When one thinks of big brands such as IBM, Nike, Starbucks or FedEx, one knows the quality of services and products is guaranteed and that there will always be something novel to surprise customers.
This is the power of brand-building and corporate innovation that helps strengthen the value of products, said Shelly Lazarus, chairwoman and chief executive officer with Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.
Lazarus made the remark during a recent speech in Taipei, under the topic "Where Brands and Innovation Meet." She was in town at the invitation of the Chinese-language business magazine Commonwealth.
In highly competitive markets, enhanced quality, functionality and features are no longer critical factors swaying consumers purchasing decisions, Lazarus said.
"Companies must innovate to survive, and furthermore, link product innovation to the brand," she stressed.
In a reciprocal way, a strong brand will feed into innovation and is valuable because a solid brand delivers a message of "consistent quality" and secures customer trust. This is evident in the fact that consumers do not buy products, even innovative or ground-breaking products, from companies they don't know or trust, she said.
"For example, when I use Trend Micro's products, I don't need to read the technical specifications to know that Trend Micro offers state-of-the-art virus detection," Lazarus noted, "The brand is all I need to know. I trust the brand. I trust that it will do what it says it will do."
But products alone do not represent a brand.
Branding is a concept beyond product manufacturing that demonstrates the relationship between products and users, Lazarus said, citing four examples to manifest how innovation can touch consumers' emotional core.
Most consumers perceive Nike as an icon of human endeavor and Motorola as a technology innovator which presents a kind of aesthetic lifestyle. Kodak positions itself as a company that can capture our emotions and memories, while Huggies links its image with happy babies and the mother who loves them, instead of trumpeting how many layers the diapers are made of, Lazarus said.
As shown in their TV commercials, these companies convey an idea that connects with consumers, which constitutes the core of the brand, she added.
Apple, generally deemed to be the most innovative brand in the US, has moved beyond the world of computers to that of entertainment with the invention of the iPod portable music player. That has pushed the envelope in music downloading and has successfully turned its icon into one of the world's most recognizable symbols.
But with that all said, how can a powerful brand actually be built?
Debunking a common myth held by corporate executives, Lazarus stressed that branding involves a lot more than advertising. While ad campaigns are important, branding involves the total consumer experience, including promotions, special events, salespeople, service and sponsorship.
Many companies have dipped into their pockets for expensive ad placements, but the real service or product quality cannot match the image they want to create.
"Brand is not what you say. Brand is something that consumers build, like birds building nests."
Starbucks serves as a great example, she said. The famous coffee chain has expanded into more than 9,000 outlets around the world, but it has no media ads.