I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that I reckon that there are four key characteristics of successful brands. I have no scientific basis for this conclusion or for the four critical ingredients that I have alighted upon. They have simply worked for me (with some alterations) over the past few years and so I thought I’d share them with you. You probably have additions or perhaps a different list altogether and that’s fine.

So here are the four. Authenticity, performance, relevance and momentum.

We all talk about the importance of authenticity, though its more difficult to define it. To me
authenticity is a measure of how genuine a brand is – in other words it exists for a reason. This sense may be delivered in a number of ways, perhaps the provenance of the brand or increasingly its purpose. Authenticity gives us the sense that brand owner is making and selling their products for a greater reason than simply to make themselves shed loads of cash. Authenticity will always be difficult to articulate but in a very real sense people can ‘smell’ it in a brand and they use it almost as a guarantee that they aren’t being marketing mugs in buying the product.

Performance is simpler of course. Performance is the belief that a product or service does its job well and arguably better than the alternative. We used to think that products were all converging in terms of performance but the truth is that the brands that we really take to our hearts are believed to have superior performance. Buyers of Dyson vacuum cleaners believe that Dysons work better than any other cleaner on the market. The same goes for Apple laptops. And while Innocent smoothies may not be thought superior to other smoothies they nonetheless believed to good enough – they do the job well. |t is entirely possible that on occasion price delivers performance for a brand – that price isn’t the cost of accessing better performance but the delivery of performance itself particularly with value offerings like EasyJet or Ikea.

Relevance is about playing a clearly defined and understood role in people’s lives. Many brands I have worked with enjoy very high levels of affection but have lost their relevance. I have talked about them before as nostalgia brands and typically people say that they love them but haven’t bought them in living memory. Nostalgia brands lack relevance. It can seem very mechanistic to create relevance – to articulate the role of the brand but it isn’t half helpful to the consumer and can take both a tangible or intangible form. The AA talked about itself as the 4th Emergency Service as a tangible way to create acute relevance for its members while the work we do for Walls is about creating relevance through empathy with the life of the modern British family.


Walls Kitchen by Saatchi & Saatchi, London

Momentum is the sense people have of a brand’s presence and popularity. Its a pretty blunt idea but nonetheless powerful especially in a world of herd behaviour. A brand that seems to be ‘on it’ and talked about naturally attracts attention and often consideration in the way that social media brands of the moment do or those with extremely popular communications like Honda a decade ago and perhaps T-Mobile in the UK more recently. Rather frustratingly it vindicates the seemingly turgid tracking study question that asks ‘is a brand that you hear a lot about these days’.


T-Mobile Royal Wedding by Saatchi & Saatchi, London

Now this is distinction is useful as far as it goes – a way of evaluating the potency of brands according to these four criteria. But it becomes a whole lot more helpful when you use it as a diagnostic tool to figure out what your brand needs more of in the minds and lives of people.

And while it is easy and helpful to see these criteria through a communications lens (what do my communications need to add) it is far more profitable to see them through the lens of total brand delivery.

So ask yourself ‘what does my brand need more of’?

Does it need greater authenticity? Or rather does the brand need to be reconnected with its source of authenticity? In the UK InBev and Mother have now spent the best part of a decade restoring a sense of authenticity in a brand that had become severed from its roots, from emphasising its place in the Artois family to refreshing its provenance and hero worshipping its pouring ritual and chalice glass. And yes, taking on its wife beater reputation by feminising the brand’s personality.


Stella Artois Black – Nigh Chauffer by Mother, London

Does it need to improve its performance for people or perceptions of its performance? This may involve a wholesale reformulation or relaunch or the addition of products and services that add to the brand’s ability to perform. I like the idea that Heineken Star Player worked to help increase the performance of the brand as the natural partner for watching football at home.


Heineken Star player by AKQA, London

Does it need to create greater relevance? Walkers’ ‘Sandwich’ campaign attempted to take a much loved snack brand and clearly articulate it’s role as a lunchtime accompaniment to your sandwich while our Play work for WeightWatchers is about creating a more contemporary and relevant face for a brand locked in the weight loss category.


Walkers Sandwich by AMV.BBDO, London

Or does it simply need greater momentum? This is really about creating a greater sense of presence through the popularity of the brand’s activity and the number of people engaging with that brand. I’ve mentioned T-Mobile but one might also see the Toyota ‘what’s the plural or Prius’ work in this light. While communicating that there is more than one Prius it also created phenomenal engagement on Facebook as 1.8m people in the US decided that Prii is the correct name for more than one Prius.


Prius goes plural by Saatchi & Saatchi, LA

Or, as can often be the case does it need a little more of everything? The Launch of Nike Fuel Band, for instance is helping do a little of everything, reiterating authenticity, improving the brand’s ability to perform for athletes, underscoring the brand’s relevance in the lives of its customers and in a specific community adding momentum to the brand’s progress.

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