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What is a Brand? Exploring the Brand Constellations Framework

brand constellations brand management branding framework
A night sky with stars

Creating a strong brand goes beyond a catchy slogan or memorable logo. To establish a unified identity, we need a cohesive strategy that integrates brand elements. The Brand Constellations Framework is a holistic strategy for brand management that underscores the integration of different brand aspects, resulting in a strong and meaningful brand.        

What is a Brand?

It is quite possible that if you ask ten marketers what a brand is you will get a dozen different answers. This is because there are so many different definitions. If you search on Google, you get about 10 billion answers. And many, while related, are not clearly the same.

Without a clear definition of what a brand is, it might be difficult to manage and measure one. Therefore, as we start the journey exploring Brand Constellations, it is important that we have a clear view of what a brand is. Here is how we define a brand:

  1. A brand is an object: Like a tangible item may have many parts, a brand is a fusion of distinct components that come together to create a cohesive entity.
  2. A brand exists in people's minds: Brands reside in the thoughts and feelings of individuals, encompassing both cognitive (the cognitive perception of the brand) and affective (the emotional response towards the brand) dimensions. The objective is to establish positive expectations, connections, and encounters that are associated with the brand.
  3. A brand is a constellation of meaning: When people think about a brand, they form a "constellation" of meaning in their minds, which is comprised of the different elements and associations that make up the brand. Just as stars in a constellation form a collective image, brand components create a unified perception. We call this a Brand Constellation.
  4. Brands are formed through consistent associations: When a brand's elements and characteristics are consistently linked together over time, people start to view them as a unified brand entity.
  5. Brand managers shape brand constellations: While people naturally form brand constellations in their minds, brand managers can influence and shape these constellations by strategically creating and managing the different elements and associations of the brand. The goal is to build strong, favorable, distinct, and admirable Brand Constellations that drive positive behaviors and outcomes for the brand.

In sum, a brand is a holistic mental construct that, like a physical object, is formed through the consistent association of related thoughts and feelings. The role of brand managers is vital in shaping Brand Constellations to generate positive brand perceptions, experiences, and outcomes.

Introducing the Brand Constellations Framework

Research has found that there is a set of categories that people use to form their perception of a brand. The Brand Constellations Framework uses these categories to define the dimensions of a brand. The Framework is a comprehensive model that views a brand as a system of interconnected elements, or "stars," each representing a crucial aspect of the brand's identity and strategy.

These stars include Product, Placement, Price, Promotion, Category, Competitors, Company, and Customer. Together, they form a constellation that guides brand managers in crafting and maintaining a cohesive brand strategy. They are the categories of information that customers look for when forming an understanding of a brand so they 'fit' what people need.

The significance of the Brand Constellations Framework lies in its holistic approach. Recognizing the interdependence of brand elements ensures that decisions align with the overall brand strategy. This approach helps create a consistent brand image and effectively adapts to market changes and consumer expectations.

The Eight Stars of Brand Constellations

The Brand Constellations Framework is a comprehensive approach to brand strategy with eight core elements or “stars.”

  1. Product (Offering). The Foundation Star. Begin with the Product. The cornerstone of any brand, the Product Star focuses on the goods or services offered by the brand. It highlights innovation, quality, and differentiation to meet consumer needs and stand out in the market.

The Product Star shines brightly in a brand's constellation. It includes the Usage (problems solved), Types (forms the product takes), and Experience (what it is like to interact with the product).

Apple's iPhone exemplifies this, offering not just a device, but an ecosystem of services, a user-friendly interface, and groundbreaking technology. This star demands a focus on innovation, quality, and alignment with the broader brand narrative.

  1. Placement (Distribution). The Visibility Star. Strategize Placement. This star deals with how and where a product is made available to the consumer. Distribution channels, retail presence, and digital accessibility are part of placement strategies.

Effective placement makes products accessible and visible to the target audience. It includes strategic decisions on channels, geography, and digital-physical integration.

Amazon's seamless blend of online convenience with brick-and-mortar experiences like Amazon Go stores exemplifies strategic placement that enhances brand visibility and customer accessibility.

  1. Price. The Value Star. Price it Right. Reflecting the brand's approach to market positioning and value perception, the Pricing Star involves setting price points that align with the brand's value proposition, target market expectations, and competitive landscape.

