How to Win The Race for Brand Relevance

The biggest threat facing most brands today is the loss of relevance, because the category or subcategory they are serving is declining. If a group of customers wants a battery-powered car, it doesn't matter how much they love your hybrid brand. It will not be relevant. A newspaper can have the best new coverage and editorial staff, but if readers are diverted to cable news or blogs, relevance declines. If a customer becomes health conscious, loyalty to a high calorie beer goes out the window.

The threat emerges when customers are no longer buying what the brand is perceived to be selling. New categories or subcategories emerge as competitor innovations create “must haves.”

The ultimate tragedy is to achieve brilliance in achieving differentiation, win the preference battle, create a better-than-ever offering with incremental innovations, and build a powerful brand...only to have that effort

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April 29, 2015  •  Permalink

How Xiaomi Became The Ultimate Disruptor in 6 Steps

Less than five years old, Chinese brand Xiaomi ranks third in global smartphone sales, selling 60 million last year with a market cap of 45 billion dollars. And yes, you read that right – the brand is less than five years old.

It’s a classic success story of a brand using innovation to create multi-“must haves” that define a new subcategory and then, as the exemplar, managing that subcategory to victory. Clayton Christiansen would say that Xiaomi functioned both as low-end and new market disruptor. With its low price and e-commerce distribution strategy, the brand brought smartphones to the middle class of China and “non-consumers” in other emerging countries. Its competitors had no ability or motivation to match the Xiaomi strategy.

In any case, Xiaomi’s successful strategy and the thinking behind it is worth examination:


Xiaomi’s price is often

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April 21, 2015  •  Permalink

Why Companies Who Care Win Both Hearts and Market Share

In a fascinating study, two Italian researchers from the University of Rome Maria Assunta Barchiesi and Agostino La Bella documented the fact that the most admired companies in the world as reported in Fortune have social responsibility as a key part of their core values. It’s more dominant than customer service, employee focus or any measure of excellence. Further, financial goals like growth and profitability are actually not reflected at the values level. The suggestion is that elevating social responsibility involves an orientation that leads to financial performance over time – or at the very least does not inhibit it. Although I think that is the instinct of many executives, this evidence is reassuring.

The corporate reputation data base is generated by the survey of some 15,000 business analysts by the Hay Group in partnership with Fortune magazine to evaluate firms with revenues of $10

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April 7, 2015  •  Permalink

What You Can Learn From The Best Print Ad Ever

When identifying the top print advertisements and best headlines in the last century of advertising, a 1926 ad written by a young, green copywriter always makes the cut.

John Caples, only one year on the job, wrote: “They laughed when I sat down at the piano—but when I started to play!”

Caples’ assignment was to entice people to buy piano lessons by correspondence from the U.S. School of Music. The hero of the ad was ridiculed by the guests when he sat down, but the ridicule turned to accolades and applause when he begins to play, only a few months after starting the correspondence course. The ad was not only critically acclaimed but brought in a lot of customers.

It illustrates the power of a story that has tension, emotion, challenge and a brand-driven resolution as opposed to a recitation of facts and functional benefits. A story, as we now know, is a powerful way to get people to get

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March 25, 2015  •  Permalink

How OpenTable Fought And Won The Relevance War

In the future, marketing will involve category or subcategory competition more than brand coopetition. The winners will develop sets of “must have” innovations that will define or redefine subcategories, making competitors irreverent or at least less relevant. One challenge is to create “must haves” that can be delivered and will resonate with customers. Another is to become and remain the subcategory exemplar and to manage the subcategory so that it wins and evolves over time. It’s not easy, but the payoff is huge – and the alternative “my brand is better than your brand” competition is so not fun.

OpenTable is doing just this. Well known for its ability to handle table reservations for over 16 million diners each month in some 32,000 restaurants in six countries, it has now redefined the subcategory by adding new functional and emotional benefits under the tag “The table is just

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March 18, 2015  •  Permalink

Most Brands Don’t Get Credit for Their Environmental Programs. Why These 5 Have.

