In a previous post, the concept of a core product and a product surround were discussed. The physical aspects of a product effectively form its core but it is surrounded by services or intangibles that deliver the full product experience to the customer.
It is best to define a product as the characteristics which satisfy customer need. So sandwich satisfies hunger, a car allows you to travel and a pair of trainers allows you to play sport. In effect this definition of product aligns with the needs at the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was developed in the early 1950s and restated in the early 1970s. It is often represented as a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid are psychological and safety needs such as hunger, thirst, security and stability. As you move up the pyramid other, often more complex needs are described such as belongingness needs (affiliation, affection), esteem needs (prestige, achievement) and self-actualisation needs (self-fulfilment and use of talents). It is these higher level needs that a brand attempts to meet.
A product’s core goes some way to meeting Maslow’s needs hierarchy but it is the product surround, the services attached to the product, complete the picture and which create brand equity.
For basic products, say a bag of potatoes, a brand identity may not be that important to a consumer’s purchasing decision but for many goods such as designer clothes or motor vehicles, the brand may be the critical deciding factor in whether a consumer decides to buy. Take the example of Ugg boots.
Ugg boots are branded as the Original Australian sheepskin boots. They are by no means the only sheepskin boot on the market and boots of a similar design can be purchased from supermarkets at a fraction of the cost of a pair of Uggs. So why are Ugg boots the in demand brand?
It is because Ugg work extremely hard to maintain their product surround and the intangible elements of their brand. In particular they target the young, aspirational and fashion conscious elements of society. The current market for Ugg boots is also a result of a major effort in brand and market expansion. The boots were originally sold as a product to keep male surfers feet warm, not as a female fashion item.
Ugg have developed a team of bloggers and users of social media to keep their products in the minds of their target customers. Often social media content does not mention Ugg but may promote a new band or other lifestyle element.. They allow brand fans work experience in the company and give them discounts for promoting the brand to friends. They encourage celebrities to promote the brand and have several as brand ambassadors. All this work is directed at intangible elements of the product surround to develop the brand identity.
Incidently, Ugg were not too happy when Oprah Winfrey publicly gave all her staff Ugg boots as their Christmas present. Ms Winfrey didn’t meet their young, hip, target demographic!
Many companies like Ugg spend large amounts of time developing and caring for their brands. A brand in itself may have significant financial value beyond that of the product itself and the development of a strong brand can itself be a way of growing your firm.