Very few beloved brands stay on top for long.
The reason I created the Brand Love Curve is that I wanted to find a unique way to talk about the emotional bond I was seeing between brands and consumers.
I first came up with the idea when I was in charge of a Marketing department that had 20 different brands all operating at various levels of success. Honestly, it was hard for me to keep track of where each brand was and I did not want to apply one-size-fits-all type strategies to brands that had different needs. Sure I could have used some of the traditional tools such as Boston Consulting Group matrix with market share versus category growth rates, or I could have looked at various other dimensions related to revenue size, margin rates, competitive advantage or various other metrics.
The beauty of the Brand Love Curve is that it starts with the most important part of the brand: THE CONSUMER. Everything in Marketing has to start and end with the consumer in mind. It assesses the brand’s performance solely on how tightly connected consumers are with your brand. The more connected the brand, the easier it was to Market. It commanded more power and generated more profit.
When I looked at my own portfolio of brands, I started to noticed that the biggest difference was how tightly connected some brands were with their consumer. I started to refer to the poor performing brands as “indifferent” where consumers did not really care about the brand and then I called the best brands “beloved” because consumers were emotionally engaged. I started to see the difference. I could clearly see that brands with a stronger bond had it easier and that almost everything on those brands was better. Launches of new products were easier because consumers were more accepting. Retailers gave these brands preferential treatment because they knew their consumers wanted them. My own people were more excited to work on these brands, thinking it was a career advancement to get the chance to be part of the beloved brand. I could see that beloved brands had better share results, better consumer tracking scores and in many cases better margins. It was easier to get price increases through. It seemed that everyone in the organization cared about these beloved brands. My agencies bragged about the work they did on these beloved brands. As I kept exploring this idea, the idea of the Brand Love Curve came to me and I started to map where each our 20 brands sat on this hypothetical curve. As the consumer start with a new brand, they were indifferent, then they started to like it, then loved it, and finally it would become a beloved brand. The goal becomes to move along the curve towards the beloved status.
As I worked with the Brand Love Curve, I started to see the link between where the brand sat on the curve and our strategy choices available, we started to see there was a difference in the balance of rational and emotional benefits, which impacted our advertising and media planning. I could start to see how the Brand Love Curve could really drive every part of how we manage the brand. The goal became how do we move the brand along the curve because as we discussed in the previous section, if brand love helps your brand become more powerful and profitable, then any degree of added love was a good thing.
At the beloved stage, the brand becomes iconic that is famous and highly regarded with consumers. Consumers become equal to fans, similar to fans of sports teams or celebrities. They become outspoken, possessive and will defend the brand at any point. The brand becomes a self expression of the consumers, a ritual or favorite part of the day. People have conversations about these brands, whether on social media or at the lunch table. The emotional connection becomes so strong, that consumers feel more and think less. Demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings. Consumers become blind to pure logic and deaf to rational product based competitors. These brands have strength on every part of the robust brand funnel, near perfect awareness levels, high purchase intentions, high repeat and high loyalty. Voice of the customer is very strong, and the brand listens to ensure they are attacking any weakness before it can be exploited. The brand has a big idea, with every consumer touch point easily tying back and re-enforcing the big idea. The brand has a sense of power and uses it quietly against all stakeholders from consumers to competitors and retailers, while leveraging it with key influencers and media. The brand is driving every lever of their profit statements to continue strong sales growth and healthy margins, driving price premiums, lower costs, higher market shares and leveraging the core base of brand fans to enter new categories.
The most beloved brands we have tracked includes Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Google and Mercedes. In a sense, these brands are flawless in their strategy and execution—fully respected, desired and cherished, while wielding the power in the marketplace to create extremely profitable and valuable brands. Some of the world’s newest challengers for beloved brands status includes Uber, Whole Foods, Netflix, Beats by Dre and Tesla. Impressed by how fast they have risen in the market, but not yet flawless, only time will tell if they can survive near the top.
Staying at the top is just as hard as getting there. Just ask former beloved brands that have fallen from grace, including Blackberry, Gap Clothing, Kodak, Cadillac or Benneton.
