The Brand Journey: 3 Brand-Defining Concepts

Last week, I attended one of the keynote sessions at Forrester’s Marketing Leadership Forum called Branding in the 21st Century, presented by Chris Stutzman of Forrester. Chris outlined a great framework for building your brand based on 4 key principles: Credibility, Leadership, Brand Relevance and Uniqueness. One of the major premises was that if you can deliver on these principles, you can demand a higher premium for your product. He then introduced three actionable concepts to help define your brand along the theme of a brand journey: a Brand North Star, Map and Compass.

Brand North Star

This is not simply a slogan or a jingle, but the soul of your brand. Your brand North Star should be concise (six words or less), honest, strategic and inspirational. Some great examples are: Oreo, Celebrate the Kid Inside; Coca Cola, Open Happiness; Mercedes Benz, The Best or Nothing. This first step is perhaps creatively the most challenging, and will certainly define the rest of your brand journey. I am particularly fond of Mercedes in how clear and uncompromising their Brand North Star is.

Brand Map

The brand map is where your day-to-day business aligns with your Brand North Star. In the 20th Century, this was a one-way map in which brands created messages and used mass media to communicate to consumers. In the 21st Century, your brand map must be updated to consider the multitude of touch-points and two-way interaction such as social and mobile. Your map will include your brand’s actions, products and messages. Actions in this context means key moments of truth in delivering on your brand North Star. One example I will use, which also came from another Forrester Keynote (Global Brand Director, Coca Cola), is Coca Cola’s Happiness Machine. It is very clear when you watch this that Coca Cola is focused on living up to its brand promise. When I think of actions, I also think of employee interactions with customers and how critical each touch point is to leave a lasting impression of your brand. Next is your product or service, and this too should be aligned with your actions. And finally, so should your brand messaging.

Your brand compass will guide your brand across 4 key pillars which will again create brand loyalty and garner a premium for your products and services. The first is Trust, which can be defined as transparency and accountability. An example of this is Hyundai offering a 10 year warranty versus the standard 5 year. They literally put their money where their mouth is by leading the industry in extended warranty terms. The next pillar is to be Remarkable by inspiring and disrupting. A great example of this was the deodorant brand Secret creating an anti-bullying campaign which inspired 75,000 students to apologize to their classmates for bullying on Facebook. The third pillar is to be unmistakable. The example that was given here didn’t exactly work for me in that IBM has used a number of different icons to represent their North Star, “Solutions for a Smarter Planet.” I didn’t immediately recognize these icons as being unmistakable. However, I love the concept of a brand living up to the ideal of being unmistakable. I think a better example of a brand being unmistakable is Apple. From their stores, to their commercials, to their print and outdoor campaigns, they use consistent themes and imagery where one immediately recognizes the brand. Lastly, a brand should be Essential (And wouldn’t this be great for all of our brands, having a product or service one could not live without.) The example here that was given was again from Hyundai, talking about their promotion of consumers being able to return their car - no questions asked - if they lost their job. While for some this might be essential in determining a purchase, I think a better example would be a company like Starbucks, where for some, no day is complete without a Grande Americano (or, in my case, a Frappuccino if I am really letting my hair down).

To reiterate, I found this to be a particularly clear and actionable framework that forces us to look closely at our brands and answer extremely difficult questions about what it takes to be a leading brand in the 21st Century. It also motivates us to strive for some of the more challenging and thus, more valuable attributes of a brand, such as being unmistakable, and perhaps the most valuable attribute, being essential (customers cannot live without you).

04/24/2012 at 05:30

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