“Tell me your name and your favorite brand.”
I ask my students this same question every year on the first day of my class in the Master’s in Branding program at the School of Visual Arts. I continue to be amazed at the consistency of the brands that the students name as their favorite -- Apple, Starbucks and Nike all make repeat appearances, as do regional fashion favorites and popular “green” brands.
For some students, the enthusiastic supporters, a favorite brand is more than a simple product preference: It's a statement of character. In some way the brand has qualities they identify with, qualities that they want others to see in them. The passion these students exhibit for their favorite brand is the gold standard for measuring a brand’s success.
The brands that do this consistently -- the ones that my students continue to raise their hands for -- are what I call Star Brands.
Brands don’t become stars overnight. Star Brands are the result of many smart and assertive choices backed up by a strong and successful business model. The people responsible for building Star Brands have mastered the balance of brand love and business fundamentals. Star Brands are not only loved, they're profitable.
And while each one possesses a unique set of cultures and business practices, I believe that all Star Brands possess certain core qualities.
Star Brands know who they are. They know what drives their success, what limited them in the past, as well as how to grow and thrive in the future. This includes understanding their customers’ needs, the insights to connect with them and the right marketing mix for effective communication.
Star Brands have consistent and recognizable branding and communication. Consistency pays out. Frequent exposure to the same brand identity and message helps increase brand recognition and awareness. If you have a well-defined and managed brand identity combined with messaging that's compelling and executed consistently, your media investment will also have higher returns and go further in building the strength of your brand.
3. Higher order purpose
People like people who think like they do, and if given a choice, they'll flock to a brand that supports their same ideology. Star Brands are intentional with their purpose and aspire to deliver on a higher meaning beyond the product or service they sell.
4. Emotional connections
Brand relationships are like human relationships.
We become acquainted, we try their goods or services, we decide whether we like them or not and then we begin to have -- or not have -- a longer and deeper relationship. Star Brands develop long and meaningful relationships with their customers, and they do this in part by establishing strong emotional connections. They don’t treat their customers as simply sources of profit. They see them as co-creators in the brand conversation, striving to meet their needs and satisfy their desires.
5. Superior benefits
The benefits a brand offers are what set it apart from its competition. The more distinctive the benefit, the more distinctive the brand, which will in turn attract the greatest number of customers.
Benefits don’t have to be purely functional. They can also be aesthetic, emotional or stylistic. Star Brands focus on delivering, communicating and nurturing their most distinctive characteristics. This allows them to drive preference among the right set of consumers.
6. Commitment to learning
Star Brands learn from the past and quickly adapt to the future. They fuel a compelling vision for the future and invest in innovation which challenge category norms. Charles Darwin might well have been speaking about brand evolution when he said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”