The scope of investment-reward consideration for brand owners and managers is quite wide. Add to that, it lends itself to prospective imagination; investors and practitioners in brand management will continually veer towards optimising opportunities – real and imagined. For reasons of profitability, brand management engages investment in forms ranging from brand personality profiling to value presentation through proposition, target market engagement, brand presentation and competitive engagement. Through it all, the nitty-gritties are inexhaustible.
It is the task of working through the web owing from the fine intricacies that underline the rationale for professionalism in brands management. If the process of competitive engagement is not scientifically managed, its consequences can be as lethal as could be imagined. Successful brand management is about creativity and scientific engagement. Brands have life and so, they do die.
Brand management is a systematic engagement of the constituent parts of a whole; a process of giving form to value in form of a brand – an offer with a name. Suffice, therefore, that the constancy for brand managers is the continuous combinative application of these parts of the whole, to achieve set goals and objectives. It persists, being a process. Professionals know the process can be driven from either the rear or the fore. However, result-focused engagement of the variables is better from the fore; a work-back from the (anticipated) end, in which case target market satisfaction for optimal return on investment is the operative model. When this is the case, brands align with the market expectation totally. Most recorded brand failures are occasioned by the reverse situation – where the brand and its offer anticipate market appreciation. In most cases, such brands are snobbish in character, assuming a posture of superiority versus targeted market on account of lifestyle or innovation (new experience). So in most cases, because a brand is enabling a new lifestyle hitherto non-existent in a chosen market, it undermines the fine details as may be considered critical by the target market, anticipating extensive overarching aspirational purchase attraction or attachment from the market. Most times, this assumption back-fires.
The ideal professional and enduring model is one commonly referred to as customer-focused model. In this case, from conceptualisation (R&D would have determined the road-map), through product formulation, packaging to market entry, an ideal brand offer aligns itself with the need of the targeted market. In other words, its value-essence must identify with the target-consumer’s expectation. Furthermore, it must deliver on its promise so much so that it resonates with its target market, to earn its place in the mind of the consumer (share of mind), and within the competitive bracket. It is only when a brand has cut out its market position, and especially in line with its desire, that it can begin to compete successfully. This is the ideal situation with a brand that can be said to have successfully entered the market.
The interesting thing of note in this case is that the primary objective is not rated in monetary terms, but in relationship building. The monetary aspect of evaluating return-on-investment for a brand is secondary to the size of the relationship it establishes and maintains with the market. Hence brands concern themselves with CONSUMER ENGAGEMENT.
Monetary measure of Brand-Gains (return-on-investment) is only a translation of its relationship with its target consumer, over time. So, another way of measuring brands’ gain is by evaluating its EQUITY. Professionals know that the critical portion of a brand’s equity is a combination of the size of awareness it enjoys among its target consumers and the perception they have of it. FINISH. It is only when these two combine for positive impact that value in quantifiable terms can be of relevance. That explains why brands expend the larger portion of their brand support investment in growing their equity.
Brand managers drive toward the ideal mark – successful consumer engagement on all fronts. To wit, the controllable and uncontrollable variables are put to work, at varying degrees of creativity and professional competence. It is common place to see all forms of experimentation and initiatives, tending towards optimising competitive advantages. Some managers drive core value amplification while others would rather the periphery, depending on the market. The competition is always exciting.
One of such initiatives that is of concern to us at this point is the use of BRAND AMBASSADORS.
Brand Ambassador-ship is an innovation deep in the mix, largely within the purview of controllable variables. It is of two parts: concept and application (role). As a concept, it is the employment of associates; an iconic representation of an object or creation, one of perception close to the psychological element within the ambit of COGNITION (theory); a model built in representation of an experience or image.
The role of a brand ambassador is that of representation and the transfer of emotional component of the brand. To the extent that the target audience is made to see the brand in its ambassador, the ambassador personifies the brand in all its emotional respects. In broad terms, the brand ambassador is an extension of the person of the brand. It represents the brand. Brand ambassadors do not necessarily have to be human. As icons, they can be inanimate. Some aspects of corporate social responsibility play the role of brand ambassadorship. The determining factor is the ambassador’s representation of the given brand in the (emotion) mind of the target audience.
Engaging an ambassador for a brand is very profitable if properly managed. There is only but a thin line between both sides of the divide; it can swing either way for the brand. The process preceding the engagement must be delicately handled. Much more than the advantages for the brand on the positive side, the negative impact is damning. As an emotional engagement, the impression is near-irreversible. If it leaves the wrong impression, it lingers to no-end, impinging on the brand, with a potential of cascading down impressionable minds linked to that first-person experience, in the order of ‘multiplier concept’.
In our local market, brands are commonly linked to ‘ambassadors’ in most ways other than the right reasons intended. Across markets, from airlines, through drinks, telecommunications to beauty products, all engage brand ambassadors. It is easy to see a ‘disconnect’ between the so-called brand ambassador(s) and the brands they represent, betraying the absence of professionalism. We won’t name guilty brands here, but it is most of the ambassadors to brands in the telecom sector that are suspect of lacking in passable rationale. In most cases, the reason for their being is the individuals’ popularity. But if Tiger Woods could lose all for a simple misbehaviour or Ryan Lochte could suffer the fate that befell him at the close of the just concluded Olympic Games in Brazil, it is easy to note that popularity alone does not qualify any character for the role of brand ambassador.
Our concern at this point is not the decisions concerned brands make, and how it immediately affects their brands, but the impression the practice (trend) leaves with observers in developed and regulated markets outside Nigeria about brand management in Nigeria. Our suggestion is that Advertising Practitioners’ Council of Nigeria (APCON) and Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) step in to regulate the engagement of Brand Ambassadors, as it does the approval of copy contents in line with defining credibility of claims and brand promises (we hope they still do that).
Some enlightenment sessions on the concept of BRAND AMBASSADOR will also help in this case. Brand Ambassador, as presently used in Nigeria, is counter-productive, to say the least.