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how to use innovation to create a beloved brandMost brands start out as a single product. Early on, brands are desperate and engage more in selling than marketing. They have this mistake that they should appeal to anyone who might buy. The brand begins to meander to meet the needs of any potential customer that walks in the door. The brand’s external reputation quickly becomes “whatever you want it to be”. Once you try to be anything to anyone, you will end up nothing to everyone. The brand has become a cluttered mess in the marketplace, unable to build one consistent brand reputation. Internally, the employees can no longer even explain the brand in a consistent manner. The most remote sales reps have a different message from each other, which does not at all match to the scientist in the lab or the latest TV advertising. Even in the boardroom, various functional leaders now hold a different version of the brand. Internally, the brand will now be a cluttered mess. These innovative brands completely mis-read the power of creating a brand. Brands must use a big idea to establish a consistent delivery of the brand while effectively managing all 5 touch points. While brand communication can drive the brand’s promise into the marketplace, the product must deliver or even over-deliver on the consumer’s expectations of the on that promise.

For new brands, I recommend that you look to start as a rebel brand that goes against the entire marketplace, then gradually move to an island brand on its own. Once you have a loyal following, you can then move into a challenger role that can go head to head with a power player brand that is in the leader position.


Rebel Brands

The rebel brand takes the aggressive stance that everyone in the market is stupid, to stand out as a completely different and better choice to a core group of trend influencers who are frustrated with all the competitors in the marketplace. This group becomes your most motivated consumers to buy into your new idea. You must bring these on board and use their influence to begin your journey.

How to use innovation to create a beloved brand

At the rebel stage, you must take a high risk, high reward chance on who you will be. At this early stage, the brand should not worry about the mass audience, because most times, they will naturally resist ‘brands that are very different’ as they do not yet see the problem. Playing it safe will be your own destruction. Later on, the mass consumers will follow ‘trend leaders’ who not only identify new solutions, but will eventually use their influence to create new problems in the mass audience. Please never use the word “alienate” when determining your target market. You should naturally alienate those who are not yet ready. Not only does a great brand say who it is for, it should equally say who it is not for. Be careful, you do not try to be mass too soon, or you will lose your base, while not even getting the mass audience.

How to use innovation to create a beloved brand


The rebel brand must own a small niche, that is far enough away from the market leaders to avoid getting squashed before your brand can gain any real traction. If you can find a path to expand, having a loyal following of early brand lovers gives you strength to move forward. If you end up staying a niche such as In-N-Out burger, you can solidify your defense of that niche.

Island Brands

I describe Island brands as so different, they are on their own. These are what the marketing industry calls “blue ocean” ideas. You must mobilize your audience of the early trend influencers to gain a core base of early adopters into your franchise. While the rebel brand might gain appeal by calling everyone stupid, the island brand tries to use their modern point of difference to pull consumers away from the leaders, by making the leaders seem detached from the needs of the consumer.

Uber did such a great job at the island brand stage of making the taxi industry appear disconnected from the needs of the consumers, setting up Uber as the only solution. Uber now had the power of an island brand that could take this power into a power player position to defend their castle. Instead, Uber made two crucial errors in judgment.  They diversified their business too quickly into other “quick delivery” models that confuses what the brand stands for. Second, they tried to own the product, price and experience all at once. A brand must lead with one core strength. Sadly, they have allowed themselves to be defined as the ‘price’ brand, when they had an opportunity to own the more lucrative experience brand. What will happen next: Uber’s lower margins will not be able to afford top quality drivers, enabling brands like Lyft to come in and offer a better consumer experience. This could be fatal. Time will tell.

Challenger Brand

People mix up challenger brand and rebel brand. They get excited by the attitude and conviction of the challenger stance of the rebel brand. To me, a challenger brand has used their influence of the trend setters and early adopters to shift from an island brand into a mass brand earned that has earned a hard-fought proximity that allows it to go head-to-head with the power player leader. The challenger brands turn your competitor’s strength into a weakness, pushing them outside of what consumers want, while creating a new consumer problem for which your brand becomes the solution

The idea is to amplify what you do best as an attempt to move the power player’s main strength into a weakness and push them into that disconnected place for some consumers. We love these brand stories, like Mac versus PC, Pepsi versus Coke and Avis versus Hertz. What we fail to tell you are all the assaults of the power player back on the challenger brand that usually keeps them in their place. This is a transition stage for the brand, to see if they can become a true beloved brand of the masses. What will really separate the brand is how much emotion they can fuel into their own brand. While Apple is not the #1 portable computer, they certainly have the most passion to allow them to charge twice the price of the PCs. Also, the Mac stance enabled Apple to sell more iPhones, iPads and iTunes. While people still think of Apple as a rebellious brand, they really have become the “IBM of 2017”, the corporate mega-giant they once battled in the 1980s.