The 5 ways that Beloved Brands fall from grace
- Beloved Brands forget who they are and what it was that made them famous. Benetton is great example of a brand who forgot what made them famous. In 1990, Benetton could do no wrong. Business schools wrote case studies of their success and Ad Agencies held them up as the brand of envy for all clients to learn from. They had shock-value advertising campaigns that people talked about at the lunch table and there was a Benetton store in every mall. Their colorful and stylish fashion was the desire of the core teenage crowd. Benetton’s brand promise was providing European fashions at an affordable price. But the arrogance of the “can do no wrong” brand quickly faded. While they were so busy creating shock-value advertising and arrogantly talking of their brand as it were art itself they forgot about the fashion part of the business. Benetton started to look like a hollow promise of cool ads with not-so-cool clothing. Also, Benetton expanded so broadly and so fast, they opted for franchises instead of maintaining ownership over the distribution. The managing of the large franchise network became a drain on the company and there’s a belief that not being close to the consumers in the stores hurt their ability to listen to what teenagers were saying and wearing. With a fickle teenage target, Benetton quickly went from a must-have to a has-been brand.
- Brands that struggle to keep up with the times. The Beloved Brands of General Motors–Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Corvette–not only peaked in the 1970’s, but found themselves stuck their as well. The 70’s were one of those decades with such a distinct look with Disco, perms, gold chains and the 3-piece suit, that most things connected to the 70’s were completely rejected in the 1980’s. A brand like Cadillac was the ultimate luxury brand, so revered that people would describe the best brand of any category as “it’s the Cadillac of….” but that has since been replaced by “it’s the Mercedes of…..” Cadillac’s unit sales peaked in 1973 just as gas prices began to rise and the look of those huge gas-guzzlers. It no longer fit the desires of the Yuppies of the 1980’s who were now opting for sleeker luxury with Mercedes and BMW. The Corvette brand had done a nice job transitioning from the 50’s of James Dean through the 60’s and 70’s, always remaining as an icon of sophisticated American cool. But Corvette failed to update their 1970’s brand look until 1984, which was too late to escape the stigma and giggles of those who looked at the drivers as having a “mid-life crisis”. Consumers of the 80’s were now driving smaller and sleeker sports cars like the RX7, 280Z and later on the Miata. And finally, the Oldsmobile was a classic American family car who sales soared through the 1970’s. By the mid-80’s, in an effort to try to capture a new generation, they used the infamous tagline of “Not your father’s Oldsmobile” which only re-enforced that it WAS your father’s Oldsmobile. I believe that the near-bankruptcy of General Motors can be traced back to the 1970’s when the brands peaked and yet felt stuck in a time-warp forever. GM failed to keep up in design, and failed to change as gas prices rose dramatically. They found themselves attacked on the lower end from the Japanese cars like Toyota and Honda and at the higher end from German brands like Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and BMW.
- They make the wrong strategic choices because they think of themselves before the consumer. Gap Clothing got greedy and forgot what made them great: trendy American fashion for a stylish generation at a reasonable price. And who is the spokesperson for fashion: the coolest people on earth: TEENAGERS of course. Every generation of Teens believes they are the most important people on earth and they want products that speak for their generation. It’s all about them. They influence Music, Movies, TV Shows and Clothing and believe each has to speak directly to them and for them. Imagine being 15 in the late 90’s, you’re walking in your favorite mall, trying to be as cool as can be, heading for your favorite clothing store. All of a sudden, you look up and your favorite clothing brand is now flanked by BABY GAP on one side and GAP MATERNITY on the other side. How could this brand speak for the teen generation, when your 2-year-old nephews are wearing a mini-version of what you’re wearing or your pregnant Aunt is wearing the stretchy version? GAP made the mistake of putting their name on all their line extensions, which most fans of Master Brands thinks strengthens the brand but it actually runs the risk of actually weakening the brand. GAP also forgot about feeding that desire for leading edge, trendy clothing–the whole reason for that “8 seasons” rotation of inventory. Go into a GAP store this year, and you’ll realize how boring and drab the products have become. No teenager today loves GAP or even thinks much about GAP. They are totally indifferent. Fast forward to 2011, GAP Clothing sales are down 19% this year and down over 25% since the peak of 2005. They have just announced the closing of 200 stores–which will continue the downward spiral.
