Great Brands Inform Great Media Buys

What does it take to make a brand great? Trust, a sense of community, and a dialogue with your consumers. That’s according to the annual “Breakaway Brands Survey” from brand and design consultancy Landor Associates, which was featured in a recent issue of “Fortune Magazine.”

The survey consolidated responses from some 9,000 consumers to determine which 10 brands showed the most growth and gained strength over the past three years. Criteria include how relevant the brands are to the end user, how well they’re regarded by the consumer, and how much the consumer knows about them.

Most of the winners aren’t particularly surprising. Apple’s iPod, for example, leads the pack. Also featured are Geico and eBay. What’s interesting about the top brands is the approach they’ve taken to marketing themselves, specifically the emphasis they’ve placed on connecting with consumers and the unique ways in which they’ve done it.

Viking, in the number two spot, has opened 14 cooking schools. Converse has encouraged customers to design their own commercial spots. And Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” spurned stereotypes by featuring real women in their ads and creating a self-esteem fund. The common thread, of course, is a focus on communicating with customers and providing a platform for them to better relate to the brands. The payoffs are palpable.

Branding — particularly the successful kind — has always been a pretty tenuous thing. That’s partly because great brands are so much a product of the times. What struck a chord five years ago may seem obscure today, just as what was acceptable then might seem offensive now. In the modern social environment, what clicks with consumers is honesty and relevance. Hatch a marketing strategy that has both, and you’re off to the races.

In the spirit of honesty, though, let’s admit it; few companies are in a position to do what Viking and Dove have done. Any number of factors could stand in their way, including lack of budget and lack of executive vision. Whatever the case, many marketers read surveys like Landor’s and feel they’re holding a magic seed — but lack a place to plant it.

That’s where online media has a distinct advantage over traditional media and why it should be given priority on virtually every media plan. Even companies that can’t take advantage of the techniques fueling the success of other brands’ marketing campaigns can do so in online media buys.

Consider the trends that have unfolded over the same three years that saw the aforementioned brands take off. Blogs, viral, and social network advertising — once the underdogs of online media — have captured the attention of major marketers and small players alike.

In delivering direct access to active, opinionated Internet users (the leaders with the drive and connections to advocate and elevate brands) and fostering the sense of closeness and community consumers crave, these media are the ideal counterpart to great brand marketing campaigns. With increasing use of them, businesses are acknowledging there’s value in communicating their marketing messages in a more candid way — whether related campaigns are as focused on communication or not.

Marketers and media buyers alike can expect the trend toward creating a dialogue with consumers to expand in years to come. My guess is we’ll continue to explore new avenues for this online, including media that are currently woefully underutilized, such as discussion boards and online forums. The challenge will be to avoid typical marketing speak and canned messaging we’re accustomed to using in ads. It’s far easier to do so when your campaign itself is the antithesis of this, than when the onus is entirely on the placement of your ads to resonate with your audience.

Kudos to these great brands for making their mark. They don’t just figure out what consumers really want, they deliver it. With the right media plan, there’s a good chance the rest of us can achieve the same thing.

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