While everyone thinks innovation is logical science, I see a close link with emotional passion

I use where a brand sits on the Brand Love Curve to guide a lot of marketing decisions. We use the Brand Love Curve to get in the shoes of the consumer and understand how they see your brand. There are five stages, unknown, indifferent, like it, love it and finally the beloved stage. These stages replicate the relationship status humans might have as they move from strangers to acquaintances to friends, to a stage of love and onto what we hope is forever. I am a big believer that the Brand Love Curve can guide every brand decision. As well, the more love you can create the more power the brand can generate, and from that comes more growth and profit.

Where your brand sits on the Brand Love Curve can also guide the innovation stance.

  • Indifferent: Focus on the product innovation, with a big idea that can explain and organize each consumer touch point. Go after leading trend influencers in that market, who already see problem and will be the most motivated by what your brand has to offer. Early wins among early brand lovers will help fuel momentum. It will intrigue early adopters to follow.
  • Like It: Use the innovation to separate yourself from competitors, to extrapolate the problems, gaps or frustrations consumers see in mass brands. This sets up your brand as the only solution. Increase investment in brand communication and the purchase moment to tighten the bond with an early group of brand lovers who can be used to influence the broader consumer base.
  • Love It: Use innovation to create experiences and become part of the consumer’s life. Layer in emotion and explore peripheral products around the routine to turn repeat usage in life rituals. Invest to stay ahead of any challenger brands. At this stage, you can use your connection with a loyal base of brand lovers to enter new categories to extend the brand’s big idea across a bigger portfolio of products.
  • Beloved: Extend brand beyond core product. Use innovation to surprise and delight the most base of brand lovers. Attack potential gaps in the current offering with product improvements. Continue to perfect the entire portfolio to gain an equal strength across most product lines. You want to be able to use your brand lovers to have them satisfy all their needs through your brand.

Just as you need to be careful to going after a mass audience too fast, you need to carefully understand the level of bond you have with your current customers before you can understand where you can take them.

To ensure your business leads with innovation, it must become part of the culture. Instill an innovation process to turn random thoughts into action. Here’s the process I recommend:

How to use innovation

Below is our workshop we use to help brands Creating a beloved brand. My hope is that it challenges you to think differently about your own brand situation:


Beloved Brands: We make brands stronger and brand leaders smarter.

We will unleash the full potential of your brand. We will lead a 360-degree assessment of your business, help you define your Brand Positioning, create a Big Idea that will transform your brand’s soul into a winning brand reputation and help you build a strategic Brand Plan everyone who works on the brand can follow.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on strategic thinking, brand analytics, brand planning, brand positioning, creative briefs and marketing execution.

To contact me, call me at 416 885 3911 or email me at

Beloved Brands Graham Robertson


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Graham Robertson

Graham spent 20 years in Brand Management leading some of the world’s most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, General Mills and Coke, rising up to VP Marketing. In his career, he has won numerous Advertising, Innovation and Leadership awards. Graham played a major role in helping J&J win Marketing Magazine’s prestigious “Marketer of the Year” award. Graham brings a reputation for challenging brand leaders to think differently and to be more strategically focused. Graham founded Beloved Brands in 2010, to help brands find growth and make brand leaders smarter. He leads workshops to help define your Brand Positioning, build your brand’s Big Idea, and write strategic Brand Plans that motivate and focus everyone that works on the brand. Our Beloved Brands training programs will help your team, produce exceptionally smart work work that drives stronger brand growth and profits. We cover everything a brand leader needs to know including strategic thinking, planning, positioning, execution and analytics. Our robust client roster has included the NFL Players Association, Reebok, the NBA, Acura, Shell, Miller Lite, 3M, Jack Link’s and Pfizer. His weekly brand stories have generated over 5 million views.

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