June 3, 2015
Excerpts: Star Brands by Carolina Rogoll
What she does with Star Brands is introduce us to the star brand mode, "a perfect intersection of solid marketing and management theory with an approachable, visually oriented design." In the excerpt below, she tells us that, while not all Star Brands are the same, they do all possess certain core qualities.
“Tell me your name and your favorite brand.”
I ask my students this same question every year on the first day of my class in the Master’s in Branding program at the School of Visual Arts. One by one, they begin raising their hands, introducing themselves and sharing their favorite brands. Some seem very excited to associate themselves with a brand, while others are far more reticent, trying to decide on just one.
I’ve taught this class for several years now, and I continue to be amazed at the consistency of the brands that the students name as their favorite. As you might well imagine, brands such as Coca Cola, Apple, Starbucks, and Nike all make repeat appearances, as do regional fashion favorites and popular “green” brands.
For some students, the enthusiastic supporters, a favorite brand is more than a simple product preference; it is a statement of character. In some way, large or small, the brand has qualities they identify with, the same qualities that they want others to see in them. They love these brands and are proud to be associated with them.
The passion these students exhibit for their favorite brand is the gold standard for measuring a brand’s success. Brands that are able to connect with the hearts and minds of their customers are brands that will thrive. Beyond providing unique and functional benefits, these brands have built relationships with their customers over many years, fostering emotional ties and creating long-term brand loyalty.
The brands that do this consistently year after year, the ones that my students continue to raise their hands for are what I call Star Brands. They are the celebrities of the branding world, the leading lights that we all look to in admiration, and sometimes, a little awe.
Brands don’t become stars overnight. Star Brands are a result of many smart and assertive brand choices backed up by a strong and successful business model. Building them requires careful planning and thoughtful execution consistently over many years. The people responsible for building Star Brands have mastered the balance of brand love and business fundamentals. Star Brands are not only loved, they are profitable.
That said, not all Star Brands are the same. Each possesses a unique set of cultures and business practices; for example, no one would ever mistake IBM for Ben & Jerry’s. However, for all of their uniqueness, I do believe that all Star Brands possess certain core qualities, in varying degrees, which are:
Core Qualities of Star Brands
- Higher Order Purpose
- Emotional Connections
- Superior Benefits
- Commitment to Learning
ClarityThe Ancient Greek maxim of “Know Thyself ” speaks to the importance of individual self-awareness and knowledge. This maxim also applies to brands. Star Brands know who they are. They know what drives their success, what limited them in the past, as well as how to grow and thrive in the future.
This includes understanding their customers’ needs, the insights to connect with them, and the right marketing mix for effective communication. When a brand knows what it stands for and whom it is trying to delight, it can execute its communication plan and product offering with excellence.
ConsistencyStar Brands have consistent and recognizable branding and communication. Consistency in communication requires discipline. A brand experience is defined by “touch points,” all of the points at which your brand’s product or service touches the consumer. Star Brands surround consumers with total brand experiences that not only surprise and delight them, but also look, feel, sound, and smell how the brand intends, consistently, regardless of the touch point.
Consistency pays out. Frequent exposure to the same brand identity and message helps increase brand recognition and awareness. If you have a well defined and managed brand identity combined with messaging that is compelling and executed consistently, your media investment will also have higher returns and go further in building the strength of your brand. Every time you make a change to your brand message or identity, you will have to retrain your consumer to recognize it. In other words, you must rebuild your consumer’s brain to associate these new images and emotions with your brand.
Higher Order PurposePeople like people who think like they do, and if given a choice, they will flock to a brand that supports their same ideology. According to a study conducted by research agency Millward Brown and Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble, having a higher order purpose or ideal that the company seeks to contribute to the world was the single most important denominator across the fifty fastest growing brands from 2000-2010.
For the brands studied, their purpose was the core driver of strategy, innovation, decisions, and behavior. Star Brands are intentional with their purpose and aspire to deliver on a higher meaning beyond the product or service they sell. Therefore, it is very common that in the process of reaching stardom, great brands become more intentional about their purpose and actively communicate it.
Emotional ConnectionsBrand relationships are like human relationships; we become acquainted, we try their goods or services, we decide whether we like them or not, and then we begin to have, or not have, a longer and deeper relationship. Star Brands develop long and meaningful relationships with their customers, and they do this in part by establishing strong emotional connections.
Just as in human relationships, brands cannot, and should not, try to create strong emotional ties with everyone. However, once a relationship is formed, it should be treated with care and nurturing attention. Star Brands don’t treat their customers like ATMs or simply as sources of profit. They see them as co-creators in the brand conversation, striving to meet their needs and satisfy their desires with verve and confidence.
Superior BenefitsThe benefits a brand offers are what set it apart from its competition. The more distinctive the benefit, the more distinctive the brand, which will in turn attract the greatest number of customers. Benefits don’t have to be purely functional.
They can also be aesthetic, emotional, or stylistic. How or why a brand delivers a product can be an even more powerful driver of choice than how well that product performs; performance all too often becomes mere table stakes in the competitive arena. Star Brands focus on offering relevant and authentic superior benefits. They excel at delivering, communicating, and nurturing their most distinctive characteristics. This allows them to drive preference among the right set of consumers.
Commitment to LearningA learning organization, a term first coined by MIT scientist Peter Senge, is one that facilitates the learning of its members to expand their thinking capacity, allowing them to better adapt to the changing market conditions and evolve over time1. Star Brands have systems in place to document their history and key lessons so they can be shared across the organization to help make better future decisions. They learn from the past and quickly adapt to the future.
Star Brands, as learning organizations, fuel a compelling vision for the future and invest in innovation. They turn their learning into future market leadership with groundbreaking innovation that challenges category norms. Think of Google’s 10X projects (those developed with the mindset of making products or services ten times better than what exist today rather than designing only for marginal improvements), such as the self driving car or the balloon that gives Internet access to remote areas. These ideas push the limit of imagination and technology to deliver on Google’s purpose and go well beyond its main search engine product and current primary source of revenue.
Star Brands’ relentless commitment to learning guarantees that they will never be stuck in time. If they learn faster than the competition, they will also always come out ahead. If Charles Darwin would apply his evolution theory to brands, he would talk about learning organizations: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
ABOUT THE AUTHORCarolina Rogoll is an Associate Brand Director at Procter & Gamble, Professor of Branding at the School of Visual Arts/NYC, Contributing branding writer at Entrepreneur.com and author of Star Brands. Learn more at buildstarbrands.com.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.