- If you are Afraid to attack yourself, expect an attack from someone else. Kodak was such a revered brand for so long, but their refusal to attack themselves opened up so many windows of attack from others. The first attack came in the traditional film business from low-priced Fuji film. Kodak did nothing to stop Fuji for fear of eroding their margin, letting Fuji gain a 17% share of the film market. The second attack came from new entrants into the digital camera market before Kodak was ready to enter. Even though Kodak had the first digital camera as early as 1975, the product was dropped internally for fear it would threaten Kodak’s photographic film business. In 1990 Kodak finally laid out a plan to enter the digital camera market but took another decade to enter the market. The world was changing, yet Kodak executives still could not fathom a world without traditional film which gave them little incentive to deviate into the digital camera space. The third attack came once Kodak entered the digital camera space. Kodak entered at the high-end of the market and for a brief moment was the #1 digital camera. But Kodak failed to recognize how quickly the digital camera market would become commoditized. They did cut their prices, but couldn’t lower their cost of goods fast enough to keep up with the Japanese manufacturers. Kodak was losing $60 for every camera sold at the same time as their traditional film business was dying. The result: Bankruptcy. Interestingly enough, at the time of their bankruptcy, Kodak released 1000’s of patents for sale. It’s not a question of innovation that killed Kodak, it’s a refusal to act on the right innovation in a timely fashion. They failed to attack themselves only to let others attack and ultimately destroy them.
- Lose focus and let the experience slide. A recent case study in a brand experience not living up to expectations is the Blackberry. It’s a classic case where they grabbed early share as the category innovator and then forgot to keep making improvements to the overall experience. The list of problems for blackberry is long: major service outages, keyboard that sticks, small screen size, bad cameras, poor quality speaker-phone, slow internet browser and when the screen freezes you have to take the battery out and re-boot. In my last few months as an angry blackberry user, I was taking the battery out 5x a day. The leaders at RIM believed they were invincible almost laughing when Apple launched the iPhone. These guys would next launch a tablet without any Apps on it. Oh man! What I think Blackberry’s biggest failure is not mapping out the customer experience and attacking every possible weakness. It’s a classic case of technology first and then thrust it into the marketplace and hope it sells. The blackberry experience has just not kept pace with Android and Apple. As a result, the RIM share price is down 95% since its peak of 2008.
Maintaining beloved brand status
- Focus on maintaining the magic and love the brand has created with the core brand fans. Focus most of your attention on those who love you the most. Treat them special. Listen to your consumer, giving them a voice at the table, with the brand being responsive as it can. Market the Big Idea, sell the innovation and the experience. Continue to invest in product innovation and brand experience. Leverage both into telling the overall brand story, using the big idea to push the marketing effort in two separate layers: tell the master brand story about the big idea and the related experience, tell the specific product innovation stories linking how they support and build on the brand’s big idea.
- Perfect the experience: For those who love the brand, it is no longer just about the product, it becomes about the experience. Build a culture and organization around the brand that will keep finding new ways to surprise and delight consumers. Perfect every possible touchpoint with the consumer. Attack the brand before it can be attacked by others: The biggest competitor for these brands is the brand itself. The constant goal has to be about getting better. Any degree of complacency will set the brand up for future attacks. Never become complacent or these brands will be replaced by challenger brands wanting to achieve the beloved status.
- Broaden the offering and broaden the audience: Take advantage of your brand’s loyal following to launch peripheral products that build on the routine. Capture more share of wallet of your most loyal consumers.To ensure you are a brand that goes beyond the current generation of consumers, begin thinking about how to spread your brand to other age groups. A lot of fashion brands and restaurant brands have been trapped into the current generation and lose the status as styles change.
The most beloved brands must keep the love alive, attack yourself, and use your fans as spokespeople.
Here’s a presentation on what makes a Beloved Brand:
Beloved Brands: Who are we?
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