In April 2016, well-known high street chain, British Home Stores, went into administration, putting 11,000 jobs at risk. Once a key part of the UK retail landscape, somewhere along the way, British Homes Stores lost its way and brand relevance. Brand relevance is just one of the key factors in a successful brand strategy.
Creating a brand goes to the heart of what our businesses are about – from our mission and values to the culture and experience we create for our key stakeholders. A successful brand strategy is so much more than a logo, a label or a trademark. The most successful brands are somehow able to magically instill a feeling in their customers so that the emotion of their product transcends the very product itself.
For example Nike doesn’t simply manufacture sports equipment. Nike lifts the world’s greatest athletes to new levels of mastery and achievement! The famous ‘swoosh’ embodies the spirit of the winged goddess Nike, who inspired the most courageous and chivalrous warriors at the dawn of civilization. Nike has started a movement where we can all be heroes, where we can all ‘just do it.’
You may be asking what iconic brands like Nike have in common with small business? Surely they’re streets apart? Well, no actually! Just like each of our businesses, every iconic company started life as a tiny seed of an idea, a seemingly impossible dream. In Shoe Dog – A Memoir By The Creator of NIKE, Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.
Young and fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed fifty dollars from his father and launched a company with one simple mission: to import high-quality, low-cost running shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed $8,000 dollars during that first year, 1963. Today, Nike’s annual sales top $30 billion.
Last September I had the great privilege of meeting two of the UK’s senior sales and marketing executives at a #ThisIsASmartWoman event hosted by Red magazine. Founded in 1982 by Danish goldsmith, Per Enevoldsen and his wife Winnie, in the past 10 years PANDORA has become a global sensation, with some 10,300 retailers in more than 90 countries across 6 continents. In 2011, one piece of PANDORA jewelry was sold every second! Vertically integrated with in-house design, manufacturing, global marketing and direct distribution, PANDORA spent the first two-thirds of its 30-plus years honing its business model, brand and mission – to make high quality, personalised jewelry accessible – before taking its business global.
When asked to explain PANDORA’s phenomenal success at the #ThisIsASmartWoman event, Jane O’Keefe attributed this to one key factor – really knowing their customer. Because PANDORA invests heavily in market research, it really understands the consumer psychology behind each of its different customer segments.
PANDORA’s amazing success got me thinking about the brand strategy of other iconic companies and the characteristics that unite them. I came up with the following 9 characteristics which I think the most successful brands share. I’d love to here from you whether there are any you think I’ve missed? Plus what you can take from this to implement in your own business and drive it to the next level?
Typically there’s an influential leader driving the brand strategy of every successful business. Take Sir Richard Branson. There are more than 400 companies within the Virgin group, turning over in excess of £15 billion in 50 countries. Virgin doesn’t wholly own the majority of these companies. Despite this complexity, the brand is as instantly recognisable as is its leader. How does Virgin achieve this? Branson puts the company’s success down to the following:
- Providing a great customer service which in turn will generate profits;
- Offering customers a different experience to the competition;
- Encouraging employees to think creatively and generate ideas;
- Being nice;
- And having fun!
He has set the culture of the Virgin group through strong leadership.
2. A Resolute Core Purpose and Supporting Values
Although the business may have to adapt to take account of a changing world and business environment, the company’s core purpose and values remain intact. This clarity about purpose and values guides decision-making and becomes so ingrained in the brand strategy that its leaders consciously ask themselves, “How will this decision affect the brand?” or “Is this decision on-brand or not?”
Whole Foods is a great example of a company whose values are steeped within its culture – from regular company votes on which health benefits package to adopt, to its charitable work through to being voted a ‘Fortune 100 Best Company’ to work for every year since 1998.
3. Create Aspiration
Not just another shoe company, or an athletic and fitness company, Nike’s brand strategy is to make itself the definition of sport and winning by associating itself with global superstars like Christiano Ronaldo, Roger Federer and Kobe Bryant. These sports celebrities convey the idea of athleticism and victory, taking on a heroic and iconic status that customers aspire to.
Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. This recent advertising campaign aims to convince everyone that they too can be a runner.
4. Dare To Be Different
Great brands stand out and stand for something. They don’t toe the line and do what’s expected; they dare to be different, taking a strong stand for what they believe in. They don’t try to please everyone and cater to the mass market. Instead they focus their message on their target audience and are happy to repel those that aren’t. This process is called called polarisation and helps to create a truly stand-out brand.
