Creating Desirable Brands


Simon Garnett of Clear USA, has six principles for creating brands that stand out from the competition

In a world where brands interact with consumers across a huge number of touchpoints (web, mobile as well as traditional), there is no longer any space for brands that follow. Clear’s annual survey of consumers shows that, in most categories, the majority of brands follow category norms. These brands are less likely to create desire among consumers and, as a result, growth for the brand. Take a look at your brand and ask yourself if you stand out from your competitors. Our six guiding principles can help create desire — and therefore growth — for your brand.

In the past two years, we have spoken to nearly 40,000 people around the world to identify the world’s most desirable brands — those that really deliver against this ambition — and more importantly, to understand what they do differently to create that desire.

Our studies have shown that the businesses that own the world’s most desirable brands outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 index over the past five years, delivering higher share value growth and greater share price stability.

We have also determined six behaviours common to desirable brands. These guiding principles remain true, irrespective of category or country; the more brands adopt them, the more desirable they will become. They represent a simple but powerful framework for assessing how to create greater desire for any brand. Challenger brands should pay close attention to these principles, as they offer guidance on how to continue to grow and to challenge established brands, within and even beyond their current category.

The six guiding principles are:

  1. Think bigger than your category
  2. Focus on the future
  3. Have clarity of purpose
  4. Inspire connections
  5. Create experiences
  6. Constantly innovate

1 Think bigger than your category

Seventy-five per cent of consumers have a preference for a certain ‘type’ of brand, regardless of the category to which it belongs. For example, we are hardwired to desire brands that we believe help us be ourselves or become the person we aspire to be. If that type of brand is available to us in a category, we will choose it; for example, consumers purchase the Method brand to signify that they’re environmentally conscious. If it isn’t available, we will compromise — begrudgingly.

It’s clear from our data that desirable brands do not adhere to the rules of their ‘category’. They actively look for a bigger role, a role in people’s lives, not just a role as a solution for a narrow problem. This enables them to challenge the status quo, to pioneer new ideas, and to develop a range of propositions that transcends their origin.

Many of the most desirable brands we uncovered have done precisely this. They are chomping at the bit to bring their ethos to new categories:

  • Google is so much more than a search engine. The year 2011 saw the launch of Google Wallet, a bold foray into the world of contactless payment. Using near field communication (NFC), it allows people to pay for items through an app on their smart phone. It will be capable of storing thousands of payment cards, loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes and tickets and, in time, even your keys may be synced to your Google Wallet. Google profits were $9.7 billion in 2011, up from $8.3 billion in 2010.
  • Amazon is so much more than a retailer. Amazon broke its mould by producing the Kindle and is changing the book market. In addition to doing away with the printed book through the Kindle, Amazon is cutting out publishing companies as middle men by having its own in-house publishing unit and gaining the rights to directly publish some big titles. Net sales increased 41% to $48.08 billion in 2011.
  • Seventh Generation believes in creating products that make a difference for the consumer, the community and the environment. Having a clear mission that is about far more than their products has enabled the company to stretch beyond cleaning into baby care and personal care. Sales have increased at around 11% year on year in a category that has traditionally experienced little growth.

Marketers and brand owners tend to set themselves boundaries; brand users do not. We all have the opportunity to challenge these boundaries to create more desirable brands. The learnings for challenger and new-to-market brands are consistent; however, the opportunity for challenger brands is in many ways larger, as they can embrace a vision and mission that redefines a category.

2 Focus on the future

While it’s important that brands transcend their category, this should be done with direction. Desirable brands understand where the opportunity is in the near future, but also anticipate where the long-term opportunities for growth exist. This isn’t just about commercial or technological opportunities; it’s about the chance to create a future that meets people’s rapidly changing needs and behaviours. Just look at financial services; mobile banking is changing the market, with traditional banks facing a new set of competitors in the form of Google, Movenbank and potentially Apple. Brands that invest in shaping and improving the world around us reap the reward. This means having a vision while giving the organization the space, resource and licence to make it happen.

Microsoft recognized that the future of gaming is ‘you as the controller’. The X-box Kinect has become the fastest-selling consumer electronics device of all time. The release of software development kits is opening further uses beyond pure gaming, such as video surveillance and medical imaging. As a result, Microsoft as a masterbrand has enjoyed an uptick in desirability from 2011.

Kodak did not recognize that the future would be digital. Although one of its engineers invented the first digital camera in 1975, it was too slow to exploit the technology, investing in film instead. We all know how that story ends.

Being continually desirable means always looking beyond the present and being clear about what your role is in crafting a better future — and having a point of view about what that future should look like.

3 Have clarity of purpose

Desirable brands have an ambition that goes beyond delivering commercial targets. They have a clearly articulated purpose that inspires internally and externally — a bigger ambition at their heart that people truly buy into, and that shapes and guides all brand-building activity. And they have a distinct and compelling personality that builds and supports that purpose. The whole story is brought to life in what the brand does as much as what it says:

  • Nivea is a brand with increasing desirability. Its purpose is to help people feel closer. Through all their products and recent innovations, Nivea is true to its higher purpose of nurturing the emotional bond between people that comes through physical contact, helping them stand out in a crowded (and often unemotional) market.
  • Horizon’s purpose is to ‘support health families and a healthy planet’. As the seventh most desired brand in the United States, this shows the power of a mission to create connections with consumers. Horizon is a profit-making business, but one founded on a purpose that is evident in every part of the brand, from innovation to communications.

