12 action points to build, sustain valuable brands
- Be creative
Difference (standing out and setting trends), one of the three BrandZ™ components of brand equity, emerged as the most important factor determining what brands increased or decreased in value in the 2020 BrandZ™ Global Top 100. Two factors—Creativity and Innovation—principally drive and sustain Difference. Brands that can provide products and services that are useful— and different—are more likely to achieve a competitive advantage and command a premium.
- Spread optimism
The world’s problems are not going to disappear. Anxiety stoked by political divisions, geopolitical tensions, the threat of climate change, and a global pandemic will continue to be exacerbated by distrust in the institutions expected to fix the problems. Brands have an opportunity to be a counterpoint to despair. Without ignoring or minimizing difficult realities, brands could remind people about the daily joys that make problems worth fixing, and life worth living.
- Be deliberate about purpose
Purpose is fundamental. For that reason, so many brands have been declaring a purpose, it can be difficult to make purpose relevant and distinct. If the brand purpose is related to sustainability or social impact, decide exactly where exactly the brand has a useful and differentiating position. And calibrate where along a continuum from saying to doing the brand wants to fit. Governments alone are not equipped to solve society’s greatest challenges, as the Covid-19 experience revealed. People expect brands to step up and do their part. Especially during the recovery from the pandemic, consumers may welcome and reward brands for helping to re-reenergize their communities.
- Do a check-up
Check the brand against the UN’s 17 Sustainability Development Goals. Engage with the goals most relevant and credible for the brand. Doing the right thing and communicating about it are different. It is axiomatic that brands should do the right thing—add a benefit to people’s lives, limit the impact on the environment, respect workers and customers. Where and when to communicate depends. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words that can be misinterpreted or seem too self-serving.
- Take a stand
Young people increasingly expect brands to take a stand and are more likely to support brands that align with their values. Taking a stand is a calculated risk that requires some informed bravery to assure that the stand pleases more customers than it alienates. But is also requires deciding not only what the brand means today, but in the future, and identifying the customers of the future.
- Keep it fresh
One measurement of brand success will be imitation. If the brand has successfully put down a marker related to social change, expect other brands to follow. That success can influence an entire category for good, and that is an important outcome. Having a brand impact is a separate but related outcome that is not guaranteed and requires the brand to claim and constantly renew its leadership.
- Form and serve communities
Be inclusive and available to all communities. Address varying needs within communities. Also, build special relationships with communities for which the brand is particularly relevant, and engage those communities with products or services that meet their particular needs. Think less about targeting a community to drives sales and more about creating or serving a community because the brand’s products and services can improve the lives of community members.
- Leverage legacy
Mine heritage for stories. Successful startups by definition have a fresh and compelling story to tell. What they lack is the extensive story archive available to heritage brands. Sometimes those archives contain laudable sustainability or social responsibility practices that have been ongoing and therefore not obvious. Because they are routine and brand specific, they are credible.
- Show humility
The consumer perception of what constitutes strength is changing. People do not expect brands to be like strong, silent, solitary matinee heroes who can single-handedly solve the world’s problems, or at least get the bad guys out of Dodge. People respect brands that show the humility and humanity to know that the best solutions sometimes result from collaboration.
- Take a moon shot
Credible audacity draws a following. Consumers who want to buy an electric car have a lot of worthwhile, well designed and engineered choices. Consumers who want to also feel as if they are part of a larger technological vision of space travel may be inclined to choose Tesla.
- Respect boundaries
Setting and respecting privacy boundaries will only become more complicated with the implementation of 5G, the increase in working from home, and the ever more connected home and car. Technology will enable brands to open many doors, literally. The question for the brands is not, could I open the door? The answer will usually be, technically, yes. The real question is, should I open the door? The adage, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness” may have been useful when bureaucracy and imagination-deficit stifled creativity and entrepreneurialism, but it may be past its sell-by date.
- Add friction
For a decade, brands have been removing friction to make the customer journey faster and easier. At this point, the customer journey may be over lubricated. Own one or two positive friction moments that engage the consumer with a legitimate opportunity to trial new products, trade-up, or increase basket size. Own one or two moments and do them well. During the reductive decade retailers rationalized their store count. Now is the time to develop the experience in the stores that remain.