Emblematic Brands


An emblematic brand has no substitute. 
They claim the dominant position in their categories, generally seizing market share of 50% or higher. They command premium pricing—up to 40% more than their generic equivalents. Most significantly, they are the least likely brands to fall victim to commoditization.2

These brands are customer-obsessed, relentlessly ambitious, purpose-driven, focused and inspired.

Transcending time, trend, market and industry, iconic brands represent constant foundational virtues: self-awareness, empathy, attraction, differentiation, experience, innovation, coherence, and passion.

one Self-Awareness

Self-awareness precedes brand awareness. Limiting awareness to those who perceive your brand, excluding those who create and maintain it, would be akin to judging who you are as an individual based solely on others’ impression of you, without consulting your own self-worth and capacity to define what they see and react to. Renowned business consultant B. Joseph Pine II writes, “As reality is qualified, altered, and commercialized, consumers respond to what is engaging, personal, memorable and above all, what they perceive as authentic.” Know yourself. Know your core values, your motivating force; your purpose and your mission; your vision, your big idea; your personality and tone of voice; your brand promise and your value proposition.
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This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Who are you? What do you do? What is your value to your customer? What do you stand for? What’s the differentiating purpose driving your business? From what or whom do you derive credibility? How do you want to be perceived by others? What’s the best you can be?

two Empathy

After reviewing the recently leaked Genius Training Student Workbook, one might reasonably conclude that the secret to Apple’s success is empathy. A Gizmodo tech blogger writes, “The manual could easily serve as the Humanity 101 textbook for a robot university, but at Apple, it’s an exhaustive manual to understanding customers and making them happy. Sales, it turns out, take a backseat to good vibes—almost the entire volume is dedicated to empathizing, consoling, cheering up, and correcting various Genius Bar confrontations. The assumption, it’d seem, is that a happy customer is a customer who will buy things.” Empathetic brands forge essential connections with their customers by caring deeply about who they are, designing products to meet their needs, and inspiring them to do more, feel better, and make a difference together.
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Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.
Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind
Who is your customer? Where do they live? Where did they come from? What gets them up in the morning? What worries them? What are their daily obligations? What issues concern them? What problems do they need solving? What are their values? What do they see and hear around them? What frustrates them? What do they need that they don’t have? How do they interact with others? How do they influence others? How do others influence them? How can you connect with them?

three Attraction

An empathetic understanding of your customer enables expert execution with the power to inspire a magnetic attraction to your brand. Emblematic brands are connected to their customers; they seem to be speaking directly to them. They interpellate them into the world of the brand, imbuing them with identity, fulfilling emotional needs, calming anxieties and offering an escape from reality. Brands promise happiness, love, success, fun, strength, beauty, health, wealth, an improved social image – over time, an iconic brand assumes their promise and fully becomes the myth. While there are innumerable expensive watches available for purchase, Rolex peerlessly represents wealth and status.

Emblematic brands also seem to take on a discernible personality, ranging from anthropomorphic to abstract, that represents the values and character of their brand. The attraction between brand and consumer emanates from this mirror persona formulation. Nike, for example, exudes energy and determination. Nike brand aficionados feel those same emotions intrinsically; when those feelings are reflected back at them, an organic, indelible connection is formed. Furthermore, consumers find like-minded others sharing in their brand experience. They recognize their common identity and form a sort of tribe around the brand. A can be part of several tribes in various sectors: Mercedes while driving, Cross-Fit while working out; Whole Foods for groceries; each tribe meets a different need, satisfies a specific mood. Immersed in these intimate brand worlds you truly understand who you are, that those around you understand you; you feel like you belong. That tribalistic attraction infuses immense power and loyalty into your brand.

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Selling has evolved from an emphasis on “what it has,” to “what it does,” to “what you’ll feel,” to “who you are.”
Marty Neumeier, The Brand Gap
What do they do in their free time? What are your customer’s aspirations? What brings them joy? How do they measure their success? If they could change something about themselves or their lives, what would it be? How do they imagine their lives in 5 years? 10 years? What is their aesthetic? What defines their lifestyle? What are they proud of? Of what are they envious? How do they reward themselves?

four Differentiation

The need for differentiation is driven by the economics of attention. Managing partner at A.T. Kearney, Paul Laudicina writes, “An excessive abundance of choices and options in every aspect of life—from the mundane to the momentous—is causing anxiety, perpetual stress, and actually diminishing our sense of well-being. The best companies of our time help “curate” their offerings so the consumer isn’t overwhelmed and doesn’t need to spend vast amounts of time sorting through every possibility.”

Traditional differentiation relies on too few competitive advantages: latest technology, new color, lower price, higher speed. Radical differentiation is about defining a new space you can monopolize and defend.6 Create a “category of one;” in which you are totally indispensable and irreplaceable. Emblematic brands find the white space in the clutter; they don’t compete with the noise. They are also early adopters or even trend setters, ahead of the pack. For example, Whole Foods both benefited from the societal move towards organic and sustainable living as well as fueled the trend from within by making it more accessible and mainstream. Paths to differentiation can include uncovering new need states or underserved groups, moving into the white space and dominating your respective category, or drafting off a trend in the right place at the right time.

