5 Things That the Strongest Brands Focus on

January 08, 2018 - 5 minute read

Nothing lasts forever.

It's just a fact of life. It's also an unfortunate fact of business too. At some point, many businesses cease to be. Yet while the majority of brands eventually falter and fade into irrelevance, others continue to thrive. Year in, year out.

How? What do they do differently?

They focus on 5 things:

Brand relevance 

Great businesses know that they don’t own their brand, consumers do. As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, says, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

And it would be hard to argue Amazon doesn’t know a thing or two about building an incredibly successful brand that continues to go from strength to strength.

WPP’s annual ranking of the world’s most valuable brands shows that Amazon achieved the highest dollar value growth of all brands in the Top 100 ranking, increasing by $40.3 billion (+41%) to $139.3bn to take the no. 4 position up from 7th in 2016.

You might have defined your core brand values, messages and positioning, but it only counts if your target consumers also see your brand that way.

And what happens if brand perceptions start to shift? Your brand isn’t static, it evolves, so it’s important to keep a close eye on it. That’s how you stay ahead.

Competitive Intelligence

New products, businesses and campaigns are launched every day. While you think your competitors are well known to you, how will hear about the scrappy new startup that’s quietly winning market share and nibbling your lunch?

Unprompted brand recall is one of the best measures of whether or not a competitor is cutting through into the market.

And of course the best brands have a very good idea about what their competitors are doing well (which is a potential threat), and what they’re doing poorly (a great opportunity).

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” - Arie de Geus, Head of Strategic Planning Group, Royal Dutch/Shell Group

While you shouldn’t obsess over every move your competition makes, you should know which ones are resonating in the marketplace and which ones you can safely ignore.

Knowing if and when to respond separates out the best from the rest.

Customer experience

Leading brands care deeply about the customer experience, and almost every major business will track some form of Net Promoter ScoreNet-Promoter-Score (NPS) as a measure of consumer satisfaction.

However the best will also keep an eye on their competitors’ NPS, and see how it’s trending over time. Is the new kid on the block consistently beating everyone else on NPS (and seeing their share of the market grow)? How does your NPS compare to others?

Looking internally is an important first step, but understanding how your customer experience measures up against everyone else in the market will give you the best possible chance of responding to shifts in consumer perception and demand.

As Steve Jobs said - founder of the world’s most valuable company and brand - “'You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology - not the other way around.”

Market dynamics

Throw together consumers, competitors, politics, the economy and other inherently unpredictable triggers and you have a heady cocktail of constant change.

Staying on top of those market dynamics so you can ride the wave is one of the defining strengths of great brands.

Where consumers once highly rated craftsmanship, do they now prize speed? Has the social prestige of owning a certain asset shifted their price sensitivity? Does convenience matter more than choice?

Understanding how consumer preferences are shifting over time will give you a keen edge over others in your market, and stop you being left behind, playing catch-up.

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” - Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric

Actionable insights

Finally, tying all of this together is a foundational discipline that all great brands have.

They listen, they learn and they build intelligence. They never stay still, because they know  that the world won’t stay still.

However, they also know how/where to listen, which data is worth their attention, and how to turn intelligence into action.

They don’t rely purely on Big Data (which is frequently inaccurate) or social media (unrepresentative of the market). Nor do they rely only on their gut, or the opinions of their colleagues.

Truly great brands speak directly to consumers, all of the time.

Regular, accurate feedback from consumers allows for speedy responses that create positive momentum for the brand. It shines a light on their market, and illuminates the path forward.

Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla (amongst others), says “I think it's very important to have a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better. I think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better.”

In conclusion

To constantly remain top of mind and relevant; and to successfully innovate so you stay ahead of both shifting markets and consumer demand is extremely difficult - only a select few brands manage to achieve this.

Yet there are common approaches that they all seem to share, as detailed above:

  • Brand Relevance
  • Competitive Intelligence
  • Customer Experience
  • Market Dynamics
  • Actionable Insights

If you can put a number on these, so you can track and measure them over time, you stand a much better chance of being one of the outliers - the brands who continue to not only perform well, but define what success means. 

This is an extract from our report on Brand Intelligence in the Age of Dark Social and Bad Data.

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My first pick is Pepsi. Lets be honest, Pepsi had an awful 2017 from a brand perspective, they created what they thought was going to be a work of advertising art, an ad that would change the world, but instead it turned them into a global laughing stock.
This is also on a backdrop of huge backlash and increased legislation against sugary drinks. The days when all they had to worry about was competing against Coca-Cola are probably looked on with nostalgia by the marketing team. However Pepsi are a brand with true marketing pedigree, iconic campaigns, partnerships and experiences.
I’m really interested to see how they come back. The test of a great brand is how they react when they are at their lowest. I will be watching Pepsi closely in 2018 to see what they have planned.

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