The process of developing brand consistency centers on Distinctive Brand Assets. These are the building blocks of a breakthrough brand strategy. The first step involves identifying these DBAs from existing collections of brand identity elements. Writing about building a benchmark of potential assets, Professor Romaniuk says this step helps “create objective facts for everyone to draw on for future Distinctive Asset decisions.”
Distinctive Brand Assets can be drawn from any number of ownable brand elements – colors, logos, symbols, slogans, characters, packaging details, etc. As sensory cues, Distinctive Brand Assets come in three primary categories: visual, verbal, and auditory.
DBAs are not inherent, consumers have to learn them, which means two things: only consumers can tell marketers what their DBAs are, and they will not become DBAs until they are learned. Conduct an in-depth analysis of existing brand elements to measure their strength. This can include customer interviews and surveys to assess perceptions and interviews with current and past brand stakeholders. For best results, make this data collection as objective and inclusive as possible – avoid leading questions or guessing games and involve local marketing teams to share insights into market-specific competitors and campaigns.
Professor Romaniuk states that Assets can evolve into DBAs when encompassing two qualities:
Fame: quantifies the percentage of category buyers’ brains where the brand has a salient link to the asset.
Uniqueness: quantifies the brand’s level of ownership of the asset versus competitor brands.
Researchers at Ehrenberg-Bass developed a Distinctive Asset Grid that illustrates the relationship between uniqueness and fame:
Their insights and guidance are recommended resources, including the PDF featuring the above graphic.
Having identified every potential asset, it’s time to focus and prioritize. It’s not possible to apply every DBA at once, so it’s important to focus on the few that will maximize mental availability. These will be ones with high Fame and Uniqueness, with greater investment potential. As Professor Romaniuk writes, “it’s better to have one asset at the 100% Fame, 100% Uniqueness level than more assets with only investment potential.”
Marketers should assess the Uniqueness of their potential DBAs before execution because uniqueness is influenced by competitors and therefore less controllable. Scientists at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Science propose a new measure, Competitive Intensity, as a means “to critically evaluate brand identity elements on their uniqueness potential.” In short, the paper recommends measuring the uniqueness of each element rather than individual brands to obtain an objective, comparative, and empirical ranking of uniqueness potential through “ownability.”
Be mindful not to conflate Distinctive Brand Assets with other creative elements like creative devices and messaging devices. Conflation or confusion could lead to marketers investing in creative elements that do not link to or trigger their brand and therefore lift the entire category.
To add value and justify their inclusion in creative, brand assets need to fulfill two key criteria. Professor Romaniuk says they must have strong brand linkage, defined as at least 50% of people linking it to the brand, and they need brand uniqueness, with at least 50% linking it to the brand alone.
Application is a key step in maximizing mental availability. Professor Romaniuk recommends building Assets in waves, especially if media budgets are small. Only move onto the second wave of assets once the first wave has achieved its goal. This means focusing on only one asset if a budget is small and a few with larger budgets. Focus on the application is key because, Professor Romaniuk writes, “trying to build many assets at the same time leads to a lack of executional focus, as it becomes difficult to fit all of the necessary prominent co-presentation moments into each touch-point.”
DBAs should be present throughout content and advertising and can appear in various ways. As such, it’s worth planning the investment into each DBAs, giving care to a wide range of variables like breadth, strength, placements, and objectives. Careful application will maximize the ability of each DBA to cut through the clutter in different environments, as well as the media spend invested in them. For example, displaying the brand name on the screen and having it said aloud will drive cut-through for those not looking at the screen.
Like other brand guidelines - Distinctive Brand Assets need to be significantly noticeable by as many category buyers as possible to have any effect. Ensure the brand stands out in each asset, as it can be easy to cannibalize branded attention with other creative elements that draw attention away from the brand. Watch out for the Vampire Effect - when people notice and remember the celebrities in the ads, but not the brand. Ensure the media plan maximizes reach so it can drive recognition with as many category buyers as possible.
Professor Romaniuk recommends the ‘Three P’ checklist when reviewing each piece of content for the application of DBAs. These are:
Remember, achieving 100% Fame and 100% Uniqueness won’t happen overnight. Reach, attention, and competitor likeness will all play a role in the time it takes for each DBA to achieve its Fame and Uniqueness goals.
Separate creative devices and messaging devices from DBAs. This will help marketers better understand what creative elements work best in what environments and against each campaign objective. It will also make it easier to maximize the strength and breadth of each DBA – against both the fame and uniqueness metrics (this is more likely to be a marketing objective than a campaign objective).
Ensure the brand stands out among other creative elements. Professor Romaniuk writes,
“The second enemy for a brand that wants to be noticed is all the other bells and whistles in the creative. The brand versus baby, puppy, celebrity, beach, pop song, hot guy, hot woman, hot dog and so on battle for attention. One of the most well-known of these is the Vampire Effect, which is when celebrities in an advertisement draw attention away from the brand. The more attention-grabbing the creative, the harder the branding has to work to succeed.”
