15 Elements of a Successful Brand

Coca-Cola's ( KO) iconic white script lettering over a bright red background. General Electric's ( GE) memorable "We bring good things to life" tagline. Disney's ( DIS) Magic Kingdom.

One thing all great companies share is great marketing. Effectively connecting with customers -- past, present and future -- is something easier said than done. Although I have been practicing marketing for over two decades, I am always learning and refining what I know. One place where I always learn something is at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania's annual marketing conference in Philadelphia, which I attended last week for the fifth year in a row.

The conference was attended by a few hundred Wharton, Temple University and Carnegie Mellon MBA candidates, along with experienced professionals and friends of the university. The speakers were vice presidents and directors of marketing for some of the most well-known brand names in the world such as Chanel, Disney, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ), Limited Brands ( LTD) and Movado ( MOV).

One of the things I took away from the conference this year is that there are essentially 15 elements to developing a company's products and services from an unknown into a brand:

1. Common internal language: When you are trying to develop your product into a brand, it is essential that the language used internally to describe a product, service and company be one that everyone in the company knows and understands. This goes from the executive suite to the receptionist.

2. Common way of thinking: Everyone in the company has to think and view the product or service the same way, so when people ask them to explain it, they say the same things.

3. Understanding the consumer: Smart marketers take the time to study and understand their customers. Two of the speakers who sell directly to consumers said their companies required that they work the sales floor to observe and understand how and why buyers make their decisions.

4. Understanding what the brand stands for: Marketers and business leaders need to understand what their brand stands for. For example, Disney stands for dreams and magic, Movado for high-end watches and Chanel for making women of all ages feel beautiful.

5. Functional benefits: Watches don't just tell time. They also project something to people who see them on your wrist. A client of mine wore a $250,000 watch, which made an incredible impression on everyone he met. It said he was a huge success.

6. Quality: Part of a brand's value is in its quality. When you think of Toyota ( TM), you think of quality and dependability.

7. Imagery: The New York Yankees have developed an image of being winners over the last 100 years. Everyone who thinks of JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), the investment bank, thinks of clients with private jets and homes in the Hamptons. The images of JPMorgan Chase and the Yankees are images of success.

8. Competitive advantage: Brand managers try to understand and demonstrate their product's or service's competitive advantage. Wal-Mart's ( WMT) competitive advantage is offering products at the lowest prices. Tiffany's ( TIF) brand is viewed as a high-end provider of jewelry worn by kings, queens and titans of business. Both companies embrace their reputations.

9. Use local language: Marketers have to understand the language of the culture they are marketing to. Some names for products work well in some languages and are disastrous in others.

10. Symbols and logos: The right symbol is memorable and easily recognized. The letters "G" and "E" connected for General Electric.

11. Color: Color can play a very significant role in any successful company. With IBM ( IBM), it is the color blue -- which is why they are called "Big Blue." With Coca-Cola, it is the white lettering with red background. Those colors are recognized by everyone.

12. Shapes: The globe for AT&T ( T) is universally recognized. It makes a statement that AT&T serves companies worldwide.

13. Words: Words can be used in a variety of strategic ways, from being descriptive of the company's product and service to memorable taglines such as GE's "We bring good things to life," Nike's ( NKE) "Just do it" and Timex's "It takes a licking and keeps on ticking."

14. Consistency of message: Consistency of message means that the pictures, words and actions all reinforce the same message. The Ritz Carlton hotel chain shows pictures of beautiful hotel rooms in their ads, the rooms contain plush towels and warm comfortable robes and the descriptions of the experience a guest will encounter leave readers of articles about the hotel dreaming of enjoying the good life by staying there.

15. Consistency in tactics: Using the right tactics over and over can help align a brand's users in a way that is memorable and makes a personal connection. Chick-fil-A is one of the most successful fast food chicken restaurant chains in the U.S. They have staked out a market position as one of the healthiest fast food choices. A major part of the company's marketing is providing children with educational paperback books with the purchase of a kid's meal. The books make a statement about the quality of Chick-fil-A's product and encourages parents who are concerned about health and education to choose Chick-fil-A over McDonald's ( MCD), Burger King ( BKC) and other fast food choices.

To be a good marketer you have to study successful brands and make notes about how they deliver their message and what makes them successful. It's also important to look at failing brands and understand where they fall short. In my opinion, branding starts with the quality of the product and service. Then people mention their experience to others, and the company's product and service becomes synonymous with something. Examples of this are Google ( GOOG) with Internet searches and Xerox ( XRX) with printing.

Don't lock yourself in your office -- attend conferences like Wharton's and leverage the experience of others to improve your own company's marketing success.

Marc Kramer, an entrepreneur, is the author of five books and is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton's Global Consulting Practicum, where he serves as Country Manager for Chile.

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