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Made to measure- Why strategies for brand growth require custom solutions

Made to measure: Why strategies for brand growth require custom solutions

Rohan Faleiro

Client Director



Among the common challenges faced by brand builders is the fact that all brands are not created equal. Big brands like Shell, Heineken, and Phillips have been around for as long as we can remember. Their heritage is well entrenched, and their significant marketing investment over time has established a solid consumer base with high brand attraction and a loyal following. This, in turn, has pushed other small- and medium-sized brands to emphasize different strengths when refining their brand strategies for maximum growth.

In the quest for brand building, we cannot therefore assume that a “one size fits all” approach is relevant to brand growth today. The priorities and challenges for big, medium, and small brands are inherently different, and hence their strategies for sustainable brand growth must reflect these variations.

Recent work done by Kantar and Europanel identified penetration as the biggest driver of brand share growth, with many brands also growing through frequency of purchase. However, the importance of penetration and frequency in driving growth clearly differed by brand size. Small brands that grew their share were more reliant on users switching away from their competitors, while larger brands achieved their growth by increasing business from existing buyers, and by bringing new buyers into the category. So while boosting penetration was key to growth for smaller brands, big brands relied on both frequency and penetration as drivers of growth.

Accordingly, the strategic priorities for brands of different sizes should be different to generate growth:

  • Smaller brands should focus more on disrupting and attracting consumers to grow​
  • Medium brands should encourage existing customers to establish habits, but also need to attract new occasions​
  • Big brands need to grow their category, as well as make it easy for customers to stick to “auto pilot” habits

Though clear in concept, brand growth will come down to how well companies activate this strategy both in market and in mind. A brand’s strategy should ideally aim to optimize both physical and mental availability to win and sustain share.

While physical availability is critical for consumers to access a brand easily, we know from experience on holistic brand guidance that mental associations also play a leading role in predisposing consumers to purchase. A brand’s mental power or equity is typically best leveraged by fueling perceptions of the brand being meaningfully different to others, while also remaining salient enough to trigger these associations while shopping.

For small brands, this means standing out to as distinctive, working to break habits, and disrupting category codes to sway consumers to their offerings. Brand associations need to be unique and well defined to encourage clarity of what the brand stands for. It is vital for smaller brands to build perceptions of difference to encourage sampling and trial. Swapfiets’ unique subscription model for bicycle possession is a good example of disruption in the bicycle rental space.    

Medium-sized brands need to ensure they retain what makes them different, but also strive to grow meaningfulness by becoming relevant to more people and meeting more category needs. Dutch brand Mora, which specializes in frozen (usually meat-based) snacks, has demonstrated this by partnering with “The Vegetarian Butcher” to offer plant-based offerings and broaden its user base among vegetarian audiences.  

Big brands, meanwhile, need to be salient and drive meaningfulness by staying relevant and reminding consumers what makes their brand special. It is important for big brands to be perceived as innovative and drive new trends within the category. For example, Heineken’s launch of 0.0 (alcohol-free) beer was heavily promoted, building salience and generating perceptions of Heineken as a trendsetter with consumers (even though they were not the first brand to introduce this kind of beer in the Netherlands).  

In sum, understanding the brand size is integral when considering brand strategies, and helps lay the foundation on which to chart future brand growth.