DBAs will change with time and competitor activities. Feedback and monitor Asset-building activities and their performance to ensure the creative strategy and media plan work towards the desired outcomes. Track competitor activity – whether they introduce new assets, optimize asset prominence, or prioritize similar assets – as this will impact a DBA's uniqueness. Finally, a good DBA strategy will account for “managerial predators.” Because DBAs don’t stay frozen in time, Professor Romaniuk says to watch out for moments in which they’re most likely to come under pressure from external forces like new managers, bosses, campaigns, and market changes.
New media channels and technologies offer opportunities for DBA evolution (not revolution!). New environments and formats – with different rules of engagement can either damage or supercharge the strength of DBAs. Because of this, advertisers have begun using technology to manage their DBAs by tracking and measuring how they are applied across all their media channels and formats.
Technology can support DBA management in multiple ways, from the centralization of Assets to the measurement of brand consistency. A creative data platform, for example, can help by unlocking three key, interconnected variables: reality, alignment, and scale. Combining these three will give marketers the necessary visibility, despite growing media fragmentation and content proliferation.
Remove all current and potential asset-execution inconsistencies from all brand materials. From DAMs to agency briefs – leave no stone unturned in this purge. This purge aims to prevent any damage to future asset-building activities.
Watch out for managerial predators. Over the course of a DBAs life, there will be managers who want to eliminate them. Redirect, refocus, and – if necessary – distract these individuals away from this behavior.
Start your journey to identify Distinctive Brand Assets with Ehrenberg-Bass Institute’s Distinctive Asset Grid. The initial analysis will have helped identify DBAs, among other brand identity elements.
To better understand the full potential of their DBAs, marketers can now track and measure brand consistency in real-time with creative data. Advice suggests marketers should conduct bi-yearly to yearly surveys to measure the Fame and Uniqueness of their DBAs through the eyes of their category buyers. Measuring the presentation, prominence, and co-presentation of DBAs can, however, be done in real-time with creative data.
Creative data is an asset – a competitive advantage – used by some of the world’s most effective advertisers to help them scale and understand their creative decisions with the confidence of data. Each “image and video,” Anastasia Leng writes, “are thousands of data points that can now, thanks to advancements in computer vision, be harnessed and clustered to not only measure the creative decisions we’ve made across all of our content but to combine that data with performance data to understand how those decisions have driven impact.” Creative data can not only help marketers measure the presentation, prominence, and co-presentation of DBAs, but it can map each “P” to performance data so marketers can isolate their creative decisions against performance improvements – not just mental availability in the long term.
Using a creative data platform has enabled some marketers to create custom, brand-specific Brand Consistency Scores that help them measure brand consistency. A Brand Consistency Score is a custom (brand-specific) metric used to measure brand consistency by calculating the usage of DBAs in a given creative. The benefit of using a Brand Consistency Score is three-fold: it provides an objective measure of the adoption of DBAs in creative content; it helps align teams around a shared reality of what is increasing brand consistency for their brands; it scales across an organization – helping to shift behavior throughout an organization and their agency partners.
The next steps can include measuring DBAs within brand health metrics or against another core driver and component of mental availability – Category Entry Points (CEPs). Building situational awareness into brand awareness metrics will enable marketers to better understand in what situations their category buyers come to think of their brands. This information provides a clearer roadmap for increasing mental availability as marketers can begin expanding all of the situations potential buyers might consider their brands.
Benchmark. Achieving a goal is far harder when the starting point is unknown. Benchmarking does a couple of things: it provides an objective score on the current strength and opportunities for each potential DBA; it contextualizes each brand against its competitor set; it provides clarity on possible future outcomes for potential DBA strategies, and it can identify inconsistencies and pitfalls for a DBA strategy.
Subjectivity can damage DBA activities and future brand health. Where possible, try to validate and test creative decisions to gain an objective (as possible) view into the identification and application of each DBA. Not only do marketers suffer from an empathy gap, but there is a real danger of underusing DBAs, which objective measurement can help correct. Speaking at Marketing Week Festival, Mark Ritson was emphatic, “If you aren’t overdoing your codes [DBAs], 900% you aren’t getting it. Unless you are vomiting because you are so sick of them, do it more. You are underplaying your codes because to you, they seem obvious, but to the customer, they are gone in a second. You cannot overplay codes. You can overuse your logo, you cannot overplay your codes.”
This is a multi-part, weekly series exploring — through data — how marketers can deliver brand consistency and some common pitfalls to watch out for.
Part one spotlights data on the value of brand consistency, part two explores the science of brand consistency, part three explores the value of Distinctive Brand Assets, part four unpacks how to develop brand consistency, part five highlights why brands are adopting Creative Quality, part six looks at brand alignment, part seven breaks down the importance of scale, part eight reveals how brands are managing scaling challenges, part nine looks at how brands are scaling their marketing efforts.
The next article in this brand consistency series explores why brands are adopting Creative Quality. Read it here to explore a framework to overcome these challenges and grow brand consistency.