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.
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?
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.
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.
“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
“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.
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.