Quality is not an effective branding message

The truth about brands book review

Quality is a great statement to make about your brand. It is even better when your costumers make that statement about your brand for you. Yet, having a quality product or service is not the end of branding efforts, but only the beginning. Quality just gets you in the game and brings your brand into consideration. Brands that are not delivering a quality product or service consistent with their price will disappear (think of the Yugo!).

Attention to quality is fine. Marketing managers get into trouble, though, when they believe that quality is the basis on which their brand competes in the marketplace. Brand managers too focused on a quality message send their brand adrift without much meaning.

“Our brand is the quality leader,” they might say. Or “our customers buy our product because of its quality”, you may sometimes hear.

All of this may be true. But what business openly proclaims to have a shoddy product or mediocre services? Sure, Boeing builds quality planes… but then so does Airbus. Anheuser-Busch is definitely an excellent brewery… but so is SABMilller. This abstract notion of quality doesn’t go far in differentiating brands. It can be difficult for brand managers to see clearly that their competitors’ offerings are often of quality similar to their own.

If you and your competitor both offer a quality product (as likely the case), why should someone choose your brand rather than your competitor’s? What meaningful point of difference do you offer? What emotional connection have you made? What unique imagery have you built around your brand?
Heinz is not the only company to make quality ketchup. Heinz, however, has created a point of difference with “thick”.

Quality means a different things to different people. For some, a quality watch may mean “rugged”; for others, it may mean “accurate”; and for still others , it may mean “high status”.
Quality is an abstract concept referring to many different dimensions of a brand’s performance.

An effective positioning is tangible, clear and concrete. Concepts such as “fast”, “reliable”, “fun”, “youthful” and “safe” vividly portray the benefit delivered by a brand.

Quality is expected in a brand. Although the level of quality expectations varies by price (you expect a £400 DVD player to be of a higher quality than a £100 DVD player), consumers fundamentally expect a quality product. Most companies are operating consistently with basic consumer expectations around quality. (if not, they aren’t in business for long!)
Quality doesn’t differentiate brands.

The Nissan Navara, Mini Cooper, Honda Civic and Lexus LS460 are all “quality” cars. But simply noting they are all quality cars does nothing to reflect the different experiences each provides. The Honda Civic delivers on basic reliable transportation. The Mini Cooper represents a fun small car. The Lexus LS range promises a “high performance saloon”. Each of these brands has its distinctiveness and is aimed at different people. “Quality” does nothing to reflect the differences and distinguish these brands from each other.

Why be so vigilant about avoiding quality as a branding message? Because it is so easy to fall back on. Positioning your brand’s key message is a critical branding decision. Choosing an effective positioning requires making a tough choice from among several good alternatives. Should a bank position on low rates? Should a bank position on individualized personal service? What about accessible ATMs? Or perhaps simplified e-banking?

Each on of those positioning alternatives will have its detractors. It is bad to compete on price.
Personalized service will be too expensive to deliver and isn’t key decision criterion for 55% of bank customers.

Accessible ATMs as a position seems so 1990s. Positioning on e-banking doesn’t create the right emotional bond with customers… and on and on. Inevitably someone will suggest positioning the bank on quality. How can anyone object that? It sounds great and fits perfectly with the bank’s mission and vision statements. But what does it really mean?

Quality in manufacturing is important. Quality in customer service is important. Having customers view your brand as providing good quality for money is important. Quality is a way to be. It is not a branding message.
Your branding message should communicate your brand’s uniqueness.

People need some reason to nudge their choice towards your brand. Quality is necessary for your brand to be considered, but it is not sufficient to warrant a purchase.


This chapter is part of Truth about brands review thus copyrighted to its authors.