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Friday, January 29, 2010

Brand Musings

There is a tremendous amount of literature out today about brands. You read about passionate brands, brands with integrity, and brands with active belief. Sometimes it is more than a bit difficult to cut through the fog and discern what is real and what is ridiculous exaggeration.

I have studied this for some time and discussed it at length with colleagues and friends. Here are a few points that we all agreed on that differentiate certain brands from the mundane:

1) They have something significant to say about contemporary life.
2) Focus group findings from last week do not determine their DNA; rather they have beliefs that took time to develop.
3) They are effective at something that is positive for people and they stay the course. (Chapstick might be a modest example. It is effective, has no good imitators, and I cannot remember when I did not have one in my pocket)
4) Their image is one of integrity be it service, fair pricing, good value, and durability.
5) Solid brands may do simple things but they are not dull.

Google fits the bill with their oft quoted mantra of “Make it easy. Make it fast. Make it work. And attack everything that gets in the way of perfection.” Management has described themselves as “relaxed zealots.” This is a deep passion tempered by humility given the breathtaking scope of what they are trying to do and generally succeeding at.

In recent weeks, I looked at a number of lists that people have tabulated of winning brands that arouse zealotry in consumers. Below are some winners listed in multiple places plus a few that made it through my quirky screens. Although hardly a comprehensive list, it is interesting if you think about them. We find:

Absolut Vodka
Ben & Jerry’s
Fidelity Investments
Harley Davidson
New Balance
Singapore Airlines
Trader Joe’s
Whole Foods

What do these stars have in common? While different in product offerings, there is a common thread if you snorkel under the surface a little. Here is what I found with some help from a few friends and panel members:

1) They seem to have better customer relationships than most brands and this over time builds deeper loyalty.
2) The staffs who work for them seem more motivated. (Not true of Starbucks lately and they could cause them to start disappearing from lists!)
3) They adapt to our rapidly changing world faster than their competitors.
4) Because of their competence, they appear more confident and flexible.
5) They seem to be able to grow market share in any environment.
6) Pricing is not a problem. They command a premium and we consumers do not seem to mind.
7) They tend to lead consumers rather than be consumer led but recognize consumer sovereignty and anticipate trends well.
8) If brand magnetism is a real thing, they have it.

Finally, in world that is often hostile to big business, they seem insulated from protesters most of the time as they exude integrity across the board. It reminds of that line in the documentary “Super Size Me” where the PR consultant said “The ultimate answer is for companies to clean up their acts.”

As a huge middle class develops in South America, Asia, and India, great brands will grow even bigger and stronger much helped by upwardly mobile people embracing the standouts of Western pop culture.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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