Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 17, 201711:36 PM

What Makes A Great Brand?

Not a good brand. Not a successful brand... a great brand?

In fact, before attempting to answer this question, it's probably important to define what, exactly, a brand is? For me a brand is the complete experience and manifestation that a company produces, and how it is then internalized by the consumer. Candidly, that's a little bit vapid when you consider that piles of business books and courses have been written and conducted to explain what a true brand is. Still, the brand is the experience that a consumer has when it comes to product, price, promotion and place.

Now, what brand is truly "great" in your estimation? 

It's not always the biggest, the most profitable or the most well known. One could argue that you would need to hit those three mountaintops to be considered "great," and that's fair enough. Does size make a brand great? I know many great brands that many of you would question. Some think Apple is a great brand. Many hate it. Same could be said for just about any brand. Still... let's push on this together: What makes a great brand?

Let's make a list of what makes a brand great...

  • How it makes a consumer feel.
  • How it is mission-based and driven.
  • How it is on the consumer's side.
  • How trustful it is.
  • How its inspires confidence.
  • How it handles customer support.
  • How it aligns with consumer's values.
  • How it prices itself in relation to perceived value.
  • How well it communicates.
  • How well it knows its customers.
  • How unique it is in relation to its competitors.
  • How well it demonstrates its passion.
  • How consistent it is.
  • How well distributed it is in its market.

Any more to add?

Candidly, many of the answers that we give to this idea of "what makes a brand great?" Feels more tactical and post-purchase, than what got them to be considered great in the first place. Is a great brand one that understands the power of innovation while injecting a lot of money to make their products/services known? That's not always the case. We have seen countless instances, when the 800 pound gorilla of any given industry has attempted to introduce a new brand... and failed spectacularly. These are companies with hefty research and development teams and the funds to push an idea through to the market and still... crickets and tumbleweeds. 

There's something about great brands that many of us don't want to/never will admit...

Often what makes a brand great is simply tapping into the zeitgeist at the time and a lot of luck. Chief Marketing Officers, brand architects and marketing professionals don't like to talk about it/admit it, because it diminishes their impact, and continues the human narrative that we're all in deep control of the outcomes in our lives (not to get too spiritual, but we're often not in control). This is not hyperbole when it comes to building a great brand. It is fact. I spent over a decade speaking to rock stars and musicians. If I had one genuine curiosity at the time, it was why them... and not someone else? This is where I netted out: it's not always tangible, definable or something that went according to plan. Sometimes, it just worked (most often, it did not). When this happens, there is no formula, prescription or reasoning. These bands (and, yes, bands are very similar to brands), just happened to hit a weird intersection between capturing the zeitgeist and lots of luck.

How is this possible?

Throughout my years as a music writer and publisher of music magazines, I have seen countless amazing bands with major record deals, massive production budgets, a hit producer on their album, amazing support tours for when they were road-ready, the best managers in the business. and more. Many bands like that have simply fizzled and faded. Nobody knows or understands why. In fact, that happens more than those small few that break through to become great. Sadly.

Building a brand and building a band have the same components in them.

When asked, "what makes a great brand?", everyone tends to describe the output of the brand (the experience of the brand... the music of a band)... Everyone is talking about the end result, and not what it takes to "make a brand great". Many smart marketers believe that you can see greatness in hindsight, reflect on that, plan against it and leverage another brand's past success as way to chart a more successful path forward. This will help a brand more than it will hurt them, but this is not the code of what creates a great brand. Look at some of the greats: Led Zeppelin, Starbucks, The Beatles, Disney... why one over the other? Why one entertainment company over another? Why one type of cafe over another? Why one rock riff over another? Consistency? Passion? Quality? Attitude? Pricing? Management skills? Marketing acumen? Or was it something else? Something that looks more like the zeitgeist and luck? It's also often not just a question of money. Again, think about how many major corporations have tried to launch a new brand and succeeded? Now, think about how many more often these big corporations wind up acquiring the brands that had zeitgeist and luck on their side.

Plan but don't expect brand greatness... and it's not all luck.

Don't be depressed. This is not about working hard, planning and optimizing with data only to discover that a brand's success will be predicated solely on hitting a particular moment in time and getting lucky. It's not entirely the lottery. Still, it would help if more leaders understood the power of capturing the zeitgeist and how often simply being luckier than your competitors is much more truth than a best laid plan. It's also important - as you plan for brand greatness - that leaders not look simply at the outcome (what lived up to consumer's expectations) as the ingredients for what makes a brand great.

What makes a great brand? What do you think?

By Mitch Joel

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