Reprinted from Strategies newsletter, 2nd Quarter � July 2000 by First Marketing, 3300 Gateway Drive, Pompano Beach, FL 33069.

Achieve branding success through continuous evaluation

Gaining and retaining market share through a strong brand position requires perseverance. Erosion occurs from ongoing influences such as new product innovations, technology advancements, consumer attitude shifts and demand fluctuations. And in today�s marketplace, the impact of these may be accelerated by the speed with which start-up companies and cross-industry competitors appear and take a foothold. Is your brand strong enough to prevail? A tough question to answer � but vital to understand.

Poll your publics

Your first step in evaluating brand strength should involve establishing what you�d like to prove, disprove or quantify. Employees are an excellent source of front-line feedback about your brand. Consider asking your sales or customer service staffs to lead their customers and prospects through questions such as: What�s the first thing that comes to mind in regard to my company? What do you expect from our brand? Do we meet your expectations? What do you think of the communication you get from us? What do you like or not like about our slogan, our packaging, our communication? How do we rate in these categories compared to competitors?

This "man on the street" approach to brand auditing can prove enlightening and pinpoint items for further exploration. A quantitative survey can then help you gauge where you currently stand in your brand promotion efforts and provide a benchmark to assess your strategies over time. Plan to survey both your current customers (segmented by pertinent criteria such as profitability, tenure, region, etc.) and prospects (segmented according to your acquisition marketing plan). To ensure the proper scope, focus questions on these categories:

RELEVANCE/CREDIBILITY � Is your brand strategy focused on benefits that resonate with customers and reflect their wants, needs and experiences?
COMPETITIVE DIFFERENTIATION � Does your brand stand out in the marketplace and create a unique value proposition to stimulate interest?
ORGANIZATIONAL ALIGNMENT � Does your brand strategy represent your company�s core competencies and fundamental values, beliefs and practices?
DISCIPLINED EXECUTION � Is your brand strategy uniformly understood and executed throughout the company, presenting one image to customers?

Get accounting involved

To assess the bottom-line impact of your brand strategy, work with your finance department to conduct brand valuations � assigning financial values to each brand attribute or strategy. With your input, your company�s financial analysts should be able to convert data collected from customer transactions into useful marketing information.

There are several techniques and costing methods for setting brand valuation criteria. Research and recommendations are readily available through articles, books and online resources on the topic of brand valuation, brand measurement and brand auditing.

The loyalty factor

"A loyal customer base represents a barrier to entry for the competition," according to David Aaker, author of Building Strong Brands. If customers will pay a premium price for your product or service, that�s a testament to their loyalty to and the strength of your brand. Customer satisfaction directly affects how loyal customers will be to your brand. Incorporate any customer service and satisfaction statistics into your brand valuation models to provide further perspective.

Time will tell

Aaker advises marketers to: "Track brand equity over time, including awareness, perceived quality, brand loyalty and especially brand associations. Have specific communications objectives. Continue investing in brands even when the financial goals are not being met." As a partner in customer communication, First Marketing has helped companies strengthen their brands for nearly three decades. We offer an online tool called "The Brandometer" for a self-assessment of your brand consistency and impact. Follow this link to . This brief interactive quiz helps identify areas of brand strength and weakness that may impact the long-term viability and profitability of your business.

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