Is this a trick question? It shouldn't be. Well, maybe it is. The answer should of course be the customer. It's the experience they have with the brand. It's their relationship and perception. As a marketer, we must protect the brand and understand the brand's promise so we don't screw-up the relationship between the customer and the brand. We have to understand the psychological connection, so we can continue to emulate what keeps them coming and hopeful attract new customers along the way.
Which came first the product or the brand? Without a product there is no brand experience. Can you control the experience from the beginning? You can try but many brands are built by loyal and faithful customers. You can create the environment but in many cases you cannot control how they will use the product. Case in point, Coca Cola started as a patent medicine that claimed to cure many diseases, including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache and impotence.
Like relationships, some must change over time. A brand manager must understand where the brand is in a relationship to the shifts of its customer. Daily consumption, versus monthly, versus every few years will also change the dynamics and depth of the relationship (i. e. , purchasing a Polar Ice Diamond ring versus a Gillette disposal razor). The size of the perceived risk will also change or affect the brand relationship (i. e. , a chocolate bar versus a car).
Betty Crocker, (not a real person but a brand), the revered expert on cake making going back to 1921, stumbled when they changed their cake mix recipe in the 1950's. Producing a “just add water" product had their loyal following reject it outright. It seemed the brand managers of Betty Crocker didn't understand the brand experience; by creating the mindless cake mix, the baker's role in the process was reduced to nothing. The brand insight was that to bake a cake was to show appreciation to one's family. Making it a mindless effort eliminated the appreciation towards the baker.
Another famous marketing blunder was the Coca Cola Company's attempt to change Coke's recipe in 1985. While the new formulation was intensively researched for tastability, no one had asked the customer how they would feel if they took away their original coke, a recipe that had been started in 1886. The backlash and PR nightmare forced Coca Cola Company to reintroduce the classic Coke and rename the new Coke to Coke II.
You better understand your brand's promise so you don't screw-up the relationship between your brand and the customer. Ultimately, it will be the customer who will decide if you fulfilled the promise.
Derrick Rozdeba - I am a connoisseur of fine brands. Using my brand appreciation and insights, like a sommeliers, I will impart my knowledge and opinion in savoring the many brands that identify our lives. Visit my blog http://derrickrozdeba.blogspot.com/