Brand management language is a good example of confusing industry jargon. Even marketing industry veterans are often confused by the breadth of terms used with the word brand and how to differentiate between them. This is what I mean… Brand Image, Brand Promise, Brand Positioning, Brand Pillars, Brand Awareness, Brand Equity, Brand Essence, Brand Extension, Brand Identity, Brand Experience, Brand Harmonization, Brand Personality, Brand Values, Brand Strategy, Brand Parity, Brand Vision. The list could go on, but you get the idea. There are many, many variations all focused on the same theme; brands play a part in a consumer’s decision to purchase. They are all true in their own way. It is vitally important to remember that the brand is only one element of the decision to purchase, but for products and services that are truly profitable over a long period of time the brand is key. There are a wide array of books, videos, websites and other information sources that address branding. Many of them are very helpful, and provide excellent information. However, most of the time they repurpose the same information with revised and updated jargon and maybe a few new case study examples. We have an ever increasing array of communication vehicles at our disposal. To use them appropriately and effectively we need to have the brand as a foundation upon which to construct a plan. The problem is that we have all talked about the brand so much that not everyone is listening anymore. My motivation is not to give you the same reading material you have seen in the past with some minor variations, new jargon and product examples. My goal in this article is not to explain the role brands play in the purchase decision. I imagine most of you reading this already believe and understand that the brand is an integral element of any purchase. As a marketing and communication professional, I have been asked many times to explain brand management and the role brands play in the decision making process. I have found that the easiest way to explain the brand management lifecycle is to use human relationships as a metaphor for brand driven behaviour. A study of brands and purchase decisions is always focused on human behaviour anyway, so to me the link is obvious. Brands can be best described as relationships and reviewing relationships works best when you think in terms of people. For example, an early adopter of a product is comparable to a person who likes to make new friends but does not maintain their relationships. This person loses interest easily and the relationships tend to be brief and somewhat superficial. Sure, there are variations in the ways people make decisions, but the decision making processes are similar to the same emotions and actions that effect personal relationships. Metaphorical examples of Lifecycle stages in the brand management process are as follows: New Brand Launch/New Kid in School A tough start for either a new brand or a new kid. Questions arise, for example: Will people like me? What do I have to do to make new friends? Where will I fit socially? Am I a premium brand or will I be marginalized and become a misfit. If I show up for school in a new car will others be impressed? Will those who see me think I am an arrogant showoff and ignore me? How do I fit into this new environment? What can I do to fit in and thrive? The approach to market for a new brand therefore is key to its success. The launch must be handled properly. The people handling the launch must have a very clear understanding of the marketplace and detailed knowledge of the potential customers. Too much impact and the consumer is unimpressed and alienated. Not enough impact and the consumer will not see the new brand as worthy and will ignore the product or service. New Brand Relationship/New Friends People like to make new friends, but for some it is harder for others. Some people make new friends easily but the relationships formed are not strong. This type will move onto the next friendship quickly and will spend time with the new person. The first friendship may still exist, but the meetings will only be occasional and eventually will not occur at all. Other people find it more difficult to make new friends, but when they do the bonds are very strong and continue for a long time. The relationship is valued by both parties and they work to maintain the bond. If a brand can build a strong relationship, involving frequent interaction, the chances of long term success are greatly increased. Once a strong relationship has been created less maintenance is required to maintain the bond. The brand is no longer in a position where it must continue to prove itself worthy. Old Familiar Brands/Childhood friends Feelings towards old friends do not change drastically over long periods of time. Old friends are normally happy to see each other and to spend time together. However, if they have not matured with you they can be left behind. Seeing them again is a pleasant experience but you no longer have anything in common. In some cases people do not want to spend time or reconnect with old friends. In this scenario the relationship is too difficult to rebuild and the resistance too great to overcome. The brands that have matured with their consumers stay in their lives. They are comfortable with them and know what to expect from the brand. However, if they do not mature there is some nostalgia in reconnecting every 20 years but in no way is this brand relationship strong enough to keep the brand alive long term. Evolving Brands/Growing Up We all know about the product life cycle. The same cycle applies to brands unless they are revitalized and continue to evolve. The heavy metal, black clad fan in high school may grow into a conservative adult. His friends will be on a similar life path and will stay connected and maintain the friendship. Their discussion topics will transition from music to marriage and to their family and children. However, the kid who does not change will be left behind as his friends evolve. A lack of common interests, or the inability to adapt to changing lifestyles will end the friendship. The same situation occurs with brands. A brand is a relationship, if both parties continue to evolve the relationship will continue and strengthen. If only one party evolves the relationship will weaken and eventually cease to exist. Brand Communication/Good Friends Maintaining friendships can be hard work. There are a lot of distractions in life and maintaining personal relationships requires ongoing communication. Someone needs to pick up the phone, email, post on social media, plan a visit, or even write letters. The best relationships occur when both parties are focused on maintaining the relationship. In reality, often one party does most of the work. The same communication work is required for a brand relationship to continue. If the manufacturer, or service provider, does not continuously communicate relevant information to the customer, new friends/products will enter the picture and the relationship will weaken and disappear. The relationship can potentially be rekindled but it will take a lot of effort to relocate the lost friend/consumer and attempt to rebuild the relationship. Staying Relevant/Forever Young Not surprisingly this is the most difficult to achieve and realistically most brands do not manage it. If you are a few years older than most of your friends you can relate to them in many ways and build good relationships. However, as you continue to age the ability to build strong relationships with much younger people decreases as the age and relevancy gap widens. It is possible but requires a lot of work to stay relevant, and it is very easy to appear foolish. The brands that manage to stay relevant work extremely hard to stay current. These companies spend a lot of money to understand the key messages that will resonate with their audience and the manner in which to create the necessary dialogue. Brand Merger or Acquisition/Blended Family Blended families can be wonderful experiences for all family members but the relationships do not always develop effectively. The same scenario can occur when there is a corporate merger bringing one or more brands together. Unfortunately in many instances the focus is on the senior people. Often companies focus on making the necessary infrastructure changes and not on managing the interaction of the other team members. In order for a brand merger to be a successful and profitable transaction, there needs to be a clear focus on brand management and communication. Without this focus many brand mergers end up damaging the brand equity of both organizations and taking many years to recover if at all. Conclusion I trust that I have managed to somewhat demystify the process. Relationships are complicated. Relationships constantly require work to maintain them. Brands are also complicated valuable entities that require maintenance. They are often the primary asset of an organization and require a constant and diligent focus to remain viable and healthy. When understood in terms of human relationships, creating, managing, and ensuring that the brand/customer bond thrives, becomes a clearer and less abstract concept.