A few years ago, I took my nine-year-old niece to the Build-a- Bear workshop in the U.S. Build-a-Bear allows children to build their own soft toys from scratch and give them a name and a personality. One-hundred dollars later, I left the store with a happy kid and a clear understanding of what the brand stood for – allowing children to express themselves through their soft toys. Last year, I went to the Build-a-Bear workshop in Australia and was surprised to see how closely the brand had maintained its core value proposition and had made it relevant to the international audience.
In an always-on world, where consumers are exposed to over 5,000 messages a day and have more choices than ever, what makes a brand stand out? In my opinion, there are three things that make a brand stand out vs. generic competition and substitutes:
1. Emotional connection: A brand has to appeal to both the emotional side of its target audience at the same time deliver on performance to satisfy the rational side. An example that comes to mind is Abercrombie & Fitch, an American retailer that focuses on casual wear for consumers aged between 18 through 22. The brand created an emotional connection with its consumers by taking them through a ‘journey of the senses’, an experience that is hard to emulate by any other retailer.
2. Authentic: Authenticity is the foundation of trust. Brands that are authentic are able to derive higher customer loyalty and premium price. A great example of a brand that has remained true to its DNA is the Economist magazine. From its foundation in 1843, the magazine had remained authentic to its values of unbiased journalism. At the same time, it has embraced technology via social media and mobile to make its offering relevant to the younger target audience.
3. Relevant: A brand has to evolve with its customer’s needs. Over the years, we have seen examples of brands that did not evolve as customer preferences changed. From Kodak with digital photography to Borders with e-books, we have a lot of examples of brands that did not change their offering to meet changing customer needs. An example of the brand that has evolved over the years is Apple. In the early days, Apple was a niche brand that appealed mainly to technology enthusiasts and graphic designers. However, in the last few years Apple has evolved to become a mainstream brand through its string of innovations to meet unexpressed customer needs. Similarly, Amazon started as an online bookstore has redefined the way books and newspapers are sold and read through the Amazon Kindle, without deviating from its core business model.
As marketers we believe that our brands are flawless. However, for consumers brands are a ways to solve their problems. Therefore, it is important to look at a brand from a consumer’s eyes in addition to what we already know about the brand. A simple 2X2 matrix, like the one on below allows us to do so.
If you have one or two things about your brand that are important to the customer and different from competition, you have hit a jackpot. These differentiating factors give you an opportunity to create a unique and relevant positioning in your customer’s mind. The authentic brand with the stronger emotional connection that manages to stay relevant over time will take a step towards becoming iconic.
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