Lead, Follow or Brand
April 7, 2019
Great brands continue to thrive for years after their introductions. Others don’t. The great ones control their categories. They set examples for others to try and mimic. Brands like Hallmark, Maytag and GE are emblematic of great brands. Woolworth, Mademoiselle and most recently Oldsmobile represent the fallen. So why are there great, enduring brands and deceased brands? We believe it is brand leadership.
Now, granted, there are other factors like brand management, operational efficiencies and market gyrations that can affect long-term performance, but the starting point for almost every great brand is the leadership position taken at inception or assumed at some later point of enlightenment. The instant an advertiser begins the brand development process; they inherit the leadership position in their category or industry – guaranteed. How’s that you ask?
Review the definition of a brand: A claim of distinction. Once successfully differentiated, through brand development and branding, they’ve separated themselves from their competitors and thus, assumed a leadership role. That same differentiation will help determine the most deliverable role and the underpinnings of long-term success are almost immediately put into place. When Maytag proclaimed quality and reliability as their brand differentiation, it was not because all their competitors were claiming the low quality slot; everyone said they were high quality. But Maytag assumed the quality leadership position by suggesting that their quality was so high that their washing machines didn’t break down! What a leadership spot to claim. Then, they created the loneliest repairman to communicate their leadership and internalized the brand position with delivery mechanisms like better quality control and manufacturing processes to ensure the endurance of their leadership.
Brand Leadership Tends to Land in One of Four Major Categories:
The price leader is that brand that owns the position. Two obvious leaders here are Wal*Mart at the low price end of the spectrum and Rolls Royce at the high end.
Lots of folks like to stake this claim. Apple in technology and GE in home products are perfect examples.
Harley Davidson is king in this category. There could be an argument made for Starbucks here, maybe even Ben and Jerry’s.
Maytag started this category thirty-some years ago. From these four, we can drill down further and find leadership in sub or smaller leadership positions like safety – we think Volvo. Convenience – Amazon.com.
Courageous – (When it absolutely, positively has to be there) FedEx, and Irreverence – Virgin tops the list. We could continue to go deeper and deeper. Today, Kevin Roberts, Worldwide CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi has created a category called “Lovemarks.” (He’s published a book called Lovemarks, available from; you guessed it the leader in convenience, Amazon.com). These brands are adored or loved brands. They include Alfa Romeo, OshKosh, Air New Zealand and a long list of other brands. But for our tastes, Ben and Jerry’s could cross over here too. We think Volkswagen and certainly Mini Cooper fit here as well. And there are many others.
What’s the importance of brand leadership? It’s the added value good brand positioning offers. It also allows consumers to adopt the brand as their own – like a badge. It also allows for better brand management, internal brand adoption and crystal clear communication.
What’s the downside of brand leadership? Well, living up to your claim is one. Having the guts to advertise like a leader, not a follower is another. Having a vision of the future is mandatory. But, the benefits far outweigh the downside.
OK, how do we go about claiming a leadership position? Start with a good discovery session. It’s called “Turning the Telescope™,” and it’s magic how well it works. The reason? We’re simply looking inside and finding the essence of the advertiser’s brand. It’s always there. Or, at least the seeds are there. Here’s how it works:
The process starts with listing facts by examining the company, its history, origins of business, markets served, the founders, traditions, legacies, innovations, values, ethics, customers, the people, and culture. In this first stage, we uncover literally hundreds of facts.
Through a series of three other stages, we eliminate the non-unique characteristics, extrapolate potential truths, and finally, distill the remaining information until we have a prioritized list of three to five absolutely unique and deliverable selling points about our client’s company. From this, we can establish the foundation for a proprietary brand franchise, unique branding concept and a leadership position they are capable of controlling.
We know we’ve simplified this process for the sake of space but don’t underestimate the power of brand discovery – the deeper you dig and the more thorough the analysis the more obvious the essence of the brand and its leadership capabilities will become. And the easier it will be to assume a long- term brand leadership position.