but mistakes can be forgiven if an apology is extended, the wrong is made right, and an effort is made to prevent a similar incident from happening again. Good customer service can reverse a negative opinion by showing that the company cares. When you show customers you care, you can create a loyal following that may act as brand evangelists and spread awareness of the brand.

Raise Awareness

With a memorable visual representation, a differentiated product and solid customer service established, it’s now a prudent time for a company to focus on raising awareness. Of course some level of visibility will be needed at the very earliest stages of brand management, but if done on a large scale before the lower levels of the hierarchy are intact, a customer seeking services may be disappointed by poor service, may overlook the company because of lack of differentiation, or may forget the company due to deficient brand identity. Any of these occurrences can be a set back for creating positive associations with a brand. With an identity, USP and customer service in place, a brand is ready for its close up.

Generate brand awareness and encourage growth of the brand through word of mouth, reviews, listings, marketing and advertising. Encourage customers to share your business with their friends by offering something in return for referrals. Ask returning customers if they wouldn’t mind reviewing your business on Yelp. Advertise in industry trade publications. Make connections in the community at business networking events. Get your name out to your audience in traditional as well as creative ways. And keep in mind the competition is doing the same, so again differentiate your service to draw targeted attention to your brand.

Build Community

Community is a powerful tool for a brand in spreading the message and generating momentum. Initial visibility is the launching point for building a community. By connecting loyalists, their conversations and shared experiences will amplify the brand’s message and visibility to an even wider audience.

A brand can use the many existing channels to foster community with and among customers. Twitter and Facebook are natural first choices for community building as they are widely adopted services that offer numerous blueprints that have worked for brands in the past. And not only can the brand create and manage a community, but these sites also let enthusiastic fans create their own platforms for discussion. And homegrown excitement often has the potential to go viral.

Reinforce

By this point everything that speaks for your brand and can protect its public presence has been established. There is a visual embodiment that reflects the brand and can be easily recalled in the consumer consciousness. The brand satisfies its users through an adequately unique experience and attentive service. The brand has a public presence that is maintained through continual marketing and advertising. And there is a means for fans to share their experience with their friends and networks. Don’t be fooled by thinking you can put it into cruise control now.

In order to maintain a strong and active brand, a company must reinforce the brand with everything they say and do. Extend the brand identity to all facets of the company. Consider consistency with the unique selling proposition when developing new offerings. Continually survey the needs of consumers and consider how changes may affect them. And make sure the brand’s messaging rings true in all public interactions. Act and speak as though you have been trusted to a position of authority, and you may be given the chance to exist as such.

The Branding Hierarchy of Needs is part of the Internet Marketing Hierarchy of Needs series. If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the SEO Hierarchy of Needs and the PPC Hierarchy of Needs.

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2 responses to “Branding Hierarchy of Needs”

  1. Elneff writes:

    Maslow’s hierarchy is from the 1940’s, and I’m pretty sure most people today will acknowledge that there are plenty of holes in the theory. Over and over, we find that a sense of belonging is more important that food. The same applies to a branding context…

  2. Chip Hartman writes:

    Virginia,

    I rarely use the word ‘brilliant’ to describe anyone’s work, but I’ll make an exception with your article “Branding Hierarchy of Needs.” As someone deeply involved in marketing, branding, and advertising, I found that looking at my own branding work through the prism of this hierarchy removes a great deal of ambiguity coming from some of the current thought leaders. It builds a “contextual” framework for those whose businesses require solid branding but who are lost in the forest when it comes to figuring out how to do it. I look forward to reading more of your work!

    Best regards,

    Chip Hartman
    Integrated Writing and Visual Specialist
    http://www.meridiasystems.com/imba/imba-volume-1.html
    chip@meridiasystems.com



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