What secret distinguishes brands that are strong from those that are not?

During my career I have worked with some of the world’s best known brands—Nestlé, The Walt Disney Company and Imax Ltd., to name a few—either in the capacity of corporate marketing executive or management consultant.

As an educator I have studied many more brands across diverse industries.

As a result of these experiences I have been able to discover an important secret that distinguishes strong brands and businesses.

By this I mean brands that achieve strong market positions and sustain their relevance and differentiation over a longer time frame­ as distinct from brands that never achieve or sustain this status.  And that is:

Strong brands are strong on the inside

Brands that are strong on the inside consistently exhibit three important commonalities:

1.   Passionate leadership of the brand starts at the top of the organization.

The CEO and executive team are passionately committed to defining and nurturing the unique raison d’être, culture and capabilities of the brand and business[1]. These leaders hold themselves ultimately accountable for brand and business strategy and never relegate this responsibility to lower levels within their organizations.

In a previous post I highlighted examples of strong brands with leadership teams that have created compelling customer value propositions delivered through well-conceived business strategies.

2.   Focus and cohesion are important watchwords for the organizations behind the brand.

The leadership teams of strong brands know that compelling customer value can only be created in markets if their organization acts differently from its competitors.

It’s for this reason that these leadership teams recognize the critical importance of a tailored business model for creating, delivering and communicating the compelling value that customers are seeking.  Strategic execution is paramount in this regard and is given focus and impetus through the use of brand platforms–internal documents that make explicit the brand’s unique raison d’être for employees and serve as powerful tools for fostering the cross-functional cohesion so crucial for cultivating a company-wide culture and business practices integral to the brand’s success in the marketplace.

That’s why the leadership teams of so many strong brands are wont to say, “Our culture is our brand.”

Here are examples of three strong brands operating in different industries that have leadership teams with this ethos: Zappos, Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts and TD Bank Financial Group.  I have chosen these examples to demonstrate its value across diverse industries. Zappos is a leader in online retailing, Four Seasons is considered by many to be the leader in the luxury hospitality industry and TD has just been named Canada’s most valuable brand in Interbrand’s Top 25 Best Canadian Brands for 2012 study and now ranks as one of the seven largest banks by branch network in North America.

3.   A pioneering spirit is considered crucial to the longer-term prosperity and sustainability of the brand and businesses. 

Peter Drucker, arguably the leading management thinker of the 20th Century, once observed, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

This has never been truer than it is today given the rapid pace of change and hyper-competition exhibited in so many industries during the past decade.

It’s for this reason that leadership teams of strong brands are usually so adept at nurturing organizational creativity and developing innovation capability as a core competency.   The leadership teams of strong brands are driven by the desire to achieve sustainable competitive advantage and maintain their leadership positions within their industries by identifying and satisfying unarticulated and unmet customer needs.

As Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the previous Chairman and CEO of Nestle once observed, “To just keep pace in the industry, you need to change at least as fast as consumer expectations. That’s renovation. To maintain a leadership position, you need to leapfrog, to move faster and go beyond what consumers will tell you.  That’s innovation.”

As a management consultant and educator, I’m often surprised by the number of brands that I come across that struggle in the marketplace because their leadership teams fail to recognize the importance of ensuring their brands are strong on the inside. Too often, these executives have not identified this characteristic as the root cause of the brand’s business challenge, and therefore erroneously resort to strategies such as increasing expenditures on marketing communications to solve their problem. In my consulting business I work with senior executives to help them build strong brands and businesses­ because they are strong on the inside.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss my services or for further clarification on anything you’ve read here.

[1] In FMCG or multi-brand companies Brand Directors/Brand Managers or SBU management provide this leadership.

About ashleykonson

STRATEGY CONSULTING | EXECUTIVE COACHING | CORPORATE TRAINING | KEYNOTE SPEAKING | Ashley Konson is the Managing Partner of Global Brand Leaders Inc., a new kind of brand consulting company dedicated to making brands and their teams leaders across the globe. He is a Brand Leader, Business Consultant and Award-Winning Educator, and a recognized thought leader and fervent advocate of the premise that strong brands and businesses achieve and sustain their market positions because they are strong Inside out™.
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3 Responses to What secret distinguishes brands that are strong from those that are not?

  1. Humans long to belong to a tribe. Today we signal tribal membership with what we wear, eat, drive. This is why ‘branding’ has risen to prominence in the marketplace. As Lee Clow (Apple’s advertising guiru) notes, the key to effective messaging is to “Articulate who you are and what your values are”

    Of course, all of this validates your Strong On The Inside philosophy. A brand IS the soul of a company.

    Brand fanatics feel a greater sense of their own authenticity, indivuality, values, and value, says branding master Doug Atkin.

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  3. Delightful synopsis Ashley. As a fan of Challenger brands, the 3rd point rings particularly true for me. Its the ability to respond and adapt to changing markets that capture great brands. Nokia’s several transformations from manufacturers of rubber boots to global mobile manufacturer, IBM’s move from hardware to selling services are examples of the type of radical changes even large companies can deliver.

    I’ll add to your great Drucker quote, this gem from Jack Welch;
    “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

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