All of these brand purposes work at a deeply human level. They are simple, recognizable and appealing. We can all see how they make our lives better. For smaller businesses, look at your brand’s purpose and compare it to that of your competitors: do you deliver something different?

4 Inspire connections

Desirable brands inspire people to think, feel and act differently. The most desirable brands can make us love them, respect them, talk about them and use them. Each one of these can provide an area of brand-building focus to strengthen overall desirability.

The most desirable brand in the world, Apple, does a great job on all these measures. There is much we can learn from how it connects with our hearts and heads, but what sets it apart is how it always seems top of mind and part of our conversations. Through strong positioning, inspiring and clear messaging, and a consistent, engaging product and service experience, Apple has ingrained itself into the fabric of our culture in just 30 years. There are few brands that possess such ‘badge’ value as ‘I’m part of the Community’ Apple.

Adidas is growing in strength. Recently, it has built on its strong emotional and functional heritage and, compared to last year, has significantly improved how people act in reaction to the brand. Compared to last year, more people want to hear about Adidas, more people want to talk about Adidas, and more people want to use Adidas in the future. Oh — and its sales are up 14 per cent.

Dove is a brand that has always had a strong functional story about moisturizing and care but, in recent years, it has impacted how people feel about beauty. It has significantly increased its emotional connection with consumers in the areas of pride, attraction and meaning through the ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. This has been done while maintaining its strong rational appeal as a product that works.

USAA is one of the very few financial services brands in the Brand Desire survey that made it in to the top 100. Its position at number 15 in the survey indicates that consumers are looking for a different type of banking relationship, one that is about connections and compassion. Built on a foundation of caring and providing for current and former military personnel, exemplified through its emotional message of ‘let us serve you’ and impeccable hands-on service, this is a brand that challenges the way that the banking industry operates.

To be a brand that makes a truly meaningful difference in people’s lives, it’s essential to have an idea people feel connected to, a product they believe in and a story they want to talk about.

5 Create experiences

Desirable brands are so much more than a product or service. They create an experience coordinated across every touchpoint to bring the brand to life. They create an experience that influences the head, the heart and the hand that adds up to a truly compelling and distinctive brand.

Audi’s growth in desirability continues. It offers its customers technologically advanced products that are particularly noted for their sophistication and reliability; beyond that, Audi strives to delight its customers with the best brand experience available, consistently delivering ‘sophisticated’, ‘progressive’ and ‘sporty’ at every point of contact. The communication, the car, the showroom, the sponsorship, the service bays and even the new UK headquarters on the A4 consistently deliver this experience.

Nike is so much more than sports equipment. The brand uses a range of touchpoints to create an experience true to its purpose of helping bring out the athlete in all of us. Nike is pioneering the digital experience through Nike plus, with a range of propositions to help coach, motivate and share consumers’ fitness experiences.

Disney has always believed in magical childhood entertainment. It embraces and utilizes new touchpoints to ensure that the brand’s purpose is delivered at every encounter. Disney created a Cars 2 app that allows kids to interact with the iPad as if it were a play mat. Kids hold a toy car on the screen and complete races and missions, bringing the brand to life in a different format.

It doesn’t matter whether your brand was born in a factory or in the digital world; all brands now need to consider themselves a series of evolving touchpoints to genuinely connect with people. This is increasingly important as the number of consumer touchpoints continues to grow; for example, look to the incredibly fast-paced growth of m-commerce. What experience does your mobile site create?

6 Constantly innovate

Desirable brands constantly engage us in an evolving and interesting story. They innovate, not just in the area of product, but across everything they do: service, people and process. They provide an ongoing supply of new things we can watch, read about, talk about, play with, buy and enjoy. In this way, their role in our lives is ongoing.

Google never rests in improving the whole brand experience. Whether in search enhancements like Google instant, playful logo innovation or ‘bigger innovations like contactless payment, their offerings are always at the forefront of technology and consumer behaviour.

H&M uses collaboration as a source of ongoing innovation. Limited edition clothing lines with Jimmy Choo, Sonia Rykiel, Roberto Cavalli and Vivienne Westwood, with plans to collaborate with Versace in the future, keep the brand fresh.

The common theme across all these desirable brands is that they innovate to make our lives better. Smaller businesses often assume that they cannot innovate in the same way as large corporations; however, this is often the reverse. Smaller businesses are nimble enough to change and adapt; large companies aren’t. Start with your brand purpose and then look at what innovations, big or small, you could launch to build and strengthen it.

So there we are: six simple principles that offer a route to creating desirable brands that genuinely make a difference to people’s lives. Truly desirable brands deliver on all six. As brand owners or brand advisers, we should be asking whether our brands are behaving in this way. If not, we have some work to do.

About the author

Simon Garnett is Managing Director of Clear USA. (

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