I believe that most firms in the world have made commitments to environmental programs as a higher purpose. Their motivation is to inspire employees, do the right thing for the planet, reduce costs and appeal to customers thereby engendering admiration, respect and a sense of shared values. All of this leads to a brand-consumer relationship based on more than functional benefits.

BrandJapan conducts an annual survey measuring the strength and profile of 1000 brands, and this year added a question involving whether the brand is “concerned with environmental issues.” The response to this question confirms my suspicion that few brands get recognition of their environmental efforts, even though most brands have significant environmental programs. Why? How can brands with strong environmental goals and programs get customer credit? To answer those questions let’s first look at those few brands that have

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March 11, 2015  •  Permalink

A Roadmap to Managing Your Personal Brand

Every person has a brand, represented by a name and face. This brand has a host of associations. The brand will influence all relationships and affect how a person is perceived and/or respected.

Your personal brand can be actively managed with disciple and consistency over time, or it can be allowed to drift. There is a huge payoff to employing the active management option and large risks to the alternative.

Here is a road map to getting control of your personal brand:

Assess Your Target Audience

Describe the group who you would like to have the right impression of you. Who would want to spend time with you? Who might admire you? Who do you want to respect you? For example you may want a professional audience, a family audience and a friend audience. You might pick out a few representative people in each segment to provide focus and clarity. It may be useful, at least at the outset,

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March 3, 2015  •  Permalink

How "Like A Girl" & "Real Beauty" Deliver Business Impact

Many strong brands have a vision that includes a higher purpose such as environmental stewardship, healthy eating or third-world water safety. These programs make a difference with regards to corporate responsibility. But do they really help the brand and business? Can the investment in a higher purpose have a brand rationale? Consider the efforts of Always and Dove to improve the self-esteem of girls. What impact do the campaigns have on the two brands? And how is that impact measured?


Last summer, Always launched a three minute video by award-winning director Lauren Greenfield, #LikeAGirl that showed the stereotypical view of women from the perspective of boys, men, and women as well doing things like running, throwing, or fighting “like a girl.” The caricature was one of awkward incompetence. The assumption was that girls are not equal to boys in these activities, an assumption

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February 25, 2015  •  Permalink

6 Ways Your Brand Personality Should Add Value

What is the worst thing you can say about a person? High up on my list would be that someone has no personality. Who wants to spend time with someone so boring? I’d rather hang out with a jerk. At least then it would be interesting. The same reasoning applies to brands.

Not all brands have a personality, or at least a strong, distinctive personality. But the brands that do have a significant advantage in terms of standing out, communicating an on-brand message and supporting customer relationships. Personality is an important dimension of brand equity because, like human personality, it is both differentiating and enduring.

A brand personality can…enhance self-expression benefits

People express themselves in part by the brands that they buy, especially when the brand is socially visible. For some, using a MacBook expresses a non-corporate, creative self, based in part on the

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February 9, 2015  •  Permalink

The Few Super Bowl Ad Hits Among Many Misses: Aaker's Picks

Overall, I was underwhelmed with the ads that aired during this year’s Super Bowl. Too many ads showed zero connection with the brand. A few did stand out, got me interested, and showed a worthwhile message.

There were a few spots that displayed a strong story narrative with a point of tension, interesting characters, humor that worked, and the “brand as a hero” placement. Snickers used some celebrity character actors dropped into a classic scene from The Brady Bunch. It was authentically funny and provided a new perspective on a familiar brand. The Avocados from Mexico ad centered around the First Draft Ever, where each country nominated a mascot. The pinnacle of boring was America’s choice of wheat, but Mexico chose the avocado which excited commentators who analyzed the pick just as they would analyze a wide receiver in an NFL draft. The ad was funny, memorable and fit the setting. The

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February 4, 2015  •  Permalink