Today, brands are not controlled by organisations, but live in the hearts and minds of customers and are shaped by their ongoing experiences, and require a great deal of continuous work to build and maintain. Strong brands build trust and esteem with positive experiences by being original, relevant, emotionally engaging, authentic, personal and honest.

To achieve a compelling brand experience, it’s important to see the brand in the right context and understand how it and connects to and engages with all of its stakeholders.

Branding is not just part of a marketing strategy. It’s far more complex than this. Branding is not about pretty logos and visuals, hollow poetic taglines or cliched catchphrases, nor is it about exhausting ad copy or an award winning television advertising campaign. It’s not a labelling exercise. It’s actually a lot more than this.

It's actually the foundation that helps create a positive image and unique identity of every place, every location, every experience. It defines what will remain in people’s minds and memories.

The Central Brand Idea

The kind of branding I’m writing about involves a holistic 360-degree approach to crafting, developing, delivering and then nurturing a unique identity for the brand according to key elements such as its value proposition (what makes the brand uniquely special and why should it be chosen) and brand positioning (what it wants to stand for relative to its competition), defining the core of the brand - its central idea, identifying its essence, creating its personality and of course enhancing its values.

It’s all about creating something that is going to light up people and light up the market! Once established, the brand must be the foundation, wall and roof for all marketing activities designed to promote and market the brand to attract new customers, keep loyal customers, engage with communities or help drive and enhance government programmes and initiatives. All aligned, all focused to the central brand idea.

A well-defined, targeted and clearly differentiated central idea, brand promise, values, essence are absolutely pivotal to delivering a successful brand. With the central idea being the emotional link with all audiences, helping to build a positive, trust-based and lasting relationship.

So when developing the ‘new’ brand, it’s critical to get everyone together to discuss, engage and align as to what the central brand idea could be. This includes business leaders, employees, investors, community representatives, property owners, local government, partners, residents, customers and even lapsed or lost customers. Get everyone’s input and get them engaged. Getting them to own the brand concept and central idea from the get go will help later on when the brand is operationalised.

Relevance not just Differentiation

The key is to secure a competitive differentiation in what in most cases are very similar ‘products’ vying for the same sets of customers. With most brands just saying the same thing about themselves, any brand promise must be unique, compelling, relevant and of course, it must be true. It must be a promise that will hopefully resonate with all stakeholders and it has to be able to be delivered constantly and consistently.

Successful branding is all about discovering what the brand currently stands for - the gem, the nugget - and then crafting this to a singular idea with clarity and total focus. A single brand idea! A well-considered, well-constructed brand built out of data and critical insight means a brand then has the ability to stand the test of time and the ability to remain truly competitive all the while still being innovative, dynamic and agile as markets change, competitors reposition and customer’s needs, desires and wants evolve.

Here I’ll briefly review a rebranding/ repositioning programme I consulted on for a destination most of readers will be very familiar with: Changi Airport.

The Challenge

The Changi Airport Group was formed to better manage the transition of Singapore’s airport from government to a commercial business and to develop it as a global air-hub. At the same time, it was to grow its business as a provider of development and management capabilities to airport owners and operators worldwide. The challenge was for it to move away from purely operational, functional mindset trying to differentiate itself based on typical Singaporean functionality and utility, nice buildings, efficiency and reliability and that was it.

The challenge was to find something which would help the airport to clearly differentiate itself and offer opportunity to future-proof itself. Beyond just great hardware. One initial idea proposed was to embrace a much more customer-centric culture with a human touch - humanising the brand. But how?

The Insight

Research we conducted revealed that more than being an efficient manager of travel operations, Changi played a critical role in connecting people, business and commerce on a daily basis and fulfilling the aspirations present in every journey. This resulted in a new focus for all airport functions expressed in a new central brand idea and value proposition of: ‘Exceptional People, Connecting Lives’. This expressed the idea that every individual and each journey is deeply unique, each experience has a purpose.

This was then further crystallised into an employee value proposition that was cascaded to all levels of operation and translated into service-quality initiatives for Changi’s then 30,000 workers. All these were also embodied in a vibrant brand identity system applied across the airport’s operations to reflect the new essence, vision, values and brand personality.

The Impact

The new brand as well as identity was successfully implemented across the airport and resulted in a return to No.1 Global ranking for Changi across all service metrics. The airport scored, and is still scoring very well, on its aesthetics, design and hardware of course. But where the brand is now scoring extremely well is on what we brand people call the ‘emotional part of the promise and value proposition’. The humanistic part of the overall experience when engaging with ‘brand Changi Airport’ being the ‘heartware’.

There has been significant ongoing training of all employees from senior management down, front-liners, service staff to even the cleaning people in how to deliver the new brand… focusing on delivering a softer, friendlier and more humanistic experience all around the ‘Connecting Lives’ central brand idea and supporting values.

Brand Strategy is Business Strategy

People always ask me, what is the difference between business strategy and brand strategy. Actually, they’re one of the same thing. It’s just that business is really all about driving all the capitals in the business, whereas brand is all about delivering customer and stakeholder capital. It’s about making sure you can deliver unique, relevant and engaging experiences constantly and consistently. Where each brand experience must positively reinforce what your brand stands, the promise, its personality and its essence.

It’s not about what makes it different to competitors but what makes it better, not only incrementally better, but significantly so. The result from all of this will be a differentiated well positioned brand with both functional and emotional equity supporting it. Creating brand reputation, delivering a brand image and of course building value.

Finally, we always advise clients to always be evolving their brands – never be static – think about new ideas, new opportunities to keep the brand alive and fresh.

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