Steve Jobs summarised his own ‘dare to be different philosophy’ as follows:
Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels. The troublemakers… About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
5. Challenge The Status Quo
The ‘Cola Wars’ between the Coca Cola company and PepsiCo are a great example of how a rival company successfully challenged the status quo and forced its competitor into costly mistakes. These wars have been going on for decades, but reached a peak in 1975 when PepsiCo launched the Pepsi Challenge. The challenge originally took the form of a taste test at shopping centres and other public locations, and was televised in adverts on TV. A Pepsi representative set up a table with two blank cups, one containing Pepsi and one with Coca-Cola. Shoppers were encouraged to taste both colas, and then select which drink they preferred. More Americans preferred Pepsi, an embarrassing result for Coca Cola. Coca Cola responded with the disastrous launch of New Coke which led to PepsiCo initially gaining market share until it started making business mistakes of its own.
6. Create an Experience
From the award winning architecture of its flagship stores, to the Genius Bar where customers can receive technical advice or set up service and repair for their products, every aspect of an Apple store is intended to create a magical experience. Apple employees aren’t in the business of selling computers, their business is enriching lives, and the words ‘enrich lives’ are even written on a wallet-sized credo card all employees are encouraged to carry.
Steve Jobs wanted to know which companies offered the best customer experience so that he could emulate this within Apple. The answer was Ritz-Carlton. Apple executives studied how the hotel manages customer experience, and implemented their 3 steps to customer service almost word for word.
7. Stay At The Leading Edge
Ferrari is the Apple of the car industry, a combination of Italian design and innovative engineering, intended to create a highly desirable, niche, luxury brand. Ferrari has reinforced these attributes through its Formula One exploits. With champions like Felipe Massa, Fernondo Alonso and previously Michael Schumacher racing for the team, Ferrari has been able to brand itself as the car of legends and icons.
Funded from its cash reserves, Ferrari is increasing its investment in new technology to €2billion through to 2017 as the company seeks to build the world’s most fuel-efficient high-performance engines and stay ahead of its competition. Their intention is summed up by Chairman, Luca di Montezemolo:
Ferrari will build the world’s highest-performance and most efficient engines in the world. The secret is innovation, innovation, innovation.”
8. Stay Relevant
Staying relevant in today’s fast-changing society takes forethought, planning and a little luck. Those companies that succeed are innovators who are not content to stay still. They understand that a downward turn can become permanent if they don’t have a plan in place to turn things around.
Take Kodak for example which back in the 1970’s had an 89% market share of U.S. photographic film sales. Despite inventing most of the technology used in digital photography, Kodak was slow to see the potential for explosive growth. A serious decline in sales led to the company filing for bankruptcy protection in 2012, and Kodak left the camera business to focus on the corporate digital imaging market. It had to sell more than $500,000,000 in patents to other companies in order to emerge from bankruptcy.
9 Are Consistent
When consumers come back to a business for repeat sales, they expect to receive the same level of quality as they did the first time. Restaurants and their food and service quality are a great example of this. No one wants to deal with a company they can’t rely on for consistency. And with so much competition, inconsistency is often enough of a reason for consumers to take their business elsewhere.
That’s why it’s so important to adhere to a certain quality standard with a product or service. Love them or hate them, McDonalds offers amazing consistency across the world. Whether you’re ordering in London, New York or Shanghai, you know that a Big Mac is going to taste the same.
The Key To A Successful Brand Strategy
A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” ~ Seth Godin
The key to a successful brand strategy is to decide what your brand is going to represent, to keep your message simple and then to make sure everything your business does reinforces that message. Remember just like your business, each of these companies, just like yours, started life as a germ of an idea – a seemingly impossible dream. When you really think about it, there’s nothing complicated about any of these characteristics. Think about each of them in turn, and see if you can come up with one small action that you can take now.
Join The Conversation
Questions: Did I miss out any characteristics? What action are you going to take right now and implement as part of your brand strategy?
Explore These Additional Resources
- Business Lessons From PANDORA
- Business Strategy Made Simple
- Shoe Dog – A Memoir By The Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight
Prior to becoming a business consultant and coach, I gained 25 years’ experience in business in senior management and leadership roles, including 8 years as a former CEO. This experience is backed up by training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. With experience in business planning, financial management, risk management, building strategic partnerships, product development, marketing (including PR) plus leading and developing staff teams of up to 150 people, there’s very little I haven’t had to deal with or experienced.
You can find out more about working with me HERE. Or alternatively email me on email@example.com to arrange an informal chat over coffee. There’s no hard sell. Just solid advice and a straightforward, honest assessment of whether 1:1 business coaching or business consultancy would be a good fit for your business, the results you can expect and how to get started.
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