Pricing conveys brand value and market position. Lexus uses pricing to indicate quality and luxury, while Wal-Mart emphasizes value-for-money with everyday low pricing. In this dimension, it is necessary to understand market dynamics, customer perception, and brand positioning.

  1. Promotion. The Resonance Star. Promote with Precision. The Promotion star covers marketing, communication, and audience engagement to build brand awareness and convey the brand message. This includes advertising, social media, PR, and content marketing strategies designed to inform, persuade, and connect with consumers.

Promotions should create emotional connections and reinforce the brand's message for the target audience. Coca-Cola's global campaigns are prime emotional promotions. This star necessitates creativity, emotional intelligence, and brand comprehension.

  1. Category. The Leadership Star. Recognize Your Category's Influence. Understanding the broader industry or category within which the brand operates is crucial. The Category star involves analyzing market trends, consumer behaviors, and technological advancements to ensure the brand remains relevant and competitive.

Influencing the category involves setting trends and a high benchmark within the industry. Google, for instance, has shaped the way information is accessed and organized online. This dimension involves not just adapting to industry trends but also driving them, positioning the brand as a category leader.

  1. Competitors. The Differentiation Star. Know Your Competitors. This star requires brands to conduct ongoing analysis of their direct and indirect competitors. Understanding the strengths, weaknesses, strategies, and market positions of competitors helps brands identify opportunities for differentiation and competitive advantage.

Understanding the competitive landscape enables a brand to differentiate itself. Apple's innovation and focus on design set it apart in the technology sector, while Disney's emphasis on storytelling and experience distinguishes it in entertainment. This star requires a keen awareness of market dynamics and a clear understanding of what makes the brand unique.

  1. Company. The Authenticity Star. Reflect Company Values. The internal culture, values, and operations of the brand form the Company star. This element emphasizes the importance of aligning internal practices with the brand's external image and promises, ensuring authenticity and consistency across all touchpoints.

Core values must be reflected in every action and decision of a brand. Patagonia's commitment to environmental sustainability is evident in its product design, corporate culture, and marketing strategies, establishing the brand as a leader in environmental activism. It is about walking the talk and living the brand's values.

  1. Customer. The Connection Star. Understand Your Customer. The Customer star focuses on understanding and meeting the target audience's needs and preferences. It involves engaging consumers, building relationships, and fostering loyalty through personalized experiences and customer service.

Customer understanding is crucial. This includes studying consumer preferences, lifestyles, and evolving needs. Netflix uses data analytics to personalize viewer experiences. The goal is to produce a strong, favorable, distinct, and admirable relationship between the customer and the organization. The beauty of the Brand Constellations Framework lies in its holistic approach. By viewing the brand as a constellation of interconnected stars, brand managers can ensure that all elements work in harmony.

Dynamic and Flexible

The Brand Constellations Framework helps brands navigate the complexities of the modern market. It understands that changes impact multiple areas, leading to a holistic brand strategy.

Integrating core elements helps brands maintain a consistent identity and value proposition while evolving. This structure considers all aspects of the brand's environment for a balanced approach. It helps brands create forward-thinking strategies.

 A Comprehensive Model for Brand Strategy

The Brand Constellations Framework is a comprehensive model for brand strategy. Our holistic approach considers every dimension of the brand strategy and aligns them to create a compelling brand narrative. This framework encapsulates a brand's entire ecosystem.

Creating a Coherent Brand Narrative

The Brand Constellations Framework integrates diverse elements into a unified strategy. It acknowledges that each star, while distinct, is interrelated and that decisions in one area affect the entire brand ecosystem. The framework ensures a comprehensive approach to brand strategy by considering internal and external factors.

This model creates a consistent brand narrative across all consumer interactions and operations. It helps brands navigate the modern market with agility and foresight, aligning all aspects with brand values and objectives.

The Brand Constellations Framework provides a comprehensive and interconnected approach to brand management. By focusing on the eight essential stars—Product, Placement, Price, Promotion, Category, Competitors, Company, and Customer—brands can create a cohesive strategy that ensures consistency, adaptability, efficiency, and deep consumer engagement. This holistic approach is crucial in today's complex and competitive marketplace, enabling brands to build robust, enduring identities that resonate with their target audiences.

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