Q&A with Jenni Romaniuk of The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute 1

With her latest book, Building Distinctive Brand Assets, now available, Jack Miles from Research World Connect recently spoke with Professor Jenni Romaniuk about the book’s background and contents.

RWC: What was the motivation for this book?

JR: Since developing the metrics and the Distinctive Asset Grid, we have been measuring the strength of Distinctive Assets for companies in a wide range of contexts, categories and countries. Each of those projects came with it’s own set of challenges. Sometimes it was the question that simulated the project, such as a call to change an asset, or concern about the branding performance in advertising. Other issues included concerns about a brand’s architecture, or when looking to buy a brand. Plus, there were questions that lead to us conducting specific R&D such as what are the ingredients of a good tagline Distinctive Asset.

As I reflected on the scope of the research we had done, for companies, and with our own R&D, I realised that it was like having one big conversation, but fragmented over many different people. Therefore any one person I spoke to was only exposed to a small part of the full story. A book seemed a good way to allow anyone who was interested in the topic to be part of the full conversation.

RWC: Of all the topics covered in How Brands Grow 1&2, why did you choose to focus the next book on distinct brand assets?

JR: Once I started talking to people about the book, the enthusiastic response also signalled there would be an audience that would value a book on this topic. On one level it was the easiest book to write, as it is a nice, relatively self-contained topic. As Distinctive Assets are, by their nature, visible to people external to a company, I saw many high profile well-intended mistakes being made, mistakes that could be easily corrected or avoided with improved knowledge.

I also find writing books a great way to organise my own knowledge and highlight the gaps where I need to learn more, and this informs our on-going R&D.  These chapters will be in the next edition!

RWC: How do you expand on the content about distinct brand assets from How Brands Grow 1&2?

JR: This is designed to be a stand-alone book as Distinctive Assets cuts across growth philosophies. Even if you don’t believe the evidence on the Laws of Growth, you still need to manage a brand’s identity.

Therefore, you don’t need read the How Brands Grow books to understand this one.

But if you have, then you will find the content has much more depth. In How Brands Grow, we refer to Distinctive assets for a small part of a chapter, in the context of how it differs from differentiation. In How Brands Grow Part 2, I included a full chapter to talk about measurement and metrics, but again it is a quick overview. In this book, I cover strategy, tactics, and asset types. There is further expansion on metrics, the common patterns that occur and how to interpret them. Similarly with the Distinctive Asset Grid shown in How Brands Grow Part 2, in Building Distinctive Brand Assets there is a chapter that illustrates common grid types, what they mean, and how to use these to inform your decisions on which Distinctive Assets to prioritise going forward.

The aim was to create a reference book that you can learn from now, but also keep to refer to in the future as other issues arise. For example there is a chapter on ‘Faces of a brand’ that discusses the decision between celebrities, spokespeople and characters as branding devices. While another chapter discusses word-based assets such as taglines, and shows the results of modelling of what helps a tagline be more Famous or Unique. You might not have an issue with a brand tagline right now, but when you do, the chapter is ready and waiting for you!

RWC: What are the biggest mistakes you see brands make when they try to be distinct? How can these be overcome?

JR: The two common mistakes would be:

  1. Fragmenting core brand Distinctive Assets by creating very different looking variants.

A common mistake when designing the identity for a variant is to primarily focus on its differences from the core brand, particularly by changing the colour. This not only misses an opportunity to strengthen the brand’s ability to be found in shopping environments, but also risks fragmenting the brand’s identity and causing confusion about the core brand’s assets. This is why I have a chapter on variant brand identity, and the core thesis of this chapter is to always ‘protect the parent brand’.

  1. Changing a Distinctive Asset to ‘disrupt’ the category.

A common story I hear is that ‘we changed the asset in this way to disrupt the market, and get it noticed’.  However, whenever you change an asset, the only thing you disrupt is the category buyers’ memory structures you had previously worked so hard to build. And when you go back to the previous asset, you leave the brand’s identity weaker. Disrupt the market with new innovations, and new creative ideas, but not by changing your brand’s Distinctive Assets. This is why the book ends with the four commandments for building a strong identity and one of those is ‘resist change’.

RWC: Has the digital revolution made it easier of harder for brands to be distinct?  And why?

JR: The digital revolution has increased the number of environments where we need to execute Distinctive Assets, and so widened the contexts for use and potentially the number of different types of assets a brand would find useful to develop. In the book I talk about the Distinctive Asset Palette, which is the set of different types of assets a marketer can draw on when wanting to brand. I liken this to a menu, where you can select the most useful asset for a specific context. For example a text heavy context might lend itself to a shape asset like a logo, while a tagline might stand out in a picture heavy context.

The wider the range of contexts where you advertise or sell the brand, then you might need more assets to optimise for each environment. However having a wider set of assets should be balanced against the availability of the budget to build and maintain the freshness of a wide set of assets.

RWC: What would be your three top tips for making sure your brands assets are truly distinct?

JR: Actually I have the four commandments at the end of the book. These are:

Choose wisely – don’t make asset building any more difficult than it already is with poor selection;

Prioritise smartly – select a small number of assets to build rather than fragment efforts;

Execute well – Distinctive Assets still need to be executed such that they are a noticeable part in the advertising or shopping environment;

Resist change – make ‘no’ your default setting for changing an asset and only change if there is a demonstrable long-term benefit in doing so.

Professor Jenni Romaniuk is International Director at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. Her new book Building Distinctive Brand Assets is available now from major retailers. For more information click here.