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We’ve reached the end of incrementalism. Only those companies that are capable of creating industry revolutions will prosper in the new economy.
Gary Hamel, Leading the Revolution
Who shares your competitive landscape? Why do customers like them? Why do they dislike them? What will make you the “only” in your category? What are you doing differently than everyone else in your industry? Why are you important? How do you show that my business is different in words, actions, and images? Who aren’t you reaching? Where might you uncover or construct an underserved group? What trends might you capitalize on?

five Experience

“Compelling experiences attract new customers, extend customer loyalty, and, if they are truly differentiated, command a premium”.4 Welcome to the Experience Economy. In his book introducing experience as a novel genre of economic output, B. Joseph Pine II charts the dramatic shift away from commoditization to the new Experience Economy via mass customization, execution of the brand at every level, and a thorough understanding that every interaction with a customer is an opportunity for growth. Greater competition, increased access to information, disintermediation and automation have led to the commoditization of services.

The “commodity mindset,” according to former British Airways chairman Sir Colin Marshall, means mistakenly thinking “that a business is merely performing a function— in our case, transporting people from point A to point B on time and at the lowest possible price.” What British Airways does, he continued, “is to go beyond the function and compete on the basis of providing an experience.” The company uses its base service (the travel itself ) as a stage for a distinctive en route experience, one that gives the traveler a respite from the inevitable stress and strain of a long trip. 5 A customer will happily pay a premium to enjoy the experience. “Although experiences themselves lack tangibility, people greatly desire them because the value of experiences lies within them, where it remains long afterward. Companies that create such happiness-generating experiences not only earn a place in the hearts of consumers but also capture their hard-earned dollars— and harder-earned time”.5

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We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts.
Jeff Bezos
How can you improve your customer’s lives? What emotional needs are fulfilled by your service or goods? Beyond functional attributes, what is exceptional about your product? How can you engage other senses to make your product more enjoyable? How can you personalize your service? How can you reconstruct your service as a performance? How can you transform solving a problem into a game? How can you mitigate the utilitarianism of your product? How can you make every interaction memorable?

six Innovation

“Business is a process, not an entity. Successful businesses are those that continually adapt to changes in the marketplace, the industry, the economy, and the culture.”2 Strong brands simultaneously have the flexibility and perseverence to anticipate change and adapt. Their marketing strategy must accommodate new touchpoints as needed to stay relevant with their customer base while maintaining the character of the brand. Similarly, the identity system should be fresh and current, but immediately recognizable.

Highly flexible brands extend out from their firmly rooted core by introducing new products and services that meet new needs or serve new markets; but still represent the values of the established brand. Brands that don’t adapt, won’t grow. Growth requires innovation, and innovation requires creativity. Creativity as the engine of growth might seem unconventional; but in reality, creativity propels drive in your organization, promotes cost efficiency and minimizes corporate ennui. Flexibility + Creativity = Innovation = Growth.

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If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.
Albert Einstein
What should we be doing? Who should we hire? What other industries might we expand into? Where is the path forward after our first success? Is there an easier way? Can it be smaller, lighter, or made of fewer materials? Does it use renewable resources? Can it be multifunctional? Can it be simplified? What jobs are people doing manually that we might overtake?

seven Coherence

Coherence ensures all touchpoints and interactions between your brand feel seamless and familiar. Consistent execution should not inhibit expression, as content and messaging should be adapted for platform and audience; however the core values and character should be omnipresent, reliable. Brand consistency is designed to inspire confidence and trust, foster loyalty, and reassure your customers that they are always at home with your brand. Coherence is achieved by delivering your dynamic big idea through a unified voice across all channels, communicating clearly and simply, deploying a comprehensive identity system with a precisely delineated color palette, typographic hierarchy and scheme, logo construction and usage protocol, graphics specifications and more —all outlined in a brand guidelines program to be issued company-wide.
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There are no telegraphs on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message– describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
How does this reinforce your brand? Does it align with your core values? Which values does it reflect? Who specifically is it speaking to? Is the tone consistent with other communications? Have you followed brand guidelines? What differentiates this medium from others & how can you adapt your message to reflect that difference? Is this immediately recognizable as part of your brand? Will this build trust in your brand? Is this focused: delivered with clarity and conviction?

eight Passion

While it might be possible to engineer a brand without passion in the short-term, it’s practically impossible to sustain it. Behind every emblematic brand is a visionary. He or she exudes inimitable energy and enthusiasm for the brand. Their passion sustains them; it propels their creativity and generates high-level, perpetual innovation; they beam with pride and pure excitement for their work.

Passion radiates from top, proliferating the entire workforce. Employees are more committed and productive in a joyful, passion-filled workplace. Customers empathetically sense the delight and pride infused in the brand; they indulge in the contagious adoration and develop a loyalty deeper than functional product satisfaction. Customers of a passionate brand with a visionary at the helm believe in its resilience, assuring its perseverance through market fluctuations and setbacks, imbuing it with confidence to venture outward into other dimensions.

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Neither a lofty degree of intelligence, nor imagination, nor both together, go to the making of genius. Love, Love, Love. That is the soul of genius.
Mozart
Where does your passion lie? What gets you up in the morning? What do you lie in bed thinking about? Why are you in business beyond making money? How will the world be a better place because of you? What makes your employees passionate about their work? How do we define success? How can we share our success? How can we communicate our passion?