A great brand delivers a lot, not just to lovers of the brand but also to its owner.
Consider Apple’s price premiums and multiple brand extensions beyond its initial MAC computers. GE Health, through its R&D and savvy acquisitions, built a compelling brand with huge scale versus niche competitors. Service, sales and pricing advantages result. Its scale buys market protection as well, as many start-ups exit with a GE acquisition. And who, as a TOM’s Shoes employee, wouldn’t feel proud, loyal and excited to go to work?
But how do we measure a great brand and compare brands’ relative strengths? What levers must those who manage brands move through their actions and investments?
Deborah Macinnis of USC described three factors creating brand admiration in her webinar for Marketing Science Institute. The talk introduced Macinnis’ new book Brand Admiration: Building a Business People Love.
- How much do users love the brand?
- How much is the brand trusted?
- How must is the brand respected for being beneficial to the world?
Brand love relates to the strength of the bond connecting users to the brand. Customers who love a brand say, “It is part of me.” Apple is, in my life. It’s my physical connection to all things digital. Or customers may feel, “My connection is emotional.” My connection to Apple is not emotional, but my connection to Doctors Without Borders sure is. Loved brands are top-of-mind, and the great ones become part of your autobiography and, for non-profits, your giving.
Brand trust captures whether or not the brand acts in the best interests of its customers. Wells Fargo sure failed on this account, in placing revenue growth above its promises to both customers and employees. Volkswagen did the same in fooling emissions measurement to avoid extra product cost or weakened product performance. A good way I like to think about brand trust is authenticity – is the brand true to what it promises and claims to be, or are the claims merely spin? Authentic brands can make mistakes – and if the brand is authentic, we forgive the company when it makes amends. Maybe Wells Fargo and Volkswagen will ultimately pass this test since they seem to be getting a second chance from many of their customers.
Finally, brand respect speaks to how the brand is helping the world. Is the brand making you a better person or the world an improved place? In an age of commoditization, brand respect can be a tiebreaker. Corporate social responsibility strategy, therefore, becomes branding strategy. Macinnis argues that respect turns strong brands into exceptional brands, building even greater loyalty to and advocacy of the brand.
For comparison to Macinnis’ measurement framework, let’s look at how Prophet, a well-known brand strategy firm, focuses its brand measurement on relevancy. They look at four dimensions:
- Customer Obsessed, which parallels Macinnis’ love. Customers are obsessed with brands when the company’s products or services are essential to their lives, connect with them emotionally and create happiness.
- Ruthlessly Pragmatic, which has many similarities to Macinnis’ trust. Pragmatic brands make life easier by being dependable, available and delivering a consistent experience.
- Distinctively Inspired, which parallels Macinnis’ respect and trust dimension. According to Prophet, relevant brands inspire, have meaningful purposes, and are both trustworthy and in-touch.
- Pervasively Innovative, which is not measured directly by Macinnis’ brand admiration measures. Prophet uses the label to describe brands that push the status quo, engage with customers in new and creative ways, and/or create new and improved solutions to address unmet needs.
Decisions makers should keep “Pervasively Innovative” on the list in addition to love, trust, and respect. Why? Many once admired brands – think Kodak and Sears– lost their brand equity by failing to remain pervasively innovative. In an era of disruption, you will lose brand equity if you fail to get better or different.
I’ve been thinking about Facebook lately along these dimensions. It is clearly loved, pragmatic, and many would argue pervasively innovative. I worry about how inspirational and respected the brand is now viewed. Privacy concerns. Pervasive and often unwanted advertising. Still worse, recent claims of Facebook undermining truth in this election cycle by magnifying false news stories. These aspects collectively raise questions about the brand’s trustworthiness and respectability. I, for one, am now debating whether I intend to keep using it.
How